12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions 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. Fun things to do and places to visit 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. Within the city limits, occupying the site of a military post established in the mid-19th century, is Fort Bliss, today one of the largest air defense centers in the world and home to fascinating military museums. For those interested in exploring El Paso's outdoor recreation, Franklin Mountains State Park and Hueco Tanks State Historic Site are ripe for adventure.
See also: Where to Stay in El Paso
1 Plaza Theatre
In the heart of downtown, the Plaza Theatre stands proudly as a testament to El Paso's musical past. Originally constructed in 1930, and returned to its original grandeur in 2006, the Plaza Theatre Performing Arts Center showcases some of the best live entertainment and attractions in El Paso. The theater is built in Spanish Colonial Revival style, and part of the experience here is simply appreciating the intricately decorated auditorium space. Mosaic-tiled floors, ornamental metal railings, and antique furniture add to this atmospheric theater, as do the painted stars on the ceiling that reflect a summer night's sky. Today, the Plaza hosts a wide range of shows, including big-name country stars, traveling mariachi bands, and Broadway performances.
Address: 125 West Mills Avenue, El Paso, Texas
2 Franklin Mountains State Park
A common sight in the El Paso skyline, the Franklin Mountains are a welcome recreational outlet for the entire community. Easily accessed on the north end of the city, the 27,000-acre Franklin Mountain State Park is a popular venue for hiking, mountain biking, and rock climbing. Other fun things to do at this sprawling state park include geocaching, ranger-led programs, and extensive wildlife watching opportunities. For an excellent view of the desert scenery surrounding El Paso, the popular Wyler Aerial Tramway within the park offers superb views from atop the 5,632-foot-tall Ranger Peak.
Address: El Paso, Texas
3 El Paso Mission Trail
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, consecrated in 1682 and now the oldest such structure in Texas. Others you'll see along the way are the Socorro Mission, first built in 1691, and San Elizario with its Spanish garrison church from 1789. Many other authentic cultural highlights surround the missions, including local eateries, art galleries, and institutions like the Tigua Indian Cultural Center.
Address: 9065 Alameda Avenue, El Paso, Texas
4 El Paso Museum of Art
The El Paso Museum of Art houses an impressive collection of more than 7,000 pieces focusing on American, European, and Mexican art from the 12th century to current times. 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 Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site
Just over 30 miles northeast of the city, Hueco Tanks is another recreational hot spot near El Paso catering to hikers, climbers, bird watchers, and those interested in the region's history. The park is named after the immense rock formations and natural basins that collect rainwater, and people have gathered at this unique area for thousands of years, evidence of which remains today through ancient pictographs on the rock wall. Due to the fragile resources of the park, there is a cap on the number of people who can visit in a day. Reservations can be secured by calling ahead of time. Guided tours of the pictographs can also be scheduled during your visit.
Address: 6900 Hueco Tanks Road Number 1, El Paso, Texas
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). Other family-friendly attractions at the zoo include a massive treehouse playground, year-round water play area, and an African Star Train, as well as a Wildlife Amphitheater for special animal-focused shows.
Address: 4001 E. Paisano Drive, El Paso, Texas
7 Centennial Museum and Chihuahuan Desert Gardens
Built to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the independence of Texas from Mexico, 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 800 species of native plants in specially themed gardens, along with exhibits dealing with water conservation. Also part of the facility, The Lhakhang Cultural Exhibit is known as "UTEP's Cultural Jewel," and features traditional Bhutanese architecture, murals, and other fine details.
Address: 500 West University Avenue, El Paso, Texas
8 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, Texas
9 Magoffin Home State Historic Site
This 19-room adobe homestead 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. The pleasant one-and-a-half-acre grounds are also worth a visit. Operated by the Texas Historical Commission, the first stop on any visit to this historic home should be to the adjacent Visitor Center, where patrons can get signed up for a guided tour.
Address: 1120 Magoffin Avenue, El Paso, Texas
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
11 El Paso Museum of Archaeology
There is a lot of fun to uncover at the El Paso Museum of Archaeology, including detailed dioramas and galleries of life in the region for the last 14,000 years. Located on the north side of the city near the base of Franklin Mountains, this eye-catching museum is free, and the facility often hosts special lectures, events, and family programs in its auditorium. The museum also oversees 15 acres of land surrounding the facility and provides walking trails that meander next to more than 250 native Chihuahuan Desert plants.
Address: 4301 Woodrow Bean Transmountain Drive, El Paso, Texas
12 Fort Bliss and Old Ironsides Museums
Established as a US Army post in the mid-19th century, 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, Texas
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.
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