We’re off at the crack of dawn tomorrow to take the girlies on a little adventure to Marfa. This is the second year we’ve made this trek in August, and it’s become a pilgrimage of sorts. The eight hour drive, vast, wide-open West Texas desert landscape, magical star-filled sky, and, well…quiet of the place, make it a perfect spot to transition from lazy (for the most part) summer days to the bustle of the school year.
People have asked us what the heck we do in Marfa with kids. (I’ll admit, it isn’t the most obvious of choices for a family vacation.) My answer: not a heck of a lot…which is only partially true. We visit friends, marvel at Donald Judd’s pristine metal cubes and Dan Flavin’s neon light wonders. We wake up early to look for flattened pennies on the train tracks and then linger over Eggs Benedict and good coffee at Cochineal while the girlies play with other diner’s dogs. We ride our bikes down the middle of deserted streets at night and eat (really) good pizza and get ice cream cones from the laundry mat. If we crave a little escape from town, we drive to Balmorea and swim in the icy cold spring fed pool.
But, most important, the four of us come home rested, closer, and wholly recharged.
If you want to do the same, I’ve created a little Marfa guide for your planning pleasure after the jump.
El Cosmico – Liz Lambert’s latest genius project is (in the words of Austin architect and El Cosmico Project Manager, Jack Sanders) “part yurt and hammock hotel, part residential living, part art-house, greenhouse and amphitheater” … It was too hot to stay there in August (at least for us), but I think it would be total magic for a spring or fall visit.
The Thunderbird – Probably the most oft-recommended place to stay in Marfa, The Thunderbird is a revamped motor-court similar in aesthetic to one of my all-time favorite spots, Austin’s Hotel San Jose.
El Sueno – We opted to rent a house on our visits to Marfa to allow more room for spreading out with the girlies, and El Sueno was our go-to for both trips. It consists of a large main house which we comfortably shared with another family on our first trip and a cozy casita where just the four of us stayed this time.
Hotel Paisano – Most well-known as the place that Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor called home during the filming of Giant, The Paisano is old-school in the best possible way. Even if you don’t stay here, you’ll want to hit up the bar at least once for the stellar margaritas and Shirley Temples (which, much to the girlies’ immense delight, were heavy on the cherries).
The Get Go – By far our most frequently visited spot in Marfa…It’s like a perfect über miniature gourmet store meets Whole Foods. It’s a bit pricey, but being able to get organic plums, good wine + cheese, homemade bread and (the almost impossible to find) Dr. Bronner’s Rose soap in the middle of the West Texas dessert makes it more than worth it.
Cochineal – Beautiful, simple, spare and really, really excellent food. (It’s sort of the culinary equivalent of Donald Judd’s art.) You have to make a reservation for dinner, but the equally excellent breakfast is a pretty low-key affair. We rode our bikes over there for big plates of French toast, breakfast tacos and eggs benedict both mornings of our stay.
The Pizza Foundation – Maybe the best pizza I’ve ever eaten…Truly.
Food Shark – A mobile operation that serves (a fantastic) lunch a few days a week in the pavilion in the center of town… Each day we were there, we witnessed a crowd form promptly at 11:30 when the truck opened and the pavilion stayed packed with locals until the truck pulled away a few hours later.
The Miniature Rooster – An artful “diner” that serves interesting, “elevated” Southern food infused with some Indian influences…(trust me it works). I had a crazy good trio of beet and arugula salad, roasted cauliflower with capers, and shrimp and grits topped with a poached egg. As a side-note, I caught a glimpse of the contents of their glass-front, walk-in refrigerator on the way to the restroom and it was as beautiful as a Flemish still-life.
Art — Part of what makes Marfa so special is the ability to view high art in the middle of a such a vast and rural place (and decidedly outside of its typical urban environs). It’s startling to move between the stark desert landscape and the series of six army barracks that have been renovated to house Dan Flavin’s giant fluorescent light sculptures or the huge space filled with rows of Judd’s aluminum boxes collectively reflecting an ever-changing sky. Ultimately it’s this beautiful mash-up that makes Chinati different from anywhere else I’ve ever been. The girls are completely mesmerized by this place.
Unlike traditional “museums” you can’t just visit Chinati and walk around on your own, rather you’ll need to book a guided tour in advance. They have several options, from hour-long sessions focused on a single artist to a full-day tour that takes you through the entire property. You can also book tours of Judd’s personal studios, libraries and his former home through the Judd Foundation. We’ve yet to do this for fear that the girls are a bit young, but it’s at the top of our list for our next visit. In addition to the profusion of Judd’s work in town, there’s also Ballroom Marfa as well as a number of small galleries.
Nature – One of my most blissful moments of our trip was riding our bikes home in the dark after dinner and pausing to gaze up at the star-filled sky (there’s really nothing quite like the majesty of a star- filled west Texas sky). In my core I am drawn to loamy, misty environments rife with fog and towering trees, but somehow Marfa just rocks me in the best possible way. It is achingly beautiful. I would highly recommend carving out an afternoon to drive to Balmorhea State Park for the scenery alone, but, especially in the summer, swimming in the icy cold springs is a must.
Shops — Similar to the restaurant situation, there are just a handful of shops in town, but each one is artful and special (there’s no schlocky pandering to tourists). Don’t miss Buck Johnson and Camp Bosworth’s brilliant art shop, Wrong, Marfa Book Co. (which is unsurprisingly heavy on gorgeous art and architecture tomes), Fancy Pony Land studio and store and Tienda M for beautiful Mexican pottery, textiles and ethereal Dosa dresses. In addition, JM Dry Goods and the tiny gift shops at El Cosmico and The Thunderbird all boast a nicely edited selection of treasures (Bolivian rugs, Turkish towels, candles, cowhides, peasant tops, straw bags, found items, etc…) that feel totally reflective of the region.