Marfa, TX: Big Art in a Small Town

Last week was our glorious, long-awaited Spring Break! I hadn’t been on a plane since January of 2020. I’ve traveled plenty in that time, but always via oversized, smelly, SUV. As much as I love a road trip, even I wasn’t willing to drive the one million hours to western Texas, where we randomly decided to vacation with our dear friends. We started out in El Paso, hit Guadalupe Mountain National Park (because if not now, when, really?), then moved south to Big Bend National Park. It is a desolate, desert drive, friends, except for one bizarre oasis of art three hours out of El Paso: Marfa, Texas.

A friend who used to live in El Paso told me about Marfa ahead of time, thank goodness. Otherwise we would have written it off as a half-town and drove directly past. But she sent me an article that claimed it was “an unlikely must-go-once-in-your-life-at-least for the cultural elite.” And you know me- nothing if not culturally elite.


Jim is resigned to my road trip whims, and our friends were willing to humor me, so we stopped. Here are a few things about Marfa:

  1. They are pretty liberal with the city limits. We saw our first piece of Marfa art about thirty miles before entering the town, and then nothing but dust devils and tumbleweeds until the town “really” begins half an hour later. The art is an installation piece that is hilarious, because you haven’t seen anything not brown for three hours and then this:
Erin is classy enough to actually shop at Prada. Me? Not so much.

It is a tiny, unemployed, eternally locked Prada store. It houses some pieces from Prada’s 2005 collection, and is the headlining act in the show that is Marfa. Around the outside, people have begun adding locks to the fence, which I always love. Romantic! There were two other tourists there taking selfies in front of the store, but like us, nobody knew to bring a lock to secure our love with our significant others. Maybe next time.

2. Most things are closed on Mondays. Nothing more on that, but you should know. I made everybody stop again on Wednesday, on our way back from Big Bend. They were all really happy with me.

3. Your best food option, in our experience, is “The Water Stop.” The food was delicious, it had a very “Big Sur” vibe with things like this ancient Coke machine, and you will have plenty of time to chat while you wait for your food. Plenty.

4. Back to the art scene. There are great art stores in Marfa, since that’s what they’re known for. Definitely don’t miss “Wrong,” which carries tons of art by Donald Judd, a minimalist artist, who laid down roots in Marfa. Pop into “Esperanza Vintage and Art” to check out some great art, and eclectic vintage finds (I had to tear my husband away from the giant belt buckles.) Across the street is “Communitie Marfa”, which gets a special shout-out because my friends found their dream hats there and now look authentically Texan. I cannot pull off a cowboy hat the way they can, so I settled for a cap I found across the way at a store I don’t know the name of, but here’s the hat if that’s helpful (it’s not, I know.)

5. Go to the Hotel Saint George. We wandered in on a whim and were so glad we did! It is beautiful! And historic! James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, and Rock Hudson filmed “Giant” there. On your way north, you can stop at the massive signs touting this historic movie to stretch your legs and take some pictures (which we did not.) I particularly liked the James Dean board. Pretty dreamy for a piece of cardboard.

Five seems like a good place to stop, but I would be remiss if I did not mention the natural art of Marfa. Yes, it’s surrounded by gorgeous desert landscape, but there’s more. There’s the night sky. This area of Texas claims to have the darkest night sky in the lower 48 states, which is totally believable. I think I saw every glistening star in the sky. It was stunning. But in typical Marfa fashion, there is an artistic twist to the night sky every now and then. Since the beginning of the 19th century, people have seen otherworldly lights illuminating the dark skies of Marfa. They haven’t found a rhyme or reason to the timing of the lights, but scientists attribute the illuminations to magic.

Just kidding.

Truly, though, nobody seems to be able to provide a satisfactory explanation. There are theories about ghosts, UFOs, mirages, and much, much more. Personally, I think the lights are simply nature’s art finding a comfortable home with the art enthusiasts of Marfa.