The lure of that fabled, sparsely-populated mountainous region of far West Texas can be hard to explain. Lovingly lumped together as “The Big Bend Region,” it’s a place where cowboys and artists co-exist. Where mountain and desert intermix. Where musicians play, astronomers study, and adventurers hike. With a population just under 6,000, Alpine is the largest city in the region with decidedly the most nightlife, dining, and lodging options. While you’re likely to set up shop here, you’ll find plenty of enticing excursions for day trips outside of the city.
Nearby Marfa (25 miles west), whose name is recognized by Hollywood celebrities, famous architects, international artists, and New York socialites, is a must-do. Minimalist artist Donald Judd put Marfa on the map when he found inspiration here in the 1970s. He left behind installations and studios for artists, architects, and creatives to observe to this day at the Judd and Chinati Foundation properties.
While in Marfa, split a bottle of rosé at Al Campo Wine Garden & Rustic Bistro, buy an original work of art from the many galleries in town, and enjoy nachos and beer at Planet Marfa. Sip cocktails on Hotel Paisano’s courtyard (the headquarters for Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean’s Giant) and treat yourself to chic Cochineal’s seasonal menu.
On your drive to Marfa, stop at Big Bend Brewing Co. for a tour and tasting of the local beer that has taken the state by storm. On your way back to Alpine, stop at the Marfa Mystery Lights Viewing Center for a chance to spot those famous lights.
Head 23 miles northwest of Alpine to the Lone Star State’s highest town, Fort Davis, nestled in the volcanic Davis Mountains at an elevation of 5,050 feet above sea level. It’s a cool little town—in culture and in temperature—that offers history and hiking. Tour the Fort Davis National Historic Site, a well-preserved Indian War frontier fort, then head to the Fort Davis Drug Store & Hotel for Coke floats and banana splits. Hike to great views at the Davis Mountains State Park or Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center then partake in a Star Party at The University of Texas McDonald Observatory, home to some of the largest telescopes in the world.
Peruse the art galleries and eclectic shops in Marathon, 30 miles east of Alpine. Treat yourself to a Prickly Pear Pura Vida Margarita from White Buffalo Bar followed by the roasted half chicken at award-winning 12 Gage Restaurant, both inside the historic Gage Hotel. Notice the detail in the Gage when you visit. It opened in 1927 and was designed by legendary architect Henry Trost. The next year, another one of his designs opened: the Holland Hotel in Alpine.
You’ve made it all the way here. You’re so close to Big Bend Ranch State Park and Big Bend National Park (a little over an hour south of town). Do yourself a favor and tack on a couple extra days to spend in the parks. The breathtaking landscape and desert vegetation of the parks beg to be photographed, explored, and fully appreciated. Float down the river with our friends at Far Flung Outdoor Center, hike or bike hundreds of miles of trails, soak in the hot springs, and join in a ranger-led nature walk. Keep your eyes peeled for the vast array of wildlife here, like golden-fronted woodpeckers, kangaroo rats, mule deer, bats, tarantulas, and black bear.
Order the chicken-fried wild boar or tequila-marinated quail and dance to live music at Starlight Theatre Restaurant & Saloon in ghost town Terlingua, home to the world-famous Terlingua Chili Cook-Off. Grab one-of-a-kind souvenirs from Terlingua Trading Company before heading out. Drive a bit further and you’ll discover luxurious Lajitas Golf Resort. Ride horses, shoot clay, rent jeeps, zip line, get a massage, or play a round of golf on their course that’s top-ranked in the state. You’ll sleep well in Alpine after a day packed with this kind of adventure.
Alpine’s where you begin, but you’re not going to want your far West Texas vacation to end.