10 Can’t-Miss Activities and Attractions in Marfa, TX

‘Welcome to Marfa’ sign near interstate highway – Photo: Katerina Papathanasiou / The Vale Magazine

For those who are traveling through West Texas, the city of Marfa is a must-visit. Located in the Chihuahuan Desert, where highways 90 and 67 meet, this small but mighty city is regularly referred to as the contemporary art hub of West Texas.

Marfa, Texas, originated as a railroad water stop in 1883 and went on to serve as a training facility for the U.S. military during World War II. Today, it welcomes over 40,000 visitors per year and is a favorite among those who want to enjoy contemporary art, stunning scenery, and a warm welcome from the locals.

Despite its small-town feel, Marfa has a lot to offer in terms of activities, attractions, and lodging. Outlined below are some essentials that every visitor ought to check out during their stay.

1. Check Out the Giant Mural

The Giant Marfa Mural – Photo: Katerina Papathanasiou / The Vale Magazine

One of Marfa’s most noteworthy claims to fame is the fact that it served as the setting for the Western drama film “Giant.” Filmed in 1956, this legendary Western starred Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, and Rock Hudson.

To commemorate Marfa’s contribution to the beloved film, artist John Cerney created a mural depicting the stars of the film and including several pieces from the movie’s set. Cerney started work on the mural in 2018, and it’s since become a must-see for those who are traveling through the area.

2. Visit the Viewing Station

Located a mere 9 miles east of Marfa and close to the old airbase is a viewing station, which serves as the perfect place to check out the Marfa Mystery Lights.

Marfa Mystery Lights are a stunning natural phenomenon, which many have chalked up to paranormal activity. These nighttime lights glow red, blue, and white and appear at random times whenever the sun goes down, regardless of the season or the weather.

For those who want to see the lights in all their glory, one of the best times to visit Marfa is during the Marfa Lights Festival, which takes place every year during Labor Day weekend. 

3. Visit Prada Marfa

Prada Marfa – Photo: Katerina Papathanasiou / The Vale Magazine

Prada Marfa is a permanent art installation created by Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset. It’s located 26 miles northwest of Marfa and has been described as a “pop architectural land art project.”

The Prada Marfa installation is a replica of a luxury Prada storefront. It is built of a biodegradable substance, similar to adobe, though, and will eventually melt back into the earth. The project serves as a “surrealist commentary” on materialism in the Western world.

4. Explore the Museums

Ballroom Marfa – Photo: Katerina Papathanasiou / The Vale Magazine

For those who want to take in even more art, The Chinati Foundation is a contemporary art museum full of fascinating creations. It was founded by Donald Judd, an artist who left the New York art scene seeking fulfillment in Western Texas’s wilderness.

In addition to The Chinati Foundation, Marfa has a few other fascinating cultural destinations. This includes contemporary art museums like Ballroom MarfaRULE GalleryInde/Jacobs Gallery, and the Ayn FoundationMarfa Open, a converted train depot, is another must-visit that now serves as a non-profit art space.

5. Fuel Up at Delicious Restaurants 

Marfa Burrito – Photo: Katerina Papathanasiou / The Vale Magazine

For those who want to enjoy a delicious meal, Marfa Burrito is a great place to go for tasty Tex-Mex fare. It’s a popular breakfast and lunch spot, as is everyone’s favorite punny cafe, Buns n’ Roses, which sells coffee, pastries, and more.

For lunch and a change of scenery, Food Shark is a fun spot for Mediterranean fare, and the restaurant Stellina serves fancy Italian food for those looking for a dressier place to dine.

6. Get a Coffee or Beer

Frama at Tumbleweed Laundry, Marfa, TX – Photo: Katerina Papathanasiou / The Vale Magazine

Visitors who need a pick-me-up can enjoy coffee and treats from several cafes, including Frama, a combination coffee shop and laundromat, Do Your Thing Coffee, and The Sentinel, which serves as a coffee shop, restaurant, and event venue. 

For those who need something a bit stronger, the Lost Horse Saloon is a standard dive bar with a large patio perfect for relaxing and cooling down with a beer.

7. Do Some Shopping

Wrong Store in Marfa, TX – Photo: Wrong Marfa Official Website

There are plenty of places to shop for souvenirs in Marfa. For example, Marfa Book Company in downtown Marfa offers a variety of books that make great souvenirs and gifts.

There are plenty of other fun stores to peruse, too. The list includes Cobra Rock, which sells men’s and women’s attire, and Wrong Store, a combination souvenir shop and gallery.

8. Choose Between a Room or Teepee

Hotel Paisano in Marfa, TX – Photo: Aaron Owens / Unsplash

When it comes to lodging, Marfa offers a variety of unique options. There are plenty of outdoor vacation sites that offer trailers, teepees, safari tents, and even yurts. For those who want to relax in a more traditional setting, there are plenty of hotels, too.

The list includes El Cosmico, a fun bohemian hotel and campground hybrid, The Lincoln, a courtyard compound consisting of overnight suites and long-term housing, the ultra-modern Hotel Saint George, and Hotel Paisano, a historic 41-room destination that may be Marfa’s most luxurious place to stay.

9. Visit McDonald Observatory

Wide-angle mid-eclipse – Photo: McDonald Observatory / Facebook

McDonald Observatory is a great place to visit if you want to view some stunning scenery and capture images of the gorgeous night sky while you’re staying in Marfa.

The observatory offers a variety of activities for visitors of all ages, including guided tours and nighttime stargazing parties. They’re even offering virtual visits for those who want to see the stars but can’t get there in person.

10. Explore State and National Parks

Accommodation spot near Davis Mountains State Park – Photo: Katerina Papathanasiou / The Vale Magazine

For those who want to explore the great outdoors, there is a variety of state and national parks worth exploring in and around Marfa.

For example, Big Bend National Park, Big Bend Ranch State Park, and Davis Mountains State Park are all fun and fascinating destinations full of activity options, including hiking, biking, horseback riding, and camping.

When visiting Big Bend, there’s also an opportunity to easily cross the border in a rowboat and explore the rural Boquillas, Mexico. Boquillas offers more opportunities for exploration, shopping, dining, and more. Proper documentation is required for entry and exit.