With a population of 681,000, El Paso is the 19th most populous city in the United States. Together with Ciudad Juarez across the Mexican border and Las Cruces in New Mexico, El Paso is part of an international metropolitan area with the largest bilingual workforce (2.7 million) in the Western Hemisphere. The city has long been an important site for cross-cultural exchange: It sits on the site of a mission that was founded in 1659 and has at various times in its history belonged to Spain, Mexico, and the Republic of Texas. El Paso’s growth in the 19th and 20th centuries paralleled the rise of the railroads and the Texas Oil Boom, for which it was an important hub, and today it has grown into a city with strong military, government, and educational ties. Several major military bases are in the city and surrounding area, including Fort Bliss, one of the largest in the country.
As the cosmopolitan center of West Texas, El Paso is a magnet for business and culture. The city is home to The University of Texas El Paso, the second-largest university in the country with a majority Hispanic student enrollment — 80% of its 23,000 students are Mexican-American. Host of the Sun Bowl, the second-oldest bowl game in the U.S., UTEP is consistently ranked among the best public research universities in the country.
When you're looking for an apartment in El Paso, avoid looking between December and February if at all possible. These months can be very difficult for apartment hunters. The rest of the year, however, should provide you with a good opportunity for finding a rental property.
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Ask lots of questions about the neighborhood that your prospective home is in before you sign a lease. Some of the neighborhoods in El Paso can be rowdy, and noise can sometimes be an issue late into the night, especially in the summer months. People looking for a vibrant, bustling neighborhood and those looking for a peaceful place are going to be apartment shopping in very different neighborhoods.
Texas is a driving state, and West Texas in particular is full of wide open spaces. El Paso, like most other Texan cities, was designed for cars, and you’ll find that navigating the roads is easy, with widely available parking. If you really prefer to stick to public transit, Sun Metro offers regular bus service, including a rapid-transit bus line called Brio, which debuted in 2014 and features compressed-gas-powered buses with onboard wifi and in-cabin bike racks. A streetcar connecting downtown El Paso to UTEP’s campus and surrounding neighborhoods is in the works and is set to debut in 2018.
El Paso is one of the great gateways to Mexico: Three international bridges, operating 24/7, allow thousands of pedestrians and drivers to cross over the Mexican border for work and play. After years of violence, fueled by an exceptionally bloody turf war between the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels, the city of Juarez has in recent years returned to something approaching normality. It’s a fascinating, vibrant city, and it’s increasingly safe to explore.
There are plenty of historic sites within El Paso, such as the Mission Trail, which includes three historic centers of Catholic life along a 10-mile stretch of FM 258 — a portion of the old El Camino Real, which once stretched from Mexico City to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and is one of the oldest roads in the United States. If you like to test yourself outside, try hiking McKelligon Canyon, which offers climbing, hiking trails, and a 1,500-seat amphitheatre. After you’re good and tired (and thirsty), head to one of El Paso’s numerous bars. The city has a very active nightlife. To see where the students hang out, check out any of the bars in the Cincinnati Street area.
The Wyler Aerial Tramway is a great way to see a lot of El Paso all at once, and from above. It travels along 2,600 feet of track, all the way to the top of Ranger Peak, where you can view the entire city of El Paso, as well as 7,000 square miles of land across three states and two nations. For a look into the history of the area, take a drive down the Mission Trail, which includes three historic centers of Catholic life along a 10-mile stretch of FM 258 — a portion of the old El Camino Real, one of the oldest roads on the continent. The Chamizal National Memorial Park commemorates the peaceful end to border disputes resulting from the natural shift of the Rio Grande, and includes a museum dedicated to the history of the U.S./Mexico border. If you have young kids in tow, the El Paso Zoo is definitely a great way to spend the day. Military buffs also like to visit El Paso to visit the War Eagles Air Museum. This museum is focused on aviation during WW II and the Korean Conflict.
El Paso’s dining scene reflects the cross-cultural diversity that has always characterized this border town. Eating in El Paso means taking a look back at West Texas history: Spanish colonization, Mexican rule, and Texan cattle ranch culture all find room on the table (and sometimes the same plate). Expect tortillas, peppers, smoked meats, agave, rice and beans, and more, at area standbys like L&J Cafe, a beloved dive that brewed beer during prohibition and serves up some of the city’s best enchiladas. Or try Cafe Mayapan, which combines excellent traditional dishes like mole poblano with community outreach and education programs centered on Mexican culture and cuisine.
Want a meal fit for a wrangler? Cattleman’s Steakhouse is located on a ranch 20 miles outside of El Paso that offers house-butchered steaks in a variety of Old-West cuts, like the truly massive, 2-lb “Cowboy,” along with classic rancher sides like baked ranchero beans. It’s a true Texas institution and one of the best steakhouses in the country.
It might seem odd to search out Mediterranean food in West Texas, but El Paso is home to an excellent Greek restaurant, Zino's Greek and Mediterranean Cuisine. Founded by chef Souiki Zino in 2007, it’s quickly become one of the city’s best-loved spots for fresh Greek food. For casually excellent dining, Crave is a destination for dishes like green chile chicken and waffles or bacon-wrapped shrimp, as well as an excellent beer list. For a more upscale evening, check out Cafe Central downtown, which has been nominated for a James Beard Award four times for its elegant, sophisticated take on Southwestern, Spanish-inspired cuisine.
With the drinking age only 18 just across the border in Juarez, there are a lot of younger people who do the majority of their partying in Mexico, rather than in El Paso itself. That doesn't mean that there aren't great bars in El Paso, though. The Tap is a classic, with a red neon sign and a dark interior — it’s a dive, but a dive with excellent nachos, housemade salsa, and an excellent selection of Mexican beers. If you like to enjoy a drink on a scenic patio, head to the Hope and Anchor. For a gastropub setting, The Hoppy Monk offers hundreds of craft beers alongside inventive gastropub fare like rabbit tacos and vegan empanadas. The Buzz, a hip lounge with excellent service, is home to another excellent beer list that will appeal to discerning drinkers. And cocktail enthusiasts will twirl their moustaches in delight at The Black Orchid, a speakeasy-style bar that was recently written up in Texas Monthly for its Desert Shandy, a rosemary-centric beer cocktail.
The Chamizal National Memorial is certainly not to be missed when it comes to learning about and absorbing local culture. It memorializes the peaceful resolution of the decades-long border dispute between Mexico and the United States — a dispute that nearly led to the assassination of President Taft in 1909 — and offers a fascinating look into the history of the U.S./Mexico border. The El Paso Museum of Archaeology collects hundreds of thousands of artifacts related to Native American life, from the Ice Age, through colonial times, and into the modern day. Pottery, dioramas, and artifacts offer a unique look into the land’s cultural heritage.
For a more contemporary glance into El Paso’s cultural life, take a stroll through the El Segundo Barrio, between the Rio Grande and downtown. The area features numerous large, colorful murals depicting scenes from the history, heritage, and daily lives of El Paso natives. If you’re looking for the performing arts, The University of Texas at El Paso has an excellent Department of Theater, Dance, and Film, and their efforts are frequently on display for the public at the UTEP Theatre. Live music is popular in El Paso, with several great venues providing places for patrons to enjoy some music. The Speaking Rock Entertainment Center features frequent free concerts. The Abraham Chavez Theatre is a large venue that hosts plays, the local opera, and symphony. The building is shaped like a sombrero, so you can't miss it.
Viva! El Paso is an annual, recurrent musical that celebrates Native, Spanish, Mexican, and Western American cultures through music, dance, and theater. Each year, thousands file into the McKelligon Canyon Amphitheatre to watch the show, which started in 1977 and has been a community staple on summer weekends ever since. Another unique festival highlighting El Paso’s bilingual heritage is the Siglo de Oro Drama festival, which mounts bilingual productions of classic works of theater from Spain’s golden age of drama every March. And Fiesta de los Flores, the oldest Hispanic festival in the Southwest, is an area institution, bringing over 20,000 people to El Paso every Labor Day weekend to celebrate the area's Hispanic heritage and culture.
In January, the El Paso Chamber Music Festival brings world-class musicians to town for concerts, talks, and public outreach. For more contemporary music, the Neon Desert festival brings pop, hip-hop, and rock acts to El Paso every summer. In 2016 the lineup included Deftones, Future, and Tyler, the Creator. And for film buffs, the Plaza Classic Film Festival is a fun event that combines public showing of classic movies alongside the work of new directors. It’s the largest film festival dedicated to classic films in the world.
If you're looking to shop for authentic Southwestern arts and crafts, then head to El Paso Saddleblanket for folk art and locally made items. For national mall brands, the Outlet Shoppes are home to Polo, Adidas, and North Face, among others. There are also several excellent farmers’ markets in town, with the largest being the El Paso Downtown Artist & Farmer’s Market. This market runs throughout the year, and each Saturday the Union Plaza District fills up with tourists and locals looking to view artists’ work and to fill their grocery baskets.
The Sun Bowl is one of the most-anticipated events in El Paso. Each year, the 51,500-capacity stadium fills with passionate NCAA football fans, there to see teams play in the second-oldest bowl game in the country. At other times in the year, locals turn out for their own Division I athletics program: the UTEP Miners, who remain the only Texas team to win the NCAA basketball championship, in 1966. The 1966 team is famous for more than winning: They were the first collegiate team to win a national championship with a starting five comprised entirely of African American players, a victory that became an important milestone in the Civil Rights Era.
Baseball lovers can watch the El Paso Chihuahuas, a AAA baseball team that plays at Southwest University Park. They are the AAA team for the San Diego Padres.
El Paso is also home to the Southwestern International PRCA Rodeo, the 17th-oldest rodeo in the country.
The landscape around El Paso is some of the most beautiful and rugged in the entire country. With its broad desert expanses, its windswept mesas, and its formidable peaks, the Rio Grande valley has inspired countless movie directors, photographers, and song writers, and getting to explore it yourself is an unmatchable opportunity. You can start at Franklin Mountains State Park, which is located entirely within El Paso’s city limits. At over 24,000 acres, it’s the largest urban park in the country and offers stunning vistas and trails for mountain biking and hiking. McKelligon Canyon is one of the most beautiful areas around El Paso. While challenging, the trails that wind through the canyon are extremely popular with local cyclists and hikers. Another excellent place to enjoy the outdoors is along the Transmountain Road, a section of FM 375 featuring spectacular views of both Juarez and El Paso, as well as many Precambrian rock formations exposed by the creation of the road.