The City Museum in St. Louis: A Unique Playground for All Ages
The City Museum is one of those places you have to see in person to believe. Not your typical museum in any way, the City Museum is more like a giant jungle gym full of slides, tunnels, caves, and secret tunnels. Where else can you climb inside a giant whale, shimmy up a tunnel to an airplane, or ride down a 10 story slide? In addition, there are the more typical museum exhibits of unique and quirky collections.
*This post was written during 2021 and updated in 2022. Restrictions such as masks are no longer required.
The museum had its start back in 1993 when the late Bob Cassilly purchased the old shoe factory and warehouse. Along with a team of artists, sculptors, and welders, Cassilly constructed the most unique attraction you will likely find anywhere. This massive playground has been built using industrial salvage items in innovative ways with an artistic flair.
There are no maps for the City Museum. Getting lost (and losing your children) are all part of the experience. It’s almost a treasure hunt to see what you discover around each corner.
The museum is part traditional museum with exhibits and part giant playground. You can find displays on structural artifacts, fossils, and more.
When you first enter the museum, you are greeted with the main staircase. Off to your right is the gift shop and the giant whale. You can also find the treehouse climbing area with its array of tunnels and climbers.
The first floor also has the infamous caves. The caves were hand sculpted by Cassilly and his team to appear as authentic as possible. Be prepared to bump your head and scrape your knees while following your kids through tight passages and tunnels. You can also walk through more open portions to avoid feeling claustrophobic. This is an area where we always seem to get lost or go in circles but the kids absolutely love it.
The caves also offer access to the 5 story and 10 story slides. There is no elevator to the top of the 10 story slide, you have to climb the stairs. A giant pipe organ sits by the slides.
The second floor features an aquarium along with additional tunnels and stairs to access the caves and treehouse. You can also watch shoelaces of all things being made. There is also an 1870s bank vault and the hall of mirrors.
The third floor features a variety of collections and curiosities including the world’s largest pencil and a pinball arcade. This is also where the Toddler Town Area is located. This area features smaller slides and climbing structures for kids 6 and under.
The fourth floor features the Art Center and a collection of architecture pieces. The 4th floor is also where the elevator or stairs to the roof are located.
Admission to the roof costs extra, but there are some great things to explore. You can climb on to a school bus suspended over the edge. There is a giant ramp to climb up to a huge praying mantis. (And your thighs will be feeling it after climbing!) There is also the dome that was removed during the renovation of the St. Louis Science Center’s Planetarium.
My kids favorites on the roof were the giant slides and the ferris wheel. The view from the ferris wheel is great.
I think everyone’s favorite part of the whole museum was MonstroCity. MonstroCity is located outside and is weather dependent to be open. It features so many things to explore and climb and squeeze into and down. There are castle structures, bridges, planes, and slinky like tunnels.
Overall, the City Museum is a place you should visit if you are in St. Louis. While it can be tricky with little ones, older kids will especially have so much fun bringing out their inner ninja warrior. It’s also not just for kids. I visited the City Museum three times as an adult before I even had kids and had a blast. Now it is even more exciting as I watch the joy and amazement on my own kids’ faces.
Because of the uniqueness and possible hazards of the museum, here are my best tips for visiting:
- Buy Tickets Online: They do not currently have specific day/time reservations but buying your ticket online can save you time in line and the ticket is good for any date that year. Admission is $20 for anyone 3 and up which includes the indoor activities and MonstroCity outdoor access. The rooftop is an additional fee when open March-October. Pinball hall is an extra $6 for all day play.
- Avoid Peak Times: Visit on a weekday or on a weekend visit early or late if possible to avoid crowds.
- Parking: The official lot is right in front of the museum and costs $10 (currently credit only). Another $10 lot is right across the street or you can use meters. Leave no valuables in you car.
- Plan at least a half day: This is not a place you can get through in an hour or two. We normally spend about 4 hours and could easily spend all day.
- You will probably lose your kids: This is not a place for helicopter parenting. It is a giant maze. I strongly recommend one adult per younger child ratio if you can. Often when there is a spot small enough for only kids to climb through, you can find an adult sized tunnel or door nearby. You may want to write your cell number on your kids wristband or pick a designated area to meet if you get separated.
- Best for kids 4 and up: While the Toddler area is designed for little ones and all ages can find plenty to explore, the museum really is geared more towards kids slightly older. This is no rubber padded play place. You can bring a stroller and there is an elevator, but it can be crowded in some areas to push a stroller.
- Dress appropriately: Wear closed toed shoes. This is not the place for flip-flops. Pants are recommended. Even knee pads can be handy. I always have bruised knees from all the tunnels.
- Pack Light: Leave your coat or bulky bags in the car. There are tight places to squeeze through especially if chasing kids. Pockets with zippers to keep things from falling while climbing can help. If you happen to have or want a fanny pack like this, this is a perfect place to make use of it. If you can fit in a small flashlight, it is handy for the caves.
- Height Restrictions: Many of the slides have height requirements of 42″ or 48″. Check before you get in line or climb up 10 stories worth of stairs!
- Prepare for bumps: You will probably end up with scrapes and bruises. My kids always knock their heads on something. Bringing along a couple band aids wouldn’t hurt.
- Food & Drink: No outside food and drink (other than water) is allowed. There are several food choices found throughout the museum. You can exit and reenter, just keep your wristband on.
- Restrooms: They are found on each floor, usually on the side of the building facing the parking lot. The busiest is right across from the gift shop on the 1st floor. There are also some by the aquarium and the mirror maze.
- Map: There are no printed maps. You can find a painted map on the wall near the Toddler Town area on the third floor.
*Disclaimer: We were gifted tickets to the museum as part of a social media promotion by the City Museum. All opinions are our own.