El Paso, The Unexpected ~ Texas

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.

El Paso – by night

El Paso – by day

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.


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…

A view of the Tiffany Dome

Exterior of Camino Real Hotel

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)

The Portrait 1997, Frances Bagley. Made of stainless steel and marble. At El Paso Museum of Art

An untitled lithograph 1992, by Marisol Escobar. At El Paso Museum of Art

Exterior of the National Border Patrol Museum

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.


39 thoughts on “El Paso, The Unexpected ~ Texas

    • I know – bring on the smartphone. Planning last minute kind of cuts the anxiety of not being planned enough because now you know you are pretty much ok if you have a phone to research from, and book with. Maybe I should get my own 😉 Thanks!

    • Absolutely! A last minute discovery usually means exceeded expectations, and fond memories! Food says so much about a place – completely agree. Karen, the tacos here I am writing home about. They were so so so good. Thank you for reading the journey 🙂

    • It’s a beauty, that Tiffany dome. I’ll post some photos throughout the coming weeks of different angles – such a beautiful piece of art. El Paso is really cool – even found street art there… will post that soon too! Thank you!

  1. Marina – can’t help but think you are prescient – heading off on your road trip when you did. Watching all the images from Sandy down here on the tube makes me happy you are off on your road trip

    • Thanks Syders – I wish I could have forseen the events, to have safeguarded others against it too. We felt the rain and wind in Charleston, as the weather headed north, and didn’t realise its force. NY is so resilient, but so sensitive too. It’s hard to watch the devastation.

  2. This only shows the beauty of travelling. You can plan and research as much as you want to, but those moments or those places where you go unprepared are often the most memorable on a trip. I love taking all kinds of detours when I am travelling, just going by intuition – or whatever I should call it. As for El Paso, I would probably have done the same as you, but good for you that you did take the time to explore the boarder city a little more. Nice photos that show what El Paso look like – at least the one you saw.

  3. You’re so spot on Otto – glad we think similarly. I also like to follow my instinct and would have explored more if we had time. As it was, I thought we’d leave at 9/10 am but we left hours later. It was such an enjoyable and, as you mentioned, memorable day. I am sure the residential areas and other neighboiurhoods of El Paso would have gleaned more insight to the city, though I am glad I saw some of it. Thanks so much!

    • I am not sure how many times El Paso would be on the way when driving along highways to other Texas towns from Utah, but if you pass through, I 100% recommend it as an overnight and day stop. When you least expect it, you are left impressed. There’s sophistication, and history, in this part of the state. Thanks so much fergiemoto!

    • My pleasure Gerard. As someone who saw the town for a day versus being stationed in the army and seeing a different perspective. it would be interesting to learn of your friend’s experience. As a tourist, I was pleasantly surprised and think it would make for a good foodie town to tour! I’ll post a few more photos in weeks to come 🙂 Thank you!

      • That was back in the 1970’s. I remember him saying that it snowed, which is something that only happens about every ten years. Alot of people thought you had to drive fast on it. There were alot of car accidents.

        My friend, as well as others I’ve met that were stationed there, all talked about Juarez, which is on the Mexican side. It was very sleazy.

        On both sides of the border there are alot of sleazy people involved in illegal activities.

        Stay well!

      • Wow, snow! It was warm when we visited. yes, I understand that living near a border would have its share of problems (you can learn about it at the National Border Museum) but this shouldn’t overshadow the beauty of the people who live there, their culture or food. I don’t have a bad word to say about the place!

  4. What a view! City panoramas in the dark are the best! Glad you enjoyed your stay here, looks like a great place to visit! 🙂 I love Mexican food; it tastes and looks great 🙂

    • For a place I didn’t have any idea about, it turned out to be a good lesson in paying attention. Every place has its beauty 🙂 Mexican tacos were the best here K. For sure! Thanks so much!

    • Thanks so much mrs carmichael! I will be writing up a few more detailed posts like this one on the other points that we stopped at on the trip… if you have any requests for specific info, let me know. i’ll try to include 🙂 Thank you!

  5. Pingback: A Town Painted Red – Sedona, AZ (Road Trip Series, Part 6) | Marina Chetner

  6. Hi Marina,
    We here at Marfa Public Radio recently did an interview at the El Paso Museum of Art and would like to use your images of Frances Bagley’s The Portrait and the Marisol Escobar on our website, with your permission. Thank you

  7. Pingback: Day Of The Dead, El Paso, Texas | Marina Chetner

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