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May 8th is a special day for our family. It’s my sister’s birthday and every five years, it is also Mother’s Day! Such is the case in 2016. The day began by Facetiming the birthday girl and then calling my mom to wish her a happy Mother’s Day. As for me, my Mother’s Day would be spent in three states with a mid-day break visiting what we would all agree to be the best “playground” in the world.

In the morning, we drove across the entire state of Missouri on I-70, arriving in St. Louis before noon. We would spend a break for several hours at the City Museum, a unique place in downtown St. Louis that is not a museum of St. Louis history as its name might imply.

Years ago, I had randomly seen a photo of this old downtown factory with a school bus hanging off the roof and an outdoor metal play space that included an airplane suspended several stories in the air. An image like that doesn’t leave your mind quickly and I recalled the picture while planning the trip and noticing we’d be driving by St. Louis.

The City Museum, housed in an old shoe factory building, is a playground, an industrial sculpture park, and an eclectic found objects “touch please” art exhibit all in one. It was founded by artist Bob Cassily and is built and maintained by a group of 20 artists and sculptors. It’s one of those places that you truly have to visit to understand as there are not proper words to describe it.

There is no map or floorplan of the City Museum. There are obvious, distinct areas such as the outdoor space, ferris wheel on the roof (which was closed during our visit, unfortunately), but no maps to show where the various slides, tunnels, and slinky tubes lead. The entire space is meant to be explored freely.

Immediately inside, the rainbow Monster Slide is one of the first elements that caught our eye so we each took a few rides down. As the day would be warming up, we then made our way outside to explore before the hottest part of the day set in.

Views like this are extremely common – just start crawling through the metal slinky mazes and you have no idea where you’ll end up!

The outdoor area, MonstroCity, is a fascinating collection of old vehicles – a crane, fire truck, airplanes … – connected with various metal tunnels, bridges, and slides. Imagining the number of welds holding this place together is mind-boggling!

Gavin and Jeff … across the way in the castle!

Just walking down an airplane wing four stories high…

Jasper crawling below me in a space only the tiniest explorers can fit!

We climbed, crawled, and explored outside for an hour and a half before our tummies declared lunchtime and we returned inside to eat at the onsite Samwiches restaurant. We all shared a “St. Louis style” pizza (which we didn’t know existed) which was quite good.

For two more hours, we explored inside the museum. I am positive that we missed a lot on the many floors (upon returning home, I read about a circus area which we completely missed!). The most beautiful is the main floor with glass tile mosaics across the floor and support columns. Pictures simply do not convey how gorgeous this area is.

“How do I get there from here?” is a question we asked roughly 348 times today.

A main entrance and various non-descript holes in the floor lead to a cave system and the inner shaft of the building. The dark tunnels are sculpted to resemble dirt. Next time, we’ll be sure to bring knee pads and headlamps! The inner shaft is also home to a pipe organ because, why not? This inner canyon houses five- and ten-story spiral slides made from old shoe shafts that the factory used to transport shoes from floor to floor. We all slid down the five-story one but never managed to find the top of the ten!

We could have easily stayed until closing, but had to make it to Indiana for the night so we left around 3:30. We couldn’t say “goodbye” to St. Louis without visiting the arch, so we parked at a closer garage and walked over for a glimpse. Due to construction at the base and our tiredness from hours of crawling and climbing, we just viewed the Gateway Arch from the lawn at the Old Courthouse. Not having an opportunity to stop at a Missouri welcome sign, we used this iconic landmark for our state photo.

Through late afternoon, we drove through the yellow fields of rural Illinois farmland where there was also no welcome sign so we had to improvise our state photo in front of the only object at the rest area with the word “Illinois” – a trash can. Illinois, you really need a better welcoming committee!

On to Indiana, we stopped in Evansville for our last night on the road.

On paper, the City Museum looked like a cool place to visit. It was, in fact, SO much more. It turned into one of the highlights of our entire three weeks and is a place that the boys still talk about six months later. I always expected this to be our first and only trip to St. Louis but we will, without a doubt, return on one of our future trips to visit the City Museum again.

At the end of the day, I asked Jeff to write his thoughts on the City Museum in the trip notebook. He wrote, “Better than average playground.” Indeed.

The City Museum St. Louis