While El Paso may not be one of the most visited big cities in Texas, it contains a surprising amount of diverse and unique things to do that you won’t find in Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, or San Antonio!  For one, El Paso is steeped in southwest history, which is still alive and on display today.  Second, it is a culturally diverse city, with close ties to its southern neighbor, Mexico, as well as its Spanish and southwestern roots.  Thirdly, El Paso is surrounded by mountains.  In fact, some of the tallest mountains in the state are within a short drive from El Paso.  This makes El Paso one of the most rugged and under-rated outdoor recreational playgrounds in Texas, with an astounding amount of hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, and camping opportunities.  

Location of El Paso

El Paso is located in the far southwestern corner of Texas.  It resides on the border with Mexico to the south, and the Mexican city of Juarez.  Just to the north is the state of New Mexico.  El Paso International Airport is the closest airport.

Best Time to Visit El Paso

The shoulder seasons of spring and fall are the best times to visit and enjoy the best things to do in El Paso.  Both spring and fall see mild and moderate temperatures and weather patterns.  Summer can be unbearably hot, with temperatures averaging in the high 90’s degrees Fahrenheit, and even triple digits.  If you plan to take part in any outdoor activities in El Paso in the summer, it is advised to start early and finish early, and be prepared with plenty of water and sun protection.  Winters in El Paso are relatively mild compared to the rest of the country, but you may still encounter frigid temperatures, harsh winds, and the occasional freak ice storm.  

The Best Things to Do in El Paso

You will find a welcoming mix of things to do in El Paso that are perfectly suited to various interests, abilities, and itineraries!

#1: Explore Downtown El PasoDowntown El Paso, Texas

Downtown El Paso contains numerous districts and plazas, each with its own characteristic personality.  There’s the Las Plazas Art District, a trendy downtown area for dining and shopping.  Then there’s Pioneer Plaza, with more historical touches like statues, fountains, and iconic buildings.  San Jacinto Plaza embraces the natural side of El Paso, with its sprawling urban park in the center of downtown.   The Union Plaza District is steeped in old west and railroad history, as it was originally built in 1905 as the home of the El Paso Union Depot.  Now it is a popular entertainment and nightlife area, as well as the home of the Anthony Street Farmers Market on Saturday mornings.  

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#2: Franklin Mountains State Park

Franklin Mountains State Park Camping

When it comes to outdoor recreation in El Paso, Franklin Mountains State Park is the top destination in the area. This is due to the rugged and exhilarating environment the Franklin Mountains have created!  Many of the best hikes in El Paso can be found within the borders of Franklin Mountains State Park.  These hikes range in difficulty level and distance anywhere from easy 1 mile nature walks, to full day strenuous hikes, like the 8 mile hike to the highest point in the Franklin Mountains range, North Franklin Peak at an elevation of 7,192 feet.  There’s also the one of a kind El Paso Tin Mines Trail, a hike to the only tin mines in the United States, now abandoned.  El Paso Tin Mines Trail

Another pastime of visitors is mountain biking, as there are over 100 miles of available multi-use trails to bike.  In addition to hiking and mountain biking, you can also camp in Franklin Mountains State Park. The campsites here take full advantage of the stark contrast between the towering mountains and the expansive desert floor, with spacious and secluded sites nestled in the bases of the Franklin Mountains.  At night, you can enjoy an unobstructed sky, with views overlooking the sparkling lights of El Paso and Mexico in the distance.  Franklin Mountains State Park Trails

#3: Hueco Tanks State Park

Hueco Tanks State Park is one of the most unique state parks in not just Texas, but the entire southwest United States.  It is most known for its exceptional rock climbing opportunities, for anyone from beginner to advanced climbers.  There are multiple routes and varying levels of challenge.  

Besides rock climbing, there are several hiking trails to enjoy, as well as the namesake “hueco tanks” to observe.  These natural tanks are really rock basins hewn from the land by the elements, that used to serve as early water collection sources.  

Visitors can also take a self guided or guided tour to see the ancient pictographs and rock art visible among the rock walls of Hueco Tanks State Park.  

#4: El Paso Scenic Drive OverlookEl Paso Scenic Overlook

If you are after epic views without the hiking, the El Paso Scenic Drive Overlook is the perfect addition to your itinerary.  This scenic overlook spans all of El Paso and nearby Mexico, and it is an added bonus if you happen to catch a sunrise or sunset from this vantage point.  There are several other great perks to the El Paso Scenic Drive Overlook.  It is free, easily accessible, and can be enjoyed in a quick visit.  Note that there is limited parking at the overlook, and on weekends it does tend to be busier, and parking can fill up.  El Paso Scenic Overlook

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#5: The El Paso Mission Trail

On the historic El Paso Mission Trail, you can witness two exceptionally preserved missions and one chapel, built in the 17th and 18th centuries.  The 9 mile long El Paso Mission Trail and its buildings are a visual representation of the relationship between the area’s Native Americans, Spanish colonists, and early missionaries.  The Ysleta Mission, the oldest mission in Texas, was built in 1682 and is still in use today.  It also remains an important religious site for the Tigua Indian Tribe.  The Socorro Mission was built in 1789, and is an outstanding example of early Spanish architectural influence. The third and final stop on the El Paso Mission Trail is the Presidio Chapel of San Elizario, which was originally a military fortress in the 1700’s.  There is a 4th mission on the El Paso Mission Trail, the Guadalupe Mission, but it is on the Mexico side in Juarez. You can visit it by crossing the international border.  

#6: Visit El Paso’s MuseumsVisit El Paso’s Museums

El Paso has a wide variety of museums to enjoy, each focusing on a unique characteristic of El Paso’s background and roots:  

  • The El Paso Museum of Art is a free collection containing thousands of artifacts spanning from the Byzantine era to modern times. It encompasses American, Mexican, and European art, melding together the various backgrounds that influenced the culture of El Paso.  

 

  • The El Paso Museum of History reflects El Paso’s cultural and multinational history.

 

  • The El Paso Holocaust Museum features stories from local Holocaust survivors.  Among the dozen Holocaust Museums across the United States, the El Paso Holocaust Museum is the only bilingual one.  

 

  • The El Paso Museum of Archeology highlights the tapestry of histories occurring in this region: the history of the El Paso area, the southwest United States, and neighboring Mexico.  

 

  • The Fort Bliss and Old Ironsides Museum showcases the history of Fort Bliss and the role it played in El Paso’s military presence.  Fort Bliss played a role in various conflicts, including the Mexican Revolution and World War II.  “Old Ironsides” references America’s military tank division, of which the museum contains a large exhibit.

 

  • The Centennial Museum is the oldest museum in El Paso and part of the University of Texas at El Paso.  Here you can explore both local and international art, as well as the adjacent Chihuahuan Desert Gardens.  The Chihuahuan Desert, which encompasses El Paso as well as areas to the north and south, plays a vital role in the history of El Paso, and is evidenced in both the museum and the gardens.  

#7: El Paso Zoo

The El Paso Zoo is a great destination for families, with its resident animals from around the world, plus children’s activities like a splash pad, carousel, playground, and train.  

#8: Sample Authentic Tex-Mex CuisineKiki's in El Paso

Due to its close proximity to Mexico, and subsequent cultural and culinary influences, visitors to El Paso have the opportunity to sample some of the best Tex Mex cuisine in the southwest! Local favorites include enchiladas, tacos, chile con carne, street corn, and tostadas. My favorite restaurant in El Paso is Kiki’s. Go here and order the machaca. 

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#9: Visit White Sands National Park, New Mexico

While this National Park may be located in another state than El Paso, it is only a 1.5 hour drive north into New Mexico, easily within the reach of a day visit from El Paso. Much like the surroundings of El Paso, White Sands National Park has been shaped and molded by the elements of the Chihuahuan Desert. Unlike El Paso, the terrain and geology here take on a much different form than the mountainous region of El Paso. It is a vivid comparison and testament to the power of environmental elements.  

White Sands National Park is most beloved for its sand sledding opportunities. Bring your own sled, or rent one from the Visitor Center, and then enjoy hours of endless sledding down the dunes. You can also hike the trails in White Sands National Park, including short nature trails, and longer backcountry trails through endless seas of sand.

Where to Stay in El Paso

Hotel Paso Del Norte, Autograph Collection

Hotel Paso Del Norte, Autograph Collection

If you want to stay in downtown El Paso this is where I recommend, Hotel Paso Del Norte. Check rates on Marriott or Expedia.

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