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El Paso’s Rio Grande Grandeur

Visitors to El Paso will come to understand that the city’s duality is responsible for its inimitable personality.

Once known for its lawlessness and called the “Six Shooter Capital,” El Paso is now called “Sun City,” reflecting its vibrant and energetic personality (and its gorgeous weather). Still, it has maintained the wistful spirit of the Wild West while also embracing its rich culture, an infusion of American and Mexican traditions and styles. Spanish and English are widely spoken throughout the city, and groups will find no better place for both authentic Mexican food and famed Tex-Mex cuisine.

“El Paso is very interesting in itself because we’re right on the border,” said Trinity Smith, tourism development manager at Visit El Paso. “The Mexican-American culture is very intertwined.”

On the other side of the border is Juarez, Mexico. But a mountain also runs through this buzzing border town, combining rugged topography with a lively urban landscape. Groups can experience this city’s contrasting offerings for a well-rounded and satisfying travel experience.

Spanish Missions

Given its storied history and cultural medley, El Paso is known for attractions such as historic sites and museums. One of its most culturally integral attractions is its collection of Spanish mission churches.

“One of our biggest draws is the Mission Trail,” Smith said.

These include the 1682 Ysleta Mission, built by the Tigua Indian community and home to the oldest continually operating parish in the state. The Socorro Mission, an 1843 structure, and the San Elizario Presidio Chapel, built in 1877 just outside of El Paso, are also on the trail.

These Spanish missions feature architecture consistent with other mission churches, including adobe walls and round archways. These centuries-old buildings are integral to El Paso’s history.

Groups can see each of these historic churches by following the El Paso Mission Trail. They can begin their trip at the Mission Valley Visitors Center, across from the Ysleta Mission. The 9-mile trail connecting the missions can be completed with a guided or self-guided tour, though groups should be mindful that all three missions on the trail are active churches and have specific hours for visitors. At the missions, groups can hear more about their extensive history and take photos of these beautiful churches.

Outdoor Adventure

  “As far as outdoors goes, we have two state parks within our city limits,” Smith said. “What’s cool is we’re the only Texas city with a mountain running through it.”

Franklin Mountains State Park, easily visible from anywhere in El Paso, includes 37 square miles of mountainous and desert landscape. It’s a popular spot for biking, hiking and camping. Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site, once home to several Indigenous tribes, consists of three low mountains. It’s known for bouldering, but history buffs will enjoy the history and archaeology at the park.

“We’re also central to four national parks,” Smith said. These parks include Big Bend National Park, named for the bend in the Rio Grande River and known for its desert ecosystem, fossils and great night sky viewing; Carlsbad Caverns, the New Mexico park featuring plenty of caves, scenic desert drives and Rattlesnake Springs; White Sands National Park, also located in New Mexico and famous for the large dunes of white sand visitors can explore; and Guadalupe Mountains National Park, which preserves the mountains it’s named for and the Chihuahuan Desert.

Active groups can enjoy day trips to these breathtaking parks for hiking, horseback riding or off-roading tours. They can also see historic sites and archaeological wonders left behind by the region’s inhabitants from thousands of years ago.

Tex-Mex Cuisine

“We do tell people we’re the Tex-Mex Food Capital of the World and the Mexican Food Capital of America,” Smith said.

And if you’ve ever enjoyed a margarita, thank El Paso. Another of the city’s claims to culinary fame is the invention of the margarita. Though groups can enjoy a margarita just about anywhere, following the Margarita Trail in El Paso is one of the most authentic ways to enjoy these refreshing beverages. Luckily, groups will also find plenty of delicious food to eat as they do.

L&J Café, known for being the “Old Place by the Graveyard,” is one of the city’s most famous Tex-Mex restaurants. It’s on the Margarita Trail, but it’s also famous for its enchiladas, red salsa and fajitas.

The margaritas at Los Bandidos de Carlos and Mickey’s are so large that guests are limited to just one — and that’s plenty. The restaurant features plenty of eclectic, Mexican-themed décor, and guests may be treated to mariachi music while on the premises. Its food, a mix of Tex-Mex and authentic Mexican flavors, offers customer favorites such as fajitas, carnitas and sopapillas.

Festivals and Events

El Paso’s great weather is conducive to year-round festivals and events. Groups can see this lively city in action with festivals and events that combine cultural staples with local fun.

Each November, the Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival celebrates the Mexican tradition of remembering the dead in early November with art and music. There’s also Winterfest, which celebrates the beginning of El Paso’s mild winter with food and fun.

The city also features plenty of food- and beverage-related festivals. In April, the Sun City Craft Beer Fest brings together breweries on a national and local scale to highlight the best of craft beer. Live music, food trucks and, of course, plenty of beer are available for visitors. In the hottest months of the summer, El Paso Ice Cream Fest brings sweet treats from all over the country to El Paso for festivalgoers to sample.

Other notable El Paso events include the Plaza Classic Film Festival, which lets film buffs enjoy on-screen classics; the Billy the Kid Festival; and Chalk the Block, a free art festival themed around sidewalk chalk and chalk art.