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Why St. Louis' City Museum Is Ahead of Its Time

March 9, 2022, 12:07 PM · One of the best parts of my job is that I’ve had the opportunity and privilege to visit hundreds of theme parks, attractions, museums and other leisure destinations over the past 25-plus years. From billion-dollar theme parks to homegrown museums created by local volunteers to everything in between. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed visiting each and every one of these visitor experiences, as each provides insight into the myriad of ways in which guests can be entertained and educated.

So, you would think that when someone asks, “What’s your favorite attraction?” this would be an impossible question to answer – almost like asking a parent to name their favorite child. Not for me. My answer always comes quickly and is always the same – City Museum.

For those who haven’t had a chance to visit this unique hybrid attraction, City Museum is a one-of-kind art installation/museum/attraction/performance venue/aquarium/bar/event center housed within a hundred-year-old warehouse in downtown St. Louis, Missouri, USA.

Local artist Bob Cassilly and his then-wife Gail Cassilly took the former International Shoe Company factory and transformed it into a magnificent, Gaudi-esque walkthrough art installation, filled with magical tunnels, slides, climbers, bridges, and castles built from repurposed architectural and industrial objects found within the former factory and the greater city (thus the name, “City Museum”).

Entrance
Photos courtesy City Museum

The allure of the attraction is not only its unique aesthetic and diverse offerings, but its opportunities for discovery. As you explore each floor, you’ll find grand galleries and secret passages. You’ll find local artifacts, next to playgrounds and ball pits. Venture to the rooftop where you’ll find an old Ferris wheel and a school bus precariously perched over the side of the building.

MonstroCity

Running through all 10 floors of the building, you’ll find the hand-sculpted Enchanted Caves, which feature a variety of sculptures staring out from the walls, including mythical creatures, historic Egyptian royalty and a 1925 Wurlitzer organ. Make your way through the caves to find a number of slides located at various heights, designed within chutes originally used to quickly transport shoes.

Enchanted Caves

A wonderful aspect of City Museum is that it’s fun for all ages. By way of example, the very first time I visited the facility was during an evening event for a museum conference, right after the museum opened in late 1997. To see one curator or academician after another sliding down the 10-story slide squealing with delight tells you all you need to know about how the attraction connects to guests of all ages and backgrounds.

First floor

The museum also features free daily performances by Circus Harmony, an internationally celebrated social circus, featuring acrobats, jugglers, clowns, and magicians. A resident school teaches students valuable life skills as they learn how to work together to put on the shows.

Circus Harmony

Hungry or want to enjoy an adult beverage? There are plenty of food and beverage offerings throughout the museum, all presented within amazing environments. Have a wine slushie within a 19th-century cabin; enjoy popcorn, nachos and Bavarian pretzels within a re-purposed bank vault or relax with a snack at the Rooftop Café. The museum’s food offerings and dining environments are as diverse as the rest of the facility.

I not only love City Museum for its unique guest experience, but for its authenticity, its innovation and outright boldness. City Museum is a living testament to the power of creativity and paved the way for current attractions such Meow Wolf or Area 15, proving that when you combine artistic expression with “why not?” the possibilities are endless.

Visit City Museum at www.citymuseum.org. Shawn McCoy is Executive Vice President, JRA – Part of RWS Entertainment Group.

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Replies (8)

March 9, 2022 at 12:41 PM

The City Museum is such a bizarre yet delightful place. The combination of art, history, and playground makes it such an interesting place to spend a few hours, especially with children and those who are young at heart. I found myself chasing my then 4-year old son through tubes, caverns, up warped walls, and into towering metal structures it made me feel like a kindergartner again.

March 9, 2022 at 2:36 PM

This is one of my favorite things to recommend people when they visit St. Louis -- happy to see it get some love.

March 9, 2022 at 11:12 PM

WOW talk about timing. If baseball gets their act together the plan is to visit Kansas City and Saint Luis late June to see both ball parks, drive to silver dollar and visit this place for my son! Anybody got suggestions where to fly in from CA and where to stay?

March 10, 2022 at 7:21 AM

visited for the first time a couple years ago. what a unique, fun and adventurous place. my only complaint was i didn't have my 10 year old body to get me through all of the wonderful obstacles, mazes and the most amazing slides i've ever seen. but even observing from the sidelines was a blast!

March 10, 2022 at 8:50 AM

@Madvaz I used to do a bit of traveling into Kansas City and St. Louis for work and I'd recommend flying into Kansas City for ease and cost savings if you can swing it. With that said, I'm a big fan of St. Louis for the variety of food and attractions in the city (not a dig towards Kansas City, which also has a lot of cool stuff), so if your airport destination is going to impact how long you stay in one city vs. another... I'd at least cross-shop the flights.

Anyway, take a look at Delta into Kansas City (especially if you're flying from Southern California). Hope you'll get to catch some baseball, but even if you don't, it'll be a great trip.

March 10, 2022 at 9:19 AM

If you're planning on combining baseball into your trip, a visit to KC has to include the Negro Leagues Museum located east of the Power and Light District. The last time we went to St. Louis, we combined that trip with a drive up to Chicago/Milwaukee and back down through Santa Claus. We considered the loop through Missouri (St. Louis, Branson, and KC), but Chicago was more appealing at the time. It's really frustrating how difficult it is to travel to Branson, which for us isn't more than a 2-day stop, but KC and St. Louis are both great cities that provide more than enough attractions to fill a week.

We too are waiting for MLB to get its act together before locking in our summer trip, which is tentatively planned for Dallas/Austin/San Antonio (the Nationals are currently scheduled to play the Rangers the last weekend of June). We'll still probably make the trip to Texas, but the timing and details will obviously change if the baseball schedule changes or is cancelled.

March 11, 2022 at 1:10 AM

Looks like baseball season is on! Thanks for the tip Jacob and Russell. I think we plan to stay at least 7 days. The negro league museum is def in the cards, so is the drive to silver dollar. I thought about flying in KC and fly out Saint Luis but then I think I'll get charge for leaving a rental car at another airport. I'm in No Cal so I'll look into Delta

March 11, 2022 at 9:32 AM

Great call on the Negro Leagues Museum -- that's another wonderful stop. I've done a lot of rental car booking with National and they've (generally) been flexible with car pick ups and drop offs (even when changing the location) — especially if you're doing a longer drive. I'd shop around a little if you have the time and patience to see if you can get a good deal, especially if it'll make your life easier once you're on the ground.

Happy to hear we'll get a baseball season -- should make for a great trip.

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