Our request for suggestions of places to visit in St. Louis was met with an amazing number of responses. One location that we kept seeing mentioned was City Museum. We took a look at their website, and were intrigued by what appeared to be the world’s largest jungle gym. Now we may not be as young as we once were, but we were excited to add this location to our itinerary. Of course, we noted their suggestion to wear comfortable clothes that may get a tad bit dirty. With this in mind, we scheduled our visit to be in the back half of our day.
We want to thank the City Museum and Explore St. Louis for their hospitality. Rest assured that all opinions are our own.
1) Is It a Museum?
The name City Museum could be a little misleading. Upon hearing it, one may have visions of displays on the founding fathers of the community or early events that shaped the life of the citizens. Well, it’s not that kind of museum. We would describe it as an eclectic collection of re-purposed salvaged materials. When we arrived at the site, we were fortunate to find a parking spot on the museum grounds. If you aren’t as lucky, there are multiple lots nearby. We paid our $10 parking fee (cash only) and prepared for our experience. Our visit to St. Louis was in March, and we happened to hit a good weather day. The place was already literally crawling with guests. Admission is $14 per person, but drops to $12 after 5 pm on Friday and Saturdays. They give you wristbands, which allow for guests to leave and return. This was handy, as we did take a break during our visit for a dinner run. More about that later.
2) It’s Massive
Even as we were heading inside to the admissions area, we could already see the huge scale of this place. It is really hard to take it all in, and even when you think you have, there are surprises around the next corner. With the warming sun making a rare appearance this day, we decided to spend the first part on the outdoor structures. As we were making our way around the back and forth catwalks, we would suddenly get a new vantage point that showed us the true intent of the piece we just scaled. This dragon is a prime example. It is mixed into the jumble of tunnels, tubes, and cross-overs. Periodically we would come to a spot where we would look out and realize that there was a true theme to the piece we just explored.
3) Lots of Physical Activity
While City Museum tries to be as accessible as possible, there is no denying that exploring this place requires a good deal of physical exertion. Staircases lead off on a new adventure that may end with an upwards climb or a quick downward slide. Bridges and cross-overs aid in moving from one structure to the next. There are some spaces that can become quite cramped when busy. The castle in the top set of photos has a small tower that will accommodate about half a dozen guests comfortably. To get to it requires climbing a tiny spiral staircase that is only large enough for one at a time. This caused a traffic jam when you have some wanting up and others needing to go back down. Even with all of this congestion, everyone seemed hospitable to each other. After all, there are plenty of other spots to explore.
4) Heights – Lots of Them
Did we mention that there is a lot of climbing? While there are plenty of catwalks throughout the structures, there are some places that require a leap of faith to reach. In my younger days, I spent a short stint as a window cleaner, so heights are not my biggest concern. Crystal has her own ideas about that subject, but surprised me by being willing to explore beyond her comfort zone. Be warned that if you decide to scale to the highest heights, you may find yourself hanging out in a lofty space for a period of time. Some areas have tubes that cross, and traffic congestion will slow down progress. There are also spots, like the airplanes, where you can take a short break from climbing to catch your breath.
5) Lots of Slides
The old saying of what goes up must come down is certainly true at City Museum. Of course, they like to offer some entertaining ways to make the journey. There are an assortment of slides outside and inside for guests to enjoy. During one portion of our outside exploration, we were following a line of people along a predetermined path. As we filed along, we struck up conversations with some of our fellow guests. Amazingly, we found out that the couple in front of us had a connection to our hometown. As a matter of fact, the lady attended school with our daughter. We had a few minutes to chat before we realized that the path was leading us to a three-story slide. Next thing we know we are hurtling down to lower levels. Later we would discover a series of slides on the inside of the building. These included a five-story, which I rode, and a ten-story that we both took. By the way, the entrance to these slides is found through the indoor caves on the first floor. Be prepared to climb the stairs to the height you want to ride.
6) There is More Inside
Eventually, we decided to see what the inside held. We knew from our time at the admissions area that there was more to explore. The City Museum’s interior is just as wild as the outside. We quickly noticed that many of the structures were also designed to represent various creatures. A huge snake for a slide. An enormous whale, which allowed entrance through the mouth, and a multi-story dinosaur were just some of them. The first floor is home to the Caves. As the name would imply, it is a series of darker passageways that criss-cross each other. In the gift shop guests can purchase knee-pads and flashlights to aid in their explorations. We spent some time wandering through and saw lots of people crawling in and out of tunnels that were found all over this area. We noticed one kid attempting to squeeze through a hole that was quite tight for him. I made the suggestion that he attempt the hole right next to him, which was obviously larger. A friend of his chimed in that they were playing a game to see who could fit through the smallest hole. Clearly a game for people younger than us.
7) Hands-on Activities
City Museum has a couple of spaces that appear to be designed for engaging the younger crowds. In one room we saw various artwork stations where kids were creating their own masterpieces. Another enclosed space was designed to look like a circus tent. Here is a chance to catch a show, as an assortment of acrobatic endeavors are performed for guests watching from ringside seats. On the third floor is an area named Toddler Town. The same eclectic design is used here, but on a scale that is more appropriate for smaller tykes. Also on the third floor is the Skateless Skate Park. An interesting take on what has become an urban activity, this is set up with a series of ramps and half-pipes. Guests run the ramps, instead of skating. We watched for a moment, but quickly decided it was just a little more cardio than what we wanted.
8) Art Abounds
As we explored, we kept stumbling across various pieces of art. Some were large and obvious, while others were almost hidden. A series of bronze statues are scattered about, and we would see one in some of the most unique locations. Of course, almost every structure inside and out is a form of artwork. Whenever we would have to wait in a line we would have a moment to look at the detail of the pieces around us. It is then that we would realize the wide variety of found objects that were used in construction. What appears as a normal balcony rail ends up being a collection of heavy duty chisels and tools all welded into a new purpose. During your visit you will want to take a few moments at times to really look at the pieces around you. You will be amazed at what you discover.
9) Architectural Salvage
A common theme of City Museum is recovery and re-purpose. As we made our way from one level to the next, we would see architectural pieces that had been salvaged from other buildings. It was nice to know that many of these were rescued from the wrecking ball. While we have seen this type of reuse in other buildings we have visited, it was nothing on this scale. It really requires this type of attraction to be able to incorporate so many varieties into the collection. We found the best pieces on the third and fourth floors, but there are others scattered about the two lower levels. This is another thing you will want to keep an eye peeled for during your wandering. It would be easy to make a game of seeing who can find the oddest items. Trust us that it would be hard to pick a winner. (Think huge hornets nest or bug collection.)
10) There are Refreshments
I mentioned earlier that the wristbands come in handy. In most cases, we would have found something on-site to satisfy any cravings. Since we were on a blog trip, we had actually arranged a Happy Hour dinner at a nearby restaurant. The in-out access allowed us to head down and return later without having to pay again. For those not wanting to leave, don’t fret. There is some sort of refreshment available on most of the floors. The first floor has a snack shop that doubles as a coat check area. Sandwiches, pizza, and cookies can be found on the Mezzanine level. On the third floor, the Baby Elephant Cafe serves up circus fare. When the rooftop is open, (We were too early in the season) there is a cantina serving up some Mexican food options. There is even an outdoor grill zone where guests can order up some BBQ specialties. An adult beverage lounge named Beatnik Bob’s is located on the third floor. Here you can check out an assortment of old-school pinball machines, while taking a break from exploring. They even have a pair of the world’s largest tighty-whiteys. (You have to see them for yourself.)
So you may have noticed that there were not a lot of people in the pictures with cameras. City Museum is not exactly what we would call camera friendly. Don’t get me wrong, they don’t mind people taking pictures. It is just that this attraction is more of a hands-on experience that requires both hands. We knew this going in, so we first took our Canon DSLR in to get some good shots, before heading off to dinner. When we returned, we switched to our Nikon point-and-shoot, which has a better shock-resistance. Of course, that means we gave up some of the better chances for good shots in the darker areas of the interior. As a matter of fact, after a little while, I just put it in my pocket and enjoyed the place like a non-blogging human. (Yeah, that is a little weird to me.) In the long run, I was satisfied with what we were able to capture, and feel it gives an overall sense of the magnitude of City Museum. The rest of you will just have to see for yourself. If you have visited City Museum tell us in the comments what your favorite part was. We will be sure to check it out on our next visit.
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I’m pretty sure you saw the vault room with a human sized hamster wheel and the door to a huge repurposed bank vault. We rented the place for a wedding about 2 years ago and it was an incredible locale.
There was just so much to see in this place. It seemed like every turn was a new adventure.
Just went there on Monday with our 5-year-old grandson. Wow! He and our son were able (and willing!) to maneuver crawling through rebar tunnels and sliding down, while I was taken by the sheer creativity with repurposed materials. The newels in the staircases, for example, are creatively painted paten rollers from printing presses. Other parts of the presses, including typeset boxes and indicias, were used as wall and column art. Apparently, the huge building used to house a printing company, as well as a thread/fabric manufacturer. The salvaged gargoyles and Art Deco architecture (e.g., the Avalon Thestre) are a trip down memory lane. No more spoilers from us… Go explore it for yourself!
It is an amazing collection of re-purposed materials everywhere you look. Glad you all enjoyed your visit.
The rooftop has a Ferris wheel, a school bus is proped halfway over the edge of the building that of course you can get in and explore and there is a huge praying mantis sculpture up there! Also there is a kind of hands on aquarium there (that is an extra admission fee from the general admission) but you can pet the different type of sea life and some of the tanks are built in a way so you can walk to a spot in the middle of the water and veiw from the center of the tank. It takes many visits to even begin to see it all!
That is so true. I know we are already discussing a return visit.
The second floor of the City Museum has a collection of restored shoelace manufacturing machines (Alox Mfg. Company of St. Louis) from which you can buy actual shoelaces made on them and watch them being made. They use lots of bright colors and it was kind of fun to get a pair of high quality excellent shoe laces in my school colors! I know that sounds like kind of a weird souvenir, but like much at the City Museum, you have to see this to appreciate it.
We did get to see this, but forgot to take a picture. Later, it was closed up.