Situated in the Wild West on the border of Mexico and Texas lays the humble city of El Paso. The Franklin Mountains paint a beautiful backdrop for the city’s widespread estate. Embodying the Hispanic side of American history, El Paso is known for its contribution to a more diverse and economically sufficient Texas through its copper refining, oil refining and low-wage textile industries. The combination of Texas, a former member of Mexico, and El Paso, an important player in the establishment of Western railroads, has resulted in much diversity. Most of El Paso’s population consists of Hispanics or Mexican-Americans, making Spanish the second most spoken language in the area (next to English).
In relation to America’s overall history, El Paso is a relatively new municipality. The area has a narrative of its own and so many things to do to keep you entertained. El Paso is great for browsing museums, art galleries, the plaza, and has many outdoor activities in the desert terrain.
A Brief History
Because of its location in the Western United States, El Paso was originally inhabited by the Puebloan Native Americans in the Ysleta part of El Paso. Come the 16th century, when Spanish settlers crossed the Camino Real, El Paso became an important stop on their path to New Mexico. The settlers came with two goals in mind: gold and converting natives to Christianity. The Pueblo Indians hastily welcomed the new Spanish settlers, and eventually rebelled against their settlement in 1680, an event known as the Pueblo Revolt. While most of the settlers were driven out, they returned 12 years later to inhabit New Mexico. Its agricultural landscape and location next to the Rio Grande made this area a popular place to settle, making it a culturally diverse city from the beginning. As the river naturally moved southwest from its channel, already settled communities ended up on the other side of the river!
With its location and Texas’s revolt from Mexico, Texas (including El Paso) was annexed into the United States in 1845. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American war of 1846 – 1848, which gave the Rio Grande to the United States and established the border between the two nations. Many fled to El Paso to escape violence during the war, which led to the development of the Mexican middle class. This wave of immigration led to more cultural, social and educational institutions in El Paso. As railroads expanded westward, more Anglo travelers and settlers came to El Paso, bringing more cultural diversity and political change than before.
Skipping ahead, El Paso thrived in the 1920s and 30s during Prohibition. As alcohol was outlawed in the States, alcohol remained legal in the city of Juárez just across the river. In the 1930s, many Mexicans and Mexican-Americans found employment in El Paso after experiencing repatriation in other parts of the country, working on public infrastructure and railroads. El Paso eventually became home to Fort Bliss, an important military base through World War II and the Cold War. Soldiers and other military members were relocated to Fort Bliss. The military base, as well as the Texas Oil boom, contributed immensely to El Paso’s growth.
Things to do in El Paso
Discover El Paso’s unique culture whether you are visiting or relocating. There are plenty of things to do and places to visit that will liven up your time here!
San Jacinto Plaza
In the heart of downtown El Paso is the San Jacinto Plaza. Like most plazas, it’s rich with its restaurants, cafés, and shops. It continues to reinvent itself, creating a more modern look and safer place for locals and visitors to hang out. Cool off in the Splash Pad, play ping-pong, chess, or horseshoe! There are even pet-friendly water fountains for your furry companion. After a long day of roaming, grab a bite to eat at La Placita Café!
The Performing Arts Center thrives in San Jacinto Plaza. It boasts a Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, and members of the audience feel like they are sitting in a Spanish courtyard. Many festivals are held here year-round, including the upcoming Winter Fest, Sun City Craft Beer Festival, and the Tequila, Taco, and Cerveza Festival. Watch a concert, ballet, Broadway show, or watch a comedian like Tom Segura, who will be performing January 30th at the Abraham Chavez Theatre location.
For history fanatics, there are many museums to tell the story of El Paso. The El Paso Museum of History has a 3-D digital wall that projects the United States and Mexico’s border history on a big screen (the “Digie,” a.k.a. the Digital Information Gateway). It accurately discusses El Paso’s culture and people through images and videos. Not to mention, admission is free! Dive into modern history at the National Border Patrol Museum, where information on the Border Patrol history rests at your fingertips. At the Tigua Indian Cultural Center see five centuries of Pueblo Tribal history and tradition. Not only is there a guided tour available, but authentic tribal social dances are performed on the weekends!
Mount Cristo Rey
For a little venture outside of the El Paso area, visit Mt. Cristo Rey. A 29-ft. tall limestone statue stands on top of the Sierra de Cristo Rey (Mountain of the Christ King). This statue is an important cultural element to those living in El Paso and the surrounding Southern New Mexico area. At the top, miraculous views of Texas, New Mexico and Mexico lay in front of you! The pilgrimage and visits to the statue are closed in 2021 due to COVID 19.
Explore the Outdoors
El Paso is full of barren deserts, bold mountains, and beautiful gardens. There are tons of activities for individuals and families!
Take a Scenic Drive up the Franklin Mountains to get a beautiful overlook of El Paso and striking, traditional houses. Directions are here! The Wyler Aerial Tramway at Franklin Mountains State Park provides aerial cable car rides but is currently closed due to safety concerns. Ride a gondola up to Ranger Peak and take in the stunning view of rocky mountain formations and cacti. Texas Parks and Wildlife is also home to the Hueco Tank State Park & Historic Site, the perfect place to rock climb and bird watch, all while getting an eye-catching view of the “Sacred Desert Sanctuary.” The desert may be hot and dry, but it’s the perfect environment for an ATV ride. With Off-Road Adventures, rent an ATV to see El Paso’s mountains, sand dunes, and scenic desert. Taste your way through some wine at the Zin Valle Vineyards, located in the valley of Rio Grande. It is the only vineyard and winery in El Paso!
Places to Eat
On the Mexico-United States border, there is bound to be an interesting mix of culture, including food culture! “Tex-Mex” is the best way to describe the food in El Paso. You’re destined to find a delicious combination of Southern American food and Mexican features everywhere you go!
Catch delicious Mexican cuisines at Café Mayápan, where they focus on food as a spirituality and connecting their customers to nature. They grill and steam fresh produce from local Farmers’ Markets to make delicious foods that also help with community development. They are open Monday – Friday 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and on Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
This quaint little café, first opened in 1918 in the city of Juárez, is just across the border of El Paso. Café Central offers a blend of cultural foods on their menu. The restaurant has won multiple awards for its wine selection. Dine on the terrace, grab a drink, and listen to live jazz music, playing Thursday through Saturday evenings from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Men’s Health Magazine, along with some others, named this restaurant “Manliest Steakhouse in America” in 2012. Multiple magazines and television shows have featured Cattleman’s Steakhouse in their articles or programs, giving it the famous reputation that it has today. Aside from the delicious steak, the Steakhouse rests on the Indian Cliffs Ranch, which will give you the authentic “Old West” experience.
Rumor has it this restaurant was voted the “Best Mexican Restaurant in El Paso!” This restaurant has a history of a rebellious side. It maintained a party-like ambition by providing beer, wine, and slot machines during Prohibition. L&J Café is a family-owned café that’s been passed down through four generations, so the service is something special. Live music events are on the weekends as well!
The best way to describe Ripe Eatery in one word? Brunch. Their lunch and dinner menu is great too, supplying a mix of cultural dishes, but the brunch menu offers everything from southern plates to traditional American breakfasts to Mexican cuisines, such as Brisket Ranchero and Huevos Rancheros Benny.
A Chihuahuan Desert Metropolis
El Paso is one of the safest and biggest cities in the United States. It is located in the Chihuahuan Desert and has approximately 300 days of sunshine annually. As Spanish explorers settled in the region, they nicknamed the city “Pachuco” or “Chuco Town”, calling themselves “Pachucos.” El Paso also claims itself as home to the first margarita, created by Pancho Morales in 1942 at Tommy’s Place.
Locals love to celebrate festivals. People come from all over to celebrate the Festival de Flores, Desert Music Festival, Balloon Fest, Texas Showdown Festival and Sun City Music Festival. The sidewalks connect to everything around the city, making the trek from place to place easily walk-able. So, whether you’re singing along with some of your favorite artists at a music festival, or watching a football game at the Sun Bowl, grab a margarita, take in the sun, and enjoy everything El Paso has to offer!