From its natural beauty to its distinctive adobe architecture to its rich cultural history, there’s a lot to love about Santa Fe. Of all the things to enjoy in this intriguing city, we were drawn again and again to its many artistic outlets. From churches to art galleries to immersive, interactive experiences, Santa Fe is positively bursting with beautiful, thought provoking, entertaining art and we enjoyed exploring all of it.
In the time leading up to our Santa Fe visit, we received the same advice followed by the same comment over and over:
The advice: “You HAVE TO go see Meow Wolf”
The comment: “It’s really hard to explain. It’s super weird, but really cool. You just have to go.”
What we determined is that just about everyone who’s been to Meow Wolf will tell you to go to Meow Wolf, but no one can explain what the hell Meow Wolf is.
So I’m gonna try.
On a large scale, Meow Wolf is an interactive, multi-media, art installation created by a number of artists working in different mediums and technologies. The exhibit, housed in a former bowling alley, creates an immersive, non-linear story that contains elements of a carnival funhouse, an escape room, and a choose your own adventure sci/fi story.
Visitors are invited to make their way through the exhibit – which is a full scale house – and try to determine what happened to the family who once lived there.
Luckily, when we were in Albuquerque, our friend, Ben, gave us great advice which made an enormous difference in how we approached our visit. He said “Read everything! Start with the mailbox by the front door.”
Sure enough, after paying for our tickets and opening the door to the exhibit, we found ourselves standing outside a regular looking house complete with a porch and a freestanding mailbox. Inside the mailbox, we found letters and cards that gave us some clues about the family and important guidance on what to focus on inside the house. (click on the photos for expanded versions).
We headed for the kitchen and started reading the newspapers on the kitchen table. As we did, we started to see names and themes. Buried in the papers were a couple articles that mentioned members of the family and odd events that had been occurring in the town.
What was immediately noticeable was the level of detail in the newspapers – by all appearances, they looked like normal local newspapers filled with authentic stories. And because we weren’t sure what we were looking for, we ended up reading about all kinds of random stuff.
As we continued wandering around the house – most of which looked completely normal – we kept our eyes peeled for clues. And those clues could be found everywhere – in piles of papers on the dining room table, on a TV show playing in the living room, on a bulletin board on the wall of the home office….
And that was one of the coolest parts – realizing that anything could be relevant. A book on the coffee table in the living room might have been authored by an important character, a child’s drawings in his bedroom could contain crucial information about what he had seen or experienced before disappearing, a framed photograph hanging on a wall might show a connection between members of the family and an important character in the story. Just like they did with the newspapers, the artists did a remarkable job of creating an authentic family home full of items that hid important information in plain sight.
And that’s where things get weird.
You see, whatever happened to this family involved the melting of divisions between dimensions and alteration of the time/space continuum.
Remember the intro from the Twilight Zone?
“You are about to enter a different dimension, a dimension not just of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination…”?
Well, it’s kinda like that.
Open the refrigerator door and you’ll find a secret passageway…
Look inside the washing machine for another one…
Don’t be alarmed when you see your fellow visitors crawl into the fireplace and disappear…
Bookcases, closets, and appliances revealed hidden passageways, and those passageways led to a fantastical world…
Once visitors cross into the other dimension, they are treated to a mesmerizing, and at times confusing, series of ornately decorated, themed rooms and hallways. There are multimedia elements here, too… audio recordings, music, video-games, etc. All of these items tie in, some more closely than others, with the larger story of what happened to the family.
There is seemingly no end to the colorful….
and just plain strange rooms and passageways we encountered.
We spent at least two and a half hours exploring the museum and we loved it. While it’s certainly not for everyone, I think a lot of the people who don’t love the experience would like it a lot more if they tried to follow the story and unravel the mystery. And I put fault for that issue on the museum itself. Absent Ben giving us the advice he did, we would have been completely confused. The museum provides no guidance when you walk in the door, so absent some other source of information, visitors are left to their own devices – which is pretty tough in such a strange place.
Anyway, if you enjoy a good mystery, are open to an immersive Sci/Fi experience, and you don’t mind crawling through a washing machine to try to determine what the hell happened to this family’s bathroom….
you’ll probably enjoy a visit to Meow Wolf too.
Our verdict: Really weird, hard to explain, but you should definitely go.
Canyon Road is a half mile long art district in the center of Santa Fe. The road is home to over one hundred art galleries, along with numerous boutique shops, restaurants, and artists’ studios. Visitors are encouraged to wander in and out of the galleries and enjoy the numerous types of art available for purchase (by very wealthy people).
I strolled into several of the galleries and found all kinds of beautiful pieces. Two things were especially noticeable. First, the galleries themselves were often quite beautiful and unique…
Second, the staff were always approachable, friendly, and happy to chat. Even though I made crystal clear when I walked in that I was not buying anything (what could I possibly buy that would make my home any more stylish???), they were happy to discuss the artwork, Santa Fe, and whatever else came up in conversation.
One particularly notable gallery is the Nedra Marteucci gallery which is located just a block or two from Canyon Road. It felt a lot more like a museum than the smaller shops on Canyon Road and had an impressive collection of different forms of art. What I kept coming back to, though, were the bronze sculptures.
I’m not exactly “Ms. Art Appreciation,” but holy shitballs, these were incredible!
(adds item to to-do list: “Look into second career as art critic.”)
In addition to the artwork housed inside the building, the gallery is home to a lovely sculpture garden in back.
Anyway, if you’d like to see museum quality artwork in a free and unpretentious setting, this is an ideal gallery to visit.
Georgie O’Keeffe spent a good portion of her life living near Santa Fe, and many of her most well known works originated there. The museum dedicated to her life and career is located just off the historic square downtown. The good news is her dramatic, colorful, and unique paintings are a joy to look at and the museum has an excellent introductory film about her life and work.
The bad news is it’s really expensive for what it is.
The thing about Georgia O’Keeffe, and many other renowned artists, is that the majority of their most famous pieces are housed in museums and private collections around the world. What was available at the Santa Fe museum was lovely, but there just didn’t seem to be a ton of artwork given her prolific career. All of which would have been fine if it didn’t cost $26 for the two of us to visit. For an hour’s worth of wandering around, it seemed excessive.
Additionally, unlike my experience visiting the Canyon Road galleries, where the employees could not have been nicer, at O’Keeffe there was a security guard stationed in every room keeping watch on all of us. They were NOT friendly or welcoming and, even worse, I got yelled at. ME!! This girl! “Ms. Law & Order” herself was on the receiving end of a verbal dressing down. Why? Because I was trying to take a picture of a painting that I was, apparently, not supposed to take a picture of.
It turns out that mixed in among the many paintings in various rooms, there are a handful that are on loan from other collections, and those are not supposed to be photographed. But rather than actually tell visitors that when they buy their tickets, or put those paintings in a separate area, the museum adds a tiny (what I would refer to as “bullshit-sized”) symbol under the little information placard next to the paintings.
And, not surprisingly, no one notices these signs. So the security guards spend all day every day yelling at tourists to not take pictures of those paintings.
So yeah. I got yelled at for something that was totally not even my fault.
For $26 they should buy a real sign that people will actually notice rather than paying surly security guards to yell at people.
More importantly, they should hire security guards who are actually up to the challenge. I’m like a ninja when it comes to taking photos. So…
(see the little “no photos” symbol? Yeah, I didn’t notice it either. Nor did anyone else. Hence, the ornery security guards…)
One of the best things about Santa Fe is its tasty local cuisine. We ate at a couple standout restaurants.
Castro Cafe is a hole in the wall place that doesn’t look like much, but man, is it awesome. This is the sign out front:
They are not kidding.
New Mexican cuisine is full of spice. Dishes are often served with either red or green chile, and this is not your mild “salsa from a jar” topping. It’s got serious heat and flavor and, if all goes well, you might be sweating by the end of your meal. It’s delicious! Anyway, Castro Cafe appeared to us to be a much more locals oriented place – away from the main tourist areas in a nondescript strip mall, but the food was fantastic and the price was right. Highly recommend…
Cafe Pasquale’s – This is an institution located right on the historic square downtown. The restaurant is tiny, so there is almost always a wait, but it was so worth it. We both got the Chorizo breakfast burrito, mine with Christmas chile (both red and green), Kevin’s with just green (Commie).
And yes, we ate the whole thing. And no, we have no regrets.
Paper Dosa – Heading in a totally different culinary direction, we visited Paper Dosa with Celena and Shoam. This is South Indian cuisine, focused on dosas (which are a type of crepe made from a fermented batter), Uttapam (which is a type of pancake), and various curries. We sampled all kinds of dishes off their menu and were thoroughly impressed.
There is a lot to see and do in Santa Fe. We hiked a couple trails in the Dale Ball Trail System northeast of the city as well as the La Tierra Trail System, which is north of the city. We spent some time in the historic downtown square and visited its famous church (featured image at the top of this page), and meandered through the historic streets.
We took most of our cues from Laurel and Eric’s visits, which you can read about here.
We thoroughly enjoyed Santa Fe. It had a little bit of all the things we like (pedestrian friendly, great museums, good options for getting outside, etc). and plenty of its own unique character to make it stand out from other cities. We only scratched the surface of what was there and will undoubtedly return for more.
Next up, we return to the state we totally love when it’s not making us completely miserable – Colorado.
Where we stayed: Santa Fe Skies RV Park