Survival Guide to Marfa, Texas: Essential Tips to Know Before You Go

Kevin and I pose on the highway into town

We just wrapped our trip to Marfa, Texas – a celebrity hot spot and considered Texas’ homegrown version of Brooklyn (or pretty much what Austin strives to be).  Kevin and I have traveled a lot, but nothing really prepared us for our visit.  There are so many “norms” in Marfa we’ve never experienced anywhere else (like restaurants just running out of food – like multiple times!). The place is offbeat to say the least – and seemingly run by 20-something hipsters who look like could easily be extras in HBO’s “Girls” (i.e. Brooklyn artists donning wide-brimmed hats, 1950s sunglasses and thrift-store attire). Below is a list of tips – things that can only be learned from actually coming to Marfa.  Good luck and Godspeed!

The indie bookstore located in the Hotel St. George

Inside one of Marfa’s indie bookstores – the amount of facial hair and vintage clothes in this town is mind boggling 

ARRIVING/DRIVING

  • For those of you without a private yet (unlike Queen Beyonce), the closest airport to Marfa is located is in El Paso, a breezy 3-hour drive. The drive is fast – with speed limits around 75-80 mph!  But watch the heavy foot – I counted more than 10 cars pulled over from speed traps set up around El Paso
  • Rent a car with Sirius XM Radio. At times, you will have NO radio stations.  Marfa does have a local, hipster NPR station though but you’ll have a long ride before you get within the broadcast range
  • Watch your data plan, so important! You’re along the border with Mexico and our carrier (AT&T) switched between domestic and international. Google Maps will burn up your data. Switch to airplane mode to be safe (after loading the map which will still work in airplane mode and not burn your data)
  • Speaking of coverage, AT&T was pretty much non-existent in Marfa. Be prepared to disconnect
  • We got into El Paso around midnight and it was surprisingly busy – you’ll find plenty open places late at night (shockingly)
  • Most important advice on driving safety — the road to Marfa is littered with roadkill. This in turn attracts vultures, which have a tendency to play chicken with on-coming traffic (ie, they will lose and destroy your car). It is common to see smashed cars from all the vultures that just won’t budge from the road. The cars were totaled and covered in feathers.
The closest city to Marfa is El Paso, a 3 hour drive through Texas farmlands

The closest city to Marfa is El Paso, a 3 hour drive through Texas farmlands

ACCOMODATION

  • Book hotels early – we attempted to book a place during Memorial Day weekend, 2 months in advance but everything was already gone!
  • Lots of private properties are being rented out for tourists to stay. We heard from a few travelers who got lucky and found several options on places like AirBnB
  • If you can’t find a place in Marfa, try Alpine. Alpine is 30 min East of Marfa and a great alternative with the Holland Hotel. It’s a university town (where they filmed some scenes for the movie Boyhood at the local university).  It’s much more subdued here – in other words, if Marfa is the cool hipster then Alpine would be their traditional, straight-laced parents
First stop: sleepy Alpine, Texas home to a few good coffee shops and art galleries

The Holland Hotel in downtown Alpine, Texas — located just 30 minutes East of Marfa and much more low-key 

ATTRACTIONS

  • Like hotels, book early as possible for all sites/tours (Chinati Foundation, Marfa Maid Goat Farm, star gazing party at the McDonald Observatory, etc).
  • The Chinati Foundation offers daily tours. They offer a 2-hour tour and a full-day tour.  The 2-hour tour was more than enough time for us not to get bored
  • Yelp map locations aren’t always accurate, Google Maps is a better option
    • The Marfa Lights viewing platform (where you can look for Marfa’s floating alien-like orbs) is midway between Marfa and Alpine to the East (not West, as listed on Yelp)
    • The infamous Prada store is listed on Yelp as North of Marfa. It’s actually West.  You’ll pass it on your way into town.  It’s a 45-minute drive from Marfa, so plan to see it during daylight hours (either on the drive in or out of Marfa to save time on the road).
  • Check out the Website Marfalist. It’s the best place to find special events happening in town – and there is surprisingly a lot for a town of less than 2,000 inhabitants
  • Not all places in Marfa are all that comfortable to relax (or shut down early around 4 PM). The best place we found to chill was the restaurant/bar in the Hotel Paisano.  It has a courtyard and several couches inside (with AC!).  There are also several fun shops located in the hotel, including an entire store dedicated to the film Giant filmed in Marfa back in the 1950s.
  • You need to visit Big Bend National Park (read my previous blog post here) – the park is in the middle of nowhere. But you’ll probably never be closer.  It’s a nice way to break up the trip with an intense hike.  We did the Lost Mine Tour, which was a slow incline up the mountain and took less than 3-hours roundtrip.
Kevin jokingly points to the field not expecting to see any of Marfa's infamous lights, floating orbs believed to be aliens or just the locals messing with us

Kevin jokingly points to the field not expecting to see any of Marfa’s infamous lights, floating orbs believed to be aliens or just the locals messing with us

FOOD/DRINK

  • Open hours mean nothing, places run out of food and shut suddenly. Don’t expect it to go smoothly
  • For any of their 1-2 higher end restaurants, reservations are essential and book at least a day prior (or you’ll be out of luck!). We were lucky and got a seat at the bar for Cochineal right when they opened
  • The food truck Boyz2men will upsell, upsell, upsell! We got suckered along with every other tourist.  The upside is the food was good.  Reviews on Yelp called it a “performance piece.”  I’m not sure I’d give them that much credit.  They talk in Jamaican accents, refuse to answer questions and about 90 percent of the menu makes absolutely no sense. It’s totally weird, and in hindsight funny.  Though, $40 still seems a lot of money for tacos from a trailer (since they did strong arm us to order 8 tacos!) What were we thinking?  At least we didn’t buy the mugs, they pushed at the end. We weren’t THAT gullible
  • All meals are on Marfa time. Meaning – expect long waits, forgotten orders, general confusion. It’s all part of the experience, but just something to keep in mind in case you’re planning out the day
Best meal in Marfa is at Cochineal and about 3 hours long... The town goes at their own pace

Best meal in Marfa is at Cochineal and about 3 hours long… The town goes at its own pace

WEATHER

  • Marfa is incredibly hot during the day, and gets chilly at night. Be prepared for a mid-day wardrobe change
  • During the winter, it snows and gets treacherous. Who knew?
  • It is dry and dusty – don’t forget to drink plenty of water. You will need it
Phil battles the Marfa conditions

Battling the Marfa conditions – it’s 100% desert, with hot days and chilly nights in the summer

Just some helpful tips from a Marfa survivor.  You will have a blast!  And be prepared to find many like-minded travelers who face all the obstacles to make it here – it isn’t easy.  But happy to say Marfa certainly lived up to my hyper-expectations!

Marfa Shop

Marfa Sunset

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Survival Guide to Marfa, Texas: Essential Tips to Know Before You Go
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Survival Guide to Marfa, Texas: Essential Tips to Know Before You Go
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We just wrapped our trip to Marfa, Texas – a celebrity hot spot and considered Texas' homegrown version of Brooklyn (or pretty much what Austin strives to be). Kevin and I have traveled a lot, but nothing really prepared us for our visit. There are so many “norms” in Marfa we've never experienced anywhere else (like restaurants just running out of food - like multiple times!). The place is offbeat to say the least – and seemingly run by 20-something hipsters who look like could easily be extras in HBO’s “Girls” (i.e. Brooklyn artists donning wide-brimmed hats, 1950s sunglasses and thrift-store attire). Below is a list of tips – things that can only be learned from actually coming to Marfa. Good luck and Godspeed!

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