If you read my previous posts about Omega Mart, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that I had to travel to Santa Fe to check out Meow Wolf’s original permanent installation: The House of Eternal Return.
As you may have heard, this installation was built in a defunct bowling alley building and was sponsored initially in large part by Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin.
This review will be free of any major spoilers. Look forward to a very spoiler-y companion post in the future.
What is The House of Eternal Return?
The House of Eternal Return starts out as a modest two story family home — both in facade and interiors — although it becomes quickly clear that something isn’t quite right. Parts of the home are damaged, warped, and seem to be advertising a self-help program that sounds like a cult.
Clearly there’s something more going on here, and as a participant it’s up to you to uncover the truth.
Or at least, whatever counts as “truth” in a place like this.
The House of Eternal Return is located in a part of Santa Fe that realistically isn’t walkable from where most tourists (or even locals) will be staying. Most people drive or take a taxi/rideshare. It’s technically possible to take public transit but good luck with that in Santa Fe.
Tickets are available in advance, with various upsell options. I’d recommend buying the tickets ahead of time, which is what most people do. The upsell options include some silly “3D” glasses, “arcade tokens” that you can also buy on site, and other unnecessary stuff that you can safely skip. I borrowed the 3D glasses from someone who paid extra and didn’t see any particular difference.
The House of Eternal Return allows phones, personal cameras, and (empty!) water bottles which can be refilled inside. Small lockers are available for a fee, and weapons of any kind are not allowed.
Bathrooms, the cafe, and the gift shop are all located within the building but outside of the exhibit area. You’re free to enter and exit the exhibit once you’ve been checked in and have a wristband — however you cannot re-enter once you have exited the building.
Those with physical disabilities may encounter problems. There are no elevators to the second floor and many passages are narrow. I saw a few people who seemed to get by with a cane, but if you need a walker or wheelchair this won’t work for you.
Aside from certain nights this is an all-ages experience. However, younger children must be supervised and may not get much out of it. The story involves some patience to understand and seems written for a young-adult audience and above.
Mild content warning: the death of a family pet is involved.
I knew I had to come here after visiting Omega Mart a couple years ago. What I was a little surprised to find were the similarities: a story set in a semi-sane physical space with numerous secret passages that lead to wildly imaginative and absurd spaces.
The main difference is in the storytelling methodology. Although the House of Eternal Return includes some straightforward video elements (as of 2023) the greater story details require a much greater deal of time from the audience to sit and read physical documents. Whether or not that’s a desirable aspect is going to depend entirely on your personality.
I visited twice, both for about four hours each. This was more than enough to decipher the major plot points. My second visit was for a scavenger hunt (their first ever — I beat it but did not win the prize raffle) but was also an excuse to capture photos and video footage after most people had left.
That said, some of the spaces are so well hidden that I only discovered them well into my second visit. And there were spaces I’m nowhere near flexible enough to fit into (note to self: do more stretching exercises.)
From what others have told me, this entire exhibit has gone through multiple iterations. I found various details like web links and even a phone number that no longer appear to function, presumably leftovers from the past. These were inconvenient but the story seemed complete without them.
My recommendation: This is an amazing space with a truly creative story that unfolds in great depth as you explore. I recommend going during off-peak hours (early or late) to get the most of it. If you have to choose between House and Omega Mart I’d say this has a more satisfying story but Omega Mart has an easier to follow story and is more physically accessible.