It’s hard to find the words to describe just how crazy the City Museum in St Louis is. The best I can come up with is a ‘giant creative steam punk playground’! It’s definitely not your typical museum! It’s literally a giant mash of sculptures, where everything can be climbed on/up/through or slid down! This is the work of Bob Cassilly and his team of 20 other artists and sculptors! The City Museum opened in 1997 and is built in a disused building that was part of the International Shoe Company Factory.
I’ll start with the section which is as close to a museum as you’ll probably see at the City Museum! Sticking to its roots of being a shoe factory, the City Museum is home to an old fashioned WORKING shoelace making machine. It’s actually really cool seeing how the cords are braided together to create a lace! There’s a small shop where you can buy funky coloured shoe laces and various styles of friendship bracelets, necklaces and key rings! (I tell a lie, there is a room full of dead bugs and it looks as if an Ancient Egyptian area is under construction too!)
Tips for visiting the City Museum St Louis
The City Museum states that there are no maps. I honestly think maps would be a waste of paper because it would be impossible to truly map out (digital ‘sketches’ can be found on the website though)! We also discovered that there’s no point in trying to stick together as a big group. There are so many tunnels and no telling where they are going to come out! For example, two boys in our group went up a tunnel and we said we’d take the stairs. I have no idea where that tunnel went, it certainly didn’t run parallel to the stairs and we never saw the boys again (well their parents of course tracked them down and we eventually saw them later BACK AT THE CAR…it was at that point we decided to split up…and if I had a kid, I’d be suffering from anxiety!). The entrance wristbands have a space to write a phone number on…I’d recommend making use of this for children.
Now I’m 5ft 4 so I’m by no means tall, but there were a lot of spaces I wouldn’t have been able to physically fit through. I managed to get myself into one tunnelled area that gradually got smaller and smaller and I’m not going to lie, a little bit of claustrophobia did start to settle in, thankfully it widened out before I got ‘wedged in the pipe’ like Augustus Gloop in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVED my time at the City Museum and just like a small child, I had to be dragged away kicking and screaming when the rest of the group decided it was time to leave, BUT I wish I had knee pads!!! Why?! Check out this tunnel that I had to crawl through…
…being sculptures, rather than play equipment, there were a lot of structures that were like this and let me tell you, after a while those metal bars begin to hurt!! My knees were bruised for days! If you don’t take your own knee pads, the main gift shop do have them for sale. I tried to crawl on my hands and feet but there wasn’t always the space to do this, there was no choice but to ‘knee crawl’!
I know it’s ‘totally uncool’, but I really wish I had a bum bag (yes a bum bag because in the UK fanny means something different so I’m not calling it a fanny pack)! I think a backpack would be too big for the already small tunnels, my smallish shoulder bag kept flapping around when I was trying to crawl, I needed something strapped to my belly so it was out of the way…I saw a girl with a bum bag on and was like ‘yes my friend, you have completely the right idea’!
(Yes this tunnel is as small as it looks and yes I did manage to fit up it!)
Features of the City Museum
The entrance ‘hall’ looked like it had been pulled right out of Barcelona, Spain and dumped in St Louis, Missouri! It’s style is very ‘Antoni Gaudi’, lots of mosaics, colours and wavy lines. There’s a large main staircase that connects all 4 floors, but then like every dream come true, if you can’t be bothered to walk back down because that’s BORING, you simply take the slides!
Speaking of slides, one of the most impressive parts of the City Museum is the 10 storey spiral slide, even the look of it is impressive! It is reached by passing through the Enchanted Caves (!!) which is big enough for adults to walk around without needing to crawl…unless you want to of course! The caves are very dimly lit and I wouldn’t be able to tell you how I found the slide because I don’t even know how I found it! I just stumbled across it, it’s all part of the adventure! It’s a longggggg walk to the top! Smaller children are expected to go down the 5 storey slide as the 10 storey one has a minimum height of 48 inches.
Once you reach the top, there’s a choice of two slides, the left hand one is apparently a little steeper and faster than the right hand one. By the time I had climbed all the stairs I was sweating like a pig and had taken my long sleeve top off…in hind sight I should have put it back on before going down the slide because I did get a small friction burn on my elbow. Because of this I would recommend wearing long sleeves for the slide! It wasn’t the most comfortable ride down as it consists of sheets of metal welded together and you had to hold yourself in a banana shape to stop your shoes from rubbing against the sides!
The two main indoor crawling/tunnel/climbing areas. One is a an underwater theme, with lots of sparkly mosaics (watch the fish patterns turn into 1 cent coins once you enter the gift shop!) and a textured ceiling that gives you the impression of being underwater! There’s even a real fish tank! This area transitions into the tree house which actually spans three of the floors…again with slides!
Floor three is another jam packed floor, with an actual circus ring. On the Saturday that I visited the circus had four performances during the day. There’s a miniature railway that I was GUTTED I was too big for, it’s only meant for kids as I think the tunnel it goes through is a little too small and adults may get decapitated, still, it was a risk I would have been willing to take! The ‘Skateless Skate Park is home to a GIANT pencil and lots of skateboard ramps with, you guessed it, no skateboards! It didn’t stop the kids though, they were running up ramps and sliding down them, it looked like they were in training for Ninja Warrior! Beaknik Bob’s is a retro bar with old arcade games and even a band playing live music!
My favourite part of the City Museum was the outside ‘Monstrocity’! I found it easier to climb around in this area! It features two old aeroplanes where the path takes you across the wing! I even climbed up and sat on the roof of one! (Everything is kinda climbable but they do say ‘COMMON SENSE PREVAILS’ so bare this in mind and use your own judgement as to what you’re confident and capable of doing!). Two castle turrets act as observation towers, there’s a vertical drop slide (as well as MORE regular slides!), a giant ball pit and a giant metal archway you can crawl through if you have a head for heights!
When you’re in the Monstrocity, don’t forget to LOOK UP. On the corner of the roof you’ll see a yellow school bus literally hanging over the edge of the building. The roof is open during the summer and costs an additional $5. There are more climbable sculptures and slides and even a ferris wheel and a pond!
Parking at the City Museum
Be aware of car park touts!! The only official museum parking lot is the one that runs alongside the ‘Monstrocity’ outdoor area and costs $10 CASH. There are a couple of guys that jump out into the road in front of you being like ‘Oh! City Museum parking this way!’ and will herd you into a car park that costs more than the official one and is further away from the entrance and has NOTHING to do with the City Museum. Don’t trust Google maps, it’ll send you to the street that has these car parks in rather than going one block further along to the official one!
Hours: Mon – Thurs (9am until 5pm), Fri – Sat (9am until midnight), Sun (11am until 5pm)
Admission: $14 (plus tax) ages 3 and up…yup kids and adults cost the same! $10 (plus tax) after 5pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
Find out more at the City Museum St Louis website.
This place is awful to photograph due to the lighting, so the pictures just don’t do it justice! I’ve never visited anywhere like it before and I thought it was absolutely brilliant, it’s a sensory overload! You’ll just have to visit and see it for yourself!
Other Things To Do in St Louis
St Louis also sits along Historic Route 66! You can read my whole Route 66 road trip series here!