In its own words, City Museum is an "eclectic mixture of children's playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion and architectural marvel." Or, put another way: imagine that a team of artists and construction workers were given a couple million dollars, an abandoned building, and a bathtub full of acid. That’s the City Museum. What else do you need to know?
This is a dreamland for kids and the young at heart. Once an old shoe factory, this oddball museum is now a bastion of inspiration and quirky coolness in both the St. Louis art and tourism scenes. Spanning 10 floors and a rooftop (with a ferris wheel on top), the open and industrial style is chock full of exhibits and structures designed to be interactive. It’s open late on Fridays and Saturdays, with DJs spinning tunes and big kids over the age of 21 going down the multi-story slides and then grabbing a drink at the Cabin Inn bar.
Be mindful of the third floor—it’s been home to long-running rumors of hauntings. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays, but open late (and popular with adults) on Fridays and Saturdays.
Photo: Courtesy of City Museum
If you have kids and you’re in St. Louis, it’s a crime not to bring them here. If you don’t have kids, then borrow some, and get them here stat. The Magic House is a Victorian home that was originally built in 1901 and converted into a museum in the late 1970’s. Expect a creative atmosphere, hands-on exploration, and more kids than a Wiggles concert. From giant musical instruments and a replica Oval Office to a fake construction site and an entire child-sized village complete with library, grocery store, and hospital, the Magic House is a child’s dream come true. Needless to say, pack your patience. But don’t just take our word for it, the Magic House was Zagat’s U.S. Travel Guide’s top-rated attraction based on child appeal.
The Magic House is best for kids over 1 and under 13 years old; teens will get bored.
Free admission and an always-changing lineup of contemporary art by American and international artists? Check and check. The museum affectionately known as CAM is a non-collecting institution that features approximately six new art exhibitions per year. Its wide variety of themed events, from “Drink in Art” happy hours on Thursdays to “Stroller Tours and Playdates” on Wednesdays keep it busy all week long. It’s also known for its many community programs, including summer camps for kids and exhibition competitions for local artists. If you’re looking for something cool and different, or you need something to check out before you see a show at the nearby Sheldon Theatre, Fabulous Fox, or Powell Hall--CAM is worth the trip.
Contemporary art is a mixed bag; people often have love-it-or-hate-it reactions. Come with an open mind or don’t come at all.
Photo: Courtesy of SLAM
Located along the northern border of Forest Park, the History Museum is part of the park’s impressive array of free cultural institutions. The museum takes the phrase “Show-Me State” to heart, with permanent collections displaying Missouri and St. Louis history from the Lewis & Clark Expedition to modern day. Aside from MO 101, there’s an ever-changing roster of temporary exhibitions like “Spies, Traitors, Saboteurs: Fear and Freedom in America.” Besides the art itself, sky-high ceilings, marble floors, and ornate carved doors provide architectural eye candy. Enjoy a quiet afternoon of exploration, unless you’re heading to the History Clubhouse (kids’ area), where things get slightly more boisterous.
Twilight Tuesdays pack in the crowds, so arrive early if you want to avoid an expedition-length trek from your car to the museum.
Home to over 30,000 works dating from the beginning of recorded time to sometime last week, the Saint Louis Art Museum is a can’t-miss for art snobs and casual museum-goers alike. Located atop the iconic Art Hill in Forest Park, the museum has been housed in the uber-swanky Palace of Fine Arts since the building was constructed for the 1904 World’s Fair. In addition to many permanent collections and rotating exhibitions, the museum is home to a peaceful outdoor sculpture garden and the inventive restaurant Panorama, which gets its name from its floor-to-ceiling views of Forest Park. The world’s largest Max Beckmann collection can be found here, as well as works by European masters including Monet, Picasso, van Gogh, and Matisse.
Don’t miss out on SLAM Underground nights (the last Friday of the month), where there’s booze, food, and dancing.
The museum offers free docent-led tours on the daily– if you’re new to the art world, take advantage. There’s free public parking in the nearby lots or along the street, and $10 parking in the museum’s underground garage.
Photo: Courtesy of SLAM
Whether you’re a diehard blues music fan or not, the National Blues Museum has enough historical information and toe-tapping jams to please a spectrum of visitors. Opened in April 2016, this beautiful museum traces the history of blues music and its impact on American music. The interactive exhibits make a trip to the museum an engaging experience, from a jam band exhibit that allows visitors to play instruments along with a local jug band, to DJ-style booths where visitors can create their own music mixes and album covers. Follow the genre’s origins in the Deep South to its influence on rock n’ roll and modern day music. Wandering through the museum feels like exploring a historical scrapbook come to life. Locals will also be proud of the museum’s focus on St. Louis’ connection with the blues, from Albert King to Tina Turner and Chuck Berry.
Young children may get bored of the reading-heavy exhibits, but children age eight and up will be dazzled by the many videos and interactive exhibits. The museum is smack-dab in the middle of Downtown--perfect to swing by before you head to the nearby City Museum or Gateway Arch, but not-so-perfect for parking. Check the museum’s website for parking garage suggestions, or utilize street parking further west along Washington Avenue.
The non-stop variety of the center makes it a win for every member of the family. Little ones will love the hands-on exhibits, from the fossil dig site to the life science lab, and older kids will have their minds blown by movies in the mesmerizing OMNIMAX theatre. People of all ages enjoy using the speed guns in the enclosed bridge over the highway to see which cars are breaking the speed limit.The Science Center also caters to the 21+ crowd with events like “Science on Tap” in collaboration with many local microbreweries. If the life-size animatronic T-rex doesn’t convince you, then we don’t know what will.
Scientists aren’t chefs. With so many great restaurants in nearby Dogtown and the Central West End, skip the snacks here and save room for a better meal after your visit. Also, the museum hasn’t had much updating since the ‘90s, but your kids probably won’t mind.