The combination of art, people, and small town vibe makes Marfa, Texas totally worth the 430 mile drive from Austin. It’s funky, quaint, and makes life feel so simple. No to mention to the gorgeous mountain views and starry nights of the West Texas sky that are unlike any other place on Earth. This was my first trip to Marfa with the kids, so today I’m sharing a kid friendly guide to discovering Marfa, Fort Davis, and Alpine, Texas.
Where to Stay in Marfa
I always find staying in a house the easiest route with kids. I typically use Airbnb or Vrbo to find houses to rent, but went with Airbnb for Marfa. The Marfa Stone House was the perfect home away from home for our family of four. It has 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, and an open living room/ kitchen layout. The backyard is complete with a chiminea and a large picnic table for outdoor dining. The house is in a great location for exploring Marfa via bike or foot. We really loved that it was 1 block away from the local elementary school so we made multiple trips to the playground in the evenings. It’s also only a 2 minute walk from the ice cream store, Frama. The house also comes with 2 adult bikes, and I would highly recommend bringing bikes for the kids.
Pro tip: Don’t let kids ride their bikes in the yard, sticker burs will pop tires.
On a trip to Marfa Texas without kids, I stayed in a tee pee at El Cosmico. El Cosmico is quirky and fun, but it would not be my first choice for a family. I always recommend stopping by El Cosmico to see the unique property, enjoy the hammocks and you don’t miss the gift shop.
Things to do in Marfa Texas
To be fair, this list is of things to do in Marfa during the pandemic. I did not include things that are not currently open due to the virus, mostly art exhibits like Chinati, Judd Foundation, and Ballroom Marfa.
1. Bike ride
The Stone House Marfa comes with 2 adult bikes and I recommend bringing bikes or scooters for the kids. Frama coffee is a fun destination for a bike ride anytime of day in Marfa. Frama is part of a laundry mat, but offers a take out window with delicious coffee and muffins in the morning and homemade ice cream in the afternoon.
Other don’t miss bike stops and murals in Marfa include:
- Frama for ice cream
- Marfa Courthouse
- The pink fire station ( 110 E Lincoln St, Marfa, TX 79843)
- Marfa Elemnentrary school playground (400 W Columbia St, Marfa, TX 79843)
- Godbold Feed mill (Pictured below)
- Mural- “I’d rather be in Marfa”- Martin Field (400 W Lincoln St, Marfa, TX 79843)
- Mural- “Mystery Lights”- Thunderbird Hotel (601 W San Antonio St, Marfa, TX 79843)
- Mural- “Greetings from Marfa Texas”- Frama ( 120 N Austin St, Marfa, TX 79843)
- Mural- “Marfa Shorthorns”- On bus barn, across from Martin Field
2. Marfa Mystery Lights
The distant glowing orbs known as the Marfa Lights are a must see on your stop in Marfa. The official Marfa Lights viewing area is located 9 miles east of town on Highway 90, towards Alpine. There is an adobe viewing platform and a large paved circular driveway that you can park on to view the mystery lights from right outside your car. We went right at dusk and watched the end of the sunset turn into flickering yellow mystery orbs!
Pro tip: It gets chilly at night, bring jackets.
Things to do in Fort Davis
At 5,050 feet, Fort Davis is the highest town in Texas! Fort Davis has cooler temperatures and gorgeous mountain scenery, and it is only 30 minutes west of Marfa.
3. Davis Mountain State Park
The Davis Mountain State Park is 30 minutes west of Marfa, and is a don’t miss spot for gorgeous hikes with the kids. We did the 2.5 mile Indian Lodge Loop trail with our 4 and 6 year old. The trail is rated as challenging and does have rocky steep inclines and declines, but we had no problem completing the trail. The breathtaking mountain views are totally worth the trek. You can also see the McDonald Observatory from the Indian Lodge Loop trail. After the hike, we ordered hamburgers to go from the Black Bear Restaurant and ate at a picnic table at the bottom of the trail head. Currently the restaurant is only open until 2pm for take out. Entry to the park is $6 per person 13 years and older.
4. Visit Fort Davis
Fort Davis is considered one of the best remaining examples of a frontier military post in the American Southwest. Fort Davis’s primary role was safeguarding the west Texas frontier against the Comanches and Apaches until 1881. The fort was abandoned in 1891, and in 1960 it was was made as a national historic site. I recommend printing the Junior Ranger Program for Fort Davis or you can get one at the visitors Center! Entry is $20 per vehicle.
5. Tour the McDonald Observatory
Update: We attended a star party in March 2023, and it was fabulous!
As of February 2021, McDonald Observatory is only open for 90 minute guided daytime tours. We were expecting to get to see and touch the telescopes, so you can imagine the 6 year olds disappointment when he realized it was a talking tour. You drive your own car to Mt. Locke and Mt. Fowlkes where the research telescopes are located, and your tour guide discusses the history of the Observatory from outside the domes. Highlights of the tour include standing at the highest point of Texas highways and stunning views of the surrounding region. I would love to go back when McDonald Observatory offers star parties again.
Pro tip: Bring quarters to use the paid telescopes on the top of each peak. An older man on our tour saved the day by giving the kids quarters.
6. Scenic Loop Drive
If you make it out to McDonalds Observatory, I highly recommend completing the scenic loop drive around Fort Davis. Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy the breathtaking views of Mt. Livermore, Sawtooth Mountain, and the Sierra Viejo Mountains. We pulled over at the Madera Canyon Trail for a picnic. The full scenic loop is 75 miles, but it passes right by McDonald Observatory so I recommend doing these on the same day to break up the drive for the kids.
The Chihuahan Desert Center includes hiking trails with gorgeous views, a cactus museum collection, and a replica of a 19th Century silver mine. Don’t miss Clayton’s Overlook fr a 360 degree view of the area. The visitors center, gift shop, and bathrooms are not currently open to the public. Entry is $6.50 for adults and kids 12 and under are free.
8. Balmorhea State Park
Balmorhea State Park is 33 miles north of Fort Davis and absolutely worth a day trip! It’s
Things to do in the Marfa Area
The following things to do are not in Marfa proper, but are fun things to do and see while you’re in the area.
8. Prada Marfa
Prada Marfa is a permanent installation 26 miles northwest of Marfa that popped up on October 1, 2005. To be honest, my kids were not impressed, ha!
9. Hancock Hill Hike
We hiked Hancock Hill on our way back to Austin to ensure the kids got a good dose of the outdoors before we were stuck in the car for 6 hour trek home. The Hancock Hill hike starts in the Sul Ross University parking lot and ends with gorgeous views of Alpine, a bike tree, and an old desk full of notebooks. The trail to the desk is not super well marked, but even with a few wrong turns the hike took about 1.5 hours round trip. Check All Trails for the details on how to get to the desk. This is a great article about why there is a desk on Hancock Hill.
Pro tip: Pick up baked goods at Judy’s Bread and Breakfast and enjoy them at the desk on Hancock Hill. Don’t miss the cinnamon roll!
10. Balmorhea State Park
Balmorhea State Park is currently closed for construction, but this cool oasis in the high desert is on my list when we return to West Texas. Balmorehea is home to largest spring fed swimming pool in the world covering 1.3 acres. Balmorehea State Park is 30 miles north of Fort Davis which makes it about a 50 minute drive from Marfa. The water temperature is at a constant 72- 76 degrees, much like Barton Springs here in Austin!
Don’t Miss Marfa Restaurants
Like I said above, we did a combination of cooking at home, picnics, and take out from Marfa restaurants. Here were some of our favorites:
- Frama (We had coffee and ice cream here every day!)
- Aster (Bagel breakfast sandwich and pumpkin bread was amazing.)
- Pizza Foundation (Currently, by appointment only.)
- LaVenture at Hotel Saint George (Don’t miss the shishito peppers.)
- Jett’s Grill at the Hotel Paisano (The chicken caesar salad and kids meals were delicious.)
Have you ever been to Marfa or West Texas? It’s gorgeous out there!