Marfa is a city in the high desert of the Trans-Pecos in far West Texas, between the Davis Mountains and Big Bend National Park. It is the county seat of Presidio County, and its population as of the 2010 United States Census was 1,981. The city was founded in the early 1880s as a water stop; the population peaked in the 1930s and has continued to decline each decade since. Today, Marfa is a tourist destination and a major center for minimalist art. Attractions include Building 98, the Chinati Foundation, artisan shops, historical architecture, a classic Texas town square, modern art installments, art galleries, and the Marfa lights.
Where to Stay at Marfa
Hotel Saint George
Hotel Saint George was—and remains—the first luxury hotel in Marfa. The rooms, with their calming gray color schemes, are spacious and modern, while an impressive pool complex is the perfect way to cool down from the desert heat. Come nighttime, their bar becomes a lively gathering place perfect for a spicy margarita.
Adventurers looking for attainable lodging can opt for El Cosmico, a bohemian-esque campground that offers a variety of housing options from yurts, to trailers, to even a micro-home called the “Cosmic Casita.” Their onsite food truck, Cloudy’s, serves up breakfast tacos to cheeseburgers, and they’ll often host concerts from indie musicians on their grounds.
Cibolo Creek Ranch
Just over 30 miles outside of Marfa—which is this part of the country, is decidedly not far—is Cibolo Creek Ranch, a sprawling five-star property set upon 30,000 acres where guests’ rooms are tucked away in a 19th-century adobe fort. Here, you can horseback ride through the remote Big Bend country, or hop on an ATV tour to see an abandoned ghost town and Indigenous rock art.
What to Do at Marfa
Ballroom Marfa is a contemporary museum with a constantly rotating exhibition program: whenever you go, you’ll experience a different show from a different working artist, such as Roberto Carlos Lange and Kristi Sword’s “Kite Symphony,” which is running at the venue until May. They also commission site-specific works, such as stone circle (2018) by Haroon Mirza, inspired by prehistoric monuments like Stonehenge, and helped bring “Prada Marfa” and “Giant” to life—but more on those later.
There is a definitive must-visit when in Marfa, and that is the Chinati Foundation, the minimalist art museum founded by Donald Judd that catapulted this tiny Texas town into the national spotlight. Wander through Donald Judd’s 100 untitled works made in mill aluminum, housed in old military camp buildings, or take in the neon lights of Dan Flavin’s site-specific installations. For art novices, book a guided tour—and most importantly, stay awhile.
Although much of Judd’s work resides at the Chinati Foundation, his in-town residence allows you to go one step further in understanding the artist. View everything from his extensive collection of books—he famously read for hours each day—to his studio, or even his kitchen. Each room, perfectly preserved from the last time he visited in the 1990s, feels like Judd could walk in at any moment.
“Prada Marfa” by Elmgreen & Dragset
The Instagram reputation of “Prada Marfa” likely precedes it. (That’ll happen when Beyoncé uses you as a backdrop for one of her Instagram snaps.) Yet the site-specific art installation by Elmgreen & Dragset, supported by the Art Production Fund and Ballroom Marfa, is still very much worth a visit. It’s absurdist in nature: the “store” is on remote ranch land, the door doesn’t open, and the objects of desire (shoes and handbags from a 2005 Prada collection) are frozen inside forever, unable to be bought. Is it a commentary, monument, or a critique of capitalism? Well, that’s up to you.
“Giant” by John Cerney
In 1956, Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean descended on Marfa to film the epic western Giant about a Texas ranch family during the rise of big oil. Nearly 60 years later, artist John Cerney erected massive plywood cut-outs of the Old Hollywood stars and plopped them on the side of Highway 90 near where the historically significant movie was filmed.
Where to Shop at Marfa
When you come to Marfa, you will undoubtedly want to dress like a cowboy, even if you don’t have the wardrobe to make that sartorial dream a reality. So stop by Raba, a store that specializes in “high desert” vintage. Raba carries an eclectic mix—when this writer was there, she spotted everything from old-school suede jackets fringed jackets, quilted coats, a Chloé poncho, and even a matching set by Christian Dior—but they all fit a classic Western aesthetic.
Garza carries everything from furniture to ceramics, but their in-house designed textiles are the real stars of the shop. Come home with a colorful tablecloth, blanket, or bolster that’ll be a colorful statement piece in your home for years to come.
Spiritual shoppers should look no further than Moonlight Gemstones, a rock shop that offers rare crystals and handmade silver agate jewelry. Ogle beautiful brimstones or turquoise rings, and don’t be surprised if you come home with a bag of rocks of your own.
Marfa Brand offers a wide array of artisanal bath products all meant to evoke the scent of the Wild West. Take the Ranch Road soap, which is made with cedarwood, patchouli, and clove.
Where to Eat and Drink at Marfa
Cochineal put Marfa on the culinary map after its executive chef and co-owner, Alexandra Gates, was nominated for a prestigious James Beard Award. Gates takes cues from the cuisine of West Texas and Europe with her elevated seasonal menu, which includes everything from elk osso buco, to venison meatballs, to cast-iron trout.
When in Texas, indulging in some smoked meats is an absolute must. Saddle up at Convenience West, a former convenience-store turned barbecue restaurant, and order up some brisket, ribs, Frito pie sausage. (And some vegetable sides—so you can at least pretend you’re eating a balanced meal.)
The breakfast tacos and turmeric lattes are enough of a reason to go to The Sentinel, a quaint coffee and lunch spot just off the main drag of Marfa town. But there’s also a tasteful assortment of artisan goods—think silver jewelry, woven baskets, colorful blankets, and earthy candles—as well as the ethical mission behind it all: the sales benefit two local independent newspapers, the Big Bend Sentinel and Presidio International.
There’s no better—or bigger—burrito in town than at Marfa Burrito, run by local celebrity Ramona Tejada. (She’s got photos on the wall with Matthew McConaughey and Mark Ruffalo to prove it.) The simple yet hearty menu is handwritten on hot pink paper—think entries for “egg and chorizo” or just “carne.” Stop by for a breakfast burrito after a late night at…
Lost Horse Saloon
Anthony Bourdain filmed one of the final episodes of Parts Unknown at the Lost Horse Saloon, a cowboy bar and grill where the neon sign outside tells you exactly what to order: beer. Grab a Lone Star and maybe a burger before you saddle up to play pool all night long.
Marfa Spirit Co.
In a tin building a block or two off of Marfa’s main drag is Marfa Spirit Co., a distillery, tasting room, and restaurant specializing in signature cocktails made with their own “Chihuahuan Desert” brand liquor, from sotol to grapefruit liqueur. Go there for steak night on Fridays and get ready to knock back some cocktails.
Arts and culture
The area around Marfa is known as a cultural center for contemporary artists and artisans. In 1971, Minimalist artist Donald Judd moved to Marfa from New York. After renting summer houses for a few years, he bought two large hangars and some smaller buildings and began to permanently install his art. While this started with his building in New York, the buildings in Marfa allowed him to install his works on a larger scale. In 1976, he bought the first of two ranches that became his primary places of residence, continuing a long love affair with the desert landscape surrounding Marfa. Later, with assistance from the Dia Art Foundation in New York, Judd acquired decommissioned Fort D.A. Russell, and began transforming the fort’s buildings into art spaces in 1979. Judd’s vision was to house large collections of individual artists’ work on permanent display, as a sort of antimuseum. Judd believed the prevailing model of a museum, where art is shown for short periods of time, does not allow the viewer an understanding of the artist or their work as they intended.
The Chinati Foundation
Since Judd’s death in 1994, two foundations have worked to maintain his legacy: the Chinati Foundation and Judd Foundation. Since its inauguration in 1986, Chinati has held an open-house event that attracts visitors from around the world to visit Marfa’s art. Between 1997 and 2008, both foundations cosponsored this event. The Chinati Foundation now occupies more than 30 buildings in Marfa and has permanently displayed work by 13 artists.
In recent years, a new wave of artists has moved to Marfa to live and work. As a result, new gallery spaces have opened in the downtown area. The Crowley Theater and its annex host public events with seating for over 175 as a public service to nonprofit foundations. Furthermore, The Lannan Foundation has established a writers-in-residency program, a Marfa theater group has formed, and a multifunctional art space called Ballroom Marfa has begun to show art films, host musical performances, and exhibit other art installations. The city is also 37 miles (60 km) from Prada Marfa, a pop art exhibit, and is home to Cobra Rock Boot Company and The Wrong Store.
Marfa Myths, an annual music festival and multidisciplinary cultural program, was founded in 2014 by nonprofit contemporary arts foundation Ballroom Marfa and Brooklyn-based music label Mexican Summer. The festival brings together a diversity of emerging and established artists and musicians to work creatively and collaboratively across music, film, and visual arts contexts. The festival is inherently embedded in the landscape of Far West Texas, and deeply engaged with Marfa’s cultural history and present-day community.
Building 98, also located in Marfa, is a project of the International Woman’s Foundation, which has operated an artist-in-residency program since 2002. The International Woman’s Foundation was responsible for placing Fort D.A. Russell on the National Register of Historic Places as an effort to preserve the historic importance of the site. The facility’s studio galleries host artists who desire to exhibit work in the region at a premier venue. In late September 2012 through early April 2013, the foundation held a major retrospective of the works of Wilhelmina Weber Furlong at Building 98 featuring over 75 unseen works of the early American woman modernist. Building 98 is located at historic Fort D. A. Russell; it is the home of Marfa’s German POW murals. The facility also features the George Sugarman sculpture courtyard.
Presidio County operates the Marfa Municipal Airport, located north of the city in unincorporated Presidio County.
Commercial air service is available at either Midland International Airport or El Paso International Airport. The airports are, respectively, 180 mi (290 km) northeast, and 190 mi (310 km) northwest.
Greyhound Lines operates an intercity bus service from the Western Union office. Amtrak’s Sunset Limited, which operates between New Orleans and Los Angeles three days a week, passes through the city, but does not stop; the nearest station is located in Alpine, 26 mi (42 km) northeast.