El Paso at a Glance
Location: West Texas
Access: El Paso International Airport; Interstate 10
Hotel rooms: 10,000 in 2020
Visit El Paso
El Paso Convention Center
Built: 1964; primary renovation 2002-2004;
aesthetics renovated 2015-2016
Exhibit Space: 80,000 square feet
Other Meeting Spaces: 17 breakouts
Hotel Paso del Norte, Autograph Collection
Guest rooms: 350
Meeting Space: 33,000 square feet
Wyndham El Paso
Guest rooms: 273
Meeting Space: 17,000 square feet
Marriott El Paso
Guest rooms: 296
Meeting Space: 13,400 square feet
Who’s Meeting in el Paso
Texas Society of Architects
Health Occupations Students of America
International Jugglers’ Association
American Planning Association Texas Chapter
El Paso takes Texas icons — Stetson hats, cattle, wide-open spaces — and complements them with attractions and experiences distinct to this far corner of the Lone Star State. The El Paso additions include towering mountains inside the city limits, more than four centuries of colonial history, guided ATV rides through the desert and even the first wine-producing region in today’s United States.
Just how far west is El Paso? Far enough that it’s the only major Texas city on Mountain Time. It brands itself along with its neighbors in New Mexico and Juarez, Mexico, and offers much more than you may expect.
“El Paso is not your traditional Texas experience,” said Brooke Underwood, assistant general manager at Visit El Paso. “We are authentic in our own way and enjoy being the other part of Texas. We’re the cure for destination burnout.”
El Paso’s core is active, walkable and manageable for meeting attendees while being part of a bigger ecosystem. Metropolitan El Paso has approximately 830,000 residents, more than a million if you toss in Las Cruces, New Mexico, only 40 miles away; and its joined-at-the-hip sibling, Juarez, has 1.8 million. It is the sixth-largest city in Texas, the 20th-largest city in the U.S. and the largest combined city on the U.S.-Mexico border. El Paso and Juarez thrive as one community, Underwood says.
El Paso fills the valley of the Rio Grande, with the towering Franklin Mountains to the north and the bustle of Juarez to the south. The University of Texas at El Paso enhances the city’s vibrancy, and there is novelty in a $97 million streetcar system that covers 4.8 miles with two interconnecting loops. The streetcars, restored from a system that faded in the 1970s, glide between 27 stops, including one at the El Paso Convention Center.
Practically every meeting attendee wants to get outdoors, and El Paso challenges planners to pick among venues. Multiple locations are within walking distance of convention hotels, and outdoorsy destinations are within a 30-minute drive.
Smack-dab downtown is Southwest University Park, the city’s stadium for the El Paso Chihuahuas AAA baseball team and the El Paso Locomotive, a United Soccer League team. It offers several venues of various capacities, including the delightfully named Wooftop Deck — you know, because of the Chihuahuas — and it’s even possible to secure the field to stage an activity such as a 5K run. Among the other downtown possibilities are the El Paso Art Museum, the El Paso History Museum and the Alcantar Sky Garden atop the impressive Plaza Theatre.
To enjoy cowboy culture, head to the Cattleman’s Steakhouse at Indian Cliffs Ranch. It’s an authentic Southwestern restaurant at a working cattle ranch. Hay wagon rides beneath stark cliffs and a menagerie that includes bison, longhorns, horses and ostriches provide predinner diversions. Ranch locations have been used in movies starring David Carradine, Jack Nicholson and Chuck Norris.
Another enjoy-the-sunshine venue is Keystone Heritage Park and the El Paso Desert Botanical Garden. Just because you’re in a desert with barely 10 inches of rainfall and more than 315 sunny days annually doesn’t mean there’s not flora to see. An attraction here is the Chihuahuan Desert Experience, a one-mile walk that parallels the historic El Camino Real, the colonial route from Mexico City to Santa Fe trod by Native Americans, conquistadors, pioneers and soldiers.
Major Meeting Spaces
Big meetings use the El Paso Convention Center, which offers 80,000 square feet of exhibit space and 17 breakout rooms. It is an easy walk to multiple hotels and is across the street from the art museum, the history museum and a children’s museum. The Plaza Theatre is a block away, and the historic San Jacinto Plaza, with its unexpected alligator sculpture fountain, is two blocks away.
“There has been a renaissance in the core of El Paso in the last four years,” Underwood said, drawing special attention to hotels. Conrad Hilton’s first high-rise hotel opened in El Paso in the 1930s, and it is reopening in early 2020 as the 130-room Plaza Hotel. Check out the views from La Perla, the rooftop lounge that was originally the penthouse suite. Nearby and also reopening in 2020 is the Hotel Paso del Norte, a Marriott Autograph Collection property. A $100 million renovation is transforming this El Paso landmark, built in 1912 with 195 rooms, into a 350-room meetings magnet with 33,000 square feet of meeting space. Underwood labels the Hotel Paso del Norte “a game changer for El Paso.”
Other meeting-friendly hotels include the Wyndham El Paso, with 273 rooms, 17,000 square feet of meeting space and a water park for family-oriented meetings, and the Marriott El Paso, with 296 rooms and 13,400 square feet of meeting space.
After the Meeting
Walking tours or open-air bus excursions with companies such as Tour Por Juarez showcase Juarez and remove any anxiety with itineraries that include strolling across the border on the Paso del Norte International Bridge, shopping in the bustling mercado, examining the Museum of the Revolution and admiring the architecture and solemnity of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe, built from 1941 to 1957, and the adjacent Franciscan mission, founded in 1659. It’s almost obligatory to visit the Kentucky Bar, where margaritas are said to have been invented.
Perhaps the most unexpected post-meeting attraction in this desert setting is a wine trail, but Spanish colonists planted grapes here long before other Europeans were settling North America’s distant east coast. Highway 28 from El Paso to Mesilla, New Mexico, offers views of chile farms, cattle ranches and pecan groves, along with stops at Zin Valle Vineyards, the Sombra Antigua Winery and La Viña Winery.
Extending your stay in Texas can take you to Big Bend National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park, the site of the four highest peaks in Texas. Stray into New Mexico to go deep underground at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, admire White Sands National Monument’s otherworldly scenes and go sledding down the sand dunes. More activity is just 15 minutes from the El Paso airport, where an adventure outfitter arranges ATV rides through the desert.