Sitting at the intersection of Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico proper, El Paso offers an exciting mishmash of cultures and influences.
What was once a wild frontier town has grown into a sophisticated city full of vibrant art galleries, world-class recreation activities, swoon-worthy restaurants, and famous shops (one of which may or may not have the trigger finger of an infamous Mexican revolutionary for sale). Here is a sampling of some top activities to do while you are in El Paso.
Go art shopping at Casa Ortiz
El Paso’s newest art gallery occupies one of the area’s oldest buildings. Situated along the 400-year-old El Camino Real, Casa Ortiz Gallery is in an adobe building built in the 1700s. While its exact construction date is unknown, the building became famous as the home of a local salt merchant and buffalo hunter named José Ortiz in the 1840s.
Today, the building shows work by several of the area’s up-and-coming artists, with a room dedicated to each talent. In addition to exhibitions, Casa Ortiz hosts events and live music, making it a cultural hub for the creative community. After your art session, stop by the Three Missions Brewery next door, where you’ll find house-brewed specialties including Churro Stout, Pomegranate Ale and 3MB Blonde.
Stroll down El Paso St
El Paso St has been a center of commerce linking America and Mexico for more than 150 years. The oldest street in town has long acted as a thoroughfare for travelers, shoppers and businesses traveling to and from the border – as well as for Old West gunslingers like Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid and Pancho Villa. While it has certainly changed from the time sunbaked adobe dwellings lined the dusty streets, remnants of the past still remain. Five buildings along the strip are on the National Register of Historic Places, including the 1912 Hotel Paso del Norte, with its 25-foot Tiffany glass dome.
While soaking up all the history, make sure to stop by Dave’s Pawn Shop, just a few blocks north of the bridge to Juárez. A life-sized Elvis will greet you as you make your way into the store, which overflows with oddities and bizarre trinkets. The most notorious item for sale? The (alleged) trigger finger of Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa.
Go boot shopping
El Paso is known as the “Boot Capital of the World” for good reason. The city has a long tradition of hand-making custom cowboy boots, one that dates back to the days when the small outpost was known as one of the wildest frontier towns in Texas. That tradition continues today at an array of stores selling boots made by local artisans with craftsmanship unmatched anywhere else in the world.
Housed in a 1900s brick warehouse in historic Union Plaza, Rocketbuster Boots is not only home to the World’s Largest Boots (as verified by the Guinness Book of World Records) but also to the most colorful vintage boots on the market. For a more traditional style, the Lucchese family has been making boots since 1883. At the brand’s two stores in El Paso, you can slip on a pair made using the same techniques Salvatore Lucchese brought with him from Italy when he settled in Texas in the late 1800s. If Lucchese doesn’t suit your fancy, Mingo Boots Co, J.B. Hill Boot Company, Cowtown Boots and Caboots also sell handmade, custom boots in town.
Eat beef tacos at L&J Cafe
Known to locals as “the old place by the graveyard,” L&J Cafe is a city landmark dating back to 1927 when Antonio and Juanita Flores opened the cafe in what was then the outskirts of town. In a city known for an abundance of tasty Mexican and Tex-Mex options, the fare at L&J Cafe has stood the test of time. Homebrews and slot machines helped the cafe stay open during Prohibition; today, the cafe’s fourth-generation family continues to cook up the same recipes from scratch.
The graveyard next door is Concordia Cemetery, a Texas State Historic Site where more than 60,000 people are buried, including many of the city’s early residents – several notorious Old West gunslingers, members of the Buffalo Soldiers’ 9th and 10th Cavalry and leaders of the Mexican Revolution.
Sip on a beef-jerky-enhanced drink while cheering on the Chihuahuas
The Triple-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres, the El Paso Chihuahuas play about 70 home games a year at Southwest University Park (affectionately known as the Big Dog House). And you’ll have a tough time finding a nicer minor-league ballpark in the country.
The 360-degree concourse that wraps around the baseball diamond allows visitors to see the game from every vantage point on the field. At right field, the concourse is level with the playing field, allowing visitors to watch the game unfold up close. The Chihuahuas do not skimp on concessions, either: house favorites like the bacon-wrapped Juarez Dog have a strong Mexican influence, as does the popular Clamato Norteño. This infamous drink is made with tomato juice, clam juice, olives, a “secret blend of spices” and a hearty slab of beef jerky just for good measure.
Picnic on top of the world
Pack a picnic, hop in the car and take a ride along El Paso’s Scenic Dr, a 2-mile stretch that winds its way along the base of the Franklin Mountains. Near the top is a small park where El Pasoans and tourists alike stop to take in breathtaking panoramic views of the city skyline, with Juárez and New Mexico in the distance. The perfect time to go is during sunset: watch the sky explode with color just before the lights of the two sister cities start twinkling.
Go bouldering at the Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site
The 860-acre Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site is world-renowned for its world-class bouldering; the park’s large natural rock basins provide the perfect surface for this free-form style of climbing. With thousands of guided and self-guided climbs, there is one for climbers of every level, from complete beginner to expert. Note that certain areas of the park are only available by tour and that the state park limits the daily number of visitors to 70 in order to preserve the fragile desert ecosystem.