Situated on the edge of the Rio Grande and just across the border from Chihuahua, Mexico, El Paso is a rich and fascinating monument to the meeting of two countries, two cultures, and magnificent desert landscape. The city has the past rife with conflict over borders, immigration, and the Civil War. If you’re making a move to the wild lands of the south and wondering what to do in El Paso, let us suggest ten ways that you can feel like you’ve traveled to another century — all without leaving your new city.
Hueco Tanks State Historic Site
With an interactive ranch house at the start of the tour that offers explanations of what you’re about to see, Hueco Tanks offers a geological look back in time. The rock formations in the area used to hold water in ‘huecos’, hence the name — so either take a self-guided tour to hike around the stark desert landscape or schedule yourself for a guided tour to learn about the history and natural splendor of the landmark.
Take a trip back to the showtimes of 1929 when the Plaza Theater was constructed, with ornate wrought iron banisters and intricate mosaic tile that once housed early film shows. It was rehabilitated in 2002 to its original Spanish Colonial Revival style and now hosts Broadway shows, concerts, and a variety of other performances, making it one of the top things to do in El Paso.
Magoffin Home State Historic Site
Built in 1875 in the Territorial style, this family home was inhabited for over 100 years by the Magoffin family. Members of the family participated in key historical moments: U.S. expansion westward, the Civil War, and U.S.-Mexico relations. The thick adobe walls and most of the original furniture are still on display at this historic site, truly giving visitors a sense of stepping back in time.
Chamizal National Memorial
Managed by the National Park Service, this memorial bears witness to the resolution of a 100-year dispute over the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Take in the view of the Franklin Mountains or the Bridge of the Americas and Mexico, all in a beautiful natural environment that is home to the unique plants and wildlife of the region.
El Paso Museum of History
Known as “The Pass of the North”, (El Paso del Norte) El Paso has a historically complex history as a border city. The Museum of History will guide a new El Paso resident through the stories of the area, from the city’s founding by Spanish Franciscan Friars at an important mountain pass to El Paso’s prominent role in illegal liquor smuggling during Prohibition to the Texas Oil Boom. If you’re moving to El Paso, this is a great place to start your education as a new local.
Museum of Archaeology
Get really historic and go back to pre-human settlement times to see who and what were living in El Paso 14,000 years ago. From the American Indians to the Paleo-Indian hunters of the Ice Age, a visit here will give you the full sense of how the area has progressed through time. The museum spans fifteen acres with trails winding through native species gardens, outdoor exhibits, and a gazebo for family picnics — making this an excellent family activity in El Paso.
The Mission Trail
The architecture of the adobe churches that line this trail through El Paso’s lower valley reflect the times in which they were built. Constructed about 400 years ago, these churches were part of early settlements to the area — one of which being initially constructed as a military post, then reconstructed in 1850 after flooding ravaged the area. A visit to the trail includes plenty of educational material explaining the history of the missions as well as efforts to preserve them.
National Border Patrol Museum
Telling the story all the way back to the times of the Wild West, you can get a glimpse of vehicles the Border Patrol has used or even seized throughout the years — even a bicycle-powered vehicle large enough to transport nine people across the border! The museum tells the complex story of a city and a people that have seen a lot of changes through the years.
Viva El Paso!
If you’re moving to El Paso in the summertime, you’re arriving perfectly aligned with the city’s yearly return of the theatrical performance Viva El Paso! This outdoor musical chronicles the history of the city through song and dance, right from the time El Paso was settled. 50 dancers, two hours, the best history lesson you could ask for in your new home. If you’re new to town, this is one of the best things to do in El Paso to really land.
H&H Car Wash & Coffee Shop
This spot may not be a museum or national landmark, but it is a monument to the days when you could get it all at one mom and pop shop. Wash your car if you need it, or just pop in for a cup of coffee and some breakfast in an ambiance that will have you feeling right at home and a little bit nostalgic. The food is home cooked and hearty in the Texas style you’d expect — moving and single? This might just be a great first date.