Travel Guide for Marfa, Texas

Located at the junction of US Highway 90 and 67 at an altitude of 4,830 feet above sea level, some might consider Marfa to be Texas's best kept secret. Since its establishment in 1883, the city has become a hub for artists, foodies and hipsters.

Thought to be among one of the last American frontiers, Marfa is situated on a high plateau of the Chihuahuan Desert, surrounded by the Davis Mountains to the north, the Chios Mountains to the southeast and the Chinati Mountains to the southwest. 



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The Marfa Film Festival

Perhaps best known for its innovative art scene and the mysterious Marfa Lights, there are plenty of other reasons to visit Marfa. One of the city’s most notable events takes place every summer. Since its launch in 2007, The Marfa Film Festival has been attracting filmmakers, press and industry professionals from around the world. Dennis Hopper, Lou Reed, Larry McMurtry, Omar Rodríguez-López and the late Heath Ledger are among festival alumni.

This year, the five day day festival continues its celebration of innovation and excellence in film by bringing thousands of attendees to the remote town of Marfa in far West Texas. Kicking off on July 2nd, spectators will enjoy a collection of features, shorts and music videos, all set against the picturesque backdrop of the Marfa plateau. Many of the films are from US-based directors but other countries are represented as well – Italy, Colombia, the Netherlands, Argentina, Spain, Sweden, Australia and the UK to name a few.

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Getting There

Marfa is somewhat of an isolated destination so it’s a good idea to plan ample travel time. If traveling by air, search for flights that arrive in El Paso Airport or the Midland/Odessa Airport. Both are about 200 miles (three hour drive) from Marfa so most travelers opt to rent a car once they land.

There's also Marfa Municipal, an airport located three miles north of Marfa, but only small jets and jet-prop aircrafts are accommodated.

Train travelers can book with Amtrak, which stops about 26 miles east of Marfa.

Alternatively, the Greyhound offers daily service from El Paso and Midland/Odessa to Van Horn. To make things easier for attendees, the festival offers a free shuttle bus to and from the nearest town of Alpine. Pickups and dropoffs are scheduled to coincide with film screenings.

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The Art Scene

The festival may be the focus of your trip but don’t leave town without experiencing a few of Marfa’s top cultural attractions. Marfa takes minimalism to the next level, often using elements of the West Texas landscape as inspiration. The art scene really picked up in the 1970s when renowned minimalist Donald Judd abandoned his life in New York City and headed out west to Marfa. Among his many contributions was filling an entire Army base with art. Today, there's no gallery district per se, but there are plenty of exhibitions and installations.

Depending on how long you're in town, visiting a few art galleries is an immersive way to better understand Marfa's artistic lifestyle. The Chinati Foundation is open to the public Wednesday through Sunday and the museum's entire collection is divided among the foundation's fifteen buildings, covering an impressive 340 acres of land. Since a considerable amount of walking is required, make sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring water to stay hydrated in the heat.

Marfa Contemporary is one of the newer installments in the heart of Marfa and features art, education and an artist in residency program. To discover work from local and national artists, head to Marfa Book Company. Both Galleri Urbane and Greasewood Gallery feature work across varied media, from painting and photography to sculpture and installation.

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Outdoor Adventure

Marfa may feel like it's in the middle of nowhere but it’s actually surrounded by several national park and historic sites. Big Bend National Park is ideal for nature enthusiasts, as hundreds of bird species live in the surrounding mountain range and cactus varieties bloom and thrive under the southwestern sun. Hikers have more than 150 miles of trails at their disposal, with elevations reaching as high as 7,832 feet. Some travelers make this a day trip while others opt for a longer stay. There are three different campground areas and visitors are allowed two consecutive weeks (up to 14 nights) in the park.

Balmorhea State Park and McDonald Observatory are two other attractions worth visiting. As the world's largest spring-fed swimming pool, Balmorhea is a refuge during the hot summer months, with the cool waters hovering between 72 and 76 degrees year round. The McDonald Observatory offers both day and evening activities including their Star Party program where participants can view celestial objects through a collection of telescopes.

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Marfa has the quality of restaurants of a more populous city.  Padre's is a Marfa original and local favorite. Despite the beautiful renovation, the building is actually a 100 year old adobe. The bar is made out of original hardwood flooring from the building. Padre's offers patrons an extensive list of tequila but most people come here for the laid-back atmosphere, vintage shuffleboard and pool tables and to listen to live music. Lost Horse Saloon is another local hotspot for nightlife.

For fine dining, Cochineal and Reata Restaurant are among the most frequented by locals and tourists alike. Serving homemade comfort food made from fresh ingredients grown from their garden, Cochineal is the go-to place for high-quality cuisine and a cozy atmosphere. The restaurant seats about 30 people and has an informal setup. Reata Restaurant is located a few miles away in Alpine and serves everything from Chicken Fried Steak to Pepper Crusted Tenderloin. Head to Food Shark for Mediterranean food or Squeeze Marfa for smoothies, juice, sandwiches and Vollenweider Swiss Chocolate.

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