When most people think of Odessa, they think of tumbleweeds, sand, and oil derricks. They’re not wrong necessarily (there’s plenty of those as well), but there’s also a lot more to this ever-growing city undergoing a massive oil boom. Many things to do in Odessa use the natural desert landscape to their advantage. Hang out at Stonehenge among the prairie grass and ancient stone replicas or drive out to the Meteor Crater to see authentic desert foliage and fauna. Interested in theatre? Odessa has multiple entertainment venues for live shows. You can also see exhibits at a Smithsonian-affiliated art museum. Here’s a non-comprehensive list of 10+ things to do in Odessa, Texas (with a scattering of Midland, sites).
Located on the ever-growing University of Texas of the Permian Basin campus, the Stonehenge Replica is about 20 stone blocks similar in shape, size, and appearance to the ancient Stonehenge in southwestern England. It’s slightly shorter than the original, but the horizontal scale is exact and astronomically accurate. Numerous educational markers surround the entrance to the site. It’s also got a small walking trail and can be a good place to walk in the mornings before the desert heat kicks in. When you take the entrance into the campus from 42nd street, it will be on the right (opposite the tennis courts) and before you get to the science or student centers.
Another nearby attraction is the UTPB duck pond, which can be found taking a road to the left of the stones. No water sports or fishing are allowed (it’s a really tiny pond in a semi-desert environment) but it’s a great place to relax and watch the ducks and local wildlife get some much-needed water.
After leaving the Stonehenge Replica, follow the road around the campus and exit on University Avenue. Turn left, and you’ll find the art museum and presidential library. The intimate art gallery and museum has three galleries. The center initially opened in 1985 as the Arts Institute for the Permian Basin and was renamed in 1995 to honor the leadership and philanthropy of Mrs. Ellen W. Noël. It’s one of the few art museums in Texas granted status as an official Smithsonian Affiliate, which gives it the privilege to host various Smithsonian artwork and programs.
The George and Milly Rhodus Sculpture & Sensory Garden on-site features raised beds with flowers and plants open to the public. The garden is entirely accessible and user-friendly to visually- and physically-challenged visitors. You can also tour artworks and sculptures in the garden as well.
4919 E University Blvd, Odessa, TX 79762From a small building in downtown to a much larger building on the University of Texas of the Permian Basin campus, the presidential museum officially became part of the university in 2010. Unlike most presidential libraries, this one is not dedicated to one particular president but rather to all of them. The main exhibit is the Hall of Presidents, which traces the story of the presidency throughout American history. In addition to the museum, the archives consist of the John Ben Sheppard, Jr. Memorial Library, which contains around 5800 volumes, including presidential papers and rare and first edition documents. The archives also feature a restored home of George H.W. Bush and his family from when they lived in Odessa in 1948.
Water Wonderland has been long closed (*sigh*) and Odessa can get oppressively hot in the summer. On the campus of UTPB, the Park Sprayground is a free dinosaur-themed park that contains a variety of water slides, dumping buckets, ground geysers, and jets with shaded pavilions. It isn’t as large or comprehensive as the old WW park, but it’s still good for cooling off on a hot summer day. It’s open dates vary (primary in the summer from May 25th through the beginning of August).
Another sprayground for locals is the McKinney Park Sprayground (625 W Pool Rd, Odessa, TX 79761). In the winter, McKinney Park has beautiful holiday light festival called Starbright Village. During the summer months, the free McKinney Park Sprayground is free to the public and is open from May through September. McKinney Park is also home to ballgames throughout the years plus local music events.
802 N. Sam Houston, Odessa, TXThroughout Odessa, you’ll likely find some colorful jackrabbits at random places. The statue just off 8th street is an Odessa landmark that gives some historical significance behind these statues. The True Plains Rabbit only lives in the West. The burro-like ears gave this rabbit its name and its color blended in well with the sand and dry grass native to the area. They are swift runners that can be clocked up to 45 miles an hour. The world’s only Jackrabbit Rodeo (literally, with Jackrabbits and not livestock) was held in Odessa in May 1932 and held at the corner of 3rd Street and Grant. The event was eventually banned in 1978 (thank goodness) with a court order. This rabbit statue was erected in 1962.
Jamboree Jackrabbits. Now on to explaining the different colored Jackrabbit statues around town. One of the first public art projects in Odessa, local artists painted 37 jackrabbits that stand at 6 feet tall and then strategically placed them around the city. You can still find them in different parts of the city today, such as on the UTPB campus (close to the MESA building), Odessa City Hall, and on the Odessa College Campus. Here’s a full list.
Ye Old Bookworm (Downtown)
Established in 1991, Ye Old Bookworm is one of the largest bookstores you can find in West Texas. Located in an old downtown building, you can find a family-run bookstore with thousands of used books to choose from. The owner is very knowledgeable about books and is very helpful at tracking down books that may not be in the store. It’s also an excellent place to park, take a look around and see what other shops downtown Odessa has to offer.
Downtown is currently undergoing a revitalization with the creation of a new Marriott and Convention Center (305 E 5th St, Odessa, TX 79761), which opens in August 2019. Some of the older buildings can still be found as well. Right next to the new Marriott is the old Ector Theater, which opened in 1951. The Ector Theater (500 N Texas Ave, Odessa, TX 79761) became a vintage theater that hosted live tribute shows and training programs for local actors.
The old Rio Theater opened as the Scott Theater in 1947 and was renamed the Rio Theater (601 N. Grant Street, Odessa, TX 79761) in 1959. It’s still closed, probably soon to be condemned.
Located on the Odessa College campus, this theater is a replica of William Shakespeare’s original Globe Theatre. A replica of Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, which contains displays for Shakespeare fans, is also located on the campus and is a local favorite for wedding photos. The theater began construction in 1958 and the first season was in 1968. With 441 seats, the apron stage and unobstructed balcony views create a unique experience for seeing everything from Romeo and Juliet to a modern Broadway musical.
The Ector-County Coliseum is a 42-acre complex used for rodeos, trade shows, ice shows, motorsports, Broadway shows, and even annual Permian Basin International Oil Shows. The 8,000-seat coliseum is also held for concerts and local graduation ceremonies. It is currently the home to the NAHL Odessa Jackalopes hockey team. Behind the Coliseum is the Permian Basin Fair & Exposition, to be held this year from August 30th to September 8th, 2019.
The Coliseum also often plays host to the Odessa Chuck Wagon Gang, a group of chuckwagons and their cooks that traveled across Texas cooking barbeque for over 75 years.
The White-Pool House was built in 1887 and is the oldest remaining structure in Odessa. Restored to its original state, it features a two-story red brick home, wooden Eclipse windmill and water tank, barn replica, and farm outbuildings. The site is a Texas Archaeological Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places.
Founded in 1965, the Permian Playhouse is a community theatre that sits beside the Ector County Coliseum. The Playhouse provides the community with a variety of high-quality, culturally diverse theatrical experiences. The Playhouse also offers theatre programs for first through fifth graders for the past several years.
1118 Maple Avenue, Odessa, TX 79761
Leading Odessa rancher Jim Parker relocated his headquarters into this rock house in 1935. The museum includes the stored Parker House Museum along with period clothing and galleries of early 1900s photos and memorabilia.
5599 Meteor Crater Rd, Odessa, TX 79763
On the outside, the Odessa Meteor Crater appears to be a barren formation of rocks, sand, and desert landscape in the southwestern part of Ector County (and admittedly, it kind of is). Most locals I know have never been out here or have maybe once, forty years ago. However, if you are looking for authentic West Texas landscapes, this is an excellent place to go. The crater is one of three impact crater sites found in Texas and used to be around 100 ft (30 miles) deep. Due to infilling by soil and debris from the ever-present West Texas wind, it is only about 5 miles deep at its lowest point. So, it’s not dramatic from a meteor crater point of view, but it does offer stunning natural foliage and wildlife that you’re not likely to see in the city. There are no visitor fees, and there is also a museum on site. It’s also great for astronomy enthusiasts and is stunning at night.
Be sure to wear boots, as there are rattlesnakes, fire ants, and plenty of rocks. Honestly, you’re probably safe from the rattlesnakes (they’re pretty shy and hide in holes—just don’t step in one). It’s the fire ants that you need to watch for. As you start heading out there, you’ll find plenty of oil pumpjacks and trucks on the highway so be careful. However, it’s incredibly peaceful once you get to the crater.
Note: Your phone’s navigation will most likely take you to the right road but will stop in the middle of the dirt, rocky road before you reach the crater. Keep following the road, curve around to the right, and follow it to the end. Then you’ll find the signs to go into the Meteor Crater. It’s an isolated piece of land with a museum that isn’t visited very often, but it’s a great view of the fauna and flora of the Chihuahuan Desert.
Monahans Sandhills State Park is not in Odessa but about twenty miles southwest of it. However, it’s close enough to easily visit any day of the week. The park is a 3,840-acre state park where the ever-present wind sculps the sand dunes into peaks and valleys. The landscape may change from year to year, and it is a close-up view of a true desert environment. Locals often rent sand disks at the headquarters (or bring their own) to slide up and down the dunes. There’s also an 800-acre equestrian area with heavy sands and a few mesquite trees. It’s not really “pretty” per se, but it’s a real example of the native desert landscape.
First, stop at the headquarters to get a parking permit (usually $4 per adult). Then follow the road to the parking spots where you can see the actual bald dunes. On the way there, you’ll see plenty of overgrown bushes sand flora native to the desert, but you’ll know when you’ve reached the place that you can get out and walk. Be aware that the sand heats up quickly during the summer months (Chihuahuan Desert) and it’s essential to stay mindful of your surroundings and don’t get lost.
It’s also an excellent place to stop if you’re heading out on a road trip to Big Bend National Park.
1800 E. 42nd Street, Odessa, TX (school) and 1862 E Yukon Rd, Odessa, TX 79765 (stadium)
Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream debuted in 1990 to mixed reviews in town. The book, about the 1988 Permian High School Panthers football team, and the city around it, was critical about life in Odessa. I was a sophomore at Permian when the book was released and still remember the throngs of reporters that covered the school that Fall with questions relating to everything about school spirit to um, inappropriate sexual questions to be asking a 14-year-old about football players. Anyway, the book was later made into a TV series and a movie. (Side rant about the film. Odessa is not as small as it shows—it has a full university, community college, and over 100,000 people. It’s not a tiny town with only dirt roads and a few downtown buildings.) Fans of the book or TV series have occasionally made it out to Odessa to tour the school or attend a game. I’m not sure about the legality of visiting the school, but feel free to attend an in-town game at the massive Ratliff Stadium just outside of town. Opened in 1982, the stadium holds almost 20,000 people and is used by both Permian High School and Odessa High School.
I know, it’s a mall, but it’s still a fully functional mall with the only ice-skating facility within 300 miles. The 750,000square-foot mall also houses CBS affiliate KOSA-TV and three stages for live entertainment on weekends. Two indoor playgrounds, a Ferris wheel, and year-round events also provide additional entertainment for the area.
(Nearby) Things to do in Midland
- Wagner Noël Performing Arts Center
1310 Farm to Market 1788, Midland, TX 79707
- Museum of the Southwest
1705 W Missouri Ave, Midland, TX 79701
- Sibley Nature Center
1307 E Wadley Ave, Midland, TX 79705
- I-20 Wildlife Preserve & Jenna Welch Nature Study Center
2201 S Midland Dr, Midland, TX 79703
- George Bush Childhood Home Museum
1412 W Ohio Ave, Midland, TX 79701
- Big Sky Drive-In Theater
6200 W Hwy 80, Midland, TX 79706
- Permian Basin Petroleum Museum
1500, I-20, Midland, TX 79701
- Midland Downtown Farmers Market
1705 W. Missouri, Midland, TX 79701
- Midland Community Theatre
2000 W Wadley Ave, Midland, TX 79705