Traveled and written by Ceil Miller-Bouchet
Ceil is a travel writer for the New York Times, The Washington Post, National Geographic Traveler, Food & Wine, Indagare and others. Follow her adventures on Instagram @ceilbouchet
My girl Annie and I recently headed on a mother-daughter trip to Marfa to celebrate the end of her junior year at Barnard. The trip was extra-special because I have long wanted to check out the Donald Judd art installations there and Annie, who’s studying art history, planned the entire three-day itinerary, which covered the work of one of America’s most renowned 20th-century artists and more. A pretty sweet break from my day job as a travel writer! All I had to do was foot the bill.
We went ahead of the Museum of Modern Art’s long-awaited Donald Judd retrospective scheduled for March 2020. This show – originally planned for 2017— will be the first Judd retrospective since 1988 and will introduce America’s “father of minimalism” to an entire new generation. But there’s no need to wait to immerse yourself in Judd’s genre-bending world, because with a little time and foresight, you can visit Judd’s home – and experience his monumental artwork— in the artsy, remote desert town of Marfa, Texas, where he based himself from 1979 until his untimely death in 1994.
Here is our perfect Desert, De-stress and Donald (Judd) itinerary in and around Marfa.
Fly into El Paso, rent a car, and drive three hours to Marfa (unless you have a private jet, in which case, you can fly directly to the Marfa airport and lucky you). Stop by the Prada Marfa installation in Valentine, Texas, on the way to Marfa. It will probably be Friday, so you’ll get to your Marfa hotel or Airbnb by early evening. If you need provisions, stop by the adorable and well-stocked Get Go Grocery. If not, head to the Saint George Hotel pool (open to the public after 4 pm) for your first Texas Lone Star tallboy or prickly pear margarita. Or, if you’re not the pool type, Planet Marfa has terrific cocktails and a fun, beer garden/enclosed patio (and it’s only open on weekends). We had small plates around the Hotel St. George pool, in our swimsuits, and it was a dreamy change from the chilly North.
There are two must-visit Donald Judd sights in Marfa: the sprawling Chinati Foundation (a former US air force base where Judd installed his monumental concrete and aluminum work as well as installations and work from other artists he admired) and the Judd Foundation.
We recommend beginning with the Judd Foundation; specifically, the two-hour morning guided tour of Judd’s home, which he restored in a very Judd-ean way from the decrepit buildings on the former air force quartermaster’s compound. This will give you context for viewing Judd’s major installations at the Chinati Foundation the next day. (You need to reserve both Foundation visits in advance.) Lunch at hole-in-the-wall local fav Marfa Burrito (Anthony Bourdain was there). We spent the afternoon checking out the shops and art galleries in Marfa. Oh, and taking a nap. Dinner at Stellina. Despite our snooze, we were too tired to check out the Marfa Lights (a natural phenomenon that occurs near Marfa some nights) or the Museum of Electronic Wonders, but both seemed cool.
We booked the full, four-hour (!) guided tour of the Chinati Foundation, which runs from 10-noon, breaks for two hours (we had a delicious brunch at Aster Bakery) and continues from 2-4. This full tour gave us pleeeenty of time to absorb everything (including the work of Judd’s artist friends, which you can only see if you take a guided tour).
Honestly, for us, it was a bit too much. In retrospect, we would have been just fine checking out the shimmering aluminum box installations (gorgeous!) and the exterior concrete installations (take a hat!) during the Chinati’s “open hours” where you can wander around at your leisure. We snuck out early for 4 pm yoga at the Well before more shopping and art galleries, quick change of clothes and drinks and dinner at Capri, beside the pool and fountain on the restaurant’s lovely shaded terrace.
Either grab early-morning coffee, breakfast burrito to go from Marfa Burrito, and drive back to El Paso for the flight home or take an extra day to experience the desert landscape by driving the scenic loop from the nearby town of Fort Davis and hiking in Davis Mountains State Park. We took the extra day and it was really relaxing. Also gave us time to check out Marfa’s cowboy bar, The Lost Horse Saloon, which was really fun. Most restaurants (except for the Hotel St. George’s) are closed on Monday.
El Cosmico has a great social media presence, but we found those airstreams and teepees looking slightly shabby-dusty. Too hostel-like for us. But they have cool events.
Thunderbird Hotel is a sweet, restored 1960s-era motel about half-mile from downtown with a great midcentury vibe and lima-bean-shaped pool. Friendly management, too.
Hotel St. George works great for those who want to be in “downtown” Marfa (downtown spans about four blocks). It’s the newest spot in town, with a minimalist decor, good restaurant, popular bar, amazing book store (Marfa Books) and big pool with bar and food.
Hotel Paisano is Mafa’s historic hotel and a bit tired but worth a pop into the lobby to see the photos of Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson, who stayed there while they were filming the epic Western movie, Giant, in 1955.
Our favorites were:
Eat, Drink and Coffee
Upscale places (for Marfa)
Al Campo Wine Garden (weekends only)
Casual or take-out places
Pizza Foundation (tricky hours)
Food Shark (lunch only)
Lost Horse Saloon (Marfa’s cowboy bar)
FRAMA coffee and ice cream
Kelly's Packing List for Marfa
From top row, left to right:
Sun protection is a must, Beauty Counter SPF 30 Stick will do the trick and a cotton crusher from Hat Attack, $45; This cute Johanna Ortiz top pairs well with denim, $495, Moda Operandi; Mara Hoffman striped jacket for chilly nights $495 Moda Operandi; Ganni poplin blouse, $155; RE/Done 90s high-rise, straight leg jeans $295 Net a Porter I love these Isabel Marant Duerto Boots $1,155 Net a Porter, These are the cutest Ulla Johnson high-rise shorts $245, Moda Operandi, And of course no trip is complete without a Corroon Big Daddy, $500 with its snap-out pouch for nights on the town.