Why This Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Art Installation in Santa Fe Is Worth a Visit
Meow Wolf's popular House of Eternal Return is a one-of-a-kind experience that you'll have to see to believe.
Inside an inconspicuous former bowling alley in Santa Fe, New Mexico, lies the House of Eternal Return by an artist collective known as Meow Wolf. Santa Fe boasts several amazing galleries, including Canyon Road and the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, but Meow Wolf's creation is not like any of them - far from it, actually.
When you first walk in, the lobby is bustling with artsy-looking people. Bold graphics adorn the wall, and a giant metallic anthropomorphic tree, known as The King’s Mouth, welcomes you inside. This trippy installation piece by Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne is your first indication that this is not your average bowling alley.
Meow Wolf is a collective of over 200 artists that specialize in mediums ranging from architecture to software development. This melting pot of creative minds first joined forces in 2008, and the group's permanent installation called House of Eternal Return opened its doors in 2016.
Fun fact: Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin provided the support and funding behind Meow Wolf when they decided to make their exhibit permanent. What started out as a buzzy destination for hipsters has quickly spread into the vernacular of the mainstream; there's even a 2018 documentary called Meow Wolf: Origin Story.
Avoid the long lines and purchase tickets ahead of time, up to one month in advance. Try to schedule your visit at an off time to be able to truly enjoy the jungle-gym like qualities of the space. Some passages are very narrow and some rooms are one-in, one-out.
Once you have your ticket, grab your 3D glasses and head inside the real experience. On your way in, be sure to stop by the mailbox, where you'll find several letters and clues that help solve an interactive mystery as you explore the exhibit. Quickly, you come upon what appears to be an old house complete with a wraparound porch and two stories. On entry, you see pictures and letters of the family that called this house home. If you choose to solve the mystery, as you explore everything on the walls and tables is a clue.
What to Expect
There is no right or wrong way to experience Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return. There is no map, set path or way to ensure you don’t miss anything. Right when you walk into the house, you have to decide if you will go into a deceptively innocuous-looking sitting room, up a set of stairs or into the living room fireplace. Yes, inside the fireplace.
The house is like a living, breathing choose-your-own-adventure novel written by C.S. Lewis - you never know what will be down those rabbit holes or inside the fridge door. Just as much fun for adults as it is children, the House of Eternal Return is a lot to take in. Give yourself the afternoon. Behind each hidden door is another room more fabulous and magical than the first. There are lots of places to sit and absorb - whether that be in the trunk of a giant tree, laying in a bunk bed or inside a neon-lined, Dutch-inspired windmill.
There are treehouses to climb, washing machines to crawl inside of and toilets to look into. Don’t take anything at Meow Wolf for what it seems. Almost everything inside the exhibit is interactive. Open every door; what looks to be a coat closet inside a bedroom may actually be a portal into another fantasy world.
Hosts in white lab coats are sprinkled throughout to answer any questions and point you towards the nearest bathroom. There are also actors and actresses throughout interacting with the exhibit in whimsical ways encouraging others to do the same. This is not a “do not touch” type of place - quite the opposite, actually.
Accessibility and Kid-Friendliness
Though the surreal exhibit is eye candy to some, it can be overstimulating to others. Meow Wolf allows you to come and go to the exhibit if you need a break. There are also sensory bags available to check out at the ticket counter for those that might need them. The bottom floor is wheelchair accessible. Those with very small children will need to leave their strollers parked at the door. It is easy to get separated once inside, and the experience is somewhat of a labyrinth. So keep the kids close if they come along.
A mixture of an immersive art experience and scavenger hunt, Meow Wolf also has a learning center and music venue. The David Loughridge Learning Center hosts workshops and events. There are also open studio hours where free-choice art making is encouraged and free. The music venue has a rotating bill of traveling musicians and also the occasional puppet show or monster dance party.
Now planning to expand outside of Santa Fe, Meow Wolf will be opening two new installations in Denver and Las Vegas before 2020. Just because you have seen the original House of Eternal Return does not mean you will not need to plan another trip. Each of these cities will be a totally new immersive art experience. No two Meow Wolf exhibits or experiences are the same.