At the intersection of both two countries and the South and West of the USA sits a sprawling city that has gone by many names. Some have called it “Sun City” for its 302 days of sunshine each year and “Six Shooter Capital” as a nod to its Old West history. But you most likely know it as El Paso.

In the last few years, this border city has been undergoing a renaissance of development with new boutique hotels, a restored streetcar line, and a host of art galleries, farmers' markets, and microbreweries. But El Paso is more than its shiny new spaces of entertainment and hospitality or even its superfluous outdoor offerings. It’s a place where you can learn about Indigenous communities and Chicano cultures through art and food, and walk in the footsteps of Mexican revolutionaries, Hollywood stars, Buffalo soldiers, and famous figures of the Old West.

On your next trip to El Paso, experience some of the best things that the city has to offer without spending a dime. Check out our list of free things to do in Sun City and save your cash for a good meal and a margarita (which was apparently invented here!).

Contemplate Los Murales on a free walking tour

They're not always mentioned in guidebooks, but Los Murales, the street murals of El Paso, are perhaps the city's preeminent cultural treasure. Of the more than 100 murals in the city, the greatest concentrations are south of downtown between Paisano Drive and the Border Highway in what is known as the Segundo Barrio, and north of Paisano Drive near Douglass Elementary School. There are also more than 40 murals painted on the freeway columns around Durazno Avenue between Copia and Raynolds streets. Use the Visit El Paso app to locate the most notable murals around town.

Potter at Tigua Cultural Center, El Paso, Texas, USA
An Indigenous potter at Tigua Cultural Center in El Paso, Texas © Alamy Stock Photo

Learn about the oldest town in Texas at the Tigua Cultural Center

The surrounding community of Ysleta del Sur Pueblo is sovereign home to the Tigua tribe and is recognized by many as the oldest town in Texas. Despite outside influences, the Tigua have strived to retain their identity as the oldest identifiable ethnic group in Texas. At this cultural center, you can check out photographs of Tigua history and examples of pottery, as well as a video explaining more about the tribe's history.

Stop by every other Saturday to watch bread being traditionally made by tribal members with the same equipment and methods that have been used for over 300 years. You can even purchase the bread on a first-come, first-serve basis after 11am.

Cruise the Rim Road and Scenic Drive

Check out the night-time views of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez while cruising the lofty roadway that is the Scenic Drive. It follows the southern tip of the Franklin Mountains and the winding Rio Grande, with plenty of benches and overlooks where you can stop and really savor the view. Turn onto Rim Road from either Mesa Street or Alabama Street to start the Scenic Drive journey.

'Vaquero' by Luis Jimenez at the Museum of Art,El Paso,Texas,USA
"Vaquero" by Luis Jimenez at the Museum of Art, El Paso © Alamy Stock Photo

Enjoy old masters and modern wonders at the El Paso Museum of Art

This thoroughly enjoyable museum is housed in a former Greyhound bus station. Its pride and joy is a 13th-century Byzantine Madonna and Child – which makes sense since the museum was born from a need to house a donation of European Baroque and Renaissance pieces by masters like Botticelli, van Dyck, Artemisia Gentileschi, and more. Today the EPMA has a collection of over 7000 works which include Southwestern art, Latin American art, and engaging modern pieces that round out the collection nicely. Even better news – it's absolutely free to visit.

Window shop in Paseo de las Luces

On South El Paso Street is Paseo de las Luces, a charming area full of historic buildings with open-air storefronts. It doesn’t cost a thing to window shop among the boutique stores and local clothing shops. Visit after the sun sets and you’ll see this magical area lit up by arched string lights.

Four times a year, El Paso puts on a free festival here called Downtown Fiesta de Las Luces. The city invites food trucks, art vendors, family-friendly activities, folklorico dancers, and mariachis out to entertain city residents and visitors.

See Indigenous art at the El Paso Museum of Archaeology

The El Paso Museum of Archaeology illuminates the lives and experiences of Indigenous peoples in the El Paso area and the Southwest over the last 14,000 years. The baskets, pottery and hunting tools on display are worth a look. The centuries-old effigy pots – complete with faces – are especially cool. Outside you'll find a 15-acre desert garden with nature trails. But be careful where you step – rattlesnakes are posted hazards.

Quick tip: head to the auditorium and open the visible storage drawers to see historic Indigenous items that aren’t typically put on display.

Learn about the past at the El Paso Museum of History

This museum has a shiny new location in the heart of the downtown museum district. It does a deep dive into a 1000-year history of this fascinating region, from the Native Americans that lived here for thousands of years to the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadores and El Paso’s current position as a multicultural city. 

In addition to 10,000 artifacts on display, the El Paso Museum of History is home to the only interactive Digital Wall in the U.S. and one of four of its kind in the world, called ‘DIGIE’ (Digital Information Gateway in El Paso). Visitors can interact with over 16,000 community video and image uploads that are displayed across five touchscreens which total 35 feet in length.

Experience a bit of history at the Socorro Mission

The community of Socorro was established in the fall of 1680 after Spaniards and Native Americans fled New Mexico following the Pueblo Revolt earlier in the year. The mission here was completed in 1691, making Socorro the second-oldest mission in Texas. Floods destroyed earlier buildings and churches here; the current structure was built in 1843. The carved and decorated support beams were likely salvaged from the first mission. The statue inside is St Michael, the mission's patron saint.

Texas. El Paso. Multicultural Mural
Dozens of murals fill the Lincoln Park and El Segundo districts of El Paso © Alamy Stock Photo

Explore the city on free self-guided tours

In 2015, Visit El Paso launched an app that offers free and self-guided tours around town. Download the app and click on the Tours & Tour Operator button which will redirect you to self-guided tours. Each tour has a list of notable locations with addresses, websites, and a description and audio recording explaining its significance.

The app provides nine walking tours. One focuses on the architecture of El Paso, and another takes you to notable places relating to the Mexican Revolution. Other walking tours focus on the Segundo Barrio, El Paso lore, San Elizario, the University of Texas at El Paso, and more.  

Walking around El Paso may not be feasible for everyone, which is why the app also offers five driving, biking, and streetcar tours. Cycle between El Paso’s best statues and murals on the Downtown Public Art Bike Tour one day, and on another, take a self-guided Mission Trail driving tour to historic spots like Mission Ysleta, Mission Socorro, and the Tigua Indian Cultural Center. Hop onto El Paso’s newly renovated streetcars and follow the two tours in the app to learn more about notable buildings placed along the routes.

Step back in time to the Old West at Concordia Cemetery

Concordia Cemetery was established in 1856 and became incredibly popular among El Pasoans from the 1880s onward. Prominent figures, like Buffalo Soldiers, Texas Rangers, gunfighter John Wesley Hardin, and lawman John Selman, can be found among the cemetery’s eternal residents.

Today, this cemetery has over 60,000 graves and is open 365 days a year. While the historical and ghost tours they offer on the weekends may cost a fee, you can explore this Texas State Historical Site for free any other time. Take a look through the Concordia Cemetery website before you go to find information on notable graves.

Have an outdoor adventure in El Paso

Although we love the outdoor offerings at Hueco Tanks and Franklin Mountains State Park, we know that not everyone can afford the fees. Rather, spend the day by the lake at El Paso’s largest recreational park, Ascarte Park. Stroll along the lakeside boardwalk or the 1.5-mile loop trail that circles the 48-acre surface lake. Break a sweat at the tennis and basketball courts and refresh and relax at a picnic table. From April 2022 parking is free here Monday to Sunday.

For a more blood-pumping activity, hike the five-mile rocky trail called the Palisades Canyon Loop. The trailhead starts in Arroyo Park, and even though it partially goes into the Franklin Mountain State Park, it’s a free trail.

Cyclists, walkers, and hikers can experience sweeping mountain views in El Paso and mesas in New Mexico along the River Park Trail. This 10.5-mile paved trail parallels the Rio Grande from County Club Road in El Paso to the New Mexico State Line in Anthony, Texas.

Exterior of the San Elizario Chapel in El Paso Texas USA
Exterior of the San Elizario Chapel © gnagel / Getty Images

Peek at the ceiling at the San Elizario Presidio Chapel

A Spanish presidio named for St. Elzéar, the French patron saint for soldiers, was established here in 1789 (San Elizario is a corruption of his name). A flood took out the first chapel and the present building, finished in 1882, is the fourth chapel for the fort. Note the symmetrical bells, the four buttresses and, inside, the colorful pressed-tin ceiling. Still an active parish, this eye-catching white chapel anchors the San Elizario Historic District.

See the stars at Plaza Theatre

Back in the day, the Plaza Theatre was nicknamed “The Showplace of the Southwest” because it was the largest theater of its kind between Dallas and Los Angeles. Travelers can book a free tour every Tuesday at this National Historic Building of Significance where they’ll be able to marvel at the theater’s Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, mosaic-tiled floors, antique furniture, and a design that gives the appearance of an outdoor courtyard – complete with a painted ceiling full of stars. Make sure you see the Mighty Wurlitzer Blaban III Organ, a musical instrument that can simulate 15 different instruments and is one of only six ever made.

Attend mass at Ysleta Mission

Home to Texas’ oldest continually active congregation, tracing back to 1680, Ysleta Mission was established for Spanish refugees and Tigua people fleeing New Mexico after the Pueblo revolt. The original mission building, erected by the Tigua in 1682, was replaced in the mid-1800s by the adobe-brick structure you see today. The silver-domed bell tower was added a few decades later.

Remember the past at El Paso Holocaust Museum

El Paso might not seem an obvious location for a Holocaust museum, but it was the first in Texas and is the only fully bilingual (Spanish and English) Holocaust museum in the nation. Created by local survivors, this excellent memorial in the Museum District of downtown El Paso holds thoughtful and moving exhibits, imaginatively presented for maximum impact. Spend the day exploring 4000 square feet of permanent exhibits that cover everything from how life was in Europe before the Nazis to the rise of the Nazi party, life in the ghettos, the concentration camps, WWII, and a gallery full of Holocaust survivors who made El Paso their home. 

You may also like: 
Under the radar USA: multiculturalism in El Paso, Texas
The most unmissable road trips in Texas for beaches, BBQ and big open skies
The ultimate guide to BBQ in Texas

This article was first published Mar 26, 2021 and updated Apr 4, 2022.

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