24 Hours in St. Louis With Kids

Turn your overnight visit to St. Louis into a family getaway. This Midwest city is a gem for kids and parents alike.

About a month ago, we took our new son for his first well-baby doctor’s visit and left with another appointment at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, a three-hour drive from our little house on the prairie.

Instead, we wound up in the hospital here at home (everything is just fine, thank you for asking), and our trip to St. Louis got nixed.

Of course I’m thrilled that the baby is OK and that we don’t need to spend time in a hospital for sick children, but I was kind of looking forward to an overnight visit to Missouri. I’ve been to both coasts, but I haven’t seen much of the great middle of this country.

Skip to St. Louis

I’ve heard great things about ol’ St. Louis, and I made big plans for the 24 hours we’d be in town. Since I didn’t get to go this time, I thought I’d share my research with you, just in case you’re ever in the neighborhood.

The first thing everyone said when I told them about our trip is that St. Louis is a great place for kids. They assured me that there was plenty to do—certainly enough to fill up the day before Henry’s appointment—including museums, the zoo and some really great food.

Lucky for me, I just happen to know an expert on St. Louis. A friend and neighbor here in Champaign, Ill., takes regular trips to the Gateway City with her two children.

Leighann Calentine’s daughter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes earlier this year, and the fine physicians at St. Louis Children’s Hospital treat her.

“We try to turn it into a ‘mini-vacation’ and find something fun to do,” she explains.

Frolicking Around Forest Park

Calentine and her family stay in Forest Park, a section of St. Louis that is also home to Union Station, the St. Louis Zoo, the St. Louis Science Center and the St. Louis Art Museum.

At Union Station, she says, you can shop, feed koi in a pond and eat dinner at one of the many restaurants there, including a Hard Rock Café.

“We hit the zoo almost every time we go to St. Louis,” she adds. “Admission is free and they are open every single day.”

Because some zoo attractions do have fees, Calentine recommends buying a $10 “Safari Pass,” which gives you unlimited access to the Zooline Railroad and Conservation Carousel.

And get this—parking is only $5. I know! So cheap! Speaking of cheap (which I so totally am), how do you feel about free stuff? Stuff like, say, the Gateway Arch?

Gateway Arch and Beyond

Completed in 1965, the Arch is the tallest national monument in the United States (630 feet, thank you very much) and is the iconic image of St. Louis.

I haven’t seen this engineering marvel, but my husband has, and he assures me it’s more than worth making a special trip. Did you know that in order to ensure that the constructed legs met at the peak of the arch, designers were faced with a margin of error of 1/64 of an inch?

Because the monument was constructed before computer technology was available, instruments like slide rules were used to do the math that enabled the legs to meet up.

Thank goodness I wasn’t doing the calculations. It would be known as the Gateway Half-Arch.

Donna Andrews, public relations director for the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission, agrees that the Arch is a must-see.

“Underneath the Arch is the Museum of Westward Expansion,” she adds. “This free museum covers 100 years of early St. Louis history. It also has the world’s largest collection of Indian Peace Medals.”

Along with the museum, visitors will also find two movie theaters—one an IMAX screen—and the Gateway Arch Riverboat Cruises.

Peaceful Picnics

Andrews also recommends Forest Park, which she calls the “crown jewel of St. Louis.” Forest Park is both a neighborhood and an actual park—an urban oasis larger than New York’s Central Park.

“It’s the perfect place to take a picnic,” she says. “The park also offers two golf courses, an outdoor theater and a boat house.”

Picnics, free museums, the zoo … what’s not to like about St. Louis? I hear the traffic can be hell, but geez! Throw in the Mighty Mississippi, and you’ve got me hooked.

We plan to make the trip one day after all, and I, for one, am grateful that it won’t include a visit to the hospital. 

Destinations: Missouri, Saint Louis

Themes: Family Travel

Activities: Museums, Sightseeing

User Comments

The Zoo I forgot to explain about the $5 parking fee at the zoo. You only have to pay if you park in the lot. We often score a free spot on the street in front and if you are willing to walk a little, there is free parking up and down every street within Forest Park. So theoretically, you could visit the zoo for absolutely free. And they also allow you to bring your own food for snacks and lunches, something that a lot of places don't allow.