Say the word “museum” to a child and she’s likely to either light up with excitement or cringe in fear of boring history lessons and old-fashioned art. While there are still plenty of traditional museums – think instructional plaques, tour guides/docents and velvet ropes around exhibits – many of today’s museums are designed for interactivity.
One prime example is St. Louis’ City Museum, which is about as loose an interpretation of “museum” as you can get. The 600,000-square-foot building was once the home of the International Shoe Company. Now it’s more of an urban playhouse, with ball pits, climbing structures, tunnels and even a Ferris wheel.
This crazy funhouse was designed by sculptor Bob Cassilly and constructed using repurposed materials found throughout the city. Remnants of St. Louis’ derelict buildings, salvaged bridges, decommissioned planes can be found here.
What else will travelers see? Here are three of our favorite features of City Museum:
- The 10-Story Slide
City Museum is home to around a dozen slides, none more famous (or infamous) than this gargantuan ten-story centerpiece. The spiral slide originated as the shoe factory’s “boot chute,” which transported shoes between floors. The dizzying ride down the slide is alternately exhilarating and terrifying, as the slide’s old materials creak and moan. CLICK HERE for a first-person perspective of the slide.
- Enchanted Caves
Little ones love the magic and mystery of City Museum’s caves. The stone-like walls here undulate with movement, alternating between traditional cave features like stalagmites and whimsical, hand-carved dragons with heads nearly a story tall. In the center of the caves you’ll find glowing crystals and the exit point of the 10-story slide. “Working down there was like being seven years old, lying in bed, staring at the ceiling texture and seeing faces and dragons,” late founder Bob Cassilly said. “If I was walking through the caves and I imagined a creature in the wall, we’d put one there.” Let’s just say his imagination was working overtime while he was designing the space.
You don’t need to be under 18 to enjoy the outdoor playground at City Museum. Crafted from found objects including two Sabreliner 40 aircraft fuselages and a fire engine, this crazy urban playground has guests crawling, jumping and climbing through obstacles like contestants on a gameshow. The tunnels are open-air cages and the plane husks suspended high above the street so visitors can crawl through them with a view. Tip: Wear comfy clothes and closed-toed shoes if you’re going to brave MonstroCity.
City Museum is located just minutes from downtown St. Louis, in walking distance of restaurants and boutique hotels like Magnolia St. Louis. It’s a quick and easy cab ride to the museum, or a 15-minute walk if you want to see the sights along the way. Whether you’re eight or eighty, City Museum is one tourist attraction that appeals to any age.