Travel Destinations

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

El Paso: Fun Things to Do on a Texas Weekend Getaway

Downtown El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

The great thing about being travel bloggers is that we are sometimes offered opportunities to travel somewhere that wasn’t necessarily on our radar.  Such was the case for our trip to El Paso.  We’ve flown through Texas.  I’ve been to Plano, Texas for less than a day for work.  We have a number of Texas cities on our travel wish list.  But El Paso wasn’t on that list simply because we didn’t really know anything about it.  But when we were invited to spend a weekend in El Paso, we immediately said yes (after doing a little online research first of course).  We hadn’t thought about El Paso as a weekend getaway destination, yet it makes perfect sense, both if you live in Texas, or in a nearby state like California.  There are a lot of fun things to do in El Paso to fill up a Texas weekend getaway. 

Get Your Bearings Downtown

San Jacinto Square El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

Thanks to Allegiant Air’s new non-stop service between San Diego and El Paso, we had the afternoon to walk around downtown and get our bearings.  What struck us first was how clean and bright El Paso’s downtown is.  Many of the buildings are left over from the 1920s and mid-20th century.  Some of these buildings are empty, but El Paso is slowly working on refurbishing these buildings and putting them to use. 

Animo Sin Fronteras Mural El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

El Paso’s proximity to the Mexican border is quite apparent and celebrated.  On our walk, we passed a new mural titled Ánimo Sin Fronteras painted by the artist El Mac.  The mural was inspired by the story of Melchor Flores and symbolizes the fight for justice.  The mural complements the adjacent mural of classic boxing.

Kress Building El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

There are a lot of interesting buildings and sites around every corner of downtown El Paso.  Sites include the Kress building, an old five-and-dime department store, and random old-timey advertisements painted on a brick wall.

Gardner Hotel El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

Another unique find is the Gardner Hotel, recently featured on Hotel Impossible, which opened in 1922 and is the longest continuously running hotel in El Paso.  The hotel is a bit of a time capsule as the owner is a collector of antiquities and everything in the hotel, like the switchboard, is original.  We happened to stumble upon the hotel after our dinner at Pot au Feu next door and the girl at the front desk kindly invited us in to look around when she saw us peeking through the windows.

Downtown Advertisements El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

Downtown El Paso also has a few museums, including the El Paso Museum of Art and the El Paso Museum of History, which can be found in the Arts Festival Plaza.  Outside of the history museum is DIGIE, a digital wall, one of only two in the world, where you can virtually explore El Paso and learn about any place you want with the tap of a finger.

Attend One of El Paso’s Events (Including Free Ones)

Alfresco! Fridays El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

Our initial walk through downtown El Paso had a purpose.  We were heading to Alfresco! Fridays, a free outdoor concert series held outdoors in the Convention Center Plaza every Friday during the summer months.  We didn’t even need to map the way as we were able to follow locals who were walking to the concert, carrying folding chairs. 

San Jacinto Square Concert El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

Alfresco! Fridays wasn’t the only free event happening that evening.  Surprisingly, music filled the air of downtown El Paso that night.  We found another live music show happening in the new San Jacinto Square. 

For events happening when you’re in town, check out the Visit El Paso Events page and El Paso Live

Learn More about El Paso on a Guided Tour

Union Plaza District El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

By chance, we learned about a guided tour of El Paso, a Barrio Tour of the Union Plaza District led by Gilbert Guillen and Fred Morales, which we were able to join.  The Union Plaza District is a mix of industrial, locomotive, and residential and has been home to Chicano families for decades. 

Union Depot Visitor Information Center El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

The tour started at the Union Depot Visitor Information Center, which also houses the historic Locomotive #1 steam engine.  This is also a great place to stop to pick up brochures and get information about more things to do in El Paso.

Creative Kids El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

The walking tour of El Paso not only featured El Paso’s history, but also El Paso’s present.  For instance, we stopped in at Creative Kids, which offers art programs of all kinds, including visual art and digital media, for the youth of El Paso.  Some of the art around the city has been created by these kids.

Union Depot El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

Another stop on our tour was the Union Passenger Station or Union Depot.  The train station is over 100 years old and was the first international train station in the United States.  The park outside the station was the location of the first meeting between a United States president, President Taft, and the president of Mexico.

El Paso Downtown Artist and Farmers Market and Rocketbuster Boots El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

Across from the train station is the El Paso Downtown Artist and Farmers Market, a year-round Saturday outdoor market which sells local, handmade arts and crafts plus some local agricultural products. 

Pancho Villa Stash House El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

The Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa was an El Paso resident.  You probably wouldn’t give the dilapidated white house a second glance if it weren’t for the plaque out front.  This was Pancho Villa’s stash house during the Mexican Revolution.  Pancho Villa stashed cash and jewelry in this house.  When the home was raided, Customs officials found $500,000 in cash and $30,000 in jewelry in the safe.

DeadBeach Brewery El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

The tour ended at DeadBeach Brewery where everyone received lunch from a food truck and had the option to purchase beer at an excellent El Paso craft brewery.

Rock House Cafe & Gallery El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

The El Paso Chicano History Project offers tours of El Paso every four to six weeks.   Tours are posted on the El Paso Chicano/a History & Preservation Project’s Facebook page, or contact Fred Morales, (915) 307-3748 or, or Ray E. Rojas, (915) 801-5915 or, to learn about upcoming tours or to book a private tour.  Tours are also posted on the El Paso Scene website.

Bike El Paso

El Paso B Cycle El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

We decided to pass since it was pretty hot on the summer weekend we visited, but a fun way to sightsee in El Paso is to bike the city.  There are El Paso B Cycle stands scattered throughout the city, including within the Saturday farmers’ market.  Some suggested cycling routes include the pedestrian pathway, Cleveland Square, and Arts Festival Plaza.

Tour the Magoffin Home

Magoffin Home Adobe El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

An important family in El Paso’s history was the Magoffin family.  Visitors can learn about the Magoffin family by visiting the Magoffin Home.  The Magoffin home was built by Joseph Magoffin, who first came to the El Paso area to work in his father’s shop in 1856.  They bought a lot of land after Texas was won from Mexico and created the settlement of Magoffinsville. 

Magoffin Home Entryway El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

Joseph Magoffin served in the Civil War and, when he returned, found that he had lost all of his land.  Fortunately, he had copies of all the land grants so was able to slowly regain his land, though it took a lot of time and effort.  Magoffin acquired his wealth by selling off much of his land to allow for the building of railroads, businesses, and utilities.  The town of El Paso literally grew up around the Magoffin home.

Magoffin Home El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

Magoffin built the currently standing Magoffin home in 1877.  It is constructed with adobe in Territorial Style, which is a mixture of Pueblo and Greek Revival.  The adobe is covered in lime plaster and scored to look like it’s made from blocks.  The Magoffin Home was continuously occupied by a family member until 1986, so the rooms contain much of the original furnishings and some are decorated in the early style while others are decorated in the later style.  One of the granddaughters sold the home to the state of Texas in the 1970s, and she was allowed to remain in the house in an apartment until her death.

Haunt a Historic Cemetery and Eat Chile Con Queso

Concordia Cemetery El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

L&J Café is a favorite El Paso restaurant.  When people mention it, they say, “You have to go to L&J Café, the old place by the graveyard.”  Well, something I love almost as much as good food is a good graveyard.  The Concordia Cemetery is a historic cemetery.  The first person buried here was Juana (Ascarate) Stephenson in 1856.  It became a popular burial place in the 1880s. 

There are multiple sections to this large graveyard: Catholic, Masonic, Jewish, Black, Chinese, Military, Jesuit, city, and county.  There are over 60,000 people buried in the graveyard including Buffalo Soldiers, Texas Rangers, Mormon pioneers, and Civil War Veterans.  One of the most famous residents is John Wesley Hardin, a Texas gunslinger who is said to have killed at least 20, but probably many more men.  Hardin went to jail for killing a sheriff and studied law while serving time.  When he was released he moved to El Paso.  He was killed by John Selman, who shot him in the head.

After a visit to the cemetery, be sure to go across the street to L&J Café and order an entrée with El Paso’s famous chile con queso, a cheesy sauce with green chilies. 

Climb a Mountain on the Wyler Aerial Tramway

Wyler Aerial Tramway Car El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

When I think of Texas, I think of flat, flat land.  That’s usually what we’ve seen when flying into and out of Texas.  So I was surprised to see mountains when we flew into El Paso.  We got to go to the top of one of these mountains by riding the Wyler Aerial Tramway.  From the top of the Franklin Mountains, you can see Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico. 

Wyler Aerial Tramway View El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

The tramway was originally built by KTSM radio to construct a transmitter tower.  The tramway is named for Karl O. Wyler, a pioneer in broadcasting who owned and operated KTSM for 60 years.  The tramway first opened to the public in 1960.

Most visitors take the Wyler Aerial Tramway both up and down the mountain.  However, for the more adventurous, there is a hiking trail.  Occasionally, ranger-led hikes are led up the mountain which include a ride in the tramway back down.

Follow the El Paso Historic Mission Trail

Socorro Mission El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

When I think of Spanish missions, I think of the trail of missions along the California coast.  But El Paso has a historic mission trail with three missions, Ysleta Mission, Socorro Mission, and San Elizario Chapel.

Ysleta Missio El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

The current Ysleta Mission was built in the 1850s of adobe.  The first Ysleta Mission was established in 1680.  Multiple adobe missions were built, each being destroyed by the flooding of the Rio Grande.  The current mission building survived because it was built on a raised platform to survive future flooding of the river.

Socorro Mission Chapel El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

The currently standing Socorro Mission was built in 1840 to replace the original mission that had stood nearby but had been destroyed by the flooding of the Rio Grande.  The original Franciscan mission was founded in 1682.  The mission is made of adobe.  The church inside is simple, and the hand-painted beams overhead are of interest because they were salvaged from the original mission that had flooded.

Socorro Mission PIeta El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

Next door to the mission is the more modern church that is used today for Sunday services.  The church proudly displays a life-sized marble casting of Michelangelo’s Pietà.  Only 100 of these exact replicas of the sculpture housed in St. Peter’s Basilica were authorized by the Vatican Observatory Foundation.  The Pietà was quite an exciting gift for the Socorro Mission, especially for those who may never get a chance to travel to the Vatican.

San Elizario Presidio Chapel El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

The site for the San Elizario Presidio Chapel was chosen in 1788.  The current San Elizario Presidio Chapel was constructed between 1877 and 1882 because, you guessed it, previous versions were destroyed by the flooding of the Rio Grande.

San Elizario National Historic District El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

There’s more to San Elizario than just the chapel.  There is a whole San Elizario National Historic District.  A walking tour of San Elizario visits some of the buildings and sites of one of the oldest villages in the United States.  Eighteen historic sites are marked for a self-guided walking tour, including the Old El Paso County Jail Museum and the Los Portales Museum. 

The San Elizario jail is best known for being the only jail Billy the Kid broke into.  Billy the Kid broke into the jail to get his friend Melquiades Segura out.  He was successful and they fled to Mexico, a half-mile away.

San Elizario's Manuel Alvarado El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

The sites along the walking tour are well-marked with explanatory plaques, but be sure to visit Manuel Alvarado, who plays the Sherriff in the jail, to learn more about San Elizario’s history.

Taste Wine with a Side of Pizza

Don Juan de Onate Wine Trail El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

If there are Missions, there must be wine nearby.  After all, those Spanish colonists needed wine for their daily mass.  Wine was being produced near El Paso as far back as the mid-1600s, and in the 1800s, El Paso was a premier wine region. 

Zin Valle Vineyards El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

Today, El Paso only has one winery, and that is Zin Valle Vineyards.  Zin Valle Vineyards was started in 2000 by the Poulos family.  As the name suggests, Zin Valle Vineyards started with Zinfandel.  However, they grow and bottle other grapes as well.  Some grapes which won’t do well in Texas are sourced from California wine country.

Pecan Groves El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

The drive out to Zin Valle Vineyards is a pretty one.  We also passed producers of an important El Paso product, pecan groves.  If you happen upon some jalapeño pecan brittle, get some; it’s addictively good.

La Vina Winery El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

While Zin Valle Vineyards is El Paso’s only winery, it is also the first winery along a wine trail that continues along the Don Juan de Oñate Trail through neighboring New Mexico.  We ventured across the state border and visited one more winery, La Viña, which is New Mexico’s oldest winery, going strong at almost 40 years.

Ardovino's Desert Crossing El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

While in New Mexico, we stopped in at Ardovino’s Desert Crossing.  This restaurant has been open since 1949 and has a very interesting and eclectic ambiance on the outside.  It feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere, with the occasional train speeding by.  

Ardovino's Desert Crossing Dining Room El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

The old ranch house and barn are incorporated into the restaurant.  The inside of the restaurant is homey with an open fire pit, polished wood bar, and leather chairs.  They had some interesting beers on tap such as Twisted Pine Cucumber Cream Ale and Kentucky Old Fashioned Barrel Ale. 

Ardovino's Desert Crossing Pizza El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

But their star offering, the reason we were there, is their pizza, baked in their own outdoor pizza oven.  We chose the Pizza Rustica with Spanish chorizo, artichoke hearts, caramelized onions, pine nuts, and homemade tomato sauce.  Ardovino’s pizza is like the pizza you get in Italy, with thin, bubbly, crispy crust, and the toppings were a delicious combination with a surprising twist with the salty pine nuts.

Take a Hayride at Cattleman’s Steakhouse

Indian Cliffs El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

A 35-minute drive out into the desert will bring you to Cattleman’s Steakhouse, a family-owned restaurant on a working ranch.  While Cattleman’s Steakhouse is a great steak restaurant, it is much more than just a restaurant.  Plan to spend a few hours before or after your meal to explore.

Cattleman's Steakhouse Hayride El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

A must when visiting Cattleman’s Steakhouse is taking a hayride.  We weren’t quite sure what to expect from the hayride.  We imagined a cart full of hay being pulled by horses.  Rather, it is a tractor pulling a cart with bench seating, but some hay bales down the middle for anyone who wants the hayride experience. 

Cattleman's Steakhouse Settler's Home El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

Funnily enough, while we were driving to the restaurant, we saw a part of the desert that we really wanted to photograph as it looked so beautiful from a distance, but we couldn’t figure out how to get to it.  That area, Indian Cliffs, is actually part of the hayride.  The hayride leaves the restaurant area and heads across the street into the desert. 

Cattleman's Steakhouse Movie Set El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

The main attraction is the remains of the movie set from Courage Under Fire.  There are blown up cars, tanks, and helicopters.  Apparently, while filming, they made an explosion so powerful it blew out the windows of the restaurant far in the distance.  A number of other movies were filmed at the ranch including Resurrection, The Border, Lone Wolf McQuade, Death of an Angel, Extreme Prejudice, On the Border, Jessica Lynch Story, Glory Road, and The Day After Tomorrow.

Cattleman's Steakhouse Lake and Teepees El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

There is also a zoo on the grounds with animals like goats, buffalo, game birds, rams, deer, and more.  There is also a lake where some birds nest, and there are teepees set up across the water.

Sleep at One of El Paso’s Newest Hotels

Hotel Indigo El Paso Downtown El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

I have seen pictures of the Hotel Indigo brand on social media and have wanted to try it out.  While it is a chain and part of the large IHG Group, Hotel Indigo has a boutique hotel feel and each has its own design so it doesn't really feel like part of a big chain.  During our Texas weekend getaway, we stayed at the Hotel Indigo El Paso Downtown

Hotel Indigo El Paso Downtown Room El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

Hotel Indigo El Paso Downtown is, as the name implies, in the middle of downtown El Paso.  This is a great location for travelers as most of downtown El Paso’s attractions and restaurants are within easy walking distance from the hotel.  The rooms are cute and comfortable, perfect for leisure travelers, but they also have the amenities needed for business travelers.

Circa 1963 Patio El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway
Circa 1963 Terrace El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway
Hotel Indigo El Paso Downtown Pool El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

Our favorite place to hang out when at the hotel was at Circa 1963.  Circa 1963 is the hotel’s lounge and bar.  There’s an inside space, a terrace at the back, and a patio surrounding the pool at the front, all with a view of the Franklin Mountains and the tops of downtown El Paso’s high-rises.  

Circa 1963 Fort Bliss Cocktail El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

The bar serves inventive craft cocktails, many inspired by the locale like the Fort Bliss made with Texas Ranger whiskey, bitters, soda, and a star-anise, or the Rising Star with vodka, rosemary infused simple syrup, pineapple juice, and a chili rim

Texas Desert Storm Lightning El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

If you can at all arrange it, try to be in your room for a good Texas desert storm.  On our last night, lightning started shooting down from the sky.  While we were driving, it was far in the distance and there was no rain, yet.  Once we got back to our room, the lightning was closer, giving us a show directly outside our window.  Then deluges or rain came pouring down, causing rivers to flow through the streets.  Amazingly, once it was over, the streets dried up quickly because of the high heat, and then we were sitting outside again at Hotel Indigo El Paso Downtown’s bar.

Los Portales El Paso Things to Do Texas Weekend Getaway

El Paso surprised us with how many things there were to do on a Texas weekend getaway.  While there, we learned that El Paso has even more to offer outside of the city, both with a side trip across the border to Mexico and short road trips to places like Big Bend National Park and Marfa in Texas, or even Carlsbad Caverns National Park in neighboring New Mexico.  Seems like we might need to go back!

Thank you to Visit El Paso for hosting our Texas weekend getaway to El Paso and making this post possible.  As always, all opinions are our own.

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Travel the World: A guide to the many things to do in El Paso during a Texas weekend getaway.

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Katherine Belarmino and Romeo Belarmino are the authors of Travel the World, a travel blog for the everyday working stiff. They work full-time in non-travel related jobs, but take every opportunity they can to travel the world during their limited vacation time.