Marfa, Texas: What You Need to Know Before You Hit the Road

Marfa, Texas, a tiny town of 1,800 residents, has become somewhat of a cultural icon. So, what’s the big deal about Marfa, Texas? We wanted to find out why it is so famous. Marfa is in Presidio County. In fact, it is home to the Presidio County Courthouse and the county seat.

The town, originally set up as a water stop for the railroad, is now known throughout the state of Texas, the nation and perhaps the world for the mysterious Marfa lights and minimalist art. Celebrities go to this desert West Texas town to escape and ranchers begin the day at dawn. Anthony Bourdain dined in Marfa. It’s where Giant and There Will Be Blood were filmed. There’s land as far as the the eye can see. The stars at night are big and bright and plentiful.

Marfa Texas is a tiny town with a big reputation. This is a sign leading into Marfa

Marfa is a walkable Texas destination of just 1.6 square miles that is nestled within the high desert plains of the Trans-pecos region, you can slow your pace and appreciate the simple things in life. 

How Far is Marfa From …

For those of you looking to road trip, Marfa is not the easiest of travel destinations to get to. It sits along Highway 90, about 60 miles from the Mexican border.

For example, driving from Dallas will take a good 7 hours of driving but there are plenty of places to explore on your way. With two very different routes to take, you can either take I-20 most of the way or take the road less traveled down there. For those wanting a straightforward route I-20 will get you there and will take you past Midland-Odessa, and Monohan Hills State Park as well. All three stops offer a little something for everyone and are steeped in West Texas history.

Chart: Drive Times to Marfa

If You’re Traveling From ….Drive Time to Get to Marfa Road Miles
Austin, Texas 6 hours, 30 minutes428.6 miles
Dallas, Texas7 hours, 30 minutes 527.9 miles
San Antonio, Texas6 hours403.6 miles
New Orleans, Louisiana13 hours, 30 minutes944.9 miles
Houston, Texas8 hours, 30 minutes599.0 miles
Tulsa, Oklahoma10 hours, 20 minutes706.3 miles
Santa Fe, New Mexico7 hours and 15 minutes458.7 miles
Hollywood, California14 hours 40 minutes1,001.2 miles
El Paso, Texas2 hours 50 minutes194.1 miles
Tuscon, Arizona7 hours 20 minutes511.1 miles
View of the Davis Mountains in West Texas

The drive itself is long but as you head west towards Marfa the land opens up and the vastness of west Texas becomes visible. Your mind goes back in time as you see the highway seemingly goes on forever. Gone are the nuances of suburbs and big cities. Heading into west Texas is what road trips are all about you, the open road and the biggest sky you’ll ever see. If you ever feel confined and claustrophobic, a trip to west Texas will cure that for you.

Marfa Texas
Prada , Marfa

Why is There a Prada Store in Marfa?

No trip to Marfa is complete until you see the now famous Prada store. Located about 30 miles from the actual town of Marfa, Texas it sits perfectly in the middle of nowhere. The “store” itself is in Valentine, Texas, a town of 134 people and is a nice time to stretch your legs before getting to Marfa.

Albeit, this is not a working, operational, real-life Prada store. It’s a permanent art installation built by Scandinavian artists called Elmgreen and Dragset. It was built in 2005 as part of what the artists called a “pop architectural land art project.” But in case you were wondering, there is real Prada merchandise inside. The store has been vandalized over the years, but it has a tight security system.

Marfa has been reinvented many times. From a stop on the rails in the 1880s to being the site of the massive Marfa Army Air Field. Built at the onset of World War II, the Marfa Airfield was where thousands of pilots trained by flying in the vast sky over limitless desert. When the war was over, the military installations were closed and Marfa’s population once again dwindled.

Hollywood and Marfa: Movies Love the Middle of Nowhere

Marfa Texas

Another interesting site is the old movie set of the 1956 Giant that starred James Dean. This was his last film before his tragic death. American epic Western drama film, directed by George Stevens from a screenplay adapted by Fred Guiol and Ivan Moffat from Edna Ferber’s 1952 novel.

Dean was nominated for his role in that film, where he acted alongside Hollywood greats Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson.

There are three giant billboards. One is a car with Rock Hudson in the driver’s seat, the others are James Dean with a rifle over his shoulder, and the mansion home. There is also country music playing through speakers disguised as rocks. It was interesting to hear it out there against the backdrop.

Al Campo in Marfa ,Texas

After these two stops about 5 miles up the road you approach Marfa Texas. Surprisingly, out nowhere this small town appears and before long there are shops, restaurants and art galleries — seemingly out of place — but a welcome sight after your long journey. Marfa can be walked easily so find a place to park and take a stroll. When you step outside you’ll immediately notice the pace has been slown down almost to a stop. People here are in no hurry, and it shows.

Walk around enough and you’ll build up quite the appetite. There are no frill restaurants such as Marfa Burritos and Para LLevar that serve burritos , pizzas and salads. On the other end of the spectrum is fine dining main stays such as Stelina , and Cochineal. There are tons of restaurants that offer outside seating that allow you to bathe in the West Texas sun , which feels about 5 feet from your face here. Wear shades and a hat and you’ll be fine. For the best margarita in town be sure to check out The Water Spot, where the water is served in fancy bottles and the margaritas goes down like water.

What is the Best Place to Stay in Marfa, Texas?

El Cosmico

Staying at El Cosmico

The place to stay to get THE Marfa Texas experience is El Cosmico, a hotel that has guests stay close to the land, experiencing it in their teepees, tents or trailers, a theater, a caravan, a campground, and a hotel. Immersing yourself in the desert is the best way to experience Marfa, allowing you to enjoy the scenery without any distractions.

Safari Tent at el cosmico
View from inside the Safari tent at El Cosmico

Stay in a safari tent that has a queen size heated bed (trust me the nights get COLD here) and a stool. There is no bathroom or kitchen , but there is a communal bathroom and showers on the property. Similiar to Yurts , There is electricity but no TV’s, just a wonderful sky and other travelers to talk to. Sometimes we all need the simple life to keep us grounded. If you are looking for an adventure and want to get away from traditional hotels , El Cosmico is your place.

Communal bathhouse at El Cosmico

What about those mysterious Marfa Lights?

About 10 miles from the center of town you will find a observation area dedicated to viewing the Marfa lights. The facility, parking lot, and extra pullover lane make stopping safe and enjoyable. Be prepared to arrive just at dusk and wait maybe ten minutes before the lights began.

The lights were too large and too distant to be car headlights. Quite entertaining as one light split into two then four and back to two or three in no pattern. Other lights appeared along the ridge and split then became one, disappeared, reappeared. The beacon had patterned blinking and was clearly separate from the lights. Stop and give it a chance. It’s free and you just might see the mysterious lights.

Marfa Lights Viewing area

Going to Marfa, Texas in January?

January is often a good time to make your way out to Marfa. Be aware that the nights get cold and it is possible for it to near freezing temperatures at night, since it’s high desert. But most likely, it will be very nice with daytime temps in the 60’s and 70s. Nighttime temperatures are usually in the 40s. But take warm clothing for cool weather. The air is dry and dehydration can be a real threat, especially if you are doing a long of walking.

Climate in Marfa, Texas

Average Rainfall per Year 16 inches
Average July High Temperatures 88 degrees
Average inches of snow per year1.4
Average number of rainy days 63
Number of sunny days a year 281
Lowest Low temperature in January 27 degrees
Best months to visitSeptember, October and April
Elevation4,865 feet
Hottest MonthJune, 89.9 degrees
Rainiest MonthAugust

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