My biggest to-do once I moved to Texas was to make a trip out to the high-desert town of Marfa, in West Texas. About a month ago, I finally made that happen, and it was even more magical of a trip than I had ever imagined. I had heard about Marfa from other bloggers that I follow. I’d seen plenty of photos, from the Prada Marfa sculpture, to the grounds of El Cosmico, to the wide open spaces of the high desert. After scrolling through enough photos and posts about this town, I knew I had to experience it for myself as soon as I moved to Texas. So my sister and I took a long weekend, and made the 6-hour road trip out to Marfa.
I know, it sounds a little crazy. How can I be so mesmerized by a town of only 1,700, you ask? First off, if you ever plan to make the trip out there, you need to know what to expect. This is a super small town in the middle of nowhere. If you drive any farther west, there are no gas stations for over 72 miles. Yea, you’re pretty much off the grid. Don’t expect there to be lots of things to do to keep you entertained. The stores close at sunset, and you’d be lucky to find a single restaurant or bar that is open past midnight. And these are the exact reasons why this town is the perfect getaway. Marfa gave me a mental break – a chance for me to slow down and appreciate the simple things in life.
Marfa is a major hub for minimalist art. The Chinati Foundation was founded in 1986 by artist Donald Judd. The intent of The Chinati Foundation is to present large-scale art installations that are inextricably linked to the landscape around them. Thus, you’re able to see large art sculptures in the middle of the desert, which is something you definitely don’t see everyday. Artists who are residents of this foundation make up much of the local population in Marfa.
Because much of this town is centered around modern, minimalistic art, Marfa is one of the most unique towns in the U.S. (in my opinion). In one sense, Marfa is no more than a tiny, West Texas town in the middle of nowhere, with not much more than a town square and a few gas stations to its name. On the other hand, you’ll stumble in to any one of Marfa’s hotels or boutiques and you’ll feel like you’ve just been transported to a trendy, west coast city. The high-end aesthetics of the shops and restaurants in this town is so contradictory to what you’d imagine. This is one of the many reasons this place is so magical. It combines small town, desert living with a little piece of modern, trendy aesthetics. It’s a hippie’s dream – if there’s such a thing as a high end hippie.
Lastly, the architecture. One of my fave styles of architecture is white, minimalistic, stucco buildings. And this is exactly what you get in Marfa. It’s like I had just stepped in to my personal Instagram aesthetic heaven when I arrived. There is a street that is completely lined with these buildings, so safe to say, shooting one of my looks up and down that street was my personal heaven (not to be TOO dramatic, but really). I’m pretty sure I took photos of every building I came across, and by the end, my sister was super annoyed at how touristy I’d become. #sorrynotsorry sis.
There’s just something surreal about being out in the middle of the desert, practically alone (besides a handful of tourists). I recently wrote a post for Manifested Minds, that explains why the solitude and stillness of this town was so good for my soul. It’s something you can’t truly explain to someone until you’ve been there.
It wouldn’t make sense for me to publish a tour guide post on Marfa, especially since I’ve only been out there once. And even though it’s a super small town, I haven’t been to EVERY hotel or restaurant yet, so it would be kind of silly to act like I know which restaurant is the best. So instead, I thought I’d share with you guys the itinerary of our trip – what my sister and I ate, where we slept, what we did, where we shopped, and a few places I can’t wait to try the next time I’m back in this little West Texas town. Enjoy!
El Cosmico (where we stayed): A hippie/festival goer’s dream. El Cosmico is basically a little commune on a piece of West Texas land, just minutes from the Marfa square. You can stay in tents (pretty much glamping), teepees, yurts, airstreams, or you can bring your own camping supplies and pick a piece of land anywhere on the grounds to set up camp. No lie, if I could, I would just buy one of the airstreams and turn it into my second home. It would be my little piece of heaven. The campgrounds are so peaceful, and everyone there is on the same wavelength. There are hammocks everywhere, so you can make a day of hanging out on the grounds, soaking in the goodness that is West Texas. They also have a super trendy lobby/gift shop with free wifi and coffee! On the weekends, they have live music, with an outdoor bar and fire pit. You can also rent hot tubs and listen to the music from there. When we were there, they had a bluegrass, gospel band – it was pretty spectacular.
The Capri, Squeeze, Hotel Paisano, The Waterhouse, The Get Go (where we ate): Capri is probably the most high-end restaurant in Marfa. Their specialty is the duck, and I had the Foie Gras. It was one of the best dishes I’ve ever had, no lie. Squeeze is the cutest little breakfast spot just off the square and the outdoor patio seating is perfection. Hotel Paisano has this amazing outdoor courtyard/dining area that looks like you’ve just stepped in to an Italian hideaway. We went there for a late dinner, and it did not disappoint. The Waterhouse was our last stop out of town on our last day. It’s literally the cutest restaurant I’ve ever seen. The outside is all minimalist, white stucco, and the inside is adorned with an amazing pink door, trendy light sculptures and a fun golden counter where you walk up to order. The Get Go is a local convenience store that has everything. It’s tucked away off of the main street, so you feel like a true local when you stumble upon it.
Ranch Candy/Spare Parts, Communitie, Mano, Cobra Rock Boot Company, Ashley Rowe, Freda, Dirt, Moonlight Gemstones, Raba (where we shopped): Guys, seriously, the shopping is just as good, (if not better), than the local shopping in Austin. True, there aren’t too many boutiques in Marfa, but what they lack in quantity, they for sure make up for in quality. It’s like the whole town coordinated a central theme for all the buildings, art and boutiques, and that theme is high-end southwestern style. That’s what you’ll find in each of these boutiques, but each with their own unique pieces. At the boutique Raba, I literally found a vintage Chanel jacket (in the middle of the desert)! I still can’t get over that. I mean, that jacket would be impossible to find in Austin, and almost as impossible to find online, so the fact that I found it in the middle of nowhere just proves how unique and culturally significant this tiny town is. Dirt is a truck that’s parked on the side of the road, that looks like a food truck, but they sell the most amazing vintage pieces – dresses, tops and shoes. It’s pretty much amazing. And if you’re at all in to gemstones and/or crystals, you MUST check out Moonlight Gemstones. You’ll thank me later.
Prada Marfa, Marfa Lights (what we saw): Driving out to the Prada Marfa sculpture was my favorite part of the trip. It’s a half hour even further west, so once you get to it, there’s literally nothing else around except the sculpture and the desert. It’s truly one of those defining moments in your life – an experience you will never forget. Be sure to go during golden hour (right before the sun sets). The experience is so moving, you’ll probably cry. I’ve heard of people who have.
Legend has it that if you stay in Marfa and the surrounding desert long enough, you’ll come across extraterrestrial activity. The lights were first reported back in the 1800’s when a cowboy was herding his cattle. He noticed the lights in the distance and wondered if they could be something out of this world. There’s an observation area just off the road where, at night, tourists and curious locals gather to try and catch a glimpse of the unidentified moving lights. Unfortunately, when we went out there, we didn’t see them.
The Chinati Foundation, John Chamberlain, RULE Gallery, Cody Barber (art): At the Chinati Foundation, the one exhibit you can see for free is the outdoor sculptures. They’re large, square, cement sculptures on a path out in the desert. It sounds kind of boring, walking around looking at cement blocks, but combine those blocks with the beauty of the desert, and it’s actually a pretty cool exhibit. RULE Gallery was another one of my faves. It’s a bungalow house, with the cutest interior. The exhibit is, in fact, the house. You can walk through each room, just like you would when you take a tour of your friends newly renovated home. It’s pretty fun.
Bonus: When you’re there, try to find the vending machine room and the GIF maker (a photo booth that’s on the side of the road). It’s so fun to stumble upon them.
What to do next time: Hotel St. George, St. George pool (It’s open late night, with a bar and music), Stellina (upscale dinner spot on the square), Al Campo, La Playa, Planet Marfa, Lost Horse Saloon, Do Your Thing Coffee, Thunderbird Hotel, Hotel Paisano, Trans-Pecos Festival – a music festival on the grounds of El Cosmico.
Photos by Jennifer Boomer