Everyone has that distant cousin who grew up in another city. When you see them, they look and feel like family, but you can tell they were raised a little different. McAllen and El Paso are like distant cousins.
Tale of the Tape: McAllen and El Paso metro areas rank 5th and 6th in Texas, respectively, with the McAllen MSA population at 842,304 and El Paso Metro with 838,972.
On paper, the two border cities are nearly identical, but I wanted to see what the Sun City was all about. I’ve always thought the best way to explore a city is on foot, so I took to the streets of Downtown El Paso as soon as I had the chance.
El Paso has a booming arts scene, and it starts at Las Plazas Arts District where you will find museums, entertainment venues and urban parks. Navigate through the Arts District and discover one of the only digital walls in the world at the El Paso Historical Museum. It’s History Channel meets Minority Report with this interactive touchscreen time machine. You can swipe left and right, pinch and zoom and travel through time at your own pace, learning about the rich history of the West Texas city.
San Jacinto Plaza is the epicenter of any downtown experience. The newly renovated San Jacinto Plaza is a family attraction located in the heart of downtown. It features a full service café, a splash pad, and plenty of seating, including built-in chess tables and benches. You know you’re there when you spot the larger-than-life sized alligator sculpture created by nationally acclaimed local artist Luis Jimenez that pays homage to the alligators that once inhabited the park from the 1800s to 1960s.
All that walking will make you hungry, and there is no shortage of high quality eats in Downtown El Paso. The easy way out is finding a Mexican Restaurant, but putting EP’s culinary culture to the test is way more adventurous. You can scour review sites, ask a local passerby, or you can discover a hidden gem on your own. I prefer the singular experience, so when I spotted Craft & Social from across the street, I jay walked my way to the cozy eatery.
Craft & Social has everything you look for in a lunchtime hot spot. Its hip vibe and simple menu of upscale sandwiches along with its craft beer selection make it the ideal midday stop for provisions. I opted for The Foghorn, which features oven roasted chicken and provolone with avocado, pear and sprouts on a perfectly toasted wheat Panini. Pair it with tangy, marinated cucumber chips and a pint of locally brewed Deadbeach Lager and conquer lunch at this vintage-styled eatery.
I’m a fan of urban street art, so when I heard about the El Segundo Barrio murals, I had to see for myself. You can make the hike by foot, or immerse yourself in the scene and take advantage of its SunCycle Bike Share Program. I elected to channel my inner PeeWee Herman and take one of the bikes for a cruise through the oldest neighborhood in El Paso because I like to keep a low profile, and a bright red bike outfitted with an oversized basket is the perfect way to blend in in the Barrio.
El Segundo Barrio was established in the 1880s when thousands of Mexicans emigrated to El Paso to start a new life. The murals adorn the facades of church buildings, apartment homes and local markets, telling the story of the community’s deep-rooted Chicano culture through the eyes of its resident artists. Here are a few snapshots I captured, and this is probably only half of the neighborhood murals.
The urban artistry seeps out of El Segundo and into mainstream culture with each vibrant piece of artwork connecting you to the next, before landing you at Union Square where native crafters can be found at farmer’s markets selling local wares on the weekends.
Plotting your next step over an expertly handcrafted cocktail is veteran move, and the move here is Anson 11. Located on the ground floor of the historic Anson Mills building, this local cocktailery lives up to the reputation of its namesake, Anson Mills, the founding father of El Paso. With bold beverages like its Jalapeno Cilantro Margarita, Anson 11 is the standard-bearer when it comes to gourmet eats and drinks in Downtown EP.
Ending the day snaking up the windy, paved road on the East side of the Franklin Mountains is the way to go. Franklin Mountains State Park is the largest urban state park in the United States, and offers a birds-eye view of the unique borderland below. From the visitors parking area, situated 4,692 feet above sea level, you can catch a glimpse of both worlds, seamlessly connected by a sprawling desert-urban landscape. Views from the top overlook three states and two nations, naturally lit as the sun sets on Sun City, creating a color pallet only Mother Nature could make.
Insider Tip: Take the Wyler Aerial Tramway to catch the best views from the top of Ranger Peak. Check the weather and hours of operation to make sure it’s open though.
You can’t help but notice the cultural similarities between El Paso and McAllen at every turn, yet at the same time, the two cities are equally just as different. I love McAllen, but after spending some time in the West Texas border town, I may have developed a little bit of a crush on El Paso.