On She Goes

Guide to Marfa, Texas & Its Middle-of-Nowhere Desert Vibes

This art-filled, chic town is perfect for your next girls’ trip.

Dez Ramirez
Dez Ramirez
December 19, 2017
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Marfa, Texas, is the home of artist Donald Judd’s sixties modernist art and an enclave for modern artists, the backdrop to James Dean and Liz Taylor’s 1956 feature Giant, and where you’ll find the spiritually hip El Cosmico ranch. Marfa’s most recent appearance in pop culture was as the setting for Jill Soloway’s TV series I Love Dick, the Trans-Pecos Music Festival, and a Solange performance. Drooling yet?

Without much convincing, my girlfriends and I made the trek toward remote-as-fuck west Texas. We were looking forward to middle-of-nowhere desert vibes, dust on our cowboy boots, and nights of bonding and tequila sipping under the stars in the dusty little town of almost 1,800 people.

The famed Prada shop in the middle of nowhere.
photo by Dez Ramirez

What to pack
Marfa’s high-desert weather can give you hot days and cold, crisp nights, so you’re going to want to bring a good, warm jacket. It’s also casual with some arty flair, and many of the dinner-only restaurants are on the higher end, so some flash in the evenings won’t hurt. It’s dry and dusty, so be sure to pack the good moisturizer and lip balm. Bring boots or closed-toe shoes if you don’t want to fuck with snakes and scorpions, but make sure they’re comfortable, because you’ll be walking the sidewalks and unpaved roads to all of the places mentioned below. Writers and daydreamers, bring your pen and paper, because all that big sky and desert landscape will be inspiring. Things I wish I would’ve brought: a headlamp for the dark streets, better boots, and my portable Bluetooth speaker.

Reptile Museum in Fort Mason.
photo by Dez Ramirez

Getting there
Marfa is not easy to access. Two of your simplest options include flying into Austin and driving six hours west, or flying into El Paso and driving three hours east. Impatient travelers need not apply; Texas is huge, and you will be driving through large portions of the state no matter how you map it. With a good playlist and snacks, this can be seen as an enjoyable mini road trip of sorts, with plenty of beautiful, Insta-worthy spots. Are you going to see pro-NRA and Trump bumper stickers on humongous SUVs? Absolutely—you’re in Texas—but as a brown girl, I felt safe in these no-man’s-land stretches and actually saw plenty of other brown folk along the way.

Where to stay
The historic Hotel Paisano is right in the center of town and is where James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor stayed while filming Giant. The ultra-modern and spendy Hotel Saint George is across the street if you want big-city sleek in the middle of nowhere. The two more funky, atomic ranch–style options are Thunderbird Hotel, a 1950s lodge with a swimming pool, and El Cosmico, a 21-acre hotel and campground with accommodations that include vintage trailers, safari tents, Sioux-style tepees, and yurts, as well as a communal kitchen and workshops. There’s also the option of staying at an Airbnb, like we did.

Wood fired hot tubbing at El Cosmico.
photo by Dez Ramirez

Where to drink and eat
If you like to hit the locals’ coffee spot in the morning, head over to Frama Coffee, where you can get your almond milk latte and gluten-free scone while snapping a selfie at the Welcome to Marfa mural right outside. Marfa Burrito is legendary in town, and you will find the owner, Ramona, serving up no-frills, delicious breakfast and lunch burritos. The walls are decorated with photos of her and Matthew McConaughey, you will dine next to border patrol, and she takes cash only. We had made reservations to dine at the swanky Capri for dinner (the same restaurant in I Love Dick), but after a change in menu, we ended up having an alternative fancy, foodie-approved experience at Stellina, where you can sip New Mexican sparkling white wine while rubbing elbows with Marfa’s art locals. If you want some organic comfort, The Get Go is a tiny market where you can pick up kombucha, nice cheeses and charcuterie, and local small-batch skin products. Two nights out of our three-night stay we ended up at Lost Horse Saloon, a dusty little watering hole that has danceable tunes, cheap drinks, and a fire pit out back. Prepare to turn heads and hear the creak of barstools when you walk through the front door.

Writing on the wall in Marfa.
photo by Dez Ramirez

What to do
Marfa is a small town full of modern and good-looking artists, so you should probably check out some local art. There are galleries scattered throughout town, some with weird hours but worth it. A tour of one of Donald Judd’s spots is an easy half-day option to see minimalist art; you can schedule a tour of Judd’s studios or The Block, his private residence. The famous Prada Marfa photo op is located in Valentine, Texas, which is a 30-minute drive from Marfa. Back in Marfa, take a walk around town and stumble upon some photographable murals, window-shop at gorgeously pricey boutiques, or pick through $1 piles at the weird Marfa Museum Thrift Store. Marfa is nestled between the towns of Alpine and Fort Davis; we opted for a day-trip to Fort Davis and hiked the Indian Lodge Trail in Davis Mountains State Park after a pit stop at another thrift shop and a reptile “museum,” Rattlers & Reptiles. At the end of your day, take a soak in one of El Cosmico’s wood-fired hot tubs while catching a glorious Texas sunset, or if you #iwanttobelieve, drive to the outskirts of town and see if you can spot the infamous Marfa Lights.

One thing we missed: swimming in the spring-fed pool at Balmorhea State Park.

Depending on your agenda, make sure you visit on the right days of the week. We were there in October, and just a handful of businesses were open—most of them were closed Sunday through Tuesday.