What happens when you bring together hundreds of artists to create an immersive art experience unlike any others?
If you’ve researched a trip to Santa Fe, NM, you’ve almost surely seen the trippy, vibrant colors of Meow Wolf on a blog post. I have visited Meow Wolf in Santa Fe twice on various visits to New Mexico, and each time I am more inspired by the creativity and experiential art created in this incredible space. Santa Fe is an incredible destination for art in its own right, but when Meow Wolf opened in 2016, it brought dimension and diversity to the forefront.
This is everything you need to know about visiting Meow Wolf.
Overview of What Meow Wolf Actually Is
The first time I visited Meow Wolf was during my bachelorette party trip to Santa Fe in summer 2016. I returned to Santa Fe in summer 2021, and I knew that I wanted to visit the House of Eternal Return again because I remembered how much I loved it the first time! My impression was less enthusiastic after my second visit, but more on that later.
Creator of the ‘Game of Thrones’ book series, George R. R. Martin was the initial financier of the Meow Wolf project. He lives in Santa Fe and decided to partner with local artist Vince Kadlubek to create a unique and immersive art experience in a 20,000 square foot empty strip mall space on the outskirts of the city. The goal of the project was ambitious, and when it debuted in March 2016, no one quite knew how it would be received. But the art installation project has been a massive success with higher and higher visitor numbers each year. This is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Santa Fe and it is a must-do activity on any visit to New Mexico’s capital city.
Meow Wolf describes itself as “an arts production company that creates immersive, multimedia experiences that transport audiences of all ages into fantastic realms of storytelling. Our work is a combination of jungle gym, haunted house, children’s museum, and immersive art exhibit. It is home to Meow Wolf’s first permanent installation, ‘House of Eternal Return.”
Sometimes people confuse the exhibit itself and Meow Wolf. Essentially, the ‘House of Eternal Return’ is a permanent installation inside of Meow Wolf, which has a broader artistic community vision. ‘House of Eternal Return’ is an interactive art installation which means you can walk, climb and jump through the various rooms throughout the large space. Think of it like an art jungle gym.
The premise of the ‘House of Eternal Return’ installation is that you have discovered a house that has fallen through a wormhole in space, and it is now your portal to the entire universe. You’ll find a series of interconnected rooms created by different artists that all take you to different places in the universe. There is a scavenger hunt like storyline to the ‘House of Eternal Return’, in which you can look for clues to understand what happened to this family. It is not necessary to do the scavenger hunt though, and you can simply enjoy the various rooms and explore the installation.
Logistical Details for Visiting Meow Wolf
In the past, you could buy tickets for Meow Wolf at the door; but with the pandemic and COVID restrictions, you must buy tickets ahead of time. The tickets will include a timeslot for your visit, and each entry time has a specific allotment of people to limit crowding inside the House of Eternal Return. There is however no ending time for the exhibit and you can stay as long as you like. On my visit in summer 2021, the tickets were about $30.
When you buy your tickets, it offers you the option to buy 3D glass. I personally wouldn’t recommend spending the extra money. There’s really only 1 or 2 rooms where the experience is really enhanced by the glasses, and they’re kind of annoying to carry around. I didn’t find that it was worth it.
How Long Does It Take to Visit Meow Wolf
I would recommend budgeting at least 90 minutes to visit Meow Wolf, but you could easily spend 3-4 hours there if you were really taking your time. I think the average visit is around 2 hours. You’ll need to take a decent amount of time to explore all of the rooms, and if you’re looking for clues, that can take a while too. The installation wraps around itself and there are tons of little secret passageways to explore, so it’s easy to get lost or stumble upon something new around each corner. I’m not even convinced I saw all of the rooms in the ‘House of Eternal Return’ and we were there for over 2 hours!
Arrival + Parking
Located about 5 miles southwest of downtown Santa Fe, you are likely to drive to Meow Wolf. There is public transportation along the main road, but it is not that timely or convenient. There is a decent sized free parking lot in front of the building, but spots may be limited depending on when you go. We had to park on the street for our visit.
Arrive to Meow Wolf roughly 10-15 minutes before your scheduled entry time. There will be a line in front for the various upcoming timeslots, so find your window and wait for entry. At the scheduled time, a staff member will open the doors to the lobby and everyone will proceed through security.
There are a couple of art pieces to view outside in the parking lot, including the iconic robot statue and spider statue. You are also likely to see a couple of food trucks parked onsite. You can grab a snack or drink after your visit or while you wait in line! There are not public bathrooms outside, so you’ll have to wait to use the facilities until you’re inside.
What to Bring + What to Wear
There are no bags or backpacks allowed in Meow Wolf, so I would recommend locking them in your car. If you want to bring them inside, there are lockers in the lobby where you’ll be allowed to store them (for a small fee). For obvious reasons, you also cannot bring drinks or food inside the ‘House of Eternal Return’. There is a small cafe in the lobby area if you get hungry, or the food trucks outside are great for supporting local restaurants.
As of writing this in summer 2021, masks were required of ALL visitors regardless of vaccination status.
I would recommend wearing comfortable walking shoes and clothes that are easy to move in. The space is large and you will probably be walking around for an hour or two exploring the installation. There are tunnels and small ladders to climb and crawl through, so having apparel that is easy to move around in makes the experience better.
Best Time to Visit Meow Wolf
Answering this really depends on what kind of experience you want to have. The time of day or day of week you choose to visit will have a big impact on your experience of the ‘House of Eternal Return’. I would recommend choosing your time slot carefully and really planning your visit ahead of time.
The first time I visited Meow Wolf during my bachelorette party in Santa Fe was on a Friday night featuring a concert inside the installation. Only adults were allowed in the exhibit at that time, which was very different than when I went on a weekend in the summer. On my second visit to Meow Wolf, it was absolutely packed with families and groups. There were A LOT of kids of all different ages and there was significantly more yelling and noise. The number one question I kept hearing was “Have you seen where so-and-so went?”. I found the experience was much more chaotic and overwhelming than on my previous visit.
If you are looking to take your time and soak in the various artists and works inside the ‘House of Eternal Return’ without being rushed or annoyed, I would strongly advise you to go during a school day or to an adults-only event. The space is certainly appropriate and fun for kids, but it does make the experience more hectic. I personally didn’t like going through the installation with kids at all. I found it really overwhelming, distracting and generally unenjoyable. Obviously families will be looking for a different experience, and this was just my impression.
My Experience as a Childless Adult
When my maid of honor tried to explain Meow Wolf to me, I honestly didn’t understand what exactly it was. I had no idea what to expect and I went in with almost no expectations, because I couldn’t get a good feel of it from the photos. Now having visited, Meow Wolf is an absolute must-visit attraction during a trip to Santa Fe.
I have been to a number of interactive exhibits before with sometimes disappointing results. Meow Wolf is not one of those Instagram photo-taking traps (or as my husband lovingly calls them ‘InstaTraps’). The ‘House of Eternal Return’ is a genuinely creative and incredible explosion of art and vibrancy. It tells a story through the rooms and I love all the different styles and interpretations of the universe that permeate the installation. It is such an explosion of uninterrupted creativity and human expression unlike anything I’ve ever been through before. It’s truly amazing and one of a kind!
On my first visit to Meow Wolf, I was overwhelmed in a good way. I found myself sort of lost for words, walking around in silence simply taking it all in. In fact, my bridesmaids were worried I was not enjoying myself because I was so quiet (something I am normally not). All of the stimuli are a lot to process, but it is SO cool. Like one of the coolest human made places I’ve ever experienced. I have never been anywhere else like Meow Wolf and it truly is unique.
6 Important Tips for Visiting Meow Wolf
- Go in with an Open Mind. There are some really cool rooms inside the installation and there are others that are… interesting, creepy, weird. You’re going to experience some things you really like and others where you’re like “um, wut?”
- Take Your Time. This is not a place you want to rush through. There is a lot of see and it’s nice to simply sit down inside and soak it in. Budget your day accordingly.
- Go when Kids Won’t be There. I am admittedly not a big kid person, but if you want to really dive into the installation, you’ll have a better experience if there are less kids around. It will allow you to take pictures and enjoy the art without interference.
- Prepare to Be Overwhelmed. It’s a lot to look at and there is so much color and sound. My husband’s impression was sort of stunned during our visit.
- Have a Meetup Time + Place. It’s easy to get turned around inside the installation, and you’ll likely separate from your group at least a few times. Plus, it can be nice to experience a room or two alone. Pick a meetup place inside the exhibit, like the central tree or fireplace. Set a time to meet in the lobby towards the end.
- Do a Phone-Free Loop: It is tempting to want to take a picture of everything inside Meow Wolf, and thinking about all the cool photos is sort of distracting. Give yourself a first loop through the installation where you’re simply exploring + enjoying and then go back for a second pass with your phone or camera.