If you are taking a trip to St. Louis you ABSOLUTELY MUST visit the City Museum. Kids or no kids – don’t even ask what it is – put it on your bucket list RIGHT NOW.
We first discovered it a year ago while on our cross country bus trip. Our first stop was in St. Louis and we were looking for something fun to do since it was Tyler’s birthday. We went, not knowing what to expect, and found it to be absolutely mind blowing.
The first thing I read about (when researching the City Museum) was the famous 10 story slide (YES I absolutely said TEN STORY SLIDE) but I was not prepared for the sheer excitement, incredulous wonder, and core exhaustion that would accompany us!
The City Museum is like a living breathing work of art. An old shoe factory originally- it is evolving constantly with new additions.
In fact they have said:
“Usually, the way something gets built is a board gets together and comes up with a mission statement, and they do a search for an architect, and they go through an approval process, and they start raising funds, and by the time something gets built, they forget what it was for in the first place. When we get an idea here, we start building it that afternoon.” -City Museum
We found that to be true. We were amazed by all the new additions to the museum since our visit 10 months ago.
This place is incredible. Just look at SOME of the playground outside!
It is no easy feat to walk through there if you’re terrified of heights like I am! It IS, however, the PERFECT place for my daredevil husband and kids…especially Tyler! Safety with the feeling of terror. There are (almost) no rules except for a few safety height requirements. The building is meant to be climbed on, in and through.
City Museum was collectively one of the top highlights from our trip around the country, so when we were mapping out our route to get to Texas for my brother’s wedding we deliberately routed ourselves through St. Louis so we could enjoy another day at one of the coolest places on earth!
Here is a little history of the City Museum found on WIki:
“City Museum is a play house museum, consisting largely of repurposed architectural and industrial objects, housed in the former International Shoe building.
Popular among residents and tourists, the museum bills itself as an “eclectic mixture of children’s playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel.” Visitors are encouraged to touch, climb on, and play in the various exhibits. “Don’t touch the art” is never commanded; although safety docents are present on each of 11 floors.
The City Museum has been named one of the “great public spaces” by the Project for Public Spaces, and has won other local and international awards as a must-see destination.
City Museum was founded by artist Bob Cassilly and his then-wife Gail Cassilly. The museum’s building was once an International Shoe Company factory and warehouse but was mostly vacant when the Cassillys bought it in 1983. Construction began in January 1995.
The City Museum opened to the public on October 25, 1997. Within two years, it was drawing 300,000 visitors a year.
The museum has since expanded, adding new exhibits such as MonstroCity in 2002, Enchanted Caves and Shoe Shaft in 2003, and World Aquarium in 2004.
Cassily remained the museum’s artistic director until his death in 2011.
A circus ring on the third floor offers daily live acts. The City Museum also houses The Shoelace Factory, whose antique braiding machines makes colorful shoelaces for sale.”
The entire building is one magnificent piece of art, all intended to be touched, climbed on, explored and experienced. In a world of helicopter parenting and “Do not touch” signs this “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” encourages exploration and imagination.
They make a point of not giving out maps to the museum and instead encourage you to simply explore.
Behind every corner was a tunnel entrance or the start of another adventure. For Tyler it was heaven on earth, although ALL enjoyed it!
The museum is comprised of multiple floors of adventures, each with its own theme:
“The original part of the museum, the first floor is home to a life-size Bowhead Whale that guests can walk through and view a large fish tank from the mezzanine or the always popular “Puking Pig.”
Also on the first floor, are a number of tunnels that run across the ceiling, hiding above a sea of fiberglass insulation cut to give the impression of icicles.
To get into these, one can climb up a Slinky, which is an old refrigerating coil (donated by Anheuser-Busch),
or through a tree house which leads into a giant hollowed out tree that leads to a cabin on the other side of the floor.
The floor itself is covered with the largest continuous mosaic piece in the US, which then morph their way up columns, consuming every section of this floor. In one area is a tunnel known as the “Underground Whaleway” which runs beneath the floor and into the “Original Caves.”
Enchanted Caves and Shoe Shaft
One of the museum’s most popular attractions, the Enchanted Caves and Shoe Shafts run through the center of the Museum, and go all the way to the 10th floor.
Opened in 2003, the Caves are an elaborate cave system hand-sculpted by Bob Cassilly and his crew.
From every direction, a different creature is staring back.
Since 2007, the Caves have also held a 1924 Wurlitzer Pipe Organ from the Rivoli Theatre in New York City.
The Shoe Shafts were developed from structures built for the International Shoe distribution operation. To get the shoes from various floors to the loading dock, staff would place the shoes on spiral shafts. The Shafts opened in 2003 with one three-story spiral slide, and five years later added a ten-story slide that starts at the roof and goes down to the Caves’ entrance.”
The Shoelace Factory has shoelace machines from the 1890s. Visitors can order custom-made laces.
And outside you will find: MonstroCity!!!
Located in front of the building, MonstroCity features two Sabreliner 40 aircraft fuselages suspended high in the air,
A castle turret,
Four-foot-wide slinkies that can be crawled through… one very high that leads to a slide,
And two ball pits, one for young children and one for older ones, each pit being filled with large, rubber dodge balls.
The Cabin Inn is an early-19th-century log cabin located beneath MonstroCity. Originally the home of the son of Daniel Boone, it was owned by the Hezel family for more than a century and is now a bar and entertainment venue.“
The roof has a small old-fashioned Ferris Wheel.
It also has a slide that goes under a small pond.
The pond has stepping stones that go from one side to the other.
The roof also has a school bus that had actually worked once, extending past the edge of the building.
Visitors can walk in the school bus and open the door from the driver’s seat.
Also found on the roof are a giant rope swing contained in a free-standing aluminum dome underneath the roof’s centerpiece; a giant metal praying mantis.
It is possible to climb a series of enclosed metal ladders inside the dome (of an old planetarium) to an exit at the top.
The entire experience was mind-blowing…a feast for the eyes and for all the senses. The attention to detail, the creativity and artistic detail made for incredible photo opportunities, although the grandeur simply can’t be captured by a lens.
The little details made it an photographic treasure hunt as all of us stumbled across one cool shot after another.
We were there 7 hours and could have stayed another 7. It was definitely one of the coolest places we have EVER been. For $12.00/ person we felt we got our money’s worth 100 times over! Honestly, I cannot even begin to tell you how A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. the City Museum is. These photos do it NO justice as most of the pictures I took just looked like abstract chaos of intertwining branches, rooms, rock, tile, coils, and everything else that the museum is created from. You absolutely have to experience it for yourself – it will blow you away.
But be forewarned – at the end of the day you’ll be utterly exhausted but dreaming of your next visit to the City Museum!