There are so many cool and unique things to do in Marfa, Texas. Here’s your guide to help plan your trip to Marfa.
This is Part Two to my Marfa Guides. Part One includes all the places you’ll want to eat and drink in Marfa. Plus, details on Marfa’s hippest places to stay!
Marfa, Texas: Pop 2121
Marfa is a small desert city in far-west Texas that has become the ‘hip’ hub for artists and creatives. Until the 1970’s though, Marfa, Texas was mainly known for the Marfa Lights and as the film location for James Dean’s final picture the “GIANT.”
In 1971, Donald Judd, the renowned minimalist artist, moved to Marfa from New York City with the intention of permanently installing his art. He would spend three decades constructing a ‘live-work compound‘ in the center of town and an art foundation, the Chinati Foundation, on the outskirts.
We visited in early March and it was beautiful weather. The afternoons got up to the 70’s with bright blue skies, but the nights were cold and usually drop to the 20’s or 30’s. Make sure to pack extra blankets and cold weather gear! Outfits with layers will be your best bet.
Also on that note, make sure to bring good shoes for walking through dusty desert terrain. I brought my much-beloved cowboy boots, but combat boots would be good too!
For Marfa to be such a hip and ‘touristy’ spot, it wasn’t really crowded or busy or packed anywhere. Like, whatsoever. Marfa does have several notable film, music, and art festivals during the year, so check ahead if you want to avoid crowds.
Additionally, since many of the restaurants in Marfa are cash only, it’s pretty crucial to bring some as well. The town has three ATMs and none are major banks.
There will be parts of the drive where cell service is spotty, but once you’re in town, you’ll have pretty good service. Not to mention, many places and hotels have WiFi now. Finally, make sure you pack everything you need before leaving. Marfa only has a Dollar General and a 24/7 convenience store, but that’s it. Plan accordingly!
What to Do in Marfa, Texas
Accounts of ‘strange and unexplained phenomena’ outside of Marfa began during the 19th century and continue to this day. Many have claimed they have seen lights dance on the horizon southeast of town, an area that is quite empty.
The Marfa Lights are usually red, blue, or white. Most times, they appear randomly during the night, regardless of season or weather.
The official Marfa Lights Viewing Area is located 9 miles east of town on Highway 90, towards Alpine. We didn’t see any lights here, and most people I talked to haven’t. Either way, we weren’t disappointed.
The viewing area provides the perfect spot to stargaze, Marfa Lights or not. Bundle up, lay back, and take it all in. You don’t often get to see the stars quite this bright.
We were fortunate enough to go during a time where the moon was waning or almost a full moon. Apparently that makes a huge difference to the number of stars and constellations you’ll see.
The McDonald Observatory is an astronomical observatory located near Fort Davis. The highlight of the observatory that’s a short drive from Marfa, are the Star Parties Thursdays through Saturdays. The evening viewing party is usually two hours long and typically includes constellation touring, telescope viewing, and other presentations. I suggest getting those tickets early, we waited until that week and they were sold out. You can get tickets here.
Davis Mountains Loop
If you’re craving more views of the peaceful West Texas landscape, this is the scenic drive you want. Longhorns roam free along the highways that wind around some of Texas’s highest mountains.
The full Davis Mountains loop is 71 miles and will take you about 90 minutes, that’s if you don’t stop for pictures. The drive takes you through a range of ancient volcanoes, up to an elevation of 6,700 feet above sea level. The mountains reach heights of 8,300+ feet. We took this long ride after we went to Prada Marfa and it put us right back in town. But you can also take it up to the observatory.
Prada Marfa: the little art installation I’ve been dreaming of visiting for- well, basically forever (it was established in 2005). It’s pretty much the whole reason for this trip. I mean, it’s pretty silly to a ton of people, but it’s completely magical and charming. Especially in-person. There is ABSOLUTELY nothing around the store except the Texas fields and big sky.
Within days of the store’s opening, the vandalism and looting began. The artists returned to the store to make repairs and this time, they only included right-footed shoes and bottom-less purses. Plus, a few high-tech looking security cameras. The store wasn’t too terribly busy, a few people came and left. I, on the other hand, couldn’t resist taking pictures in a few different outfits.
While you’re waiting for your Mediterranean food from Food Shark, hop over next door and give your eyes a feast. Moonlight Gemstones is a little shop that sells gemstones, minerals, rocks, agate, and jewelry created by the owner and his son. We picked up a beautiful but massive hunk of black, pink, and orange striped agate. You will pay for the large gemstones by the pound.
The Chinati Foundation is a contemporary art museum in Marfa, Texas-based upon the ideas of its founder, Donald Judd, an American minimalist artist. At the main site, right outside of town is 340 acres of his sculptures that make for a wonderful photo opportunity. The yellow desert grass grows tall out by his concrete sculptures. There are free tours and guided tours that will take you to his other sites. We simply did the free tour and walked around the grounds at our own leisure. You’ll definitely want to keep your eyes open for natural wildlife scurrying all around!
Last year, a Target pop-up shop mysteriously appeared in Marathon, just outside of Marfa, Texas. Unlike the Prada art installation in West Texas, this small concrete building is open to go inside, but empty. Oh, also, when I say just outside of Marfa, I mean about 48 miles outside of Marfa. It’s quite isolated and it isn’t really ‘on-the-way’ to any sights or home. For die-hard Target fans though like myself, that doesn’t change anything.
Big Bend National Park
If you’re traveling to West Texas, there’s a good chance you might be heading to Big Bend National Park after Marfa. The National Park wasn’t a part of our adventure this time, but you better believe I’ll be coming back for a little RVing through Big Bend!
If you’re heading to Big Bend, there’s Terlingua, a ghost town 5 minutes away. Nowadays it makes for a great place to make camp. Plus, there’s plenty of things to do in Terlingua!
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Have you been to Marfa? What was your favorite place? Let me know in the comments!
This is Part Two to my Marfa Guides. Part One includes all the places you’ll want to eat and drink in Marfa. (plus, details on Marfa’s hippest places to stay!)
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