What comes to mind when you think of St. Louis? May you think of the Gateway Arch towering over the Mississippi River. Let me change your first thought to the most amazing play-art-adventure wonderland ever – The City Museum. It’s totally not a museum.

With so many free activities in St. Louis, the CIty Museum is the one not-free attraction that needs to be on your must-see St. Louis trip. Instead of “museum”, let’s call it what is really is. Play place. Amusement park. Fantasyland… No matter what you call it, this one-of-a-kind building deserves a whole day to fully enjoy it. Walkable from many downtown attractions, this museum is less than a mile from the statues at City Garden.

If all the surreal artists got together and put their Salvador Dali dreams into a real world structure, you’d have City Museum. It’s a fantasyland. It looks like a group of artists collaborated, put their wildest ideas together, and each took a portion of the 600,000 square foot building to decorate. This is exactly what has happened over the last thirty years. A group of sculptors, welders, and painters have slowly turned every corner of the 10-story former shoe factory into works of art. It even now extends onto the roof and outside. The minute you see the outside, you know you’re somewhere special.

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boy Climbing up a metal slide in the Outside play area of the City Museum in St. Louis, Missouri
Climbing Outside the City Museum

“But, Moo-oom. Not another museum…” (Insert child whine.)

Am I the only one whose kids complain no matter where you say you’re going? Especially when the word “museum” is involved? Show the kids the online pictures. Or these pictures from our trip. If these doesn’t make them shut up, just wait until they see the kids climbing all over the outside or airplanes on the roof or castle turrets. Maybe, just maybe, that will be enough. Make sure you tell them not to have any fun.

If you want to make them hush the complaints ahead of time, go to the museum website and show them what’s available on each level of the museum. Not only will this let them know what to expect, maybe you can work out a plan for not-getting-lost by having a scheduled meeting place ahead of time. As a disclaimer though, part of the excitement is not knowing what is around the next corner. Once your kids apply the word “museum” to this place, maybe all other museums will be met with a bit more optimism? One can hope.

Entrance Hall and Slide to the City Museum
Entrance Hall and Slide to the City Museum

Our favorite highlights

Some places are so indescribable that you just have to see it to believe it. City Museum is this place. And, honestly, not knowing what to expect makes it a bit more magical. Unless your kid is a major planner-controller (I have one!), I would keep the surprises. Makes it more fun. Expect the unexpected, and you won’t be disappointed. When there are no maps, they can’t plan.

  • MonstroCity – Outside playground. This is a great place to work on your fear of heights. Unless you’re staying inside with a solid ground underneath, there will be climbing involved and stairs and scooting and squeezing.
  • Slides – There are slides everywhere on every floor and of every size. The ten-story spiral slide follows the path of the original product chute; wait in line with your kids and meet them at the bottom. Several go outside the building.
  • Caves – It’s magical and dark and slightly creepy. But so fun.
  • Toddler Town – Third floor. Your bigs will not be impressed, but when your little is overwhelmed, come hang here for fewer people and less risk.
  • With so much to see, we missed the circus, pinball area, stateless park, and several others. You won’t cover everything in one trip.
Exploring the City Museum Cave System with concrete dinosaurs and a scary cave
Exploring the City Museum Cave System

You have been warned!

Stop here if you are a hovering parent who needs to have eyes on your overprotected kid at all times. Quit now and exit out. But, I’m telling ya, you’ll be missing out on an excellent place.

You will lose your children at some multiple points during your visit. Unless you plan on following your one child around, don’t take on this place unless you’re okay with a bit of craziness. Not only is organization difficult because of the building’s size, it is designed crazily. There actually is no map available. Your kid may go off in one direction and end up in a slide that takes him down to another floor. You had no warning because there are no directions; you just have to sit and wait.

Today is not the day to be an adult. Let your inner child come out! And let those magical, fun-loving kids of yours live their best day.

Airplanes, stairs, and tall metal bridges outside the ten story facade of the City Museum in St. Louis
Entrance Hall and Slide to the City Museum

Your warning didn’t work. What if we still want to go?

Excellent. You should go. Don’t be a chicken and let those kids be kids!

  • Give a bit of freedom and trust. You gotta.
  • Set a meeting place. Check in on the hour at the whale or potty.
  • Show them how the workers are dressed that way they can find help easier.
  • Buddy system at its best. Assign a sibling. If it’s only one kid, you’ve been promoted to sibling to play with the kid.
  • Remind them that other mommies can help if they get lost. However, they can’t call you if your phone ringer isn’t turned on. Crank up the volume and answer any unknown callers.
  • Take another parent or family. I took the four kids on my own; we survived. If you’re slightly concerned, grab some moral support.
  • Rent a locker for $8 at the front for water bottles and snacks. Thirsty kids are willing to meet up. Give them a time and bribe them with a drink.
The Whale on the First Floor of the City Museum
The Whale on the First Floor of the City Museum

Prepare for adventure

  • Closed toe shoes are required. Sandals will fall off and possibly be lost. They have to keep their shoes on.
  • Dress for craziness. Now is not the time for jeans and a cute shirt. You kids can’t explore in stupid clothes that have to be protected. Put on long comfy and bendy pants like leggings or exercise pants. They will go down slides smoother and faster if their legs are fully covered.
  • Parents. This does not exclude you; dress for adventure mom. When you have to crawl through a tube to find your kid, you will thank me.
  • This is a good day to whip out the matching shirts. Places like this are why we create yearly tie dye shirts!
  • Invest in glow-in-the-dark watches. They can’t meet you if they don’t know what time it is.
  • Headlamps. While this might seem excessive, I did see some wearing them, and they are not forbidden. Just make sure your kids know when and where this is appropriate; teach them red lights to not blind people. While you’re at it, maybe work on Morse code so you can find them in the dark?
  • Check out this pro tips page on their website.
  • Leave the backpacks and purses in the car or in the locker. This would be a great day to rock a fanny pack to hold your phone, bandages, hand sanitizer, and car keys.
  • Grab their knee pads for their skates. If you want some, they are available in the museum store. When you’re been crawling around forever, you’ll wish you had some.
The Bus and Airplane Soaring Over City Museum

Sounds like a lot. Is this just for active kids?

Nope. Even if you’re a sixty year old grandmother, go along with the group. You don’t have to do the slide, but you might be tempted when you see the other kids having a blast. Not to mention, it’s just an amazing playland with surprises around every corner. If, however, you are unsteady on your feet, there is a likelihood you will have kids running past you – maybe a walker would keep you from falling over. There is an elevator inside so no need to worry about climbing stairs. Follow the group and enjoy their craziness!

  • Enjoy the art and architecture. It really is a sight to behold.
  • Grab a seat – there are many. Grab a cave overhang or colorful bench and have a rest.
  • Head to the fourth floor to see some hanging art and architectural pieces like a “real” art museum.
  • Go sit outside on the porch and have a drink from the snack bar. Or the roof for an “adult beverage”.
  • Watch everyone else run above your heads outside in MonstroCity.
  • See the live animals in the aquariums.
  • Hang out on the third floor and enjoy the pinball machines.
  • Be the designated spot for meeting if someone gets lost. As a mom who went alone with four kids, having an extra adult would have been super helpful.
Climbing Overhead in the City Museum

What about wheelchairs?

If you have difficulty getting around or use a wheelchair, don’t let this discourage you. It says specifically online to let them know. Call ahead and see what accommodations there are. Their website mentions secret doors that staff can open to make exploring easier. Many areas a very spread out with plenty of space to maneuver. Depending on the disability, they might even be able to enjoy parts of the museum like the skatepark with ramps or toddler area with lower slides.

However, it depends on the person. For an adult, I’d say go for it; they can enjoy watching the kids. If your kid is handicapped or is one to feel left out, it might be best to stay away. There will be so much they are unable to experience as this is a big climbing place. Not to mention, there’s a lot of unsteady ground in the tunnels and structures; I wouldn’t want to get hurt.

Is it worth it?

With so many free places to visit in St. Louis, why would you want to spend money? Think of it this way: You can afford to spend the money because the rest of the town has been free! This is an investment you don’t want to miss out on. The cost of the museum is $18 per person online, $20 in person. People pay $100 a day for one person to go to Disney; City Museum is worth this for your whole family.

It is an extra $8 to pay to go onto the roof for a designated time. It does look amazing with towering heights and even a school bus parked over the roof, but for us, there was already plenty to do and see. Unless you are set on seeing the city from the roof, I don’t think this is necessary because you are going to have to haul your kids out of this place no matter. Everyone else online says it’s worth it as it even has a Ferris wheel, so maybe we missed out. Guess we just have to go again.

If you’re going to be there for more than a few hours, consider planning to get food at the snack bar or restaurant. There are plenty of options for a special treat.

Plan to park in the parking lot across the street for $10 on your credit card. If you’ve already been exploring St. Louis, check to see how much further the walk is over here.

Endless Tunnels at the City Museum
Endless Tunnels at the City Museum

What other reasons do you need to go to St. Louis? The City Museum of St. Louis is one of the most magical places I’ve ever seen.

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