El Paso Is a Treasure in the Borderlands
Whatever you think of when you think of Texas, chances are your assumptions will be upended when you arrive in El Paso.
Located at the very western part of the state in the Chihuahuan Desert, El Paso shares borders (and cultural influences) with New Mexico and Mexico. It is rugged and mountainous, striking at sunset on Scenic Drive overlooking Ciudad Juárez.
It's a place filled with delicious cuisine, handcrafted cowboy boots, exciting hometown baseball games, and enriching public art. It's where you'll learn from rich historical accounts from indigenous communities and European settlers throughout the Mission Trail and churches, some of the oldest in the entire state. In short, El Paso is simply an unforgettable experience.
If you have an adventurous spirit, head for a hike at Hueco Tanks State Park, where you can find a collection of thousands of sacred indigenous pictographs thought to be 1,500 years old. You can also arrange for a guided hiking or biking tour through Franklin Mountains State Park, the largest urban park in the U.S., with caves to explore on your way to the summit. The mountain range rises about 7,000 feet and offers spectacular views into Mexico and New Mexico.
Not up for the hike? Head to Skyline Drive for an easier route to a birds-eye view. The Wyler Aerial Tramway (temporarily closed pending renovations as of publication) carries visitors up the eastern side of the Franklin Mountains, rising 1,000 feet above the city of El Paso.
Spend a morning or afternoon exploring the nine-mile El Paso Mission Trail, one of the U.S.'s oldest roads, with stops at Ysleta Mission, Socorro Mission, and San Elizario Presidio Chapel. You'll learn the story of Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate's expedition and encounters with indigenous communities in the area, resulting in the founding of missions here in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Tigua Indians built the Ysleta Mission, the oldest continuously operated parish in Texas. Stop at the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Cultural Center to learn more about the story of this community. Traditional bread baking is demonstrated every other Saturday of the month, and there's a museum and gift shop filled with artisanal items.
Museums abound in El Paso, including the only fully bilingual Holocaust Museum. The El Paso Museum of Art is free and has a collection of Latin American, American, European, modern and contemporary artwork, with a focus on artists with El Paso roots. Another way to experience local art is by taking a self-guided walking tour of some of the fantastic local murals in El Segundo Barrio, one of the city's oldest neighborhoods.
For a little spring or summer fun, cheer on the Chihuahuas at Southwest University Park for a minor league baseball game. The concessions serve up some truly unique spins on the old-fashioned ballpark hot dog, plus must-try nachos served in … qué más? A dog bowl.
If you're shopping for a truly El Pasoan souvenir, you can't go wrong with a pair of hand-stitched cowboy boots. Luxury boot company Lucchese operates a factory here, where bootmakers still make boots the old-fashioned way, gluing, stamping, stitching, and cutting each pair by hand. Other local bootmakers include: Tres Outlaws Boot Company, Rocketbuster Boots, and others.
Where to Eat
Ask locals and you're likely to get recommendations to visit L&J Cafe, "the old place by the graveyard" that serves up tacos, enchiladas, and burritos with house-made tortillas, or Chico's Tacos—a chain of five restaurants that started here in 1953 and have attracted a cult following. Chicos are similar to flautas: small fried rolled tacos, but they're covered with tomato sauce and cheese (locals recommend ordering them with extra cheese and adding green chile).
For newer restaurants, hit up Taconeta, a casual eatery for contemporary Mexican bites, like a suadero taco with brisket confit or a tempura mushroom taco; or fine dining at 1700 Degrees Steakhouse at the Hotel Paso del Norte. While traveling on the Mission Trail in Socorro, stop at El Charlatán, which celebrates "two love languages: ramen y tacos." Also out this way, check out the first brewery in Socorro, Three Missions Brewery, which brews a Churro stout among others.
Where to Stay
Two elegantly restored hotels each make for a memorable stay steeped in West Texas history: the Plaza Hotel Pioneer Park, opened in summer 2020 after a major renovation to the vacant historic building, embraces its Pueblo Revival Art Deco roots from the 1930s with a glowing amber-glass centerpiece, and lots of historic touches throughout. It's also home to Ámbar Restaurante, a trendy, wood-fired Mexican restaurant. Hotel Paso del Norte's marbled lobby with stained glass ceiling is a stately, 100-year-old option with contemporary furnishings located right downtown. For a more contemporary boutique option, head to Stanton House, which offers 42 suites, each curated with unique pieces from the hotel's art collection.