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El Paso, Texas, offers a mix of cultures and a rich 400-year history. Read on for how to experience the best of El Paso in this ultimate guide to 2 days in El Paso.
El Paso, Texas, sits on the border the United States shares with Mexico. People cross daily from both sides, with workers coming north to work or bring children to school and visitors going south for the food and culture. At the end of the day, the respective groups head back across.
It’s this mix of cultures that first drew me to El Paso. But I learned the city also has 400 years of history, much of which you can learn about in the city’s several free museums. Not to mention the food and drink are exceptional. This ultimate guide to 2 days in El Paso explores the best the city has to offer.
Historical Sights in El Paso
Although incorporated as an American city in 1873, El Paso dates back to 1659 when Fray García de San Francisco founded a mission on the south bank of the Rio Grande. That mission still stands in what today is Ciudad Juárez (Juarez, Mexico). As the city grew, people settled north of the river on the land El Paso now occupies.
You could spend your entire two days visiting historic sites in El Paso. These are the top ones to consider.
Downtown Walking Tour When You Have 2 Days in El Paso
The free Visit El Paso app has several self-guided walking tours for history buffs but start with the 27-stop Downtown Walking Tour. After downloading the app, choose the tours option and scroll to Downtown Walking Tour. Follow the map, click the site icon when you arrive, and either read about the point of interest or listen to the audio commentary.
Other history-related audio tours include the Olde El Paso Lore Walking Tour, the Mexican Revolution Audio Tour, and the Mission Trails Audio Tour.
El Paso Museum of History
This free museum starts with the indigenous people who originally lived in the region and continues through the 20th century. Expect to learn about the people and nations who tried to control El Paso for roughly 400 years. Natural history exhibits also explain how the Chihuahuan Desert impacts the city.
For those who can’t get enough history, the free El Paso Museum of Archaeology has life-size dioramas portraying the early people of the Southwest and pottery and artifacts. The El Paso Holocaust Museum is one of only 13 in the U.S. and the only bilingual one. Admission is free.
Border Patrol Museum
The Border Patrol does so much more than regulate who crosses the nation’s borders, as I learned on my visit to the Border Patrol Museum. Its agents were the nation’s first designated air marshals and helped stop a hijacking in El Paso. Today, they continue to serve on the frontline of the drug war and rescue people lost in the desert, including US citizens.
At the museum, you’ll learn about the agency from its inception in 1924, see devices used to smuggle drugs, and sit in some vehicles used to monitor the border. Open Tuesday through Saturday, this museum is the only museum in the US dedicated to the Border Patrol.
1st Armored Division and Fort Bliss Museum
This military museum shares the history of Fort Bliss, from its establishment in 1849 to the present day. It also tells the story of the 1st Armored Division (Old Ironsides), the nation’s tank division. On display, you’ll see American tanks, a Soviet tank, military motorcycles, a helicopter, and transport vehicles.
Unless you have a DoD ID card, you must enter Fort Bliss at either the Chaffee or Buffalo Soldier gates and get a pass at the visitors’ centers before continuing on base to the museum. Admission to the museum is free. However, the museum is closed on Saturday and Sunday.
Known as El Paso’s Boot Hill, this cemetery is the final resting place of over 60,000 people, including gunfighter John Wesley Hardin. You can also see the graves of Buffalo Soldiers, Texas Rangers, Mormon pioneers, and Civil War veterans. Staff can help locate the specific graves if you want to visit a particular person.
Looking for ghosts? Come on the fifth Saturday of the month for the cemetery’s Lock-In Investigations.
Other Historical Sights to See if You Have 2 Days in El Paso
El Paso has many other historic places worth a visit. At the Old County Jail Museum, you can see where Billy the Kid broke into a jail to help a friend escape. Or you can visit the Yselta, Soccoro, and San Elizario missions while exploring the El Paso Mission Trail.
If you like touring historic homes, the Magoffin Home State Historic Site is a must. The multicultural home is an excellent example of Territorial architecture.
Cultural Sights in El Paso
With Juarez just across the Mexican border and Fort Bliss within its city limits, El Paso has a strong mix of American and Mexican cultures. Be sure to visit some of the following attractions while in El Paso.
Juarez, Mexico, sits across the international border from El Paso. Sample a margarita at the World Famous Kentucky Club, the restaurant where the margarita was invented, or shop for souvenirs at the Mercado. You can also visit the Mission of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the mission Fray García de San Francisco founded in 1659. Juarez also has a history museum, art museum, and archaeology museum.
After visiting Juarez, you will need an American ID and plenty of patience to return to the US. While you can cross the border in as little as 20 minutes, it can take several hours. I spent roughly an hour standing in line when I went.
Rows of colorful, handstitched cowboy boots line the walls of Rocketbuster in downtown El Paso. But this custom bootmaker is more than just a store. Most days, you’ll see craftsmen at work as they sketch designs, build the leather sole by hand, and personalize each pair with bright appliques. You can also take a selfie with the world’s largest pair of boots on display in the middle of the store.
Over the years, Rocketbuster has custom-made boots for Taylor Swift, Sylvester Stallone, Roy Rogers, Mitt Romney, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, to name a few. You can join their ranks for anywhere from $1,500 to $15,000 or purchase one of the pre-made pairs on display.
Opened in 1930, this Spanish colonial revival theater sits across the street from Hotel Paso Del Norte and is less than a block from San Jacinto Plaza. It originally served as an opulent, single-screen theater, but today, the main stage brings Broadway productions, musical acts, and entertainers to El Paso.
You don’t have to watch a show at the theater to get inside. The Plaza Theatre holds tours every Tuesday at noon. (Reservations required.) The tour covers the theater’s history and highlights architectural features like the stars painted on the main stage’s ceiling. On the tour, you’ll also see the theater’s Mighty Wurlitzer Blaban III Organ, one of only six ever made.
El Paso Museum of Art
Just a two-minute walk from the Plaza Theatre, the El Paso Museum of Art is one of the best free things to do in El Paso. Visits start on the ground floor with temporary exhibits like the one I saw featuring women of color. Upstairs, the permanent collection includes 58 pieces from the celebrated Kress Collection.
The museum boasts a collection of 7,000 artworks, not all of which are on display. Guided tours are available on request.
El Segundo Barrio Murals Tour
Another self-guided tour on the Visit El Paso app, the El Segundo Barrio Murals Tour focuses on the predominantly Hispanic neighborhood’s murals. To take the tour, download the free app, click on tours, and listen to the tour’s introduction to the neighborhood and its art. When you arrive at one of the 15 murals on the tour, click on the icon and either listen to or read about the piece.
If you can’t get enough murals, you’ll find more throughout downtown. The Visit El Paso website provides directions to some of the best local murals.
Outdoor Adventures to Fit into 2 Days in El Paso
The area surrounding El Paso beckons with opportunities for desert hiking, rock climbing, and similar adventures. Beware of the seasons—temperatures can climb over 100°F in the summer—and bring plenty of water and sunscreen anytime.
Franklin Mountains State Park
Located just to the north, Franklin Mountains State Park has 125 miles of multi-use trails popular with hikers and mountain bikers alike. You can also camp, picnic, and rock climb at designated areas. The park offers tremendous views—you can see past El Paso and far into Mexico—and is a popular place to watch the sunset and the city lights twinkle.
If you can, go in the spring to see the desert blooming. But be prepared for crowds. Spring can also be one of the busiest times at the park.
White Sands National Park
Just an hour and a half from El Paso by car, White Sands National Park wows visitors with its glistening white sands and otherworldly appearance. You can drive Dunes Drive, hike the park’s many trails, or go sledding on the white sand. Sleds are available at the park’s gift shop, or you can bring your own.
The park also offers several ranger programs, including sunset strolls, full-moon hikes, and a tour of Lake Lucero, the birthplace of the dunes.
How to Explore During Your 2 Days in El Paso
El Paso International Airport (ELP) serves the city. You can rent a car from one of nine car rental companies at the airport or book a ride-share service. Some hotels offer shuttles to and from the airport.
If you’re staying in downtown El Paso and your hotel does have a shuttle, you can get by without renting a car. However, you’ll want a car if you plan to travel to outlying attractions like White Sand National Park.
The best time to visit El Paso depends on what you want to do. Summers can be hot, so if you plan to hike or spend much time outdoors, winter, spring, and fall are best. Keep this in mind if you want to cross the border into Juarez, Mexico. The lengthy walk takes you over two roads and the Rio Grande, and you’ll wait in the heat to return through customs.
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When You Visit El Paso, Texas
Like any city, El Paso has safe and unsafe areas. I felt very safe walking around downtown El Paso. Despite what you may have seen on TV, I didn’t see any encampments of asylum seekers or people running across the border. I saw maybe a dozen people in the parking lot of a church near the border, but that’s it. Don’t let the news reports make you feel uncomfortable about visiting.
Before you go, prioritize what to see when you visit El Paso. I recommend a mix of activities instead of focusing just on historical or cultural sights. If it’s not too hot, include a hike. This ultimate guide to 2 days in El Paso should help you make the most of your time.
When you are ready to travel, we invite you to explore Wander With Wonder for more about what to see in Texas or the Southwest.