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5 ways Marfa is the weirdest (and coolest) town in Texas

May 16, 2021
9 min read
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I'll just put this here — Marfa is a weird place, and I say that in the nicest way possible.

The 1,700-person town found in far, far West Texas is a unique mix of minimalist art and culture, quirky creativity and gourmet eats. How far away is the closest big city, you might wonder? Well, El Paso is over 200 miles away, San Antonio is more than 400 miles away and the closest major Texas interstate takes an hour's drive.

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In other words, a visit to Marfa requires a commitment to a long journey in the desert. But that's part of its appeal. It's an enclave to escape it all, and Marfa has long been on my list to check out. Best of all, this unique destination made the perfect stop on my 2,000-mile road trip earlier this year.

Without further ado, here are five ways Marfa is the weirdest (and coolest) town in Texas.

It's an art lovers oasis in the middle of nowhere

Once you arrive at Marfa, you might scratch your head and wonder, "Is this it?" After all, the town comprises an area of just 1.6 square miles, with one main street, an intersection of two main roads and an active railroad track. It's one of those blink-and-you-might-miss-it types of places.

But there's more here than what meets the eye initially.

A gas station-turned-bookstore and metal-working studio. (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

Related: Are we there yet? 6 ways the classic road trip has changed — and stayed the same

For decades now, Marfa has been a mini art enclave within the Chihuahuan Desert. Its origins as an art destination started back in the 1970s, when Donald Judd, a prominent minimalist artist and critic, moved to Marfa. He helped convert the town, buying up property and displaying both his and other artists' large-scale work.

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Although Judd passed away in 1994, his legacy remains in the form of the 340-acre Chinati Foundation museum and expansive outdoor art exhibition space.

(Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

Related: The art of travel: Where to find museum-worthy artwork at the airport

In addition to Chinati, dozens of galleries and other public works of art abound. I visited several exhibits, including the Marfa Open, a converted train depot that is now a nonprofit art space.

Keep in mind that during the pandemic, some galleries and attractions are temporarily closed, with many installations requiring a reservation.

There's a Prada store that doesn't sell anything

Some might say Marfa was introduced to the social media generation when Beyoncé (and sister Solange) spotlighted it during a trip in 2012.

One of the photos? A picture at the Prada Marfa, a public art piece that resembles a real-life Prada store.

 

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It was built as an artificial store in 2005, with the creators borrowing from pop art, minimalism and land art. The original intention was for the structure to be temporary and dissolve back into the earth as a critique on consumerism, but that was later abandoned. Now, it's a cultural icon that you may have already seen on Instagram.

Note that Prada Marfa isn't actually in Marfa's city limits; it's 26 miles away on the side of the road in the adjacent town of Valentine.

The town has mysterious 'ghost lights'

Besides art, the town is shrouded in a mystery called the "Marfa lights."

(Photo by Getty Images)

Long before Marfa emerged as a destination, reports from as far back as the 19th century indicate that people saw red, white and blue lights emanating from near the town. The orbs of light hover, shift, bounce, dive and perform for onlookers about 10 to 15 nights of the year, just east of Marfa on the Mitchell Flat.

However, no one can explain these lights — or even if they truly exist at all. Theories abound from the mundane, such as car headlights, to the more outlandish, such as aliens.

Nowadays, you can observe the Marfa lights for yourself in a dedicated viewing area outside of town. Unfortunately, I didn't spot a thing, so I can't corroborate these reports.

The local newspaper doubles as a cafe and boutique

To get a tangible sense of how truly unique Marfa is, there is a physical manifestation of the town paper. That is, The Big Bend Sentinel isn't just a print publication; it's also a cafe-cocktail bar with a desert-minimalist interior design.

(Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)
The exterior. (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

The idea was to diversify the newspaper's sources of income during a period when many local papers were dying.

Today, you can visit the chic space, read today's headlines, sip espresso and shop for Southwestern rugs, plants and local art. Also, they make a mean pozole, which I devoured on a chilly late winter afternoon.

The Sentinel interior. (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

Accommodations range from an underground bunker to a luxury hotel

For such a small town, it may surprise you to know there is a diverse array of accommodation options. However, don't expect any chain hotels here. Instead, Marfa has some truly distinctive places to rest your head for the night.

There's the expansive, nomadic campground of El Cosmico, where you can sleep in anything from a yurt to a decked-out trailer.

Underground bunker studio. (Photo courtesy of The Lincoln Marfa)

Closer to town, across from the Presidio County Courthouse, is The Lincoln, an eclectic array of 12 different lodging options on a space that originally functioned as a stable yard. Here, you can even sleep in an underground bomb shelter, complete with a fully working living space.

The lobby of the Hotel Paisano. (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

Built in 1930, the historic 41-room Hotel Paisano has hosted actors from James Dean to Elizabeth Taylor, and has a charming, old world-style lobby, multiple boutique stores and one of the best restaurants in Marfa.

(Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

Finally, if you're looking for something a bit more modern, the Hotel Saint George is a luxurious and sleek 55-room property complete with high-end amenities and Aesop toiletries.

Of course, it has a historic nod to its past, too. The hotel, which opened in 2016, has locally sourced elements and repurposed materials from the 1886 property of the same name. Plus, don't miss the Italian restaurant in the lobby, LaVenture.

Bottom line

If you're attracted to a minimalist aesthetic, the great outdoors and don't mind the town's slight air of pretension, chances are you'll love Marfa just as much as I did. It's also the perfect stop (or base) for a trip to Big Bend National Park, about 100 miles away.

(Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

There's a reason why people from Hollywood's elite to hipster Brooklynites to Texas ranchers flock to this tiny desert town. Now, you'll know how truly weird (and cool) this place is, too.

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG featured card

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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
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75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

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Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,300+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and the Partner Lounge Network
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  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,300+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and the Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023