EL PASO | El Paso is a city located on the Rio Grande across the Mexico–United States border from Ciudad Juárez. The region is rich in culture, called home by Native American people for over 10,000 years. The city itself (present day Juárez) was founded by the Spanish as El Paso del Norte in 1659. The northern part of that city became El Paso in 1850, in the aftermath of the Mexican–American War.
This history has shaped the city as it exists today. When you visit, you’ll see its influence of the city’s culture, food, arts scene, and more. El Paso is a unique city, not quite like any other in the US. There are lots of things to do in El Paso, its compact size making it a great option if you’re looking for a short getaway.
Here’s my list of the best things to do in El Paso.
Discover The City’s Vibrant Murals
El Paso has a thriving street art scene. The combination of its border city status, history, and vibrant university means that there’s a lot for people to talk about through their art.
In particular, check out the city’s Centro, El Segundo, and Lincoln Park neighbourhoods. They’re full of colourful murals depicting the city’s Latin and Native American culture and community.
The mixed industrial and residential El Segundo Barrio is my favourite, filled with amazing Chicano murals. Beautiful murals pained by locals, through which they share their lives, dreams, concerns, and stories.
Eat Mexican Food
It goes without saying that the Mexican food in El Paso is outstanding. There’s traditional Mexican and Tex-Mex food aplenty, ranging from simple street food-style far to more substantial home-style meals.
For home-style Mexican dishes cooked with love, visit L&J Cafe. It’s run by the fourth generation of the family that opened the restaurant in 1927. For classic Mexican fare in an unexpected dive bar location, The Tap Bar & Restaurant is a must visit. Their nachos, with each corn chip individually topped with just the right proportion of ingredients, are considered by many to be the best in Texas. For a unique, affordable snack, the rolled tacos (flautas) in tomato soup at institution Chico’s Tacos are worth a try.
Go To A Museum
There’s no shortage of museums to visit in El Paso. The El Paso Museum of History is a great place to learn about the past 400 years of history in the United States/Mexico border region. The Chamizal National Memorial, meanwhile, deals with the over 100-year long Chamizal dispute (which was settled in 1964) caused by the shifting Rio Grande, and the associated border uncertainties that this created.
Art lovers can visit the El Paso Museum of Art. It contains a collection of American, Mexican, and European art. History buffs should visit the 1st Armored Division and Fort Bliss Museum, which delves into the role that Fort Bliss has played in the area since its establishment in 1949 as an army training and operations centre.
Learn About The Chihuahuan Desert
The Centennial Museum and Chihuahuan Desert Gardens can be found at the University of Texas El Paso campus. They showcase the over 800 plants that live in the Chihuahuan Desert, with an interesting exhibit that details the desert’s history, and topical current issues related to the desert.
See A Himalayan Temple
While at the University, be sure to visit the Lhakhang Cultural Exhibit. The Lhakhang is an authentic Bhutanese temple that was gifted to the United States in 2008. The interior was built in Bhutan, and shipped to the US where it was assembled by American and Bhutanese craftspeople, using traditional techniques.
Step Thousands Of Years Back In Time
Hidden in the Chihuahua Desert, just outside of El Paso, you’ll find the Hueco Tanks. They’re catch-basin rocks covered in over 3,000 pictographs, some of which date back to 6000-3000 BCE. Up to 8,000 years of Native American cultures are represented in these paintings. They show things like mask designs of the Pueblan Katchina Cult, hunts of the Mescalero Apache Plains warriors, and scenes from daily life.
Beyond the pictographs, the area is also a great spot for hiking, rock climbing, and bird watching.
Visit A Historic Theatre
The Plaza Theatre was built in the Spanish Colonial Revival architectural style in 1930. Carefully restored in 2006, it features intricately painted ceilings, mosaic-tiled floors, decorative metal railings and antique furniture. It’s one of the few atmospheric theatres remaining in the US, conveying the illusion that viewers are seated outdoors in a Spanish courtyard.
It’s well worth seeing a show or performance here, but if that’s not your thing, you can still admire the interior and exterior. Free public tours are run every Tuesday at 12:00pm.
Walk Along The Border
El Paso–Juárez is a transborder agglomeration. That is, two cities in two countries that are, in basic terms, one city. Indeed, until 1850, both cities were one and the same, the Mexican city of El Paso del Norte.
Walking along the border is an enlightening experience. The part of El Centro that starts about a 10 minute walk from the border is lively, fascinating area to walk through. It’s a world away from the “skyscraper” part of of the neighbourhood, just a few blocks north. One moment you feel like you’re in a typical US downtown, the next it feels like you’re in Mexico.
If you’re up for it, and have your passport on you, you can even walk across the Paso del Norte International Bridge and have a wander through Juarez. If you do, it’s best to organise a walking tour with one of the many El Paso-based operators who run them.
Have you been to El Paso before? What are some of your favourite things to do in the city?