Marfa, Texas: Staying in the James Dean room in the Hotel Paisano, Marfa Lights, and more

Lobby of the Hotel Paisano in Marfa, Texas

In recent years, Marfa, Texas, has gained a reputation as a funky, artsy destination town. Before that, it was famous as the filming location for the movie, “Giant,” starring Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean. (Dean died in a car crash in 1955 and the movie was released posthumously.) The cast stayed at the Hotel Paisano during filming, a -great old inn steeped in West Texas culture. The hotel plays up its connection to the movie with framed, poster-sized black-and-white photos scattered throughout.

I’d heard about the Paisano and its “James Dean Room” for years. The hotel preserved and restored the room much as it had been when the actor stayed there, with modern amenities, of course. It’s far from the fanciest room in the Paisano–there are spacious, multi-room suites, but it was the James Dean Room or nothing for me. I booked early to be sure we got Hotel Paisano’s most popular room for our stay.

The James Dean Room at the Hotel Paisano

The second-floor James Dean Room is cozy and sits above rooms with outdoor patios and fireplaces that I could see being a potential smoke issue, but we had no one below us during our stay. The bathroom is period and modest, but functioned well.

Entering the James Dean Room. Note the photos of the cast on the set of “Giant.”

The rest of the hotel is a delight with a fun bar with adjacent fireplace-warmed den, a restaurant, swimming pool, ballroom and shops. We enjoyed jalapeño margaritas at happy hour in the bar, striking up a conversation with locals who steered us to the new-as-of-November-2018 mural 5 or so miles west of town on I90.

Courtyard of Hotel Paisano with the bar and restaurant behind the wall to the left
The new “Giant” mural outside Marfa near the site of the movie’s filing. Music plays from Rock Hudson’s car. Oversized fun!

Marfa is a small town and we found most things within walking distance. We could see the county courthouse from our hotel room window and walked the block to see the old building and take in the view from its rooftop cupola. As retired lawyers, we like checking out courthouses when we travel and I enjoy striking up a conversation with a Texas Ranger waiting to testify before a Grand Jury.

View of Marfa from the courthouse cupola

We wandered the streets near Hotel Paisano, peering at scattered art studios and coffee shops. We had an intriguing dinner at trendy Stellina. We gave a pass to the Chinati Foundation, having seen enough of its buildings and outside artwork and photos of the inside Modern Art Museum works to know we needed no more of that. To each their own, though; David has a friend who loved it. There’s not much else to do in Marfa, save the one thing I’d heard about since my Texas childhood: Look for the “Marfa Lights.”

Since the 1800’s, people have reported seeing mysterious lights floating above the prairie outside of Marfa. They’ve been attributed to everything from swamp gas to ghosts to UFO’s to reflections. There’s now an official viewing site 10 minutes or so east out of town on I90. A cold front had blown in the night before, but that wasn’t about to stop us. We drove out to the site, to find we had it to ourselves that windy, cold night. Pressing against a wall offering the most shelter possible, we gazed into the darkness. Sure enough we saw lights in the distance. At first, we thought it might be cars on a distant road, but then determined that couldn’t be right as the lights appeared and disappeared. Were they the Marfa Lights? I’m not sure, but maybe!

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