In the far west corner of Texas, El Paso offers travelers an exciting mix of Wild West history and Spanish mission architecture. Complete with the rolling Rio Grande on one side and the US-Mexico border on the other.
Much of El Paso’s history is shared with the neighboring Mexican town of Ciudad Juarez. Today we can see the connection playing out in El Paso’s local food scene, many tourist attractions and at the Chamizal National Memorial. In addition to these things to do in El Paso, the city also has sweeping state parks, with plenty of opportunities to explore.
12. Magoffin Home State Historic Site
Built 1875, the Magoffin Home State Historic Site is a classic adobe homestead that you can tour. The homestead is built with prominent Territorial-style architecture, and was home to El Paso’s earliest settlers. A family who, for better or worse, played a major role in the town’s early years.
Begin your visit to the historic site by stopping by the visitor’s center. Here you can get a thorough introduction to the homestead’s history and sign up for a fascinating guided tour. On the tour, you will explore the homestead, which still features original furniture, photos, Victorian era decor and beautiful paintings. The adobe has 19 rooms and three wings, each built in different eras.
11. Chamizal National Memorial
The name may suggest a salient statue placed in downtown El Paso. However, the Chamizal National Memorial is an extensive urban park. The memorial is an important cultural spot for residents and one of the most beautiful places in El Paso.
Chamizal was created to commemorate the ending of long-lasting disputes between Mexico and America. Today, the park celebrates the region through native flora and walking trails that allow visitors to explore the park with ease.
You will also find a museum in the park that goes into the history of the Chamizal Dispute in further detail. There is a gallery to explore and at any time of year you may stumble upon live music or a theater performance.
10. Fort Bliss and Ironsides Museums
For history buffs, Fort Bliss and Ironsides Museums, conveniently located alongside each other, present an insightful look into America’s past and present.
Fort Bliss was originally established as a US Army post in the middle of the 19th century before becoming a Confederate base in the Civil War. While it still holds military training, Fort Bliss is home to an envious collection of exhibitions.
The displays include a thorough look into the lives of army families, Fort Bliss in peace and war times and a collection of fighter planes, helicopters and vehicles.
Ironsides Museum celebrates the lives of the 1st Armored Division, whose latest members live on base to this day. This division was the group given the job of remaining in Germany for almost half a century.
9. El Paso Zoo
If you’re looking for a relaxing afternoon of fun or a family-friendly activity, then you can’t go past the El Paso Zoo. The zoo comes with variable habitats designed to replicate those found all around the world.
The El Paso Zoo has three major exhibits featuring animals big and small from America, Africa and Asia. Visitors can get up close to species such as monkeys, eagles and sea lions.
Kids can enjoy adventure programs, a treehouse playground, a wildlife amphitheater, and the popular Africa Star Train.
8. El Paso Holocaust Museum
Founded by Henry Kellen, a Holocaust survivor, the El Paso Holocaust Museum continues to enlighten and educate its visitors. The museum does an excellent job of documenting the era leading up to the tragic events, while giving incredible insight into life in the concentration camps.
The exhibits balance information, artifacts and digital media to create a well-rounded presentation. Two of the most prominent exhibits include “Life Under the Nazi Regime” and the “Dining Room Scene”. The Honor Room hopes to preserve the memories of the lives lost and those that survived.
There are several staff on site who can help you answer any lingering questions, and there are workshops held throughout the year. It is hoped that with continued education, history will never repeat itself.
7. National Border Patrol Museum
One of the most interesting and free things to do in El Paso is to pay a visit to the National Border Patrol Museum. Officially set up in 1928, the museum goes further back, bringing you to the Old West.
As you enter the building, you will notice the bland exterior. But any sense of this being a boring activity is quickly put to bed. The museum walks you through the role the Border Patrol played in different eras from the Old West, to Prohibition and to the present day.
One of the most interesting aspects of the museum is the display featuring seized items. The seized items were taken from people crossing the border illegally, with the best ones now on display for you to see. From vehicles to a 9-person bicycle, prepare to be surprised.
Beyond random seized items, you can find retired Border Patrol vehicles, uniforms, weapons and insightful photographs. The highlight, though, is the Piper Super Club plane and the OH-6 helicopter.
6. El Paso Mission Trail
To truly appreciate El Paso’s history and culture, you must walk the Mission Trail. The path will guide you to vital surviving Spanish missions and unveil El Paso’s rich history that blends countries, traditions and customs.
Texas’ oldest mission, the Ysleta Mission, built in 1682, is on the trail, which provides you with an eye-popping connection to the past. Along with several other historic missions built in the 17th and 18th century, you will find prominent art galleries, and the Tigua Indian Cultural Center.
Lastly, the trail takes you to some of the best restaurants in town who serve authentic El Paso cuisine that puts the town’s diverse history onto one plate.
5. El Paso Museum of Art
With so many outdoor activities to do around town, you may want some respite from the sun. One of the best things to do in El Paso indoors is to explore the Museum of Art.
The El Paso Museum of Art is home to 7,000 classic and contemporary pieces, the earliest dating back to the 12th century. The museum displays the beauty of the South West along with tales of triumph and tragedy.
Beyond local history, the Museum of Art houses various international luminaries, including Rembrandt, Remington and Frank Boggs.
Throughout the year, there are also regular art programs for young and old.
30 miles northeast of El Paso is where you will find Hueco Tanks State Historic Site, a popular recreational spot for hikers, bird watchers, campers and climbers. But it is also home to an important part of the area’s history.
4. Scenic Drive Overlook
After seeing El Paso from above in the Franklin Mountains, go one better with a trip to the Scenic Drive Overlook. On the way to the overlook, you will pass some of the city’s oldest homes on one side and a long-range view to Ciudad Juarez on the other.
On the way, you will pass a small park representing the overlook. Just minutes from town, this is the perfect way to see El Paso, with the towering mountains right behind you.
To make the experience more memorable, fill up a picnic basket, grab a rug and head to the overlook for sunset.
3. Plaza Theatre
Much loved among residents, one of the best ways to enjoy an evening here is to take in a show at the Plaza Theatre. The theater is one of the top attractions in El Paso, featuring exuberant furniture, and an exterior of Spanish Mission-style architecture.
The Plaza Theatre was built in 1930 and underwent a renovation as recently as 2006 to maintain its beautiful reputation. Once you enter the building, you will immediately notice the grandeur from the mosaic tiles and decorative railings to the stars strewn across the ceiling.
Today, you can see a variety of live acts, from stand up comedy to Broadway shows and high-end musicians. Or you can enjoy a free tour of the historic building every Wednesday at noon.
2. Hueco Tanks State Historic Site
Known as the Sacred Desert Sanctuary, the Hueco Tanks were once the endpoint of an important trek. For over a thousand years, locals would come here to collect fresh rainwater found in the park’s vast natural rock basins. The eye-opening pictographs found along the walls are evidence of this.
To experience the beauty of the historic site, camp overnight at one of the twenty available sites. Add on a guided tour for the full Hueco Tanks experience.
1. Franklin Mountains State Park
Taking an imposing stance behind downtown El Paso are the Franklin Mountains. For El Paso residents and travelers alike, the mountains provide many recreational activities, from epic day walks to mountain biking.
Highly recommended day hikes for visitors include the one mile, out-and-back hike to the historic Aztec Caves and the strenuous four-mile hike along the Ron Coleman Trail. This trek includes 2,000 feet of elevation gain, but expansive views of the city and park are your reward once you reach the peak.
If you aren’t up for rigorous hiking, you can enjoy the picturesque Franklin Mountains Drive. Stops along the way will provide stunning views of the city along with an up-close look at the park’s ancient rock walls.