10 tips for visiting the City Museum


I promised you one last post from the road, this time from the City Museum, arguably what inspired our whole trip here in the first place. (That National Park visit was simply a bonus. Sorry Mather, Albright, Roosevelt, et. all.)


A childhood friend tipped us off to the City Museum years ago when we were embarking on a different road trip, and although it was not on our route, we knew we needed to plan a detour soon.

This visit–our first with St. Louis as our final destination–was our third trip to the City Museum.


The City Museum defies explanation, so I’m not sure I should even try.

But since this blog post would be rather thin without at least some framework, here goes:

In essence, the City Museum is a theme park of architectural salvage pieces, created by an artistic genius. There is not a wall, an inch of floor, or a passageway here that is not also a brilliantly conceived and artfully built masterpiece.

Pictured above? A full-sized, full-on school bus, that extends precariously off of one corner of the building, 11 stories up. (Homeschool bus!)


From the 10 story twisting metal slides to the rebar tunnels crawling with kids winding through the ceilings overhead, this is the sort of place where no matter how long you explore you will never see it all.

My tips if you come here are many. I’m sure the locals have many more tips to offer, but as an outsider, these are the things that have worked for us.

For those who might have a visit, read on for our family’s top 10 tips to make the most of your visit. For the rest of you, just scroll and take in the pictures.


1. Pick the right mindset

This is not a place to visit expecting a serene and restful day. Come with a sense of adventure, unbridled curiosity, and a healthy dose of allowing, and you’re bound to have an amazing time.


2. Plan for a full day

The first time we came we had only 1 1/2 hours to explore. They kindly slipped us in for free because they knew how futile our mission was, but that brief visit sealed the deal on us needing to come back. 1 1/2 hours barely touched our ability to explore this wonderland.

Our experience has been that at the end of the school year this place is crawling with kids (end of year school field trips), but by around 2:00 PM the crowds drop off as the busses leave. Come early, but brace for the chaos of so many children.


3. Dress for it

This place is rough-and-tumble defined. Delicate, flowing fabrics are not your wisest move. Sturdy clothing that you’re not supper bonded with is a good choice. (We’ve snagged and torn clothes here squeezing through narrow passageways or zipping down industrial metal slides.) Supportive, grippy, shoes are smart, too, like sneakers or hiking boots.


4. Food and Drink

There are drinking fountains everywhere, but we bring water bottles inside so that we have water whenever we need it. If you’re traveling with younger kids (god help you), bring snacks. If you park in the paid lot outside the door ($10), you can head out to your car for lunch. It’s also a welcome break from the chaos, that all four of us needed. (Vending options also abound, but we prefer bringing our own.)


5. Other things to bring

Nice-to-have additions include a headlamp and (if you’re tender) some knee pads. Sage brought armor which proved helpful, but I’m assuming leather shin and forearm protection won’t be found in most of your closets.

Pete and I have used our cell phones to find each other when lost, but honestly, it’s so loud in there they’re almost impossible to hear. And if you’re stories underground in the cave systems when you’re separated, yelling to one another might be more effective anyhow.

Pack light, since the real estate of your backpack can limit your ability to move through some of the tunnels.

On more than one occasion, we wished we had thrown in a bottle of Arnica 30C.


6. Establish a meeting place

Never has a space been more brilliantly designed to separate parents from children. Set up a meeting place on the main floor that is easy to get to where you’ll meet up if you get separated. It’s not uncommon for a slide or tunnel to come out in a different room or on a different floor than where you expect, so a meeting place is a must.


7. Adult-child ratio

This depends on so much, from your kids’ ages to their temperaments to your own constitution. My kids, at 11 and 15 could roll with just one adult here, though having 2 is nicer. The first time we came, when they were 8 and 12 I was so glad to have both Pete and I along.

We met two little boys in the underground tunnels this visit who were having the time of their life. “Are you looking for your adult?” I asked. “No, we’re fine!!!” they squealed – and then they were gone. A few minutes later, after they would out of site I heard a mom calling for her boys. (They were reunited later one floor up, but our whole family was trying to find them in the meantime.)

The upshot is, I don’t recommend one adult bringing a lot of kids here. Even 2 to 1 can be tricky, so bring as many grown ups as you can. At least for how I’m wired, doing it otherwise would just be more stress than I could integrate.


8. The rooftop is optional

This was the first time we visited when the roof was open. It costs a bit extra, but there is a pretty sweet old-school ferris wheel up there that’s included in the price. Which Pete and I happily rode.

The roof was fun, to be sure, but if you’re already breaking your budget it is by no means necessary.


9. Take a break

Make time to wander through the more quiet, restful parts of the City Museum. There are sections that are unexpectedly museum-like. Make time to find them, to catch your breath, to check in with your crew.


10. Find your inner child

I won’t lie. This place is overstimulating. But when you view it through the eyes of your kids (or the eyes of an artist) it’s a wonderland. Sit and rest and just watch some of the time, sure, but make sure you do more than just that.

Crawl through the tunnels and climb the treehouse and ride the ferris wheel, and take a trip down the 10 story slide. And laugh with your kids at the insanity of it all.

Because all overstim aside, this place is absolutely delightful.

Has your family visited the City Museum? What tips would you add to the list?

City Museum: 10 tips to help you plan your visit #citymuseum #stlouis

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