GETTING TO ST LOUIS IS EASY
Our vacations are changing. As our kids get older, we find ourselves wanting to show our kids different parts of the country. They’re getting old enough to remember- and understand- the places we are taking them.
TWO ITINERARIES TO CHOOSE FROM
We chose St. Louis, MO, for a five day spring break trip because one of our GRKIDS team members, Stephanie, wrote an amazing article about it (see below for her itinerary) AND it didn’t require days upon days of driving. It took us about 7-8 hours each way, with short stops. Our itinery is also listed below. Mix and match our St. Louis activities for your perfect family vacation.
ST LOUIS VACATION ITINTERARY OPTION #1
St. Louis Family Vacation DAY 1 – THE MAGIC HOUSE
We left early on a Friday morning. We arrived in St. Louis about 3:00 PM their time (they are on Central time, so one hour earlier than Grand Rapids). We went straight to the Magic House – THE children’s museum in St. Louis. They’re open late (tip 9:00 on Friday nights) which is why we chose to start our vacation with them. Admission is $10 per person.
The Magic House is MASSIVE. We could have spent a full day there. The best part was that all of my kids, ages 10, 7 and 4, were completely engaged. There was something for everyone, from the well-thought-out forensic mystery, to the miniature city with a fishing stream, to the bubbles exhibit.
DAY 2 – ST LOUIS SCIENCE CENTER, MISSOURI BOTANICAL GARDENS and CATHEDRAL BASILLICA
St. Louis is definitely a car town. At about three times the size of Grand Rapids, there are a lot of highways and a good navigation system is valuable. With that said, many of our St. Louis family vacation destinations were close to Forest Park. Forest Park is a large green space area west of downtown and is home to the zoo and science center, among other things.
ST LOUIS SCIENCE CENTER
This free attraction is worth a stop. Parking is free at the planetarium parking, and you get to go over the highway in a tunnel outfitted with radar guns to get to the Science Center. There are a ton of hands-on exhibits in the museum, plus live demonstrations. Of course, we had to build the arch!
The giant marble run, powered by a human hamster wheel, is hard to miss.
There’s also a fossil dig, dino sculpture, science lab, and many other things to keep you occupied.
After an entire morning learning at the St. Louis Science Museum we headed over the the Missouri Botanical Gardens.
MISSOURI BOTANICAL GARDENS
If you have a Meijer Gardens membership, you will get in free to Missouri Botanical Garden! This children’s garden is a separate charge, but you will get a discount on the children’s garden fee. If you have kids under 12, you have to go into the children’s garden. It’s a child’s playground dream!
We spent hours exploring the rest of the garden. Wear good walking shoes and bring a stroller!
To round out the day, we went to see the Cathedral Basilica.
Welcome to a work of art! The size and splendor of the cathedral was mesmerizing.
The cathedral has no entrance fee, but a donation is appreciated.
From there we headed downtown and bought tickets for the Arch for the next day.
St. Louis Family Vacation DAY 3 – ST LOUIS ZOO, UNION STATION and the ARCH
THE ST LOUIS ZOO
St. Louis Zoo is also located in Forest Park. It’s a huge zoo, so bring walking shoes and a stroller. We spent about five hours in the zoo and did almost everything there. We were tired by the end.
And did I mention that entry is FREE? That doesn’t mean you’ll escape from a zoo visit without paying for something, though. There are plenty of opportunities to buy carousel rides, train rides, sting ray touches, snacks, or enter into the hands-on children’s zoo.
The children’s zoo is worth the extra even if you do have to pay. There is an indoor activity center and an outdoor playground in addition to the goats and other animals that you can get close to.
The good news is that if you’re an early bird, you can get a lot of extras – including the children’s zoo – for free.
Parking is $15 if you park in a zoo lot. But if you get there early enough, you can get on-street parking for free. We arrived at the zoo at 9:00 AM, when it opened, and got a decent on-street spot.
Also, if you arrive within the first hour of opening, some of the attractions are free. We went on the carousel twice and got into the children’s petting zoo for free because we were there early. If it’s in season, stingray touches are also a part of this deal. If you’re really looking for a bargain, you can pack in your lunch and snacks as well.
Next, we went to Union Station to see what that was all about.
Union Station is a fun historical stop. Today it is a shopping mall and hotel complex, but it used to be the world’s busiest train station before car travel became popular. The shopping isn’t good here- it is failing as a mall. But if you want to go look at what the place used to be like as a train station, you can take a free guided tour. It is really a neat, huge building. There is a fee for parking in the lot behind the station or find metered parking on a nearby street.
If you know nothing else about St. Louis, you probably at least know the Arch. It’s hard to miss! I loved learning at the National Park about the history of the Arch and how and why it was built. That’s right – the Arch is a National Park. While we were there, the underground museum and much of the park was under construction. But we decided we needed tough it out and “do the Arch” anyhow.
Anyone can walk up to the base of the Arch and enjoy the view for free.
There is a fee if you want to go into the arch or see a movie about the Arch. There’s a viewing area at the top of the Arch, which requires a 4 minute tram ride to the top in a small capsule… not for those who hate tight spaces! You have to buy a timed-ticket in advance (we waited an hour till it was our turn that day). Once you’re at the top you have a few minutes to look out the observation windows and then you’re transported back down. No room for strollers or extras on the tram.
If you have extra time, you can watch a movie about how the Arch was built. Very cool if you like to know the history behind things!
DAY 4- THE CITY MUSEUM and FITZ’S
“It’s better than Disney World!”
That’s what friends told me about the City Museum over and over again, along with doling out cautionary tales about caves and slides and walking through wire tunnels.
It’s hard to understand why this place is called a museum, except for the fact that it’s made of found objects. Other than that, I’d call it an indoor/outdoor playground, the brainchild of an artist who knew no bounds.
When you’re at the City Museum, you will climb, crawl, tunnel and explore like never before. You should wear athletic clothes. The gift store sells knee pads. My shins hurt for days after playing for a full day, but I had no regrets! Don’t bring anything into the city museum with you. You will not want to be hindered by carrying anything. I wish I would’ve brought a headlamp- that would’ve been so useful for exploring caverns and caves.
There are lots of places to stop and get a meal or snack, too, when you need a break.
We spent the whole day at the City Museum and were exhausted by the end. We saved the best for last! (I don’t recommend City Museum for kids under 4.)
Fitz’s makes craft sodas. They are famous for their root beer and wide variety of flavors that you can see bottled on site. It’s also a full-service restaurant, so we had a lot of fun dining there.
DAY 5 – PACK UP AND DRIVE HOME
Our family of five stayed at the Embassy Suites by the airport. It offered a full cook-to-order breakfast and we had a suite with two rooms. It also offered free parking. It took us about 20 minutes to drive to each day’s attractions. We didn’t miss staying downtown like we would have in Chicago. We were so tired after each day that we’d let the kids swim for thirty minutes in the pool and then we all crashed.
The final day of our trip was packing and driving back home. Nothing too eventful here, except that we got caught in a scary thunderstorm that threatened high winds and hail. Be on top of the weather conditions in this area if you’re traveling during tornado season.
ST LOUIS VACATION ITINERARY #2
Stephanie Pearson’s family trip is loaded with stops along the drive for even more family fun!
Looking for something to do over Spring Break? Have I got a road trip for you!
Only seven hours away from Grand Rapids, St. Louis is the perfect city for families. Not only is it loaded with fun things to do (most of them free!) but the people are great, the weather is nice and there are learning opportunities around every corner! We visited this fine city last October, with an eight, six and four year old. I tend to pack a LOT into a trip, and laid out the itinerary below to work from. Take a peek and discover the hundreds of reasons to jump in the car and roll!
Day 1: The Drive In
World’s Largest Cross – Effingham, IL | FREE
Our first “destination” was a pleasant surprise. Upon reaching the intersection of Interstates 57 and 70, we drove past this giant beauty. If you exit the highway and follow the signs, there is a visitor center with information on the cross, a small video and some interactive stations. A great spot to stretch your legs!
Kaskaskia Dragon – Vandalia, IL
After stumbling upon the cross, I decided to check online for other odd roadside attractions. Reading through a list of what lay ahead, my husband was captured by the description of a Fire Breathing Dragon. It was a bit anti-climatic (a $1 token gets you 10 seconds of flame), but again, it’s a great place for break up the ride.
Cahokia Mounds – 30 Ramey Street, Collinsville, IL | FREE
My eight-year-old son took a look through the Visitor’s Guide prior to the trip and chose Cahokia Mounds as the place not to miss. He’s a history buff in the making and I felt like it had to be added to the itinerary. Located right off the highway before crossing the river to St Louis, visiting the site of what once was a historic city dating to 1250 added very little time to our drive. We bypassed the Visitor’s Center and headed to Monk’s Mound, the largest on site. Counting as we climbed, we made it to the top of the 154 steps and found a surprising and beautiful view of St. Louis, along with small information centers with some very interesting facts. Worth the stop for sure!
Missouri Botanical Gardens – 4344 Shaw Blvd, St Louis, MO 63110 | $8 per adult – FREE with Frederik Meijer Gardens Membership
The gardens weren’t bad, but not necessarily a place we would return to. Although similar to Meijer Gardens, the upkeep didn’t compare. I did really enjoy the sculpted Boxwood Garden and the Center For Home Gardening. They also featured a Children’s Gardens, for an additional $5 per person, which the kids enjoyed quite a bit.
Dinner: The Hill: Little Italy
Around the corner from the gardens, you’ll find a quaint little section of town with small brick buildings, and a plethora of Italian restaurants.
Station Pizzaria – A very teeny tiny pizza place in an old gas station, Station Pizzaria became our destination for dinner. Reasonably priced pizza served on paper plates over a cute checkered tablecloths, it was great for families. To top it off they served the dish The Hill is famous for – toasted ravioli! Oh my yum! I literally ate bites the size of a pea just so I could savor it though our entire meal. Delicious!
Day 2: Forest Park
St Louis Zoo – One Government Drive, St Louis, MO 63110 | FREE
I can not say enough good things about this zoo! First of all, it’s FREE! Parking is $15, however, there are street spots available, so if you can get there early enough (we arrived about a half hour early with plenty of spots to spare), you can eliminate this fee as well. My tip to you is to enter at the back of the zoo. When you do so, you will come in right between the carousel and Children’s Zoo, which are the two activities that normally charge a small fee, but are free if you enter in the first hour that the zoo is open! The zoo is BIG, so plan to spend much of the day there. A few of our favorite features were the insect house and butterfly dome, the penguin house, the hippos, the chimps, and the super cool sea lion show! Be sure to check the times for feedings, as it really is a treat for all!
The zoo is located in Forest Park, a 1300 acre park full of some great attractions! It was home to the 1904 World’s Fair, and is bigger than Central Park by 500 acres! Although we went in the off-season, you can typically find musical acts and high end productions at The Muny, beautiful fountains at the Grand Basin, boats zooming around a the Boathouse, and an ice skating rink in the winter.
The Jewel Box – Wells & McKinley in Forest Park | $1 (FREE 9am-12pm Monday and Tuesday)
Also located in Forest Park, the Jewel Box is a cute little greenhouse full of gorgeous plants. Having just seen many plants at the zoo, we chose to just view this unique architectural structure from the outside.
Cathedral Basilica of St Louis – 4431 Lindell Boulevard, St Louis, MO 63108 | FREE tours
Just past the northeast corner of the zoo, you will find this gorgeous Cathedral. I hesitated on bringing the kids through, however, it was ranked #1 over the arch, as places to visit, so in we went. Absolutely breath-taking inside, I’m so glad we did. Guided tours are available, but we chose to wander on our own, fearful of the length and attention span required to join a group. Please be advised to check mass times before visiting.
Dinner: Delmar Loop
At the opposite corner of the park, on the west side, is the Delmar Loop. A “vibrant six-block entertainment, restaurant, and shopping district,” the Loop is a great place to spend an evening. Throughout the loop is the St Louis Walk of Fame, similar to the one in Hollywood, where you can find stars honoring those who have put St Louis on the map. They also have a Planet Walk, featuring nine astronomical wonders spaced proportionate to their actual solar locations, and facts about each.
Cheese-ology Macaroni & Cheese – 6602 Delmar Boulevard (closed on Monday)
A restaurant we can’t stop talking about on the Loop, they serve ONLY macaroni and cheese! In all different styles, for kids and grown-ups alike, this place is delish! We actually contacted the chef and owner before going, and he was so good to us when we got there! Free desserts and beer, and a great history of the restaurant…we’d go back anytime!
Fitz’s Root Beer – 6605 Delmar Boulevard
A cute restaurant with GREAT root beer and (our top pick) cream soda, it’s the perfect place for a family meal. It’s also a good place to buy a souvenir – for under $5, you can pick up a 4 pack of your favorites! In addition to the food and drinks, you can actually watch their vintage bottling line in action. Check their website or call ahead to verify the schedule – when we went, it was unfortunately not running.
Day 3: Ride West
Anheuser Bush Brewery Tour – Corner of 12th and Lynch Street | FREE
At first I was a little hesitant to take our three kids on a brewery tour. However, after reading reviews, and receiving my husband’s blessing, I added it to the list of things to do. We got there early for the first tour of the day at 10:30, with a stroller in hand, and dressed for the weather. Much of the tour is outside, and there is a lot of walking. One of the first stops was at the Clydesdale Stable. Oh my goodness, not only are the horses gorgeous, but the stable was pristine!
Their gear was kept behind glass in perfect condition, and there was no indication by smell that we were surrounded by these beautiful creatures. We did go inside the building where the beer was aging in beechwood, and also got to walk through their bottling line. Very interesting stuff. The kids did an amazing job, and were rewarded at the end with soft drinks and pretzels. Mom and dad got rewarded too – pretzels along with 2 full size beers – all for FREE!
Magic House Children’s Museum – 516 Kirkwood Road, St Louis, MO 63122 | $9.50/person (look for Groupon’s)
Leaving the Brewery Tour, we headed about 20 minutes west to the Children’s Museum. This was probably the furthest we drove while in St Louis, but the drive was nice. I was a little worried when we arrived, as the parking lot was full of buses. However, before we knew it, they all left and we found ourselves wandering some of the museum alone!
Butterfly House – Faust Park 15193 Olive Boulevard, Chesterfield, MO 63017 | $6 adults, $4 kids 3-12, FREE with Frederick Meijer Gardens Membership
Also on the west side of the city is the Butterfly House. We chose to head west on Tuesday because the Butterfly House stays open late that day. However by the time we left the Museum, we changed plans and called it a night. If you check it out, you will find several outdoor butterfly gardens and a Tropical Conservatory full of over 60 butterfly species.
Day 4: The Arch
Saint Louis Science Center – 5050 Oakland Avenue, St Louis, MO 63110 | FREE admission plus ($10 parking, $3.50 Discovery Room, and $5 adult/$4 child planetarium fees – all FREE with GRPM membership)
Walking into the Science Center, our attention was drawn to the massive marble track running throughout the lobby. We ventured on and got tickets to our first stop, The Discovery Room. The ‘mini-Children’s Museum’ was labeled for kids six and under, but my eight year old enjoyed it as well. We were allowed 45 minutes in there, and we filled it well…trying out wheelchairs, playing with Magformers, and making dams in a cool water exhibit. Upon leaving, we headed back to the lobby to take a better look at the huganormous (family lingo!) marble track, and run in the giant wheel to power it.
We then ventured across the bridge to the Planetarium, where we laid on mats and watched a star show…all by ourselves! After the show we were allowed a half hour to explore a variety of space exhibits surrounding it before making our way back to the main museum. Along the way back was one of our favorite exhibits – the Structures Gallery. There we built bridges, created earthquakes, and more. Our last stop was to an experiment room, where the kids and I were fitted in glasses, lab coats and assigned to a computer where we solved the crime. A fun place, and quite large, but surprisingly not somewhere we would spend more than a half day at.
Eads Bridge | FREE
Leaving the Science Center, we hopped in our car and headed to the ‘Core of Discovery’ where you find the St Louis Arch. If you park on the north side of the arch, you can take a short walk to the end of the lot and view the Eads Bridge, and engineering masterpiece. A two minute cell phone tour is available – great to have on in the car on the way over.
Museum of Westward Expansion (inside arch) – 707 North First Street, St Louis, MO 63102 | FREE
While waiting for our ticketed time to go up in the arch (they suggest that you buy your tickets online), we visited this museum, located in the base of the arch. Before going in, we stopped at the Ranger Station and picked up a quiz so the kiddos could earn a Junior Rangers badge. We love the Junior Ranger program! The museum is set up as a large circular set of galleries that contains many small exhibits telling the story of the expansion west.
If you’re not up for the museum, you can watch a movie while you wait. Also in the base of the arch, they play “Monument to a Dream – the Making of the Gateway Arch” and “Lewis and Clark: Great Journey West.” Cost is $7 for adults and $2.50 for kids 3-15. Instead, we borrowed the Lewis and Clark movie before the trip (available via National Geographic) and watched it on the drive.
Saint Louis Arch – 707 North First Street, St Louis, MO 63102 | $10 adults, $5 kids (coupons are available)
It was time for our “Journey to the Top!”
We watched a short movie while in line and then boarded the small egg-shaped tram. The kids were a little nervous, but the four minute trip went quickly! You could view the city out small slit windows above a small ledge – not at all what I expected.
We enjoyed the expansive views, finding the arch’s shadow and searching for the Cahokia Mounds (although I think all we found was the dump). Upon returning to the main floor, we ventured further through the museum and then journeyed back outside for some photos. The arch up close is a marvel – so hard not to want to take a million pictures from every angle!
Old Courthouse – 11 North 4th Street | FREE
You can walk across the street from the arch and quickly reach the Old Courthouse. Here you can earn another National Park Service Junior Ranger badge, but being that we arrived five minutes before it closed, we just quickly walked through.
Kiener Plaza (behind Old Courthouse) | FREE
If you exit through the rear door of the Courthouse, you will reach Kiener Plaza. Once an old jail, it now houses a large fountain. Be aware of your surroundings if you’re there too close to night. We were approached more than once by super sweet gentlemen wanting to take our picture.
City Garden (Market Street, between 8th and 10th) | FREE
Not too far past the Plaza is City garden. It features a host of cool statues, and in warm weather, a spray plaza for the kids to play in. Worth taking a peek if you have the time.
Old Spaghetti Factory – Just a few blocks past the Eads Bridge, and highly recommended by the breakfast host at our hotel, is the Old Spaghetti Factory. The ambiance was fun in a cool old warehouse setting, but the food was just ok. Each meal includes bread, a salad, the entrée and a bowl of spumoni.
Whisper Arch at Union Station – 1820 Market Street, St Louis, MO 63103 | FREE
If you have time at any point in the trip, stop in the old Union Station and experience the whisper arch. Located right inside the front door of the Marriott Hotel, we parked on the street and were in and out in less about ten minutes. Split your group up, simply face the wall, and speak into the arch – your whisper voice will be heard on the other side. The kids couldn’t get enough!
Day 5: The City Museum!
City Museum – Market Street, between 8th and 10th | $12 plus tax (The Roof is an additional $5 plus tax)
After much last minute debate the night before as to whether the cost of the City Museum was worth it on the not-so-warm day we were having, we decided we had to go. Every review we read was awesome, and it sounded too unique to miss. Boy was it! My jaw dropped at every turn.
We turned the corner in the crazy cool space and were greeted by a sweet old man telling us that our eight year old was in charge today: he had spotted us rookies a mile away. After the low-down, my son and I climbed off into slinky-like tunnels into the unknown, while the rest of the crew headed into a whale’s mouth leading to a city of caverns. Before we knew it we met back up and joined together going through small tunnels, moving through tubes, scaling more slinkies, walking in trees, exploring caves, and sliding down slides…the first of which we were reprimanded for being too careful. Remember to wear old jeans and tennis shoes, you will be thanking me later.
After spending much time in the enchanted forest and caves, we headed up to the roof to chuck some pumpkins. Yes…off the roof! The goal was to hit the dumpster below for a free day pass. We had no luck, but it was much a hoot! This was a Halloween activity, but there’s still plenty to do up there! Also on the roof, we swung on a rope swing, hung out in a bus that literally HUNG off the top off the building, and explored some more fun slides. We descended back to the 1st floor via their infamous ten story slide!!
Our next stop was the big top where a circus was about to begin. It ended up being a magician, but still entertaining, and my child was asked to assist in one act. On the same floor was an art studio where the kids made some clay creations, and a skate-less skate park. Sounds like a big mish-mosh of stuff? You’re right! And I didn’t even mention it all – there’s also an architectural museum, a ride-on train, and the world’s largest underwear!
We eventually made our way to the outdoor area, and found a ball pit, some more fun slides, a fire engine, and two gutted planes suspended in the air! It was here that we crawled through the craziest slinky…one that swayed at the peek! It was a task to convince the kids to leave, and we had to do it twice. When we got to the car the first time, we heard screams from kids on the rooftop Ferris wheel – although not running earlier in the day, it was now moving!
I convinced my husband to let us head back…after all, how often can you ride a Ferris wheel on the 11th story of a building? A great choice, it was a blast – I highly recommend the entire place!!
After packing all we could into five days, it’s hard to believe there is more to see and do…but there is truly enough in this great city to extend the stay for another week!! Here are a few things that we left off the itinerary because of time or temperature, that are worth checking out:
- Busch Stadium – home of the St Louis Cardinals
- St Louis Art Museum – located in beautiful Forest Park, featuring a large collection of world-class art and FREE every day!
- Laumeier Sculpture Park – a landscape of modern sculptures, with FREE admission!
- Turtle Park – bummed we missed this one, the park is known for it’s giant amphibian stone sculptures, built for climbing on
- Missouri History Museum – something for everyone, with many hands on exhibits, and FREE!
- Museum of Transportation – one of the largest and most diverse collection of transportation vehicles
- World Chess Hall of Fame – even if you don’t go in, drive by and see the giant chess piece outside, on your way to The Loop
- Scenic Riverboat Tour – jump aboard a ship for a one hour cruise, or dinner and enjoy the scenic views on the Missippi
- Grant’s Farm – Run by Budweiser, it’s another place to view their famous Clydesdale’s along with 900 other animals!
Over all, St. Louis was a terrific family vacation and I heartily recommend it for spring break or any other time of the year when you can get outside and enjoy the attractions! Have you ever taken a trip to St. Louis? What did you do there?