I didn’t pre plan for the El Paso leg of this road trip. For each of the other stops on this NYC-to-LA journey, I had at least one reference point, be it a museum I wanted to see, a restaurant I wanted to try, a landmark I had to photograph. When El Paso, I considered it a blip on the map. Big mistake.
Yesterday, sitting in the car, mapping the route to El Paso with the GPS, I’d felt a sudden rush of guilt: Why had I been so lazy in my research, especially since we were entering the unknown?
Driving a stretch of 550 miles in eight hours, I not only ran my husband’s smartphone battery dry, but strung together a loose plan for the next day; an itinerary that ended this afternoon unfortunately, as we’d been so pleasantly surprised by this border town.
Our intention to get an early start for Sedona, but that never eventuated. We left El Paso at 4pm and wished we’d been able to stay longer.
Moral of the story: never assume anything, because you know where that will get you.
Here’s what we experienced.
THE ITINERARY: A 16-HOUR EL PASO STAY
Quick background: El Paso is a big Texan town, located by the borders of Mexico and New Mexico, USA. It has the world’s largest international border community with a metro population of over 2.6 million, and it is the ninth most populous city in America.
STAY: A successful last-minute bid on Priceline allowed us to stay in a National Landmark Hotel, Camino Real Hotel, in El Paso’s downtown. Such a pleasure!
Opened in 1912, the hotel features a Dome Bar that was once the lobby of this vintage hotel. Gloria Swanson, Richard Nixon, and Eleanor Roosevelt have stayed here. To have been a fly on the wall…
EAT, Breakfast: Via a quick search on Google Maps, I found Blue Seal Bakery, a hole in the wall on busy South El Paso Street. The shop assistant didn’t speak English, and I don’t speak Mexican, but we managed to coordinate my order of a custard-filled croissant, sweet raisin scones, and coffee. Total: $4.
EAT, Lunch: The hotel’s concierge recommended an authentic Mexican spot for freshly made tacos. Located about a 15-minute drive, L&J Cafe – a dive bar full of people at 3pm – served the BEST tacos I have ever eaten. Forget the Old El Paso branded taco shells — these tacos were soft, lightly fried, and filled with guacamole, chicken or ground beef, topped with diced tomatoes, lettuce, grated cheese. A margarita cost $4. We would have stayed until dusk.
PLAY: El Paso Museum of Art is located directly across the road from Camino Real Hotel. Setting aside an hour to explore the space was well worth it. Works by local artists and American Impressionists were on view. The modern museum shop had some excellent Mexican handicrafts for sale.
TripAdvisor also rated The National Border Patrol Museum and El Paso Museum of Archaeology as noteworthy stops – and rightly so. Standing next to one another, they are located a 20-minute drive from downtown. Each is unique in its offering and allowing about two hours here will glean you new insights. Did you know? (National Border Patrol info)
TRICK OR TREAT: This was not an intended stop but the Concordia Cemetery, a historic site, happens to be across the road from L&J Cafe. “The graveyard gained widespread use in the 1880s when El Pasoans drove three miles to Concordia to bury their dead. Buried here are over 60,000 people including gunfighter John Wesley Hardin, Buffalo Soldiers, Texas Rangers, Civil War Veterans, early Mormon pioneers, and was formerly the first burial site for Mexican Revolution President Victoriano Huerta, and numerous other civic leaders, pioneers, and war veterans.” *
Coincidentally, the day we saw it happened to be Halloween.