Visiting El Paso - What to See and Do
(El Paso International Airport ELP, USA)
One of the most authentic destinations in the American Southwest is El Paso
. This city reads like a history book on the region, from the Spanish explorers who built the King's Highway through the area in the 16th century, to gunslingers and Mexican border disputes during the Old West era.
El Paso is unpretentious, gritty and authentic. With the Rio Grande River on one side and the Franklin Mountains on the other, the city is unique to visitors who can mix in some outdoor recreation in between cultural endeavors. Though most of the star attractions are historic museums and sites, El Paso also has a solid array of nightlife venues, restaurants and shopping centers.
The University of Texas has a campus here, with a student population that helps keep things fresh and lively. Great shopping buys center around Southwest items and Mexican goods, both downtown and in the modern malls. You can even jump the border in Mexico
for the day, as Ciudad Juarez is just minutes to the south.
Ten things you must do in El Paso
- Before you spend too much time in this city, stop by the El Paso Museum of History to get your bearings and background. This snappy museum has four galleries, with two permanent exhibitions and two rotating ones. You will be guaranteed to see the A to Z gallery, which relates the entire colorful timeline of the city and region, and the Changing Past gallery, focusing on the geology of the area.
- Another cultural highlight in the city is the El Paso Museum of Art, which provides an excellent visual perspective of this part of America. Of its five galleries, three show permanent exhibitions of Mexican art, European art and American art. Complementing these impressive collections are seasonal shows that often involve edgier topics and artists.
- El Paso's downtown district is the best place to go when you want to experience the unique Hispanic influence of the city. It really feels like a small version of a Mexican town, with superb restaurants, quirky bars, and boutiques selling all kinds of Mexican crafts and Southwestern goodies. The buildings themselves are mostly historic and quite charming, several of which house major attractions like the Museum of Art and the Plaza Theater.
- Golfers should be aware that one of America's premier public courses is just minutes outside of the city. The Painted Dunes Desert Golf Course boasts 27 holes of top-flight desert scenery. It is challenging and diverse, and best of all the weather here makes playing feasible all year round. Several other golf courses are also located within an easy drive of the city.
- One of the best zoos in Texas is right here in El Paso. Around 1,700 creatures covering some 220 species live in natural habitats within the zoo, including all the big name animals like giraffes, elephants and tigers, as well as some interesting local creatures. It is a great place to spend a morning, especially if you have kids along. A restaurant and gift shops round off the facility.
- El Paso has a surprisingly rich entertainment scene, with a handful of excellent venues, like the beautifully restored historic Plaza Theater and the Performing Arts Center. In spring and autumn, the El Paso Opera performs, while the city's quality symphony orchestra has shows several times throughout the year. The McKelligon Canyon Amphitheater is another awesome venue for fun outdoor concerts during the many warm months.
- The Franklin Mountains State Park is America's biggest urban wilderness park, featuring approximately 24,000 acres / 9,710 hectares on the edge of town for hiking, biking and rock climbing. The mountains peak out at 2,192 meters / 7,192 feet, providing cool weather even in summer. If you just want the scenery, then hop on the Wyler Aerial Tramway to reach the summit of the Ranger Peak.
- If you have never been to Mexico, you have a quick and easy opportunity to cross the border into Ciudad Juarez. Like all Mexican border towns, the scene isn't exactly the most charming side of the country. However, you can bet there is plenty of unusual shopping, great Mexican food and all the cultural color you could possibly want.
- The Spanish colonial era was what got this city started back in the 16th century. The finest remains of that era are the three Spanish missions along the El Paso Mission Trail. This driving tour takes you to Mission Ysleta, Mission Socorro and the Presidio Chapel San Elceario. The latter attraction is the best of the bunch, so if you only have time to visit one of the missions, pick San Elceario. Visitors can tour all three missions on their own at their leisure. Expect to spend around an hour at each.
- A fun change of pace can be found at the Insights Science Museum, based in downtown El Paso. Perhaps best suited for kids, the interactive hands-on exhibits are actually pretty fun for anyone with an interest in the world of science. From the giant Tesla coil to the sonic waves in the Echo Tube, you can easily spend an hour or two here.