6 Things To Do in El Paso, Texas
It was my first time in El Paso, or the state of Texas in general, and I was pleasantly surprised. Little did I know, El Paso is full of rich history, culture, nature, and kind people. Located in West Texas right near the border with Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, its population is about 83% Mexican. Culturally, the mix of Mexican and American/Texan backgrounds combine to make a very interesting and eclectic atmosphere. For anyone thinking of visiting El Paso, here are six ways I suggest exploring the city, its culture, and its history.
Explore the local art scene
The first thing I saw when I checked into my Airbnb was a slip of paper on the coffee table advertising the Airbnb host’s business, Jackrabbit Trading Company. I visited the website on my phone and saw that my host, Jason, offers bike tours that guide riders past downtown murals. It was only $35 for two hours, so I signed up immediately. Not only did the tour pass some beautiful murals and cultural/historical sites like the Pancho Villa stash house, but Jason, an artist himself, talked about the mural artists, the local art scene, and some of the politics surrounding public art and cultural and historical preservation in the city.
On a different day, I paid a visit to the El Paso Museum of Art. It’s a small museum, but its exhibits are impactful. My favorites were the collection of paintings by Julie Sneed and a large mirrored installation called Border/Land by Jaime Carrejo.
2. Learn about border history
I’ll be honest, the main reason I visited the Chamizal National Memorial was to get my National Parks Passport cancellation stamps. Still, I enjoyed walking through the museum and the park where the building is located was very peaceful and quiet. Chamizal National Memorial is just a short walk from the Bridge of the Americas which connects El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. The site commemorates the peaceful settlement of the Chamizal boundary dispute, which occurred due to a shift in the Río Grande.
You can also stop by the El Paso Museum of History, which is a small museum that won’t take you long to get through. It displays even more border history, past and current, including an exhibit about movies that have been made in the Borderland.
3. Walk to Mexico
Don’t forget your passport when visiting El Paso because right after visiting the Chamizal National Memorial is a great time to walk over the Bridge of the Americas into Mexico, as the bridge is only a few minutes walk away.
On the other side of the bridge is the Ciudad Juárez tourist office, where I stopped to orient myself and ask for recommendations on places to eat. I then started on a 15-20 minute walk to La Equis (The X).
La Equis is a massive monument over 200 feet tall located within an entertainment complex that hosts festivals, concerts, and other events. The X symbolizes the meeting of two cultures, the Spanish and the Aztecs, and the red color symbolizes the blood spilled by Mexicans during the fall of Tenochtitlan, the War of Independence, the Mexican Revolution, and the drug wars. Unfortunately, the doors to the inside of the monument were locked when I was there, but usually visitors can go inside to see a view of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez from the eye of the X.
El Paso is the perfect place to have some great Mexican and Tex-Mex food. My first stop was L&J Cafe because it was voted best Tex-Mex in the entire state. I ordered a combo of three different enchiladas, but the green chile chicken enchiladas were by far the best. Since I was on vacation, I decided I deserved tres leches cake, as well. Absolutely no regrets. While in Ciudad Juárez, I had the best caldo de res (beef soup) I’ve ever had at Mercado San Benito and couldn’t pass on a churro with chocolate for dessert.
There’s only so much of one type of food I can eat, so I also tried trendier spots like Salt & Honey and Kaedama. I went to Salt & Honey on my last morning in El Paso for a quick, decadent baklava pancake breakfast and had some delicious and flavorful tonkotsu ramen at Kaedama.
5. Take in the views
There are great views throughout the city of El Paso, whether its the mountain range in the background or a view of Mexico a few miles away. Options to explore these views include Scenic Drive, a road that cuts along the edges of the Franklin Mountains and has a panoramic view of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez. Overlooks along the road allow you to stop and take in the scene. There’s also La Equis, as mentioned before. Just make sure to check ahead of time when the monument will be open for visitors.
6. Explore the desert
You don’t need to leave El Paso to experience the desert. Franklin Mountains State Park is the largest urban park in the country and has opportunities for rock climbing, hiking, camping, and mountain biking. Hueco Tanks is another great option, but here you can also go bouldering and see the pictographs located throughout the park, many of which are thousands of years old.
Book Pairing: “El Paso del Norte: Stories On the Border” by Richard Yánez