Visit City Museum in St Louis & Go Wild!

City Museum boys steeple

The boys hanging out in a steeple in MonstroCity at City Museum in St Louis!

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In St Louis, Missouri, less than 2 miles from the Gateway Arch is a 10 story, 600,000 square foot warehouse transformed into a steampunk fantasy wonderland.  The City Museum in St Louis is not your typical museum.  It’s not like anything you’ve done or seen before.  It’s not just cool stuff to look at, though it has plenty of that from vintage artifacts to dinosaurs & mythical creatures to a large aquarium and world’s largest oddities.  USA Today ranks it as one of the top children’s museums in North America, but it’s way more than that, too.  The reason it stands apart from any other is the experience.  Of being a kid set loose in an industrial funhouse.  You’ll play harder than you’ve played for years.  Climbing, sliding, scooting, crawling.  Down a 10 story slide, one of 30 slides.  There are 4 main levels plus the Rooftop that will have you crawling through coils and down secret tunnels, across sky-high bridges, scooting through mazes, sliding down ramps.  Climbing up and around, looping through the building and sky through winding, corkscrew spirals.  It’s often called the world’s largest playground.  Time magazine named it one of the ‘World’s Coolest Places’.  It’s a big title.  And well earned.  

 

The City Museum occupies a 100 year old former shoe company warehouse.  Its creator, sculptor Bob Cassilly, created his vision of fantasy & fun using recycled & re-purposed, local materials and transformed them into something wonderful, magic to people of all ages.  Cassilly and his crew of sculptors, welders & artists set about to make a “city within a city”, but it’s more like another world within the city.  They used old chimneys & tiles, salvaged bridges & buildings, construction cranes & pieces, and even two abandoned airplanes.  They started in 1993 and worked for 4 years in secret before welcoming visitors.  Since Cassilly’s passing, they continue to install new attractions and exhibits, refresh and re-invent the ever-evolving museum to keep it and his dream alive.  You could visit the City Museum over and over and there is always something new to see because it is never done and according to their plan, it never will be.  They don’t just change out exhibit displays like most museums, they add and change even the structure.  Part of its one of a kind character is that there’s a surprise, a new wonder around every bend.  It would take days to see and do everything here, then it changes, again.  

City Museum plane MonstroCity

A fraction of the jungle gym labyrinth in MonstroCity!  Climb through several planes, dinosaurs and all kinds of cool things.

Some of the highlights & attractions include:  

Multi Floors:  They have slides and secret tunnels connecting most of the floors and several attractions spill out onto multiple levels. 

  • Treehouse–  Giant tree trunks, mazes and slides sprout from the 1st up through the 2nd & 3rd floors and burrowed into tunnels underneath the museum, and even outside the warehouse walls.
  • 10 story slide– The heart of the old shoe warehouse was a chute that workers used to drop goods down to the loading docks on the 1st floor. They turned it into the largest indoor slide in the Midwest.  There are approximately 30 slides in City Museum!  Entrance is through the Caves.  

 

  • MonstroCity– The largest outdoor sculpture in the US, constructed of salvaged stone and steel.  Visitors can climb through an outdoor playground that includes crawling through planes, fire engines, & castles.
  • MonstroCity Castle–  This castle is built from stones salvaged from an old St Louis home.  It houses the parking booth and they claim it is home to one of City Museum’s 2 ‘ghosts’.
  • Outside, in MonstroCity, are a pair of giant ball pits for everyone- adults, too!
  • go through a life-sized bowhead whale to the mezzanine above the aquarium
  • 18-foot shoe in the lobby that highlights footwear from around the world. 
  • Enchanted caves– The network of caves keeps growing to climb upward, spiral downward, turned a maze into a labyrinth, and you’ll spot dinos along the way!
  • Artquarium– An 11,000 square foot whimsical aquarium for 100s of real & imaginary fresh and saltwater sea creatures.   
  • 12 sculpted hippos designed by Cassilly for NYC’s Central Park.  After living there awhile, they replaced them with sturdier replicas and this original hippo family got to come home to ‘live’ at the City Museum.  
  • 1870s-era bank vault of the former First National Bank of St. Louis. 
  • Circus ring- Visit the circus every day with acrobatics, clowns, jugglers &/or magic shows. (circus times are posted on site)
  • Skateless park– A 7,500 square foot park that encourages visitors to climb and slide down skater ramps & ropes.  The world’s largest pencil at 2,000 pounds is here.  
  • Toddler town– smaller versions of slides and climbers give families and kids 6 and under a quieter, less intimidating experience.  There is even a room here for nursing mothers.
  • Occasionally Live music & performance art shows by local & touring musicians 
  • Privy museum– surprising artifacts found in old outhouses.
  • Bug room– stuffed taxidermy animals and a collection of butterflies and insects
  • vintage pinball arcade
  • Little ones can catch a ride on a miniature train through tunnels and ‘the solar system’!
  • an old time photo booth- Loved this, but, it is really hard to fit 6 people in one!  5 people or less is the best fit.
  • historic St Louis architecture  (historic architecture from Louis Sullivan is on the 4th floor) 
  • giant pair of men’s briefs.  Billed as ‘The World’s Largest Underpants,” they attract visitors from around the world, have a Canadian fan club, and is the 4th most photographed installation at City Museum!
  • A huge 9 x 40 foot terracotta section from architect Louis Sullivan’s magnificent cornice that once topped the Chicago Stock Exchange.    
  • A selection of glass lantern slide images from the New York Met Museum of Art 
  • St Louis Art Center exhibits by local & renowned contemporary artists.  
  • Art City has fun craft and art projects
  • Go inside a school bus that teeters atop the side of the 10 story roof!
  • Giant Green Praying Mantis sculpture on the roof that weights 3,000 pounds and is 24 feet tall!
  • fountains and giant slides
  • vintage Big Eli Ferris Wheel 
  • Climb up & through a Planetarium Dome on the rooftop, salvaged from the St. Louis Science Center during the Center’s remodel.

At times like being a bug crawling through the inner parts of a giant machine, others like a kid trespassing in an abandoned dreamworld.  

Safety-

City Museum was created nearly 30 years ago.  It is a genius marvel that an artist dreamed up, letting his imagination & creativity run wild, and then actually built it for the world to enjoy.  It is lovely and wild and fun.  It is not, however, the typical 2020 safety-proofed place that has covered every pinch-point and avoided every possible injury that could ever happen.  It’s more like something from our childhood, before everything was safety-proofed under a crush of lawsuits and heavy precaution.  Back when most didn’t wear seatbelts and kids rode in the back of pickup trucks or in the hatch of a car (which was super fun), but a bit risky in today’s lens.  It’s like that.  Not a highly dangerous place that you feel like leaving and won’t return, but one where you have to monitor and be with your kids at all times and exercise your own care and common sense.   You will have a blast.  It’s unlike anything you can do anywhere else.  It will make you feel like a kid, again.  But, be careful and watch your kids who didn’t grow up in the more care-free age we did.   

  • There are no maps.  You just explore as you go, which is very fun, but it would be easy to become separated and for little ones to get ‘lost’ for a bit here, so another reason to stick closely together.   
  • All of that crawling can be hard on adult knees.  The gift shop sells knee pads or you can bring your own.
  • Wear ‘play’ clothes that will absolutely get dirty and could possibly get torn.  It’s a huge, old building with slides and tunnels, and you will get dusty.  You’re crawling, scooting & sliding your way through like a kid loose in an abandoned wonderland and you’ll look it! 
  • Wear tennis shoes, too, and maybe even pants.
  • Don’t expect anything to be just a kids zone (other than Toddler Town).  Even the ball pits are loaded with adults playing.  In fact, in the evening, it was mainly adults at play, especially in the ball pits!  
City Museum sumo

One of my favorite pictures here, such joy!  Outside Beatnik Bob’s (Museum of Mirth, Mystery and Mayhem) on the 3rd floor.  

What the Wheats think:

The City Museum is a ton of fun and unlike anyplace else we’ve ever been or heard of.  There are so many cool things inside & out.  You’ll get some cool pictures, but you’ll be too busy to catch it all.  That’s ok, live in the moment!  You have to take care and take your time, but it’s a good workout and every section is a new challenge.  There are not many places in the world where you’re not only encouraged to play like a kid, again, but it’s required, which I love!  It’s places like these that keep us young and give great, unique family memories and amazing bonds.  This is a must-see (do) if you are anywhere near Missouri and it’s worth the trip if you’re not!  The Wheats will be back!  

 

 

 

City Museum planetarium dome

The boys climbing up & through the dome of an old planetarium.  Much higher than it looks! 

Good to Know:

  • Time– Plan on spending at least the whole day (or a couple!) here and you still won’t have time to see and find everything.  You wind down and shoot off into so many tunnels and rabbit holes that you won’t have time to do it all, but none of you will ever get bored!  Make a lovely day of it and you’ll all be worn out and plan to come back.
  • Eat & Drink– They have cafes, bars &/or delis on every floor, even the roof!
  • There is a traditional Gift Shop on the 1st floor, a vintage shoelace & lanyard gift shop on the 2nd, and a spot on the 3rd to buy surplus pieces of interesting local, often historic, architecture, such as decorative, stone building cornices, gargoyles & figurines.
  • Current Admission is $16 + tax for ages 3 & up for an all day pass.  To include the roof (which is a must!), tickets are $22 + tax.  The rooftop is seasonal and weather-permitting.  Membership plans are available for frequent visitors.  Buy online (skip the line) or at the door.  
  • Their hours vary by season and even by day, so check the calendar on their site.  Some days are closed, so check before going.  They typically open at 9a (11a Sundays) and close between 5- 11p.  
  • They have an After 5p tickets available.  
  • They have a bag and coat check
  • I wouldn’t recommend strollers, though many of the exhibit areas are handicap accessible.  Many interior spaces, however, are tight, uneven, or would be difficult with the twists and tight spaces, and the crowds, so it’s far more enjoyable without a stroller restricting you.    
  • Parking is downtown.  Their lot is $10.
  • They have a 4 story elevator that does not go to the roof.
  • Many phones are lost here, though they track their lost and found as well as they can.  Consider using a lanyard phone case like the ones we use to keep it from falling out of pockets and safely tucked inside your shirt.  
  • There are millions of photo opportunities and cool stuff to take a picture of, but you’re going to be so busy exploring, climbing & moving that you won’t catch a lot of it, but take some pix and your phone flashlight will come in handy in the dark caves & tunnels.    

City Museum

750 North 16th Street

St Louis, Missouri

 

 

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Once Upon a Wheat

Terri & Bill Wheat

Hey, there! I’m Terri & my husband Bill and I have 4 kids (2 boys & twin girls + a pup!) and we’ve been traveling since our kids were little. At this mid point in my journey, I’m trying to shove as much as I can into this precious gift of life and squeeze all the joy and growth and learning I can out of it. Making memories that matter, building a life of joy & meaning, actively pursuing my greatest potential. I have a zest for life, for learning, for growth & I want to give you the resources & inspiration to have better vacations and get more from your life!

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Visit City Museum in St Louis & Go Wild!