10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in El Paso
At the western tip of Texas, on the left bank of the Rio Grande, which here forms the frontier with Mexico, lies El Paso, the largest American city on the Mexican frontier. Its unique desert landscapes are home to diverse flora and fauna, and the city is rich in cultural attractions. Highlights include the El Paso Museum of Art with its fine collection of pre-Columbian and Indian art, the Mission Trail, and the Magoffin Home State Historic Site. Just outside the city limits, occupying the site of a military post established in 1846, is Fort Bliss, today one of the largest air defense centers in the world and home to fascinating military museums.
See also: Where to Stay in El Paso
1 The Mission Trail and Ysleta Mission
Encompassing the most important surviving Spanish mission stations in Texas, the Mission Trail starts in El Paso and is one of the best ways for tourists to explore the state's rich multicultural heritage. A highlight is the Ysleta Mission, established in 1681 as the mission of Nuestra Senora del Carmen and the oldest such structure in Texas. Others you'll see along the way are the Socorro Mission, founded in 1682, and San Elizario with its Spanish garrison church from 1777.
Address: 131 S. Zaragoza Road, El Paso
2 Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Although located 100 miles east of the city, the best of the massive Guadalupe Mountains National Park can be accessed from El Paso. Highlights include a chance to see wildlife such as desert amphibians, golden eagles, javelinas (a type of miniature wild pig), and more than 90 species of butterflies. The park is also known for its impressive towering spire of rock, El Capitan, as well as Guadalupe Peak, the highest elevation in Texas, and is popular for hikers thanks to its 80 miles of trails (the Visitor Center in Pine Springs also includes details of bike and riding trails). Another park worth visiting is Hueco Tanks State Historic Site, just 32 miles northeast of El Paso and popular for its bird watching and ancient rock paintings.
Address: 400 Pine Canyon Drive, Salt Flat
3 The National Border Patrol Museum
Don't be fooled by appearances; this unassuming museum outside El Paso offers a fascinating look at the history of the US Border Patrol. Highlights include a large collection of patrol vehicles, from rudimentary boats, motorcycles, and jeeps to sophisticated helicopters and other aircraft (static displays include an OH-6 helicopter, a Piper Super Cub airplane, and a Conquistador speedboat). Also of interest are exhibits of weapons, uniforms, badges, photos, and artwork. Another attraction worth visiting is Chamizal National Memorial, a 55-acre site celebrating the settlement of disputes between Mexico and the US.
Address: 4315 Woodrow Bean Transmountain Road, El Paso
4 El Paso Museum of Art
The El Paso Museum of Art houses an impressive collection of more than 5,000 pieces focusing on American, European, and Mexican art from the 12th to the 18th centuries. The American art collection features many fine examples from the Southwest with works by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell, along with portraits by Rembrandt Peale, Thomas Sully, and Gilbert Stuart. Modernist artists represented include Milton Avery, John Marin, and Max Weber, and the museum displays Impressionist pieces by Edward Bannister, Frank Boggs, William Merritt Chase, and Henry O. Tanner, to name just a few. There's also an extensive collection of prints, drawings, watercolors, posters, and photographs.
Address: 1 Arts Festival Plaza, El Paso
5 The Tigua Indian Cultural Center
Visitors can learn more about the history and traditions of the Tigua (the name for the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Native Americans) at the Tigua Indian Cultural Center. Highlights include a museum, a craft shop, and a chance to sample traditional foods. Guided tours are offered, and Tigua youth perform tribal dances accompanied by traditional music.
Address: 305 Yaya Lane, El Paso
6 El Paso Zoo
The El Paso Zoo offers an entertaining day for families as they explore the Animals of Africa, Animals of Asia, and Animals of the Americas exhibits, each housing large numbers of creatures, big and small. The zoo also features fun Zoo Adventure Programs for children and adults alike, along with daily animal encounters where visitors can get up close to sea lions, eagles, monkeys, tortoises, and other animals (check the events calendar to see what's on prior to arrival).
Address: 4001 E. Paisano Drive, El Paso
7 Fort Bliss and Old Ironsides Museums
Established as a US Army post in 1848, Fort Bliss later served as a base for Confederate forces during the Civil War. Today, the camp is home to the Army Air Defense Center and is a combat training location for allied nations, and home to a number of interesting museums. The Fort Bliss Museum features air and missile defense exhibits and other military artifacts covering the period from 1861 through to Desert Storm, along with the fort's long history. The Old Ironsides Museum, dedicated to preserving the history of the 1st Armored Division, also contains many fascinating exhibits and vehicles.
Address: 1735 Marshall Road, Fort Bliss
8 Centennial Museum and Chihuahuan Desert Gardens
Built to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the founding of Texas, the Centennial Museum features displays related to the natural and cultural history of the Southwest and Mexico. On the campus of the University of Texas at El Paso, the museum houses both permanent and changing exhibits dealing with archeology, ethnology, geology, and paleontology, as well as the arts and sciences. A visit also includes the Chihuahuan Desert Gardens with its more than 600 species of native plants in specially themed gardens, along with exhibits dealing with water conservation. For an excellent view of the desert scenery surrounding El Paso, take a trip on the Wyler Aerial Tramway in Franklin Mountain State Park on the outskirts of the city for its superb views from the top of the 5,632-foot tall Ranger Peak.
9 Magoffin Home State Historic Site
This 19-room adobe house was constructed in 1875 in Territorial style and boasts three wings, each constructed in different periods. Built for one of El Paso's leading families, the house features original furnishings, textiles, and photos, along with many fine paintings and splendid mid-Victorian décor (guided tours are available). The pleasant one-and-a-half-acre grounds are also worth a visit.
Address: 1120 Magoffin Avenue, El Paso
10 The El Paso Holocaust Museum and Study Center
The El Paso Holocaust Museum and Study Center, a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, also contains permanent exhibits with information covering all aspects of WWII, as well as life in Europe before the rise of the Nazis. There's also a gallery of El Paso Holocaust survivors, and the museum offers educational workshops and presentations throughout the year. Also on site is the Robert and Sara Shiloff Library and Study Center with books and research on the topic.
Address: 715 N. Oregon Street, El Paso
Where to Stay in El Paso for Sightseeing
El Paso's attractions are spread out in all directions, so choosing a place to stay is closely correlated to what you are primarily interested in seeing. To the east of downtown is the 17th Century Mission Trail, and to the west are the El Paso Zoo and the Wet-N-Wild Waterpark. In the north is Fort Bliss, and downtown is where many of the museums are located. Below are some highly-rated hotels in convenient locations:
- Luxury Hotels: About one mile south of Fort Bliss and near the airport, the Staybridge Suites offers two-room suites with kitchens, and an outdoor pool and hot tub. In a central location between Fort Bliss and downtown is the new Holiday Inn, with a popular restaurant and a free shuttle available for transport to local attractions within five miles. Located downtown, the new Hotel Indigo is stylish and edgy, with modern rooms and a rooftop pool. The El Paso Museum of Art is a short stroll away.
- Mid-Range Hotels: On the east side of El Paso and just a couple of miles from the 17th Century Ysleta Mission, the Hampton Inn offers a free hot breakfast and a free shuttle to destinations within five miles. Near the University of Texas El Paso campus and within walking distance to the Sun Bowl stadium, the Hilton Garden Inn is great for sports fans. The TownePlace Suites is near the airport and offers large suites with kitchens, an outdoor pool with BBQ facilities, and a free continental breakfast.
- Budget Hotels: The Comfort Inn & Suites, near the airport, offers spacious rooms at a fair price and provides complimentary appetizers and beverages Monday through Thursday in the late afternoon. Within walking distance to the airport, the Microtel Inn & Suites offers straightforward rooms and suites with separate living rooms. To the east of the city center, the pet-friendly Red Roof Inn is just a short drive from the Tigua Indian Cultural Center. This hotel features an outdoor pool and is within walking distance of a variety of chain restaurants.