How to Have an Amazing Week in St. Louis with Kids
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I am so excited to have a guest blogger sharing all about St. Louis with kids! Our family visited the Gateway Arch this summer on our epic road trip. But we were only able to spend a few hours. So we didn’t get a chance to explore everything that St. Louis with kids has to offer! Keep reading to learn all about my sister’s amazing week in St. Louis with her three precious kiddos and wonderful husband.
St. Louis with Kids: All the Details!
Our family recently found ourselves vacationing in the city of St. Louis, Missouri. We had never spent time there before, so we weren’t sure what to expect outside of seeing the Gateway Arch. What we found was a wonderful place, full of museums, culture, history, and food. We visited in late summer, with warm days perfect for biking and walking around town (St. Louis is a very bike-friendly city, and we didn’t have any trouble getting around the city pulling our young kids in trailers along the roads). Here are our favorite activities and attractions:
1 – The Arch National Park
A visit to St. Louis necessitates a visit to the Gateway Arch National Park, if absolutely nothing else. You can see the Arch up to 30 miles (48 km) away, and is 630 feet (192 m) of architectural marvel and simplistic beauty. But standing underneath it is dizzying. You rarely get to see something so tall from so close up. You can see how it bows out as it goes up – the kids were sure it was falling over as we stood under it.
We skipped the tram ride to the top, but it’s reasonably priced if that’s in your group’s interest. Either way, you should plan on spending a while at the foot of the Arch. There is a beautiful and modern museum covering America’s expansion westward, showcasing differing points of view, from Jefferson and Manifest Destiny, to native tribes’ and Hispanic people’s position of having their land stolen out from under them. It was a great conversation-starter with my 8 year old. Plus, it’s free! We were required to make a reservation for a time slot when we visited mid-Covid, but it was easy and online (or in-person if you prefer). Plus, check out the gift shop for reasonably-priced and hard-to-find souvenirs of the city!
The Old Courthouse is another offering of the National Park. But it was completely closed during our visit due to Covid-19. We saw some pictures though. And it looks like it would definitely be worth a look inside if you can!
2 – St. Louis with Kids at Forest Park
It feels like I’m cheating recommending this entire 1360 acre park (bigger than NYC’s Central Park, to put it into perspective), especially considering we visited the park on three separate days.
Day 1 – the free zoo
Just free. Again, we had to order tickets before arriving for our preferred time and day. We had more up-close observations of the animals than we’ve had at any other zoo, including face-to-face with multiple types of penguins, some just inside an open glass pen – we could’ve touched them! It was nicely laid out, we didn’t feel like we missed anything, and it was clean and had spacious room for the animals and guests alike. Plus the gift shop had some small items for kids as souvenirs – like $0.75 rubber animal rings, or $3 packs of dino fossils.
Day 2 – the free art museum!
It’s housed in the only remaining building from the 1904 World’s Fair for which the park was created, and has an extensive collection of European, Mesoamerican, Native American, Egyptian, Muslim, Japanese, and Chinese art, plus medevil suits of armor and weaponry, and furniture design. We spent over two hours there, and skimmed through a lot of sections. And we didn’t even visit the sculpture garden at all!
Day 3 – the free Missouri Museum!
This building was designed as the first memorial to President Jefferson, and a huge sculpture of him still stands in the lobby. This impressive structure was built in 1913 with the proceeds from the 1904 World’s Fair. While we visited, we learned about the various nicknames of St. Louis, the history surrounding the Mississippi, and more about the 1904 World’s Fair / Olympics, including how they turned acres of swampland into an international expo. Again, we skipped entire exhibits, such as the roots of the women’s suffrage movement, and the third floor focusing on the city of St. Louis.
Forest Park also has the Jewel Box, an Art Deco multi-story tropical greenhouse. This is only $1 per person for entry and free on Mondays until noon. Additionally, there are miles of biking and running/walking trails. We did a lot of biking through the park, from one attraction to another. Our oldest son was just getting comfortable biking without training wheels. So it was the perfect car-free zone to let him out on his own with us for the first time.
3 – The Food
St. Louis has a number of local specialties, some of which you can’t get anywhere else! These are some of the highlights:
St. Louis is credited with the invention of crisped meat- or cheese-filled raviolis. It’s not certain which restaurant, but it’s agreed it was one on The Hill – the Italian district just south of downtown. We visited this area via bike (parked at Tower Grove and it was just 7 minutes away) and got an appetizer portion to-go.
When we told our neighbor we were headed to St. Louis, the one thing he recommended was getting barbeque, specifically burnt ends. It’s made of bits of rib that fall off the ends and are usually trashed. Pappy’s Smokehouse takes these and gives them the chicken-wing treatment – discards transformed into a spotlight dish.
My favorite of the St. Louis foods: frozen custard! (And if you don’t know, custard is higher in protein but lower in calories and fat than regular ice cream, so it’s basically health food.) They have four sizes, starting at micros, which is the perfect $2 size for adults or kids, no matter how many are in your group! There’s one custard, and many “flavors”, which they mean as mix-ins. They’re often crowded on a beautiful day, but they’re good at what they do and the line moves quickly, so don’t be deterred!
Various ethnic neighborhoods
One of our favorite parts of visiting a city is experiencing new sights, foods, and people. We made sure The Hill was on our list for the raviolis, but we accidentally stumbled into the Hispanic part of town and found a bakery to experience a small taste of the neighborhood (Diana’s). After our visit to the Missouri Museum and finding out about the formation of Little Bosnia following the Bosnian War in the mid-1990s, we went there and stopped in a convenience store for some new sights, smells, and tastes. Delmar Loop is a historic cultural area with some of the city’s first theatres and clubs. We visited Fitz’s Sodas, where they brew and bottle their own line of sodas. You can order a massive float (alcoholic versions available) and watch the bottling process on vintage equipment right inside the restaurant.
Other highlights include CityMuseum, the most creative and active indoor space I’ve ever seen. There were tiny hidey holes that ended up being tunnels to another level; a 5- and 10-story slide; aquariums; and imaginative uses of materials everywhere, including the wall of baking pans. St. Charles is a quaint brick-lined town north of St. Louis along the Missouri River. It was the origin point for Lewis and Clark’s expedition, and the Lewis and Clark Boat House was a wonderful small museum there detailing their two-year journey. The Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis is a beautiful house of worship, filled floor to vaulted ceiling with glittering mosaics.
This is a small compendium of what St. Louis has to offer. We certainly didn’t know much about the city before visiting, and found it a place rich with history, culture, and activities. Hopefully this list keeps you busy and entertained if you find yourself in this city, or maybe inspires you to travel there yourself!