"Marfa is a really good dare," said the artist and accessories designer Orly Genger. At roughly twelve hours of travel time from most major cities, Marfa is indeed off the usual beaten path. Unless you’re part of Beyoncé’s entourage (Queen Bey chartered a private plane to visit the town in 2012), the closest major airport is three hours away by car, and with some exceptions, most flights to El Paso or Midland require a connection.
It's a good thing then that Marfa is magnetic. Since the early '90s, when influential artist Donald Judd decamped from NYC to this vast stretch of far West Texas, celebrities, such as Natalie Portman, Robert Pattinson, and Jake Gyllenhaal, have made the pilgrimage here. Some fashionable visitors even set up secondary residences. The small town (population: 1,981) is filled with renounced urbanites, who once hailed from the most exciting cities in the world, NY or LA or Paris, stumbled into Marfa and never left.
It helps that Marfa is its own mini cosmopolitan, with the trappings usually reserved for more well-known locales. The food scene has everything from fine dining establishments to fascinating ones, like a weekend-only grilled cheese shack where diners sit surrounded by vintage TVs that display various forms of static. There are gluten-free options, pop-up restaurants and a burrito-only restaurant in the home of a woman named Ramona.
Marfa’s mystic appeal has only built upon its reputation as an art capital. In addition to the town’s two main foundations, Judd and Chinati, there are a slew of galleries, art collectives and multi-disciplinary spaces. For further evidence of the town’s urban ties, one of the most popular institutions, Ballroom Marfa, hosted a benefit last fall in New York City, attended by the likes of Reed Krakoff, Naomi Campbell, Sofia Coppola, Dustin Yellin and Oscar de la Renta’s Peter Copping.
Despite Marfa’s outsize profile, its pace is purely West Texas. Stores are open when they want to be, and much of the town shuts down on Monday and Tuesday (Hint: check marfalist.com for mostly up-to-date information on hours and events).
But if done right, Marfa is more than a really good dare–it’s a great one. Up for the challenge? Here are the ten coolest things to see:
1. Sunrise Tour at the Chinati Foundation: Even if you’re not an early riser, make an exception for a sunrise viewing of Judd’s 100 untitled works in mill aluminum. Each work has the same outer dimensions, while the inside’s angular divisions are unique. As the sun hits the aluminum, each piece takes on its own personality, reflecting the light in a different way.
2. Prada Marfa: You can’t leave with one of Prada’s new crocodile bowling bags, but you can get a great Instagram shot. Contrary to some rumors, there isn’t actually a working Prada store on the dusty desert road from El Paso to Marfa. It’s actually an installation by Elmgreen and Dragset, supported by the Art Production Fund and Ballroom Marfa, whose existence fuels an ongoing dialogue about permanence, minimalism and consumerism. The door doesn’t work, but it never hurts to window shop; the shoes and bags displayed inside are actually from Prada’s A/W 2005 collection.
Courtesy of Gray Malin
3. El Cosmico: Think of it as the chicest campground ever. El Cosmico’s collection of vintage trailers, teepees and tents almost begs for a fringe-heavy fashion shoot. Tents start at $85/night and require the use of a communal bathroom, but if you’re looking for true glamping, reserve the Imperial Mansion, starting at $170/night, which boasts a full bath, kitchen, heat/AC and a patio to pose on.
4. Marfa Burrito: Matthew McConaughey is a fan of this quaint spot, helmed by a giggling woman named Ramona, who will make you a breakfast burrito in her own kitchen. She speaks no English, so brush up on your Spanish (or your hand signals) and brace yourself for the best gastronomic pleasure you can get for less than $7.
5. Book Marfa: Bibliophiles and belletrists alike will love this expertly curated bookstore, with an attached coffee shop and garden that makes it as pleasing aesthetically as it is intellectually. Browse the store’s varied selection, view exhibitions from visiting artists, or bring home pottery by local artisans.
6.The Museum of Electronic Wonders & Late Night Grilled Cheese Parlour: There’s no glaring signage alerting you that you’re in the right place, but once you gingerly open the door of this tiny bôite, the wafting smell of gooey grilled cheese makes it worth it. Run by Food Shark, which also operates a lunchtime food truck, the menu changes often, but a recent offering included brisket, pickled jalapenos and jack cheese. For $12.50, you can order the Motherf**cker, an oversized sandwich that includes every ingredient on the menu.
7. Cobra Rock Boot Company: The handmade cowboy boots at Cobra Rock can come with up to an eight month waiting list. Each boot, made from American full-grain leather, takes two and a half weeks to make and costs $495 (plus tax). If you can’t make it to Marfa, but are desperate for a pair, you can put your name on the waitlist online with a $100 deposit.
8. Freda: A lifestyle shop perfect for finding envy-inducing souvenirs for friends who weren’t brave enough to make the trek to Marfa. The store carries clothes, house wares, art and a wide selection of jewelry, both from established brands like Pamela Love and more up and coming names like Adina Mills, whose pieces incorporate sculptural elements and natural materials.
9. Comida Futura: A rustic, cafeteria-style restaurant in the middle of town, Comida Futura’s menu is the opposite of big, bad Texas food. The charming locale offers mostly protein and vegetable-centric options that diners enjoy on communal tables. But luckily, after you’ve cleansed your system with their lentils and kale, you can make up for it with one of their freshly baked pies.
10: Thunderbird Motel: The Thunderbird Hotel maintains an ideal level of sparse chic while still being comfortable enough to stock their minimalist bathrooms with Malin +Goetz amenities. Write a novella on one of their vintage typewriters, peruse the vinyl library and keep an eye out for visiting chefs at Capri, their event space that often hosts pop-up restaurants. Rooms start at $140.