GETTING THERE 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.
We chose St. Louis, MO, for a five day spring break trip because Stephanie wrote an amazing article about it AND it didn’t require days upon days of driving. It took us about 7-8 hours each way, with short stops.
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!
The climatron was like walking through a jungle. The kids loved it.
One of my favorite parts of the garden was the Japanese Garden. Just beautiful! (Be sure to bring a quarter to feed the fish!)
To round out the day, we went to see the Cathedral Basillica.
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. They are building a polar bear exhibit that looks like it will be amazing when finished.
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 onsite. 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.
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!