Spring Break is fast approaching and summer break comes soon after. While there will be plenty of fun to be had in the metro, it never hurts to get out of town for a few days. MetroFamily’s calendar editor, Lindsay Cuomo, visited St. Louis with her husband and three kids and reported back about the can’t-miss attractions. The eastern Missouri city is a seven-hour drive away from the metro, making it an ideal out-of-state destination.
As we set out to plan our family vacation, many things factored in. With 5-year-old twin boys and a 1-year-old son in tow, my husband and I sought out a destination with these things in mind: budget, transportation and distance, lodging options and what type of entertainment would be available for our kids at the destination.
Considering the stress of a plane ride, my husband and I set our sights on a destination close to home. We were looking for a place where the kids would stay active and engaged, my husband and I would could take in some arts and entertainment and most of all our family could spend some extra special time together. St. Louis, Mo. seemed to be the perfect location; a big city within a day’s drive.
Our trip lived up to our every expectation with quite a few fun surprises as well. With one-of-a-kind museums and a rich history, the expansive St. Louis area offers plenty of things to do, many of which are free!
At the top of my family’s list is City Museum. Unlike any museum we had been to before, City Museum features several floors of fun, interactive displays and exhibits. No one can claim boredom once they see a school bus hanging from the top of the building, a Ferris Wheel open seasonally for rides and a rope ramp slide right in the middle of the museum.
Inside, the third floor is where the youngest in the family will likely have the most fun. Kids can ride a train, create a masterpiece in Art City or play in Toddler Town. The whole family loved Skateless Ramp Park, a gigantic room where all ages can run, climb, swing and slide to their heart’s content. The second floor offers guests a unique souvenir: shoelaces. The museum is housed in the old International Shoe Company building. Machines once used for making boot straps for soldiers now craft crazy creations in the form of custom shoelaces. Choose from an array of colored thread and then watch the machines weave them into your very own shoe accessory. My kids still shoe shop with their laces in mind.
Also on the second floor is the World Aquarium, where guests can experience the sea through the almost-underwater tunnels. Hidden pathways reveal interesting sea animals like sharks and turtles. A family favorite was the 4,000-square-feet of elaborate caves, tunnels and slides that beckon even the adults to play. You cannot see the tunnels and simply sit back and watch. They run overhead, under the floor and lead to destinations throughout the museum.
There are even more things to do outside. MonstroCity, comprised of wrought iron slinkies, fire trucks, stone turrets, airplane fuselages, slides of all sizes and shapes and a pair of ball pits, is both an interactive sculpture and a playground. Some attractions have height and weather-related restrictions so check out the museum’s website, www.citymuseum.org, before you go. My favorite feature is that the museum is come-and-go, with bracelets indicating your admission has already been paid. With all the action, your family will probably need a brief break to rest and refuel.
General admission is $12; roof top attractions, $5; World Aquarium, $7.95; parking, $5. Children two and under are FREE.
(Tip: Wear comfortable, close-toed shoes for all the interactive fun at City Museum. If your littles ones are afraid of the dark, be sure to pack a flashlight so they can bravely explore all the museum has to offer.)
Another equally-fun museum is The Magic House. What started out as a quaint 5,500-square-foot children’s museum has grown by massive levels to 500,000-square-feet of fun. My kids tackled the Jack and the Beanstalk first, a two-story climbing feature. We all used the stalk as a stairway a few times. The whole family spent a lengthy amount of time exploring in the kids’ construction zone and the Children’s Village. We had a shocking experience with the electricity-charged ball, as witnessed by our hair-raising pictures.
Everyone will feel like a kid playing with the giant pin screen, where thousands of tiny pins create a three-dimensional impression. Exploring the museum includes activities like solving a mystery, ringing a Liberty Bell replica and sitting at the president’s desk in a replica of the Oval Office. A special area for ages 6 and under is called A Little Bit of Magic and offers plenty of engaging, hands-on activities including a puppet show put on by kids, of course.
We packed our own lunch and dined in the outdoor garden and sampled a few treats from the Picnic Basket Café, too. You are welcome to leave for lunch, if you prefer, and return for more fun that same day.
A new feature The Magic House offers is their free app. Download the app (available on iOS and Android devices) to create a digital storybook of your visit. It makes for a great free keepsake.
Admission is $10 for anyone over the age of 1. Parking is free.
One of our favorite surprises was the Museum of Transportation. A last-minute Groupon find, our unplanned trip to the Museum of Transportation allowed us to slow down and enjoy the trains, cars, boats and planes on exhibit. We explored the dozens of vehicles and train cars, including the Big Boy locomotive, the largest successful locomotive ever built.
We jumped between freight cars, sat inside a passenger car and caboose, played with our echoes inside a tank car and even peeked inside an old train tunnel. For my three young train enthusiasts, we rode the miniature train around the property twice! I enjoyed seeing a tugboat up close. My husband enjoyed sharing all the historical information available about how transportation has shaped our world.
Much to my kids’ disappointment, we didn’t have time to try out their Creation Station, which offers hands-on learning about all forms of transportation. At least we have something to look forward to on our next visit.
Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for kids ages 3-12 and ride the miniature train all day for $4.
After a morning at the Museum of Transportation, we took in a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game. Bush Stadium offers a wealth of pre-game fun as well as plenty of room to move around when the kids tire of sitting still in the stands. St. Louis is also home to the NFL’s St. Louis Rams and the NHL’s St. Louis Blues. If you are not a Cardinals, Rams or Blues fan, you can schedule a trip when your favorite team is in town. We scheduled our trip while my husband’s favorites, the New York Yankees, were in town.
A visit to St. Louis wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the iconic Gateway Arch. The unique architectural delight is quite intriguing. Another Oklahoma City mom and MetroFamily reader, Lenae Clements, took her family to the Arch during their trip.
Those wary of heights or tight spaces might not enjoy a trip to the top of the Arch. Clements’ youngest, age 3 at the time, was a little scared by the rocking of the pods on the way up.
My family just viewed the Arch from the ground, but guests who are brave enough to take the ride to the top of the Arch are rewarded with breathtaking views of the Mississippi River and all of St. Louis. Officials say guests can see up to 30 miles on a clear day.
Inside the Arch is the Museum of Westward Expansion, offering visitors a look the Old West and the explorers, pioneers, cowboys and Native Americans who helped build the foundations of the country.
A trip to the top of the Arch is $10 for ages 16 and up and $5 for ages 3 to 15. The Museum of Westward Expansion is free. They also offer a variety of riverboat cruises, another thing for us to do the next time around.
Within walking distance of the Gateway Arch, Citygarden is a park in the heart of the St. Louis. Your family can explore the two dozen sculptures, the beautiful landscaping inspired by the area’s great rivers, three water features, a state-of-the-art audio wall and an audio tour featuring the voices of St. Louis celebrities. We utilized the pathways to burn off some of the excitement and extra energy built up in our three little boys.
Zoos are always a family favorite and we always try to include the local zoo in our travels. One huge perk of the St. Louis Zoo is that admission is free! However, there are a few attractions and shows that do require admission like the sea lion show, petting the stingrays, the Children’s Zoo and the Zooline Railroad. Your family can buy individual attractions or purchase a Safari Pass. Separated into six zones, the St. Louis Zoo is home to more than 18,000 animals, many of them endangered.
My family especially enjoyed seeing the penguin exhibit. The playful creatures zip in and out of the water, creating quite an exciting show. The elaborate sea lion exhibit is a definite must-see. You can view the graceful animals from above and below. They have several sea lion feedings throughout the day when the keepers entice a few tricks for the crowds to enjoy. Plan to arrive early to cash in on a special freebie. During the first hour the Zoo is open, admission to the Children’s Zoo is free. Otherwise, Children’s Zoo admission is $4 per person.
If you have any energy left, head across the nearby Interstate 64 to check out Turtle Park. The park has giant concrete sculptures of turtles, snakes and turtle eggs that you can climb and play on.
Near the zoo is the Saint Louis Science Center. General admission is free and offers access to plenty of educational exhibits. You can sneak past the large animatronic dinosaurs, build your own Gateway Arch, play with robots and learn about energy, life science, biology and watch traffic zip by from the bridge in the Structures Exhibit. Some attractions like the OmniMax Theater and the Planetarium do require a purchased ticket.
Doing so much exploring, we sometimes needed to take a break and those breaks usually involved food. As the Gateway City, St. Louis is a hub for foods from all over the country and the world. Though famous for their barbecue and toasted ravioli, the city is also home to numerous New York-and Chicago-style pizza joints. We stopped at a local Greek festival for a snack and took in a meal in the Hill District. The Hill District is filled with multiple traditional Italian restaurants and is a great place for the kids or, if you have the opportunity, a date night without them.
Our favorite sweet treats were floats at Fitz’ Bottling Company and frozen custard from the world famous Ted Drewes. At Fitz’s, while they waited for their piles of ice cream dunked in their choice of flavored soda from their large selection, our kids were able to watch the actual bottling process in the restaurant.
A good sign of a great vacation is that there were enough highlights to want to visit again and we definitely can’t wait for a return trip.
Born and raised in the Oklahoma City metro and a graduate of the Gaylord College of Journalism at the University of Oklahoma, Lindsay Cuomo has worked for MetroFamily since 2014 covering local stories, people and events. Lindsay is a mom to three school-aged boys and calls Moore, Oklahoma home.