An Old West vibe, a location right along the Mexico border, and a mountainous setting all help to make El Paso, Texas, stand out among the state’s major cities.
While cities like Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio may get more tourism hype, El Paso has a number of features that make it a unique Texas destination. For example, it is the only one of the state’s top cities to be situated along the Mexico border. It is also the only major Texas city that is surrounded by mountain ranges. And, located in the far western reaches of the state, El Paso is perhaps the Texas city that is most steeped in Western lore.
All of those features make El Paso a fantastically fun city to visit. The mountains provide a stunning backdrop and great hiking, and the proximity to the border guarantees that the Mexican cuisine is authentic and delicious. Also, while El Paso is large and sprawling with a population of nearly 700,000, the downtown retains a cool Western atmosphere.
Based on my experiences during a recent visit, here are 10 excellent things to do in El Paso, Texas.
1. Stroll Down El Paso Street
Downtown El Paso is wonderfully walkable, and I found that many of the main attractions are within an easy stroll from one another.
Located right in the midst of the Las Plazas Arts District is the picturesque El Paso Street, festooned with string lights and neon signs. In fact, the entire Arts District is a great place for a walk on a warm evening, and the area features a host of trendy places to stop in for a cocktail or appetizer, such as The Berkeley, Anson 11, and Sabor.
Also nearby is Pioneer Plaza, with its statues, historic hotels, and the iconic Plaza Theater. Once the center of downtown, Pioneer Plaza is still a vibrant spot, with groups of bicyclists on the streets and pedestrians filling the sidewalks.
Pro Tip: When I visited El Paso in June 2021, I was told that the popular El Paso Streetcars were not yet running after the COVID-19 pandemic, but were expected to return to the streets in the fall of 2021.
2. Relax At San Jacinto Plaza
Just north of Pioneer Plaza is the San Jacinto Plaza, a lovely square at the corner of Oregon and Mills streets that features fountains, concessions, and sculptures.
Families gravitate to the plaza, which was refurbished in recent years and includes a splash pad, game tables, and a small open-air café. I recommend sitting at an outdoor table and trying one of the café’s specialties like cucumber lemonade (agua fresca de pepino), cucumber spears dusted with chile (pepinos con chile), or rolled tacos in red sauce.
Fun Fact: One of the fountains in the San Jacinto Plaza features a sculpture that commemorates the legendary alligators that once called the park’s pond home and were a major attraction for visitors in the early 1900s.
3. Have A Cocktail At The Hotel Paso Del Norte
No walk through downtown El Paso would be complete without checking out the Dome Bar at the historic Hotel Paso Del Norte, Autograph Collection. With a circular bar and a 25-foot Tiffany-style glass dome as the centerpiece, the bar is a sight to see.
When I visited on a summer Friday night, the Dome Bar was buzzing with activity, with a piano player providing entertainment from the corner and customers chatting from the circular bar and surrounding booths.
Although all of the cocktails looked amazing, I loved the pretty pink-grapefruit mezcal paloma – especially after discovering that the El Paso-based founders of the mezcal, MaybeWest Mezcal, were seated next to me at the bar promoting their new label. It was fascinating to hear about the origin of MaybeWest’s product in the remote areas of the Sierra Madre in western Mexico, and then tasting the smoky woodfire flavor of the mezcal against the tart grapefruit juice.
4. Shop Local At Historic Union Plaza
For a bit of Texas railroad history, head to the Union Plaza District, the home of the El Paso Union Depot that was built between 1905 and 1906. The district is now a center for entertainment and nightlife downtown.
On Saturday mornings, stop by the Union Plaza area to take in the Anthony Street Downtown Artist and Farmers Market, where you’ll find a variety of local products like hand-painted metal mugs, paintings, and unique salsas.
5. Take In The Art Scene At El Paso Museum Of Art
A peek into the soul of the community awaits at the El Paso Museum of Art, a light-filled complex that houses a collection of more than 7,000 works of art – ranging from the Byzantine era to the present.
On the museum’s upper level, visitors are met with the gorgeous Beyond the Blue Door, a piece created by artist Sam Gilliam for the El Paso Museum. The billowing artwork combines various painting techniques of staining and splattering unique to Gilliam’s style. Exhibits inside include everything from paintings of the Madonna and Child to colorful El Paso street scenes to Mexican graphic art.
6. Experience The Gunfight Capital Of The World At Concordia Cemetery
With several of the Old West’s most notorious gunslingers buried in the Concordia Cemetery, it’s no wonder that El Paso claims the title as the Gunfight Capital of America. Among those buried in the graveyard is John Wesley Hardin, who “is said to have more than 30 notches on his gun, evidence that no more dangerous gunman ever operated in Texas,” says the Visit El Paso website.
The cemetery, located not far from Interstate 10 in central El Paso, is a Texas State Historic site. More than 60,000 people are buried there, including members of the Buffalo Soldiers’ 9th and 10th Cavalry – regiments that saw combat during the Indian and Spanish-American Wars.
Pro Tip: Located just across the street from the Concordia Cemetery is the L&J Café, a local favorite that is famous for serving classic Southwestern dishes like green chile chicken enchiladas and chile rellenos.
7. Drive The Mission Trail
Located in El Paso’s Lower Valley, the Historic Mission Trail dates back 400 years and features three beautifully preserved adobe churches from the 17th and 18th centuries. The Ysleta Mission, established in 1682, is the cornerstone of the Ysleta del Sur Indian Pueblo. The trail also includes the Socorro Mission and the San Elizario Chapel, which was established in 1789.
Described as “a nine-mile stretch across time in El Paso County’s Mission Valley,” the trail features the oldest churches in the state of Texas.
8. Savor The Mexican Food Capital Of America
El Paso bills itself as the Mexican Food Capital of America, and there are countless spots to check out authentic Mexican cuisine.
In the downtown area, head to ELEMI, a hip spot on Kansas Street dedicated to sourcing heirloom varieties of native maíz (corn) from sustainable farming communities in Mexico. ELEMI’s tacos are great, but I especially enjoyed the esquites, a deconstructed Mexican street-corn dish that includes white corn, herbs, chiles, and lime aioli.
Also on Kansas Street, located at the street level of downtown’s Hotel Indigo, Mamacita’s is a great spot for innovative and excellently prepared Mexican classics in a lively setting. Try the hearty and wholesome chicken tortilla soup, the shrimp tacos, or the Azteca rajas, a starter of layered corn tortilla, poblano peppers, corn, and Mexican cheese.
Fun Fact: A number of El Paso dining spots have been featured on Food Network programs. The list is featured on the Visit El Paso website.
9. Cheer On The Chihuahuas
When I arrived in downtown El Paso on a warm Friday evening in June, I was surprised to see the streets filled with people, many of whom were on their way to Southwest University Park, an outdoor stadium located in the middle of downtown.
I learned later that the stadium is the home of the El Paso Chihuahuas, a minor league baseball team of the Triple-A West and an affiliate of the San Diego Padres. It looked like the perfect activity as the sun was setting over the Chihuahuan Desert, and I wished I had planned ahead and reserved tickets.
Southwest University Park is also the venue for a variety of other sporting events and concerts, and the ballpark’s convenient location near hotels and restaurants make it a great addition to a visit to El Paso.
10. Hike The Franklin Mountains
Looming over El Paso to the north, the rugged Franklin Mountains serve as an outdoorsy playground for the city. The Franklin Mountains State Park features 125 miles of multi-use trails that are especially popular with mountain bikers.
Trails range from the easy Nature Walk, a three-fourths-mile loop in the Tom Mays Unit of the park, to the strenuous North Franklin Peak, an 8-mile trek to El Paso’s highest peak, ascending to an elevation of 7,192 feet.
When To Visit: Spring and fall months tend to be the most pleasant in El Paso, with March, April, September, and October posting average highs in the 80s Fahrenheit. Summers are hot, with average highs climbing well into the 90-degree range in June, July, and August, while the winter months are cool with average highs in the 50s and 60s.
Pro Tip: Located on the western edge of Texas, El Paso operates under Mountain Standard Time – the only Texas city to do so. That means that if you’re traveling virtually anywhere else in Texas you will need to switch from Mountain time to Central time.