A Visit To St. Louis’ City Museum

When you hear the words “City Museum,” you might picture a building devoted to recording and educating the public about the history of a city—in this case, St. Louis, Missouri. You would be wrong. The building does contain bas-reliefs and barrels, retired safe deposit boxes and a vault—pieces of the city’s history. But you won’t find a single interpretive sign, because the City Museum is a three-story indoor-outdoor adventure playground built from salvage items.

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Inside City Museum, you will find:

  • a three-story tree house with spiderweb netting and tunnels around the roots
  • hidey-holes, under-the-floor tunnels, behind-the-walls mazes, and wire mesh tube passages linking lower floors to upper floors, and from one play area to the next
  • a ‘circus’ with trapeze performances
  • a kiddie train and art area
  • a skateboard-like park (without skateboards)
  • the ‘enchanted caves’ featuring a pipe organ played by a live musician as well as a central shaft with spiral staircases to access the 5-and 10-story slides

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The outdoor courtyard offers:

  • Two suspended airplanes, with wire-mesh cage-ladders and staircases leading to them
  • a castle tower with dungeon
  • slides
  • ball pits

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On the roof (open weather permitting; requires an additional fee):

  • a Ferris wheel
  • more slides
  • a school bus protruding from the corner
  • a three-story dome with a cage fitted to the underside for climbing

The City Museum is an explorer’s paradise. Tunnels, hidey-holes and mazes are packed into every nook and cranny. Your kids (and you!) can spend all day exploring and not see everything.

Safety at City Museum:

About now, readers are probably wondering about safety. Rest assured, the museum is exceptionally well-designed. Yes, you will be very high off the ground. Yes, the cage-ladders are wire mesh. But they are very sturdy. The only two mishaps in our day involved head bumps at ground level; both times, staff members had ice packs on hand.

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Getting the most out of your visit:

  • Adults: Come with an openness to adventure! Most pathways are big enough for adults (though they’re definitely a better size for kids). It’s a big place, and virtually everything is connected to everything else via tunnel or hidey hole. You can’t sit in one place and see every possible exit point, so plan to explore alongside your kids.
  • If you or your kids have severe issues with heights or enclosed spaces, this place might not be your cup of tea.
  • Lose the jewelry and wear long pants and sneakers. You’ll be on your knees a lot, and sandals will get caught on the wire mesh. In the winter, make use of the coat check to travel light.
  • In certain areas, even teens must have an adult on hand for entry.
  • Identify a meeting place in case someone gets lost.
  • Use the sharpies at the front desk to write your phone number on the admission wristbands, so if a child does get lost, s/he can ask an adult to call you. (Keep your phone in your pocket on vibrate. You’ll never hear it ring.)
  • Plan to spend as much time as you possibly can. My crew and I spent six hours there. My four-year-old had his fill after about four, but the older kids would have stayed until the museum closed.
  • There ARE some height restrictions. Check them out here.
  • There are no maps, because there is no point. The matrix is fabulously complex. It’s a place to be explored, not navigated.
    Explore the website before going; it has lots of useful information.

city-museum

Accessibility:

A few areas can accommodate a wheelchair/stroller, but in general, expect to be on foot. We didn’t bring our daughter, who wears knee-high orthotics; she would have had trouble getting around. During our visit, however, I did see a family with a visually impaired child navigating the outdoor matrix with the help of a touch cane.

Shopping/Food:

The gift shop offers souvenirs and clothing. Parents—one particularly useful item offered is knee pads! Those wire meshes can be rough on grownups! Also check out the Shoelace Factory for brightly-colored laces made using vintage factory machines.
Five eating establishments run the gamut from “circus fare” (popcorn, cotton candy, hot dogs) to sandwiches, salads, pizzas, and doughnuts. One even offers alcoholic beverages. Some are only open seasonally, so check the website.

Hours/Admission:

The City Museum is open Wednesday and Thursday from 9-5, Friday and Saturday 9 to midnight, and Sunday 11-5. Admission is $12 for ages 3 and up, with an extra $5 fee to visit the roof. Admission is discounted after 5 on Friday or Saturday, and annual memberships are available. The outdoor areas are open only in good weather. There’s lots to explore indoors, but if you can, plan around the weather.

Getting there:

The City Museum is at 750 North 16th Street, St. Louis, MO. Two parking lots are available adjacent to the building for $5.

My family and I visited as guests of the City Museum; our opinions are our own.

About the author

Kathleen Basi Freelance writer Kathleen Basi has lived her entire life in "flyover country," but she's an old pro at road trips, having taken the first of many extended driving vacations at the tender age of five. She's a huge proponent of letting kids see and experience the space between "here" and "there." Find her at http://kathleenbasi.com/blog/.

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