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One Day in El Paso: Our Itinerary

by Bonnie
One Day in El Paso

As part of our quest to see all of the national park sites, we finally made it to El Paso, Texas on Christmas Day 2019. With just one park site, Chamizal National Memorial, we didn’t stay long. In fact, one day in El Paso was just about perfect. Even though it was a short stay, we quickly fell in love with this city.

If you’re coming from the eastern United States, like us, getting to El Paso isn’t exactly easy. Yes, there is an airport and flying in certainly would be a good option. We always love a good road trip, though, so that’s exactly what we did! Our trip started in Tallahassee, FL after an early Christmas visit with my family. From there, it took two days of driving I-10 to get to El Paso. It was a long drive, but it was definitely worth it!

Interstate 10 in West Texas.
Driving across I-10 in West Texas.

Our visit to El Paso was part of a nearly two-week Christmas road trip through the southwest. We’ve been yearning to visit this part of the country for a while but the distance from home and summer heat have kept us away until now. Two weeks isn’t nearly long enough for all the national parks in the southwest region but at least it’s a start. 

Whether you’re on a national parks quest or just looking for a fun weekend getaway, El Paso is a great place to visit. Our itinerary for one day in El Paso covers historic sites, scenic views and where to eat and drink.

(Disclaimer: When we link to places you can buy our stuff or places we stayed, we are using special codes which earn us commissions on the sales at no additional cost to you. Please see our Review Policy  for more information.)

Where to Stay in El Paso

As the sixth-largest city in Texas, you will have plenty of hotel options in El Paso. We found a great rate at the DoubleTree, located right in downtown, and were very happy with our choice. The hotel is located not far off the interstate which made it easy to get to. It is also walking distance to several downtown must-see attractions.

Christmas lights brighten up downtown El Paso.
The Christmas lights of downtown El Paso from San Jacinto Plaza.

Perhaps the only negative to the DoubleTree was the tight parking garage, especially for anyone driving a large vehicle like our truck. That is a somewhat common problem for any downtown hotel, though, so it wasn’t completely unexpected. 

We arrived at the hotel early in the evening on Christmas Day and were pleasantly surprised to find the onsite restaurant, Fire, open for dinner. Traveling on Christmas Day is always a bit of a gamble but this year it wasn’t a problem at all for us.

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San Jacinto Plaza

After dinner, we walked just a couple of blocks from the hotel to San Jacinto Plaza, a historic park in the heart of downtown El Paso. Taking up a full city block, the park is a great place to relax and breathe in some fresh air. 

Selfie among the Christmas lights in San Jacinto Square in El Paso.
Selfie in San Jacinto Square in El Paso.

At Christmas, the park is covered in lights and other decorations making it an even more popular destination. When we arrived on Christmas night, we found the entire park covered with people snapping photos and admiring the sights. From white lights lining the trees to a giant ornament-covered tree, there were plenty of photo opportunities throughout the park.

In the center of the plaza is an alligator statue, a throwback to when live alligators lived in a small pond in the park.

Alligator statue in San Jacinto Plaza in El Paso.
Did you know there used to be alligators in San Jacinto Plaza in El Paso? Now, all that remains is this statue.

After taking a few pictures at San Jacinto, we wandered around a bit checking out all the lights and WinterFest festivities. The ice skating rink was somewhat tempting, but we were tired after a long day of driving and decided to just head back to the hotel.

Digital Wall

We started our one day in El Paso with another walk through downtown. After two days of driving, we really wanted to get in a little exercise! Our first stop was, again, just around the corner outside the Museum of History to see the Digital Wall, aka DIGIE (Digital Information Gateway). 

This interactive touch screen is the only one of its kind in the United States. It includes photos and videos covering El Paso’s history and culture. This is a great place to learn more about the city and find other things to do in El Paso.

Bonnie uses the digital wall in El Paso to learn about other sites in town.
El Paso’s Museum of History has one of only two digital interactive walls in the world.

We spent a few minutes playing around with it and looking at information on our next stop, the Magoffin Home State Historic Site. Whether you’re interested in finding information or just playing around with a unique digital landmark, DIGIE is a great place to start your visit to El Paso. 

The Digital Wall is located outside the Museum of History but we did not visit the museum. In fact, I don’t think it was even open the morning we visited.

Magoffin Home State Historic Site

To learn more about El Paso history and architecture we took a tour of the Magoffin Home State Historic Site. The adobe structure dates back to the 1870s and is a near-perfect example of Territorial-style architecture.

Mexican-born Joseph Magoffin lived much of his life in the United States and even served in the US Civil War while living in Kentucky. He later helped to develop the city of El Paso, bringing railroads and utilities to the area. 

The Magoffin Home State Historic Site is an adobe structure dating back to the 1870s.
The Magoffin House is one of the must-see attractions in El Paso. This home traces the history of the city back to the 1870s and is every bit as nice as the mansions we have visited back east.

Magoffin and his wife, Octavia, built this home in 1875 and three generations of Magoffins lived in the home for more than 100 years. The vast majority of the furnishings are family pieces. On the tour, we enjoyed learning about the history of the family, how they helped shape El Paso and seeing the changes in the home over its 100 years of housing the family.

The Magoffin Home is located about a mile from the DoubleTree. It took us about 30 minutes to walk each direction. The walk itself was very easy and we enjoyed getting to see a bit more of downtown El Paso.

Chamizal National Memorial

At the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848, the United States gained much of its current western land. At the same time, the two countries established the Rio Grande as the Texas-Mexico border. Unfortunately, massive flooding in the 1860s changed the course of the river sparking a dispute over the international border. 

The area in question was originally Mexican farmland known as the Chamizal tract. A “chamizal” is an area where the Spanish scrub bush chamizo grows. Over the years, both countries worked to establish a permanent boundary, straightening the river channel in the process. 

An old border marker for the US-Mexico border in what is now Chamizal National Monument.
These obelisks used to mark the border between the US and Mexico. They still do on the US-Canadian border.

This, of course, was not an easy process and still left the ownership of the original Chamizal tract and the newly created Cordova Island in question. It took nearly 100 years but in 1962, US President John F. Kennedy met with Mexican President Lopez Mateos to finally resolve the dispute. 

Ultimately, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Chamizal Convention in 1963. This treaty settled the dispute, a four-mile-long concrete-lined channel was built and the two countries exchanged parcels of land. Chamizal National Memorial celebrates this peaceful settlement and fosters cultural understanding. 

Things to Do at Chamizal National Memorial

The 55-acre park sits on the US-Mexican border, with clear views of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez. Inside the visitor center, you’ll find a short film, exhibits on the dispute and friendly settlement, gallery space and a theater. The grounds have several walking trails and an amphitheater. 

You’ll find cultural performances throughout the year, including a summer concert series at the outdoor stage. Unfortunately, there were no events while we were in town. 

Chazimal National Memorial Visitor Center.
Chamizal National Memorial tells the story of the Chamizal Treaty, which solidified the US-Mexico border in El Paso.

Expect to spend about 30 minutes viewing the exhibits at the visitor center. Be sure to pick up the self-guided trail tour brochure to help you better understand the Chamizal story as you walk the park grounds. The park trails are easy to navigate and provide a great place to get some exercise and enjoy the views of this once disputed land.

Plan to spend at least an hour at the park; you could easily spend more time enjoying a picnic or walking the park grounds.

Lunch at Chico’s Tacos

Following our visit to Chamizal NM, we were ready for some lunch. I turned to the Visit El Paso app to search for a local favorite and came up with Chico’s Tacos. This no-frills restaurant boasts itself as “an El Paso tradition” and has been featured on the Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate.

We opted for their signature dish, rolled tacos. A single order is served with three rolled taquito-style tacos drenched in a soupy red sauce and smothered in shredded cheese. The tacos were tasty if a little difficult to eat. I was most impressed at how crispy the tacos stayed even while soaking in the sauce. 

Bonnie biting into some rolled tacos at Chico's Tacos in El Paso.
Chico’s Tacos is an El Paso must. These delicious rolled tacos are covered in cheese and sauce. Amazing!

You will need cash but you won’t need much of it. We got two “single orders” and two medium drinks for less than $9. Even though the restaurant was busy, the line moved fast and we received our food much quicker than anticipated.

I don’t know that I would say this was the greatest lunch I’ve ever had, but it was something unique and tasty. Whether you stop in for their signature rolled tacos, a hamburger or a hot dog (uniquely served on a hamburger bun), Chico’s Tacos is a great local restaurant to check out.

National Border Patrol Museum 

Located on the northern outskirts of El Paso, the National Border Patrol Museum is the only one of its kind in the United States. The museum shares the history of the Border Patrol and its operations. Displays include vehicles and weapons both used and seized by agents.

A few vehicles on display at the Border Patrol Museum.
Some of the vehicles used for smuggling both contraband and people into the US at the National Border Patrol Museum.

You’ll also see pictures and interesting artifacts from some of the more interesting illegal border-crossing attempts. 

This small museum is free and will keep you entertained for about an hour. 

Transmountain Road

From the Border Patrol Museum, we continued west across Transmountain Road back to I-10. There are a few turnouts along the way, with picnic tables and nice views of El Paso from above.

The view of El Paso from the Transmountain Road.
The view of El Paso from the Transmountain Road.

If you’re interested in a little hiking, there is a parking area where you can get out and stretch your legs. There are also a couple of picnic areas along the road. Since we had walked all over downtown El Paso earlier in the morning, we skipped the hike but did stop for a quick picture of the city.

Along this road, you feel lightyears away from the city but it’s really only about 10-15 minutes outside of town. It really is a great place to escape the city.

Ode Brewing

Our next stop was Ode Brewing on the northwest side of town. This was a great place to kill a couple of hours and enjoy some tasty beer. We didn’t get any food, but the menu did look interesting.

A pint of the pilsner at Ode Brewing in El Paso.
Grabbing a pilsner at Ode Brewing in El Paso.

I had the Juicy J (an East Coast Pale Ale), which is brewed with Citra, Mosaic and Simcoe hops. While I typically don’t like “hoppy” beer, I have discovered that I like these hops and the complex, fruity notes they produce.

Grant enjoyed the Porch Pounder Pils and the Hueco Wit (a Belgian Wit). He described both of these beers as easy-drinking and refreshing. 

Scenic Drive

On our way to dinner, we decided to check out the official Scenic Drive of El Paso. Seriously, the road is actually named “Scenic Drive” on Apple Maps and Google Maps. 

I’ll be honest, after driving across Transmountain Road we were a little skeptical that Scenic Drive would live up to its name. We were wrong. It actually was a better drive.

The view of El Paso from Scenic Drive.
The Scenic Drive is shorter than the Transmountain Road but the view of El Paso can’t be beaten.

From Mesa Road, where Ode Brewing is located, you’ll take Kerby Avenue to Rim Road through an older neighborhood with small but well-kept homes. As you turn to Scenic Drive, the houses become much bigger and nicer. Quickly, though, you’re driving on the edge of the mountain overlooking the city with dramatic views.

A small parking area and overlook park provide amazing views of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez. What makes this view better than those along Transmountain Road is the distance. From Scenic Drive, you are literally on the edge of town and can clearly see just about everything in town. You can even see the “big red X” of Ciudad Juarez, which is located on a piece of land that was exchanged in the Chamizal Treaty.

The drive is a great one and well worth the 5-10 minutes that it takes to get there from downtown El Paso.

Dinner at Cattleman’s Steakhouse

To finish off our day in El Paso we drove out to Cattleman’s Steakhouse for dinner and one last bit of exploring. Located about 30 minutes south of town at Indian Cliffs Ranch in Fabens, Cattleman’s Steakhouse is more than just a restaurant. It sits on a working ranch which is home to a large variety of animals and scenic desert vistas.

Indian Cliffs Ranch

We arrived early, shortly after 4:00, to give ourselves time to explore the ranch before sitting down to an early dinner. As we wandered through the grounds we saw all kinds of animals – rabbits, sheep, goats, deer, bison, llama, longhorn cattle, rattlesnakes and many different kinds of birds including peacocks, ostrich, pheasants, prairie chickens and several we couldn’t identify. 

A peacock at Indian Cliffs Ranch.
A peacock at Indian Cliffs Ranch.

This ranch really is a great place to explore and enjoy an afternoon. A small lake and badlands-style terrain make it easy to see why a number of movies have been filmed here.

There were a good number of people wandering around the grounds, but it really wasn’t too busy. I imagine that changes with warmer weather. It also probably helps that we arrived early.

The Food

At dinner, I got a sirloin and Grant opted for a New York strip. All entrees are served with a side (we both chose for a loaded baked potato). Additionally, you’ll get unlimited ranch beans, pineapple coleslaw and bread served family-style. 

Grant enjoying a steak at Cattleman's Steakhouse in El Paso.
Grant biting into an excellent steak at the Cattleman’s Steakhouse.

I have to say, the steak was one of the best I’ve ever had. There was nothing fancy about it, but it was cooked just right and the flavor was perfect. A close second in terms of taste was the ranch beans, which had a chili-style sauce. Both the steak and the beans were a great complement to the bottle of Malbec that we enjoyed with our meal.

Cattleman’s Steakhouse was a great finish to our one day in El Paso and I highly recommend it for dinner, great desert scenery and entertainment. 

A Quick Return for the Sun Bowl

While not part of our official one day in El Paso itinerary, we did have the opportunity to return a few days after our original visit for the Sun Bowl. It was pure coincidence that we planned to still be in the area, in southern New Mexico, and were able to fit in a day trip back to El Paso for the Florida State vs. Arizona State football bowl game. 

Bonnie & Grant watching FSU vs. ASU at the Sun Bowl in El Paso.
Enjoying FSU vs ASU at the Sun Bowl in El Paso.

As a Florida State alum, the outcome of the game wasn’t what we hoped for (Arizona State won 20-14) but we did have a good time. This actually was the first FSU game and first bowl game for Grant! Hopefully, our next football game together will have a better outcome.

Final Thoughts on Our One Day in El Paso Itinerary

Before our visit, I really wasn’t sure what to expect from El Paso. Sitting right on the border of both Mexico and New Mexico, on the far west side of Texas, I figured it would have its own identity, separate from the rest of Texas. I certainly was not wrong. 

Streets of downtown El Paso.
The streets of El Paso were quiet the morning after Christmas and we had a great walk out to the Magoffin House.

El Paso definitely is not like most other cities in Texas. It is not necessarily a better city or a worse city; it’s just different. El Paso holds more of a southwest flair, which we enjoyed.

We found El Paso to be a very clean and welcoming city. As we walked through downtown, we saw little to no trash or graffiti. The roads and highways were well-maintained. I even commented on how nice the interstate was as we drove into town. 

Sunset at Indian Cliffs Ranch is a great way to end one day in El Paso.
Sunset at the Indian Cliffs Ranch.

For us, one day in El Paso was the perfect amount of time to see the highlights and enjoy the city. If you’re looking to do a lot of shopping or have any other specific interests, you could certainly spend more time here. El Paso is a great city with a lot to offer.

There are two state parks in the immediate area with opportunities for hiking, biking and other outdoor adventures. Within a couple of hours, you’ll find three National Parks: Guadalupe Mountains, home to the highest peak in Texas and Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands in New Mexico. While only White Sands NP was on our itinerary for this trip, we’ll certainly visit the others one day and would love to return to El Paso when we do.

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