By Amy L. Hatch
Before we moved to Urbana in 2006, my forays into the western part of the United States were limited to one visit each to San Francisco, Colorado and New Mexico.
I never expected — or even considered — a visit to St. Louis, but when we decided to take the kids there for Labor Day weekend I was pretty excited. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a completely new big city, and here was my chance! I’ve heard so many good things about the Gateway to the West that I knew we would have an awesome time.
St. Louis did not disappoint. The famous arch came into view just after we crossed the Mighty Mississippi (and I discovered I could still spell it when my husband asked me to) and we were all wowed.
The next day we visited the City Museum, which if you haven’t been, is an absolutely unbelievable collection of reclaimed urban buildings and recycled materials morphed into a magical playground for kids and grown-ups. Founded by artist Bob Cassilly and opened to the public in 2007, the 600,000-square-foot facility is housed in what was once a shoe factory and warehouse. Since its opening, the museum has expanded to include four floors of insanely good fun. It even houses an aquarium!
Admission to the City Museum isn’t cheap (kids under 3 years old are free, everyone else is $12 and entrance the roof and aquarium are $5 and $6, respectively), but believe me when I say you will be there all day long. I highly recommend purchasing admission to the roof, which includes a ferris wheel that offers gorgeous views of the city, a reclaimed school bus cantilevered off the roof (with doors that open, behind a cage, to a dizzying drop), climbing structures created out of reclaimed materials and so much more.
Inside there is a circus performance every hour, a miniature train kids can ride, a special area for toddlers — and the age limit is strictly enforced — and our daughter even caught an hour-long class on making rag dolls. There’s also a huge area where kids and their grown-ups can create art projects, stocked with every imaginable paint, pen, chalk and paper you could ever want.
Got a climber? That kid will love the City Museum. There are warrens of tunnels, strange meandering climbing structures made out of metal and wood and even a turtle pond smack in the middle of the museum. Be careful, though — a mom in our party followed her daughter into one of the caves and found herself in a pretty tight squeeze.
One thing you absolutely need to know before visiting this museum is that you must be willing to let your child explore. If you’re not, stick to the Magic House, St. Louis’ children’s museum. There is too much temptation to run, jump, slide and scale large structures to keep your child contained and if that makes you nervous you will have an unpleasant visit, indeed.
The food options at the City Museum are limited and expensive. We didn’t know that beforehand, but we would probably have brought our own food for a picnic. While admission can seem steep for a larger family, the good news is that you can come and go all day as long as you keep your wristbands on. We saw several families with coolers eating lunch nearby. Even if you do decide to eat there, be warned — the fare isn’t terribly kid friendly, nor is it what I would call healthy.
We got to there early on a Saturday and it was beginning to get crowded, but by the time we left at almost 4 p.m. it was mobbed. Consider going on a weekday, or at least be prepared for an awful lot of people milling around. If you can avoid it, definitely leave the stroller at home.
We spent almost a whole day at City Museum and we barely scratched the surface. I can’t wait to go back and explore it again!