With its rich history, plethora of frugal family fun options and diverse range of cuisine, St. Louis, Mo., is an ideal destination for late summer or fall family fun. Historically coined the “Gateway to the West,” St. Louis was a natural point of convergence near the Mississippi River for trails, boats and rails in the 19th century. With this influx of people, immigrant communities also brought a diverse range of food and flavors, lending to the city’s eclectic culinary scene today. Beyond dining, St. Louis offers a ton of free attractions, from the zoo and art museums of Forest Park to the grounds of the iconic Gateway Arch, so a trip to this Midwestern metropolis can be very affordable. Music and sports enthusiasts will appreciate a visit to this vibrant city, home to the National Blues Museum as well as the beloved Major League Baseball team, the St. Louis Cardinals.
Check out this 3-day itinerary to St. Louis, your gateway to family fun!
St. Louis is about a seven-and-a-half-hour drive from the Oklahoma City metro area, passing through both Joplin and Springfield in Missouri if you’re looking to break up time during a family road trip. Alternatively, families can book a direct flight to St. Louis from Oklahoma City through Southwest Airlines. Whatever your preferred mode of transportation, once you arrive, your family has a wide range of accommodations to choose from across the city, whether you prefer a hotel or a vacation rental home. Hotels in the downtown area afford excellent views of the Gateway Arch and allow easy access by foot to many local attractions and restaurants.
Most of today’s agenda will be spent in downtown St. Louis, highlighting its architectural wonder, the Gateway Arch. But first thing’s first — breakfast!
At Pharaohs Donuts, you’ll find some of the best donuts, from old-school favorites to a rotating menu of sweet, delicious creations involving custard fillings and bacon toppings. Take a short walk one block over to Citygarden Sculpture Park, a beautiful public space dotted with unique sculptures and water features, including a splash pad. Our kids really enjoyed running along the rock pathways in search of the next whimsical piece of outdoor art.
When you’re done wandering the lawn and gardens of the park, walk a couple blocks east toward Gateway Arch National Park. Since its completion in the 1960s to commemorate the western expansion of the United States, the Arch has been attracting thousands of visitors each year. Standing at 630 feet tall, the Gateway Arch is the tallest man-made national monument in the Western Hemisphere. Ride the tram to the top for spectacular views of the city and the mighty Mississippi River. Tram rides run about every 10 minutes, taking 4 minutes to reach the top and just 3 minutes to return to ground level. Each tram pod holds five people snuggly so if you suffer from claustrophobia, you may want to skip this adventure. Tickets can be purchased online in advance.
Adjacent to the Visitor Center is the Old Courthouse, where some of the most pivotal civil rights court cases were heard, including the Dred Scott case. Exhibits within the Old Courthouse teach visitors about the life of African American enslaved people in St. Louis, as well as the legacy and relevance of the Dred and Harriet Scott decision. (Note: The Old Courthouse is temporarily closed for renovations, which are expected to be completed in 2024.)
Lunch is just an 8-minute walk away at Sauce on the Side, a delightful restaurant featuring fresh salads and handmade calzones all served with flavorful dips on the side. Build your own calzone or choose from one of their specialty combos.
Your afternoon would be well spent at Union Station, a 5-minute drive or a 20-minute walk away. Once the busiest passenger rail terminal in the world back in 1894, it’s now become a nostalgic landmark for entertainment. At Union Station, visit the St. Louis Aquarium, home to more than 13,000 sea creatures and endless opportunities for animal encounters and awe-inspiring views of sharks and other marine life in a 250,000-gallon habitat. Union Station offers several other fun attractions: a 200-foot Ferris wheel, a carousel, an 18-hole mini golf course, mirror mazes and an indoor high-ropes course. Save money by purchasing combo tickets online in advance. There are also several eateries available on-site if you decide to stay for dinner.
A short drive south to Sugarwitch will satisfy any sweet tooth cravings after a busy day. They serve small-batch, gourmet ice cream sandwiches, cannoli cones and floats all beautifully crafted and made with high-quality ingredients. The hardest part will be deciding which delicious ice cream novelty to order!
Start your morning with a nutritious, elevated breakfast experience at Rooster in downtown St. Louis. This farm-to-table restaurant delivers exceptional baked goods, crepes and scrambles inside a light and airy atmosphere.
Next up, it’s a 10-minute walk to City Museum, where your family could easily spend several hours exploring this ever-evolving architectural playground made from random artifacts. This museum lives up to the hype with all the climbing structures, tunnels and even a 10-story slide. Just down the road, explore the history of the blues and its impact on other genres of music at the National Blues Museum. With lots of interactive exhibits, like mixing your own blues record, kids will be engaged and entertained.
When you’re ready for lunch, hop over to City Foundry Food Hall. This old factory has been transformed into an incredible community space offering guests 17 eateries to choose from and several indoor and outdoor dining spaces to relax and enjoy a meal.
About 20 minutes southwest of the downtown area, families will also love The Magic House, a children’s museum focused on purposeful play. Kids can role play as various community members in the “Children’s Village,” conduct experiments in the science lab or create a new masterpiece in the art studio. The outdoor garden is the perfect spot to play and explore nature. Keep the outdoor fun going with a stroll through Laumeier Sculpture Park, a 105-acre green space that’s free to visit and invites guests to admire contemporary art scattered throughout the park, all easy to view from the walking trails.
After a full day of play, enjoy a relaxing dinner at Olive + Oak. Prepare to be wowed by the warm ambiance and beautifully plated meals. They also have an affordable kids’ menu that includes your child’s choice of entrée, sides, drink and dessert.
Today’s excursions will be spent primarily at Forest Park with a stop for breakfast at Songbird. Praised for the simple yet sophisticated menu, Songbird serves creative dishes like frittatas, breakfast tamales and their renowned “The Combo” breakfast sandwich, all made with locally-sourced ingredients.
After getting fueled for the day, head to Forest Park, one of our nation’s greatest urban public parks, offering more than 1,000 acres of forested landscapes, lakes, waterways and a nearly 6-mile recreation pathway that encircles the park. Forest Park is also home to five major cultural institutions, including the St. Louis Zoo, the St. Louis Science Center and the St. Louis Art Museum, all of which offer free admission.
The St. Louis Zoo is one of our boys’ favorite destinations with more than 16,000 animals to see, including penguins and polar bears, and plenty of special attractions, like the sea lion show. For lunch, check out Pi Pizzeria, just a few minutes from Forest Park. This hip pizzeria joint is known for their cornmeal deep-dish crust, but they have lots of thin-crust specialty pies and gluten-free options to pair with the freshest of toppings.
No visit to St. Louis would be complete without seeing a Cardinals game! If you can’t make it to a game, consider a family tour of Busch Stadium instead. This retro-style, 46,000-seat ballpark was completed and opened in 2006, when the Cardinals won a World Series Championship in their inaugural season. A one-hour guided tour takes guests through areas of the stadium usually closed on game day, like the Broadcast Booth, and all tour tickets include admission to the Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum.
St. Louis is brimming with free attractions, incredible food, hospitable people and a unique history, whatever time of year your family visits!
Debbie lives in Edmond with her husband, two sons and a very fluffy Great Pyrenees named Max. She is an optometrist at Variety Care and is passionate about improving access to healthcare both near and far, so she enjoys volunteering her eye care skills regularly with Skyline Urban Ministry in OKC and with Health Talents International in Guatemala. When she’s not at work, she loves running, hiking, reading with her kids, and traveling across the country, especially to the National Parks, with her family. Debbie has won multiple Parenting Media Association awards for her travel writing and photography in MetroFamily.