Deep azure skies, white cottony clouds, wide-open desert spaces, and the distant Chinati Mountains meet a two-lane road with no other vehicle in sight. You’re in Marfa, West Texas, where you can drive a day just to get here. The closest international airports are in El Paso and Midland, each less than 200 miles from Marfa.
Marfa draws creatives, sculptors, architects, musicians, filmmakers, and those of us who appreciate art. When I first came to Marfa, I found stunning sunsets, dark skies, millions of stars, and the Marfa Lights.
The 1956 movie Giant starring James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, and Rock Hudson was filmed in Marfa. In fact, Marfa has been featured in more than 60 movies and short documentaries. Aside from Giant, these include No Country for Old Men (2007) with Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, and Woody Harrelson and There Will Be Blood (2007) with Daniel Day-Lewis.
Here’s how to have an amazing day in this creative town.
Things To Do In Marfa
You could easily spend your day touring the numerous art galleries and the concrete-and-aluminum displays. With a population of 2,000, this pilgrimage site for artists has more than its share of one-of-a-kind restaurants, hotels, museums, shops, film locations, and entertainment options.
1. See The Displays At The Chinati Foundation
The Chinati Foundation is a nonprofit contemporary art museum founded by Donald Judd. It’s located on 340 acres in Marfa on the site of the former Fort D.A. Russell. The Chinati grew to house permanent large-scale art displays by Judd and a select group of artists.
Pro Tip: On the first full weekend in October, the Chinati Foundation will host this year’s Chinati Weekend and Made in Marfa.
2. Browse The Art Galleries
I consulted the Art In Marfa guide to plan my visit to the many galleries.
See lithographs and woodcuts at Arber & Son Editions, large graphic paintings at the Ayn Foundation, cutting-edge art at the Ballroom Marfa, or minimalist sculptures, drawings, and images at Exhibitions 2d. Some galleries are open by appointment only.
See the 22 sculptures by John Chamberlain in downtown Marfa installed in a former wool-and-mohair warehouse. Also worth seeing is Robert Irwin’s work on the grounds of the historic Fort D.A. Russell and Dan Flavin’s large-scale work in fluorescent light in six converted barracks buildings.
3. Sample To Your Heart’s Content At Marfa Maid Dairy
Marfa Maid Dairy, owned by local artist Malinda Beeman, provides a charming look at a “little dairy on the prairie.” Experience goat milking, cheesemaking, and cheese tastings, and take home some samples, too!
4. Enjoy Spectacular Views With Marfa Gliders
On our Marfa Gliders excursion, we flew like an eagle with spectacular views of the Davis Mountains and Chinati Peak across the Chihuahuan Desert. An airplane tows you up, and then you and the pilot glide quietly in the enclosed cockpit, with only the sound of the wind. Allow 2 hours for this experience.
5. Take A Photo At The Prada Marfa
The Prada Marfa is a desert art installation 37 miles northwest of Marfa on U.S. Highway 90 just outside the town of Valentine. The nonprofit public art project was erected in 2005 and is modeled after a Prada boutique, with an inaccessible interior showcasing luxury goods from Prada’s fall collection. The site is now an art museum with the building as the single art exhibit. You’ll spend 2 hours on an excursion here unless you make this your first or last stop.
6. Experience The Marfa Lights
The official Marfa Lights Viewing Area is 9 miles east of town on U.S. Highway 90. Ranchers, Native Americans, and ghost hunters have reported seeing colorful, mysterious lights dancing on the horizon randomly throughout the night in the rough, uninhabited terrain. Cynics say that the lights are the reflections of car lights or campfires in the night. Locals viewing from Shurley Ranch describe them as dusty plasma clusters created by underground electrical energy. Whatever they are, they are still a mystery!
We made this our last excursion of the night on our way back to Alpine.
Best Places To Eat in Marfa
7. Do Your Thing
At the top of my list is the Do Your Thing coffee shop owned by two Bay Area transplants, artists, musicians, and former baristas. I recommend the latte spiked with mesquite and vanilla bean syrups. Nibble on the house-baked sourdough, avocado toast, or jam toast.
8. Marfa Burrito
For the best breakfast burrito ever, head to Marfa Burrito, where owner and chef Ramona Tejada serves up homemade no-frills Mexican food fresh daily. The stars of the show are the house-made flour tortillas. Marfa Burrito only accepts cash.
9. Jett’s Grill
For dinner, Jett’s Grill in the Hotel Paisano is a fun hangout featuring lots of Giant memorabilia. I liked the small plates like the shrimp nachos, fried artichoke hearts, and bacon-wrapped shrimp. My husband ordered the Giant Burger, a 12-ounce black angus with fries. What’s more, you can get the best margarita in town here!
10. LaVenture Restaurant
Try more small plates at LaVenture Restaurant at the Hotel Saint George, including Spanish shrimp, lamb meatballs, Margherita pizza, and filet mignon or salmon. Do not pass up the tiramisu for dessert.
Cochineal offers multi-course seasonal prix fixe dinners, curated by Executive Chef Alexandra Gates, on most Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays by reservation. Cochineal focuses on sharing great food with good company, inspired by local garden produce and local farms and ranches. A typical menu might include freshly-made bread, warm pheasant salad, cast iron trout, Texas venison meatballs with black currant, sherry cream, Texas elk osso bucco with red wine risotto, arugula, and wild mushrooms. The fifth course could include a cheese dish or champagne chocolate truffle. You may add a pairing menu of chef-selected wine, creative cocktails, and spirit-free drinks.
Where To Shop In Marfa
Veldt offers modern, minimalist jewelry and pottery crafted in Marfa. Find jewelry, clothing, candles, and original artwork at The Marfa Store. Shop for unique women’s clothing at Communitie and Esperanza Vintage & Art. Colt Miller and Logan Caldbeck make custom boots at Cobra Rock. Find Texas handmade modern furniture at Garza Marfa, plus ceramics, clothing, and linens.
At Marfa Brands, you’ll find cedarwood goat milk soap and yucca root soap with sage and eucalyptus, just to name a few. Mira Marfa, a wellness boutique, is your source for skincare treatments, facials, and clean beauty products.
Marfa Wine Co, a bottle shop and tasting room, provides wines from small producers worldwide. Big Bend Coffee Roasters makes coffee that’s 100 percent certified organic and fair trade. You can join the coffee club to have coffee delivered to your door monthly.
Best Hotels In Marfa
12. El Cosmico
Fully renovated vintage trailers, safari tents, Sioux-style tepees, Mongolian yurts, and tent campsites are Marfa’s quirkiest accommodations. Rent a wood-fired hot tub and bikes for exploring Marfa.
13. Hotel Saint George
This new upscale hotel was built on the location of the original hotel, which was demolished in 1929. It boasts 55 rooms and suites with all the amenities, plus picturesque mountain views.
14. Hotel Paisano
In 1955, when Warner Brothers chose Marfa as the location for the filming of Giant, the cast and crew made this hotel their headquarters.
15. Thunderbird Hotel
At the Thunderbird Hotel, locally run since 1959 and reinvigorated in 2005, you’ll find modern rooms plus an interior courtyard and pool.
16. Cibolo Creek Ranch
Located 33 miles south of Marfa on 30,000 acres, the five-star Cibolo Creek Ranch is one of the oldest ranches in Texas, rich in history, art, architecture, and antiques.
17. Unique Vacation Rentals
18. Tumble In Marfa RV Park
The new Tumble In Marfa RV Park has 14 spacious sites, including five 75-foot pull-through spaces with full hookups.