How to experience this arty, funky Texas town when the galleries are closed.
Phil and I arrived in Marfa, Texas late in the afternoon on a Sunday in November, as part of our cross-country road trip. Because of our arrival time, we missed out on the gallery scene, and all of the cute shops had shut down for the day. We had Organ Mountain National Forest in New Mexico as our next stop, so we knew we were just going to use Marfa for quick overnight before hitting the road again the next morning.
So…what to do with a night and a morning in Marfa?
Marfa, Texas is a semi-famous town in the middle of honestly, kinda nowhere. It’s known for its art scene, which was brought to life by minimalist artist Donald Judd when he moved there in the late 1970’s. Even after his death in 1994, his legacy remains, as Marfa has become a haven for contemporary artists who are drawn to the isolation and creative vibe.
Most folks (unlike us!) plan their trip to Marfa around the art scene, and spend their time exploring the many galleries and gift shops. But since we arrived when the town was basically shut down, we did our best to find fun things to do, and we did! Here are some tips on how to enjoy a quick slide through Marfa.
Check out an RV park
The Tumble In is a great place to stay or take pics of vintage RVs.
We spent the night in this funky little campground which sits between the highway and the railroad tracks. It’s bare bones, but it has hot showers, laundry, and a shared kitchen. Best of all, it’s got great opportunities for photography, so even if you don’t stay here, it’s worth a stop to get some pics of the permanently parked vintage Airstream and the old neon sign out front.
Grab a cold beer at Planet Marfa
Planet Marfa came highly recommended by two kind folks we met in a grocery store parking lot in El Paso. They saw our Vermont plates and struck up a conversation, and gave us great tips for where to eat and drink on all points between there and Organ Mountain. This was a perfect first stop after chugging along in the camper for hours on a hot day! Not only can you sip a brew in their adorable courtyard, you can also slide into a vintage school bus or a tipi.
We stuck with a table as we enjoyed our icy pints of fresh Dos Equis. There’s a limited food menu, but the owners are kind enough to allow you to bring food from other places in town. There’s a cute little place for burgers across the street, but we decided to take the plunge and eat at Marfa’s best, Cochineal.
Eat it up
After a few weeks of camper food, we decided to go all-in with a dinner at the top-rated Marfa restaurant, Cochineal. Chef/owner Alexandra Gates and her partner James have created an exceptional restaurant with a focus on home-grown vegetables from their garden, and locally and sustainably hunted meats.
We sauntered in without reservations (a mistake — try to get one if you can), but after a 30 minute wait in their beautiful patio, were offered a table. The staff was super sweet, with a quirky edge that made me imagine that they were all artists, just doing the restaurant hustle in order to pay rent and buy supplies. We feasted on local beef tongue pastrami on house made pickles, blistered okra with honey, Trout á la Meuniére, local quail with a cherry compote, buckwheat crepes, and the tastiest thing I’ve eaten in a lonnnng time —— their decadent date pudding with rum sauce.
After our glorious dinner, we struck up a conversation with the owner, James, about his hand-crafted house baked bread. James is a self-taught baker, committed to the use of ancient grains like Emmer wheat and spelt in the crusty, old world loaves he bakes daily.
Phil and James talked extensively about the challenge of working with these grains. But after having some of James’ crusty, salty bread, its obvious that his attention to detail results in exceptional loaves bursting with flavor. Definitely one of the top restaurant-made breads we’ve ever had, and something you should order when you dine at Cochineal.
Get coffee, do your laundry, pet a dog, and snap a selfie
You can do it all at Tumbleweed Laundry! This adorable shop has loads of new, efficient machines AND a kickin’ coffee bar that features not just the best Cortado in town, but also a huge selection of small-batch ice cream and free WiFi to boot.
I have to say, the highlight of our time at the laundry/coffee shop was meeting a dog whose job is to sit on the roof of his owner’s car and let travelers pet him. Being the scrappy blogger that I am, I completely forgot the dog’s name (starts with a P and is something intelligent, but not a name…let me know if you know this dog…he deserves credit!).
His human companion was traveling in his RV and made a quick stop in Marfa, but decided to stay. That was 5 years ago, and these days the two of them hang out in front of Tumbleweed, help folks take pics at the mural, and give out much needed doggo love to travelers like us who left their furry buds at home and miss them dearly.
Hit the brakes for Prada Marfa
Not in Marfa, but 37 miles north near the small town of Valentine (also worth a stop — and if you need stamps, there’s a precious little post office), this permanent contemporary art sculpture is a stunner.
Constructed in 2005 by artists Elmgreen & Dragset, it’s a perfect backdrop for an awesome Instagram photo. Tractor trailer drivers, drone pilots, and young couples in sporty cars all took turns popping across the busy highway to squeeze in quick photos in front of this iconic piece of art.