Show your kids all the cool stuff in the Gateway to the West
For many, St. Louis, MO, may not seem like an exciting family vacation destination. In fact, it’s a great place to take a break with kids because it’s affordable, and there’s plenty to do. What’s more, it’s centrally located, almost right in the middle of the country, a doable journey from just about anywhere. When visiting St. Louis, here are five things you must do:
Explore an Iconic Landmark
The Gateway Arch (211 N. Broadway, St. Louis, MO) vies with the Chicago Bean for the most recognizable structure in the Midwest. What’s truly unique about it is that visitors go inside the arch all the way to the top, where they can see about 30 miles in every direction. There are educational exhibits at the arch, too, as well as scenic riverboat cruises down the Mississippi for an additional fee. Fans of Tom Sawyer will be especially thrilled.
Note: Lines for the tram ride to the top of the arch can be very long, so allow plenty of time. Also, the little tram cars feel rickety because they’re old, but it’s all safe—just think of it as a slow-moving roller coaster.
Go Outside and Play
Forest Park (5595 Grand Dr., St. Louis, MO) is bigger than New York’s Central Park at 1,371 acres. It’s a great place to go to burn off energy and work up an appetite, and there are several attractions there so no one will be bored. This is the place where the 1904 World’s Fair introduced visitors to electric lights and automobiles. Not many of the original fair buildings are still there, but the Palace of Fine Arts is now part of the St. Louis Art Museum. In addition to the museum, the St. Louis Zoo, the Missouri History Museum, the St. Louis Science Center, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis and the Muny, America’s oldest outdoor musical theater, are all located in Forest Park.
Head to a Museum That's Nearly Indescribable
The City Museum (750 N. 16th St., St. Louis, MO) is one of the few attractions in St. Louis that isn’t free, but it’s totally worth the price of admission. Less of a museum than a gigantic indoor playground for all ages, it must be experienced to be fully understood. Designed by artist Bob Cassilly, whose crew built it out of unique found objects and urban materials, it’s located in a 600,000-square-foot former factory. It’s been a favorite of adults and children alike since it opened in 1997. Wear comfortable closed-toed shoes, because this is a place with a 10-story slide.
The St. Louis Science Center (5050 Oakland Ave., St. Louis, MO) offers more than 700 hands-on exhibits for just about every scientific category. Whether your kids are into mummies, space, ecology or just touching things in a museum, there’s something to entertain them. Visit the science center’s website to plan your visit, so the family can hit the ground running upon arrival.
Visit the Zoo
The St. Louis Zoo (1 Government Dr., St. Louis, MO) is one of the city's top free attractions. With more than 90 acres of space housing almost 15,000 animals, it’s an amazing place to spend the day with kids. The zoo’s motto is “Animals Always,” and the focus is very much on the care and conservation of wildlife.
Seasons and the Weather
St. Louis has an in-between climate that tends to be muggy for most of the year. That being said, it averages 202 days of sunshine annually, without ever seeing temperatures go above the high 80s. The peak tourist season is in summer, which is also the peak humidity season, so a better time to visit might be in the early fall, when temperatures are pleasant and crowds are not too bad.
St. Louis is the perfect destination for families on a budget. It's easy to find cheap lodging, and there are enough free attractions to keep the family occupied for days. In fact, there’s so much to do on the cheap that it’s worth it to splurge a bit on things that are important to your family, whether it be an upscale hotel, visiting some of the pricier attractions or dining out at a really nice restaurant.
Amy Curtis has been writing her entire life and professionally for the past decade. Her work has been featured on sites like Wayvs.com, 10Best.com and WorkingMother.com. A vagabond at heart, Curtis has lived all over the U.S. and Europe. She loves a good road trip, and has traveled extensively for business, pleasure, mission trips and as a military wife. She's currently busy working on a novel and planning her next big trip to Lake Powell, Utah.