48 Hours in Marfa, Texas
Go for the Prada storefront, stay for the abundance of inspiring art.
This one-stoplight town in the middle of West Texas is one of the most popular spots to show up on social media feeds. Its low-slung, Wild Western buildings turned into concept shops and art galleries, plus the infamous tiny Prada storefront down the road, garner lots of likes on Instagram. It became an unlikely artistic hub beginning in the 1970s, when Donald Judd arrived and began creating monumental artworks in a cavernous desert studio. Soon he invited artists and friends to do the same, and the result is a series of massive artworks in fifteen buildings in the desert, including one important piece that only just arrived in July: Robert Irwin's c-shaped concrete building on the site of an old army hospital.
For the fitness fiend, Marfa’s not the most obvious choice. But with fields full of monumental art that take a day to fully explore—and an enticing swimming hole not far away—you’ll certainly clock lots of steps (and perhaps even a few laps in the pool) while taking in some of the country’s most interesting art. Plus autumn's a nice time to see Marfa: it’s warm but not overly hot, and summer thunderstorm season has passed.
Where to Stay
There may not be a cooler hotel than El Cosmico, a souped-up campground that's home to 11 luxury airstream trailers, five teepees, two yurts and a bunch of safari tents. The 21-acre property is centered on a store selling serape robes and vintage army jackets, and each birch-paneled airstream has air conditioning and heating, a mini bar and fluffy robes. If you need any more proof that staying here’s not quite roughing it: it’s where Beyoncé stayed when she was in town.
Things are even more traditionally luxurious at the new Marfa Saint George, a glossy 55-room hotel that’s the fanciest thing Marfa’s ever seen. There’s Aesop in the showers, sheepskin rugs on the floors, and an impressive array of of local art on the walls. And you can actually buy a lot of that art at the downstairs MarfaBook Co., which is chockablock with thick art tomes and original prints and paintings made by local artists.
Start with breakfast at the Saint George, where the smartest morning option is as old school as it is satiating: cottage cheese with salted tomatoes. Get right into what makes Marfa so special with a tour of the Chinati Foundation, a series of 15 buildings—each dedicated to one artist’s work—set in a 340-acre desert “campus” a few miles outside town. Opt for the full-day tour of the complete collection, which ranges from a building filled with Dan Flavin’s dreamy fluorescent lights to Judd’s own creation of 100 shiny steel cubes. They look identical, but each is different inside.
Pop back into town for lunch at Food Shark, a Mediterranean food truck famous for its “Marfalafel” salads and wraps. (Well, it’s also known for two other things: An armada of wild 1970s cars parked around town advertising the truck, and the owners’ adjacent Late Night Museum of Electronic Wonders & Grilled Cheese, which, beginning at 9:30 each night, serves grilled cheese with a side of vintage video games).
By the end of the day, with five hours of walking under your belt, you’ll be both thoroughly inspired and hungry. You're in a town with top-notch Tex Mex, so indulge in carne asada wrapped in a fresh corn tortilla at Marfa Burrito. Once sated, drive back the hotel, leave your car and walk ten minutes from the Saint George or El Cosmico to end the day with a cocktail or two at Capri. Drinks like the Mexican in Paris (a surprisingly tasty mix of tequila, champagne and lime) are served around fire pits in a pretty modernist garden.
Grab your swimsuit, borrow a hotel towel and jump in the car to make the 50-minute drive on a hill-and desert-fringed road to Balmorhea State Park. The park’s centerpiece is the world's largest spring-fed swimming pool, which is somewhere between manmade and all-natural: The sides are cement, but the clear water comes from a natural spring so you’ll swim laps surrounded by turtles and catfish. Drive ten minutes east on the 3078 to pop into the picturesque Calera Chapel. The simple white stucco building is beautifully secluded, with no buildings around it for as far as the eye can see.
Back in Marfa, grab a green juice and salad or hummus sandwich at Squeeze Marfa, then do some shopping. Stop into Communitie to buy a hand-woven straw hat, then go around the corner to Mano for Native American-inspired jewelry and indigo kimonos made by a former creative director of Levis. Arber, down the block, sells paintings and prints by a couple that worked with Judd from the 1970s on, and the all-white Mirth is filled with spoons, bowls, plates and even bottle openers that'll make your home more stylish. On the other side of town (we're talking a three-minute walk away) the tiny Freda stocks pottery, baskets and prints picked out by accessories designer Susannah Lipsey.
Dinner is at the Saint George, where the new restaurant LaVenture serves cast-iron seared rib-eye and crispy roast chicken conceived by well-known Austin chef Allison Jenkins. Afterwards, end your last Marfa evening with a soak in one of El Cosmico’s wood-fired Dutch hot tubs. The hotel’s staff will light and stoke the fire that warms your personal tub, then keep it burning and put it out at 10 p.m. Quiet and secluded, the tubs are the perfect place to watch out for the famed Marfa Lights—signs of extraterrestrial life that are said to be frequently spotted in the skies over this peculiar West Texan town.