The soaring trumpets of mariachi bands, the beating drums of Pueblo Indian dancers and the legends of frontier outlaws are all a part of the heritage and culture of El Paso. Perched on the northern bank of the Rio Grande River, “Sun City” has long sat at the crossroads of the American Southwest and Mexico. From historic Spanish colonial missions to cowboy boot makers and captivating art galleries, there are many expressions of our vibrant culture that you’ve got to see to believe. Discover just some of our best ways to experience El Paso below, then plan your stay in one of the most unique places you’ll ever visit.
Lock Yourself in the Jail Billy the Kid Broke Into
Most folks would think you should break out of a jail, but Billy the Kid made an exception to that rule. With a revolver in hand and a clever trick up his sleeve, the infamous teenage outlaw forced his way into the San Elizario Jail and freed his friend Melouiades Segura. See where this chapter of Billy the Kid’s legend took place at the San Elizario and Billy the Kid Jail,. also known as the Old El Paso County Jail Museum. Step into the pre-fabricated iron cell that once held Segura and admire artifacts, weapons and other historical items as you uncover the history of the Texas frontier.
For the ultimate outlaw experience, visit San Elizario in early June for the Billy the Kid Festival. Start the morning with a trail ride, stop by the Main Street Saloon and watch a street gun fight and the Billy the Kid Play before embarking on a spooky ghost tour. The festival also has plenty of live music and other things to see and do that’ll make you feel like you’re right back in the Old West.
Stroll the San Elizario Historic District
Settled just 20 miles southeast of El Paso, the San Elizario Historic District's laid-back charm belies its historical significance. It was here that one of Texas’ first settlements appeared all the way back in the 16th century, and it was a bustling confluence of commerce and culture along the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro more than 100 years ago. Today, the white adobe-walled structures that stand in the district house art galleries, shops and museums that have their own treasures to uncover.
Start at the Golden Eagle Gallery, a showcase of Mexican- and Southwestern-style art created by local artists. Walk along the shaded path in front of the storefronts until you reach Main Street Mercantile, an art gallery that preserves the artistic traditions of the area through its displays of works by regional artists. Then find your way into the Los Portales Museum & Information Center and the Old El Paso County Jail Museum before trekking over to the Presidio Chapel of San Elizario that was built in 1877.
These are just a few of the ways to experience the San Elizario Historic District, and the best way to see it all is to go on your own walking tour. Take your time, as there’s more than 400 years of history here to discover.
Explore Downtown El Paso on a Historic Streetcar
At first glance, El Paso's streetcars may look out of place as they roll by. Proudly painted mint green and bright orange, they look as if they’ve been plucked from a bygone era. Back in the 1950’s through the 1970’s, these streetcars provided easy transport through town. Now, they’re the coolest way to discover all that the downtown area has to offer. The streetcars are the originals that ran half a century ago modernized with air conditioning, bike racks and Wi-Fi that run along five miles of track organized into two loops with 27 stops.
Climb aboard on the Downtown Loop and you’ll always be near something interesting, as well as countless hotels and restaurants. Visit the El Paso Museum of History and the Wigwam Museum for local and regional lore, catch a performance at the Abraham Chavez Theatre and wander around San Jacinto Plaza. The Uptown Loop, on the other hand, takes you to the hip and happening bars and restaurants near the University of Texas at El Paso.
Each stop serves up its own adventures and taking the time to explore yields its own rewards. Take part in a local tradition and get to know El Paso via our historic streetcars.
Order Your Own Pair of Custom Cowboy Boots
When you need to get your next pair of stylish kicks, El Paso is the place to be. We’re home to the largest concentration of hand-made boot dealers in the country, and each one offers something a bit different from the others. Lucchese Bootmaker's stylish boots are known for their comfort and fit thanks to techniques that have been perfected since the 1880s.
Meanwhile, Rocketbuster Handmade Custom Boots' wares are more akin to works of art. Take the shop tour and you’ll see hand-tooled boots featuring cowgirls, dragons, horses, samurai and other designs that’ll catch your eye. CABOOTS also crafts exotic and work cowboy boots with the highest-quality leather, and you’ll find belts, books, bolo ties and other accessories at its store.
While you can purchase a pair of boots off the shelf, why not get a pair unlike anyone else’s? These, and our other shops, craft custom-made boots that make for one heck of a souvenir. Get your own designs, colors and even fit so you really stand out. The process is like getting a tattoo, without all the pain of course. It does take about six months on average to get a pair of custom hand-made boots, but the second you open that box you’ll see the wait really was worth it.
Step Inside the Magoffin Home State Historic Site
With its striking white adobe walls, the Magoffin Home State Historic Site is an architectural wonder. Built in 1877, it was home to many key figures in the military services, development and settlement of West Texas, the house preserves the history of the Southwestern borderlands from the perspective of the prominent Magoffin family. Stepping into the home is like being transported back in time. Each room is furnished with authentic art and antique furnishings, and you’ll see it all during one of the daily one-hour guided tours. After the tour, relax for a moment as you admire the lush grounds from under the shade of a nearby tree, just like the Magoffins would have long ago.
Get a Taste of Native American Culture
The Tigua Indians are among the oldest permanent settlers in Texas, and their culture is very much a part of our heritage and culture to this very day. Get to know them at the Tigua Indian Cultural Center, where you’ll explore a museum that outlines 350 years of Pueblo Indian history. Come by on the weekends and the first thing you’ll smell is the aromas of homemade bread baked in adobe ovens. Try some for yourself, then find a nice spot to take in a spectacular performance of traditional Pueblo dances. These vibrant cultural demonstrations are held throughout the year, so don’t miss out the next time you’re in “Sun City.”
Go Where Alligators Once Roamed
Wait … alligators in El Paso? Believe it or not, they were once a main attraction in San Jacinto Plaza back in the 1950s and 60s. Some folks around here even call it Plaza de los Lagartos (Plaza of the Alligators). Although there are no live alligators in the plaza today, the sculpture commemorating their presence is just one of the many reasons to visit the plaza today. Get a bite to eat at the café and play a friendly game of chess or ping pong.
Drop by during the summer so your kids can cool off on the splash pad and come back later in the year for the big Christmas parade and all the festive lights. While San Jacinto Plaza is the heart and soul of the downtown area, it’s also the kind of place you’ll want to hang out for a while before you go off to discover what else the area has to offer.
El Paso has been a dynamic mixing pot of cultures for hundreds of years, making “Sun City” a place like none other. Plan your visit here. and discover our one-of-a-kind heritage.