Summer of Fun: City Museum in St. Louis features interactive wonders suitable for all ages

This is one in a series of “Summer of Fun” articles by The Heartlander showcasing fun things to do across Missouri and Kansas.

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – Summer fun for the entire family is waiting at the City Museum, an architectural and artistic playground tucked away in downtown St. Louis.

The unique wonderland occupies a massive 600,000 square feet within the former International Shoe Company building.

Sculptor, artist and entrepreneur Bob Cassilly was the driving force behind the museum, alongside his wife Gail. The building was purchased by Cassilly in 1993, and four years later the museum was open for visitors. 

Cassilly and his team of 20 artisans turned old airplanes into playground equipment, constructed more than 30 huge slides, designed artificial caves and tunnels, and integrated various exhibits into a collection of strange and amazing attractions, featuring 29,000 artifacts from around the globe.

Despite Cassilly’s passing in 2011, City Museum thrives and brings people’s wildest imaginations to life, keeping his vision alive.

Following the retirement of longtime building manager George Diehl, the museum’s Insectorium was dedicated in his name. The Insectorium houses Diehl’s ever-growing collection of thousands of insects.

Maria Cassilly, manager of City Museum tours and special exhibits, says Diehl still visits on Fridays to update the collection and alter its arrangement.

Another unique display presents common items unearthed from, of all things, outhouses. The inventory encompasses a wide range of mementos, including keys, flasks, dolls, pottery and even a sword.

Moreover, the museum boasts the second-largest collection of Louis Sullivan Architecture, as well as a Pinball Hall housing classic pinball machines dating from the 1950s to the 1990s. Customers at Pinball Hall have the option to play pinball with a paid wristband.

Inside the Skateless Park lined with slides and ramps, visitors can discover the world’s largest pencil. The creator of the colossal 76-foot, 21,000-pound pencil is Ashrita Furman. With 4,000 pounds of graphite, it’s actually a functional pencil. It had to be split in half in order to transport it to the third floor. To install the monstrosity, an entire window was removed and a crane was utilized.

“When there’s a giant pencil coming you do what you have to, to get it inside the building,” Maria tells The Heartlander with a laugh. 

Besides the world’s largest pencil, there are other gargantuan items in the museum. Visitors can also see a set of enormous underwear that served as inspiration for a record-breaking event at City Museum, where 355 people wore underwear on their heads simultaneously for one minute. The display set a Guinness World Record, breaking the previous record of 270. Read more about it here.

Speaking of monstrosities, if visitors are up for an adventure they can explore a massive four-story, wrought-iron slinky outside and make their way into a rocket ship or airplane. Beginning on the inside ground floor, daring individuals can traverse through enormous tree trunks, caves and tunnels that extend to the upper levels and underbelly of the museum. 

Visitors might consider planning their entire day at City Museum, which offers four floors of wonder and excitement. City Museum promotes spontaneous exploration by intentionally not providing maps, while suggesting visitors bring a flashlight for darker areas.

Guests can visit Art City for a hands-on artistic experience, where they can try various projects like cut and fold dragons, sculpting, painting or making mosaics.

Since opening in 1997 the museum also has partnered with Circus Harmony, a troupe performing daily shows at the museum. If visitors ever have the desire to run away and join the circus, they can learn the ropes through a circus class.

Toddler Town offers mini versions of slides and climbing structures, providing a space designed for children aged 6 and under. For the convenience of nursing mothers, there’s a lactation room on the east wall.

If visitors manage to find their way to the rooftop, there are more attractions, including a 3,000-pound praying mantis, a planetarium dome, a bus hanging over the edge, more giant slides, fountains and the Big Eli Ferris Wheel from the 1940s.

The ferris wheel provides one of the best views of the St. Louis skyline. Access to the rooftop is complimentary for Gold Member Pass holders, or can be added to a general admission ticket for an additional $8.

Since 2006, Maria has been a valuable member of the museum, leading guided tours and sharing her expert knowledge of City Museum’s history.

In addition to a self-guided tour, there is also an option to join a one-hour guided tour for an extra cost. To schedule a private tour, email For tour schedules, visit this website.

Restaurant and drink options are available on all levels, including the rooftop. Boone’s Cabin Inn has a variety of alcoholic beverages. The Patio Grill features barbecue selections and operates seasonally. Lizard Lounge is a deli suitable for families, while Guard Dogs Grill and Snacks lives up to its name. 

Neon lights illuminate Beatnik Bob’s, a cafe offering bar foods, alcoholic drinks and a pinball arcade. The Baby Elephant Cafe offers circus-themed food and snacks, while The Overflow has a coffee bar with a range of snacks and drinks. Visitors also can find a diverse range of bar foods and drinks at the Rooftop Cafe. Gift shops are also available throughout the museum.

City Museum offers many events such as the Ready Go Dog Show, which is a stunt dog show that begins Friday, June 21.

Guests also can attend Crafts and Cocktails, Paint and Sip nights, 90s Prom, Fright at the Museum in October and other holiday events around Christmas. To access the full schedule, visit this website

“We’re always building and changing, adding new things and reworking old pieces. It’s definitely a new experience every time you come here,” Maria told The Heartlander.

To learn more information about City Museum and plan your trip, visit its official website.

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