The city of El Paso gets its name from a centuries-old route through the mountains along the Rio Grande. It lies at the far western tip of Texas — in a separate time zone, in fact — with not only a unique geography, but a singular and vibrant culture shaped by a colorful history and long relationship with Mexico.
The city makes a great fall getaway, and it could use some love after the tragic mass shooting in early August. So, if you're heading west, make sure to add these activities to your El Paso trip list.
Where to stay
The Aloft El Paso Downtown is part of the revamped O.T. Bassett Tower, an Art Deco structure designed by architect Henry Trost, who also designed The Gage Hotel in Marathon and El Paisano Hotel in Marfa.
The oldest continually operating hotel in the city of El Paso, Gardner Hotel and Hostel once hosted bank robber John Dillinger and two members of his gang. Today, the hotel offers family, double, and single rooms, as well as dormitory and communal areas for budget-minded travelers. Many rooms contain the original antique furniture.
Hotel Indigo occupies a former 1960s-era Downtowner Motor Inn and its fifth-floor pool and bar, Circa 1963, overlook the city.
What to drink
Located near Union Plaza on the south side of downtown, DeadBeach Brewery serves a dozen craft beers. The selection varies weekly and ranges from its Chi-Hua-Hefe Hefeweizen to brown ale, lager, pale ale, and a raspberry sour ale. On tap or to-go, with street tacos, sandwiches, and snacks available.
The Hoppy Monk serves a variety of craft brews, including many from around Texas and New Mexico, on draft, in bottles, or by the flight. The food menu runs the gamut from tacos (of course) to New Orleans-style sandwiches, burgers, and more.
What to eat
Located in the historic Five Points area northeast of downtown, Salt & Honey gets you going with locally roasted coffee and an extensive menu of coffee drinks. Grab a cup and feast on fresh-baked pastries or classic breakfast items. For lunch, Salt & Honey offers sandwiches, salads, and sides.
L&J Café calls its fare "authentic border Mexican food" and has been since 1927 in a historic building near the even more historic Concordia Cemetery. All the classics are available, including enchiladas, fajitas, tacos, and burritos, along with plenty of cold beer to wash it down.
An El Paso institution for some 60 years, H&H Carwash and Coffee Shop provides a full stomach and a clean car. Grab a stool at the classic diner counter and enjoy enchiladas and other Tex-Mex fare at this working carwash. Open for breakfast and lunch.
The Tap, an authentic dive bar on East San Antonio Street in the heart of downtown, is known for its nachos but has a full Tex-Mex menu and bar. Inside, patrons find all the requisite bar accoutrements, such as live music, pool tables, and flashy neon lights.
Learn something new
The El Paso Museum of History covers the 400-year multicultural backstory of this border region through multiple interactive galleries. Two areas host traveling exhibitions, while the second-floor space highlights important individuals and businesses in El Paso. Other galleries explore centuries of cultural history and neighborhoods.
Wander through 14,000 years of history at the El Paso Museum of Archaeology, located off Transmountain Road at the base of the Franklin Mountains. An outdoor nature trail features Chihuahuan Desert native plants and offers the perfect mid-vacation respite.
Chamizal National Memorial commemorates a 1963 treaty that ended a century-old boundary dispute between the United States and Mexico caused by a change in the course of the Rio Grande. The museum explains the long and convoluted story well, and there is also an art gallery and, outdoors, hike and bike trails on the 55 acres. The site hosts the Borderlands Heritage Festival on Saturday, October 26.
Ride a vintage El Paso Streetcar restored with the original color scheme from the 1950s and '60s. The 4.8-mile route takes two loops through El Paso’s uptown and downtown areas, connecting an international bridge, baseball park, historic neighborhoods, restaurants, and the University of Texas at El Paso.
San Jacinto Plaza covers a full downtown block, centered by a massive fiberglass alligator sculpture by Luis Jiménez, a nod to the real ones that once occupied a nearby pond (they moved to the zoo long ago). Permanent pingpong tables, gardens, benches, and a snack bar are also available to make a day of it.
The city completely surrounds Franklin Mountains State Park, which features more than 100 miles of trails for hiking and biking. The park also offers designated rock climbing areas, camping, and bird watching. Among the 100-plus species of birds that visit or live here are golden eagles, ash-throated flycatchers, calliope hummingbirds, and pyrrhuloxia.
Birds are big at Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site, too, with more than 200 species recorded. The park is named for its natural rock rainwater basins, or huecos (pronounced whey-coes), sources of water that attracted people centuries ago. Those people left a vast collection of rock paintings behind that can viewed while on guided tours, offered Wednesday through Sunday, based on availability of guides and booked at least a week in advance. The park also issues permits for 70 people to take self-guided tours of the rock art each day. Guided and self-guided rock climbing is available as well, and the park has camping, hiking, and picnicking.