Family Vacations to St. Louis, Missouri

St. Louis Skyline
St. Louis Skyline (Corbis)

St. Louis Family Travel Tips

  • Gaze toward the Western frontier from the top of the Gateway Arch.
  • Discover hands-on fun at the St. Louis Science Center, City Museum, and Magic House.
  • Stroll through the Missouri Botanical Garden.
  • Watch a Cardinals ballgame at the new Busch Stadium.
  • Spend time with elephants, lions, and chimpanzees at the St. Louis Zoo.

What's a city without a symbol? The Gateway Arch, a 630-foot-high steel curve on the Mississippi riverfront, celebrates St. Louis as "the gateway to the West." For sweeping city views, ride the tram to the arch's apex (make reservations), but only if you can tolerate tight places. While you wait your turn, browse the Museum of Westward Expansion's re-created mid-1800s exhibit space, and admire such pioneer artifacts as wooden stagecoaches and recipes for buffalo stew.

Just 20 minutes from the Gateway Arch, 1,371-acre Forest Park, site of the 1904 World's Fair, is home to museums, the St. Louis Zoo, an outdoor theater, a playground, and miles of biking, skating, and walking paths. At the park's St. Louis Science Center, watch a life-size Tyrannosaurus Rex move and bellow, then piece together the earth's layers, tour the planets via computer, and go on a star-studded journey through the cosmos at the planetarium. At the St. Louis Zoo, walk through an aviary and see elephants, lions, tigers, chimpanzees, Orangutans, and some 9,200 other animals (not including a colony of 120,000 leaf cutter ants!). At the Children's Zoo, kids can feed nectar to lorikeets and climb a spider web of rope. In the Living World zone, interactive, high-tech exhibits, computers, and video screens flash images of wetlands, forests, and critters to combine excitement with education and ecology.

The Missouri Botanical Garden is a great place for a stroll, especially April through October when the Climatron conservatory blooms with an exhibit of sculptures by noted glass artist Dale Chihuly. The Children's Garden features a tree house, waterfalls, and a mini Missouri river town. Stone paths in the tranquil, 14-acre Japanese garden—the largest formal Japanese garden in the U.S.—lead you around ponds and past cherry trees and azaleas, bursting with blossoms each spring.

The City Museum, more wacky playground than "museum," is a funhouse of recycled mouse cages, mosaic tiles, watch bands, and other stuff people throw out now turned into slides, fish ponds, arty exhibits, and surprising spaces. Walk through caves constructed from a shoe factory's conveyor tunnel, climb on a playground fashioned from a fire engine and two aircraft fuselages, and snake your way up five stories on a Slinky-like labyrinth of tubes. A rooftop water park with wading pools and a Ferris wheel is slated to open in summer 2006. The facility's not for everyone, but art-minded kids ages five and older get inspired by the fanciful settings (plus those who just like to climb, scramble, and slide).

At the Magic House, geared primarily to ages one through nine, tots can drive a school bus, while older kids can anchor the news at the KIDS-TV station, tap Morse code, and dance with their shadows.

Part of the magic of spring and summer in St. Louis is watching a baseball game. The St. Louis Cardinals' new Busch Stadium combines classic red-brick, old-time stadium style with 21st-century comforts. Reserve tickets ahead of time to root for the home team—or catch your team playing the Cardinals on the road.

Tip: Fitz's American Grill and Bottling Works, a burger café in the Delmar Loop section, is famous for its root beer, which you can watch being bottled at the restaurant.

Recommended Side Trips: Columbia, Springfield's resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 3 Oct 2007 | Last Updated: 8 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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