Kid Friendly

A Kid’s St. Louis: Memories Made Here

Got kids? This town offers winning and illuminating escapades for all – from swaying toddlers to hard-to-impress teens. The diversity of memory-creating experiences makes St. Louis an unrivaled choice for vacations for all kinds of families. Then factor in that so many of our attractions are free, and a weekend or week-long stay is especially appealing!

Local Dad and blogger Kevin Mitchell gives us his top 5 picks for kids of all ages!

          

Nowhere Else

These one of a kind St. Louis attractions are always favorites with the kids, and you aren’t likely to find a similar experience anywhere else.

City Museum

Whatever you’re expecting, it’s not this. Be prepared to have your mind blown at one of the most unusual, imaginative, coolest places ever, City Museum. Artists with a bent sense of play repurposed pieces of old city buildings into miles of tunnels, slides, climbers, bridges, and—yes—castles in a century-old warehouse. Waiting to be discovered are secret passages, a circus, a train, playgrounds, ball pits, and grand galleries. There’s a 24-foot-tall metal praying mantis, a funhouse mirror, and the world’s largest pair of underwear. On the roof, there’s a Ferris wheel that is especially thrilling because it’s 10 stories off the ground. How to get down from the roof? How about the 10-story slide?

As you’ll want to climb outside through the maze of metal wire and into the old airplane hanging off the building, you must wear closed-toed shoes. To take advantage of everything, full-length pants or jeans are also recommended. While toddlers will find a lot to look at and activities to burn off some energy, this is really prime for the 7- to 15-year-olds. Everyone will enjoy the Everyday Circus that performs on the third floor. There are several spots to eat and drink (including adult beverages), so really plan on at least three hours if not six! It is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, but Fridays and Saturdays it’s open until midnight. How serious is this place about exploring? The museum shop sells knee pads. Not a bad idea.

Gateway Arch & Museum

There is no doubt that this once-in-a-lifetime experience must be had, but we’re going to tell parents how to do it the smart way. Know that the entire grounds have been redesigned and include a new museum and stroller-friendly walkways.

Standing at 630 feet tall, the Gateway Arch is our nation’s tallest human-made monument, and it anchors Gateway Arch National Park. It is the city’s most popular tourist attraction. Visiting on a weekday is better than a weekend, but in either case arriving right when it opens is your best bet. Buying tickets online is also wise, but you can also purchase by phone or at the ticket center located inside the new city-facing entrance.

Figure in some wait time, starting with at least 30 minutes to go through security. But once inside, your tram ticket is assigned a time—you can enjoy the Museum with lots of kid-friendly interactive elements while you wait. Once in line for the tram, there are a lot of screens to look at and fun facts to keep you all entertained while you wait. At the tram, you’ll leave your stroller behind and get into the 5-person “pod” and begin your ascent. You’ll be rewarded at the top with great views, and for an extra thrill, on windy days it even sways a little! The windows are small and little kids will need to be lifted up to see out, but you have plenty of time to comfortably enjoy the experience and take plenty of selfies.

After it all, head north to Laclede’s Landing for restaurants and brewpubs with children’s menus where parents can appreciate that draft beer or glass of wine and relax over a good meal.

Gateway Arch Riverboats

History and fun are served in equal parts on the Gateway Arch Riverboats, so take your kids and relive the days when steamboats ruled. These 19th-century replicas (choose between the Becky Thatcher or Tom Sawyer) offer the best views of the city. Because the cruises are narrated by a captain of the National Park Service, you’ll learn the important role the Mississippi had in our country’s history in general and our town’s in particular. In addition to the one-hour cruises that are especially good for the little ones, the older ones might enjoy a three-hour dinner cruise at night.

Grant's Farm

Grant’s Farm is absolutely a must for toddlers and big kids. This St. Louis treasure was once President Ulysses S. Grant’s farm, but it is now so much more than that. You start off with a short tram ride where you drive by the four-room, two-story cabin Grant built himself in 1855. Then you better keep your eyes open or you’ll miss the free-roaming animals that include bison, antelopes, zebras, and more. You’ll hop off at the main zoo area where young ones love to feed the goats (warning: those little guys can be aggressive). A short walk takes you by giant tortoises, wallabies, lemurs, camels, parrots, and more. Plus there are a couple of short animal shows.

Parents with younger kids especially like this place because it’s so easy to walk (they rent strollers too). You’re done in less than an hour or two, and then you end up in the German-inspired old-world square where … wait for it … wait for it … parents get two free beer samples. Have a snack or lunch, just make sure you also walk through the little museum and see turn-of-the-last-century cars and carriages plus meet some of the horses.

A couple of things to keep in mind, though: While admission is free, parking is $15. And if it’s a nice Saturday in the summer, you would be wise to be there as close to the 9 am opening as possible. If you try to go at noon or 2 pm, the long line into the parking lot will be a killjoy. It is seasonal, too, closed during late fall and winter. But it is a must for visiting families!

Laumeier Sculpture Park

If anyone in your family is itching to get outside for a hike while others want to explore our city’s many art galleries, do we have the place for you, Laumeier Sculpture Park. There is nothing quite like this 105-acre park that features more than 60 works of large-scale outdoor sculpture. Hike one of the many trails and be dazzled by what modern sculpture you come upon. Encourage your kids to crouch or lie down, then stand far away and up close, and then circle around the art; ask them what they see, think, or feel. Then ask them to invent their own titles for the work—and perhaps an interpretive dance is in order?

Even if it’s hot, the thick tree cover will make it so your younger ones can enjoy the walk. When you get there, pick up a park map from the kiosk located near the upper parking lots. If you’re vacationing with your pet, Fido and Princess are welcome. Best part? It’s free!

The Magic House, St. Louis Children's Museum

The Magic House rocks. Zagat named it the country’s best attraction for children, and it regularly makes national “best of” lists. Once inside, you’ll understand why. There are hands-on interactive exhibits appealing to preschoolers and younger children, especially the Children’s Village where they can grab a tool and fix a car, climb up to a treehouse, do some grocery shopping, fish, bank, and serve pizza in a restaurant.

Upstairs is great for bigger kids, with an electrically charged ball, 3-D printer, giant kaleidoscope wheel, three-story slide, and so much more. In the Star-Spangled section there’s a national treasure hunt, a voting booth, and the chance to sit at a replica of the president of the United States’ desk. There’s so much more—and that’s not even counting the special exhibits. It’s all located 15 minutes from downtown in the quaint suburb of Kirkwood, which is a gem of its own filled with parks and restaurants.

Those with the littlest kids will want to get there at opening, as afternoon tends to be for older kids, and after 2 pm it tends to be the least crowded. Allow at least four hours.

National Blues Museum

There’s only one National Blues Museum in the country, and you’ll find it on Washington Ave. in downtown St. Louis. Your kids know the blues even if they think they don’t, as it is the foundation of all modern American music, from rock to soul, jazz to rap. This museum educates while entertaining, and kids really get engaged with the 16,000 square feet of technology-driven experiences. There’s even the opportunity to write your own blues song and add a guitar track (no guitar playing skills needed).

In addition to the “cool” factor for older kids, tweens, and teens, it’s also an important part of the African American experience and offers a rich, conversation-inducing understanding of their vital contribution to American history. Plan on spending under two hours here.

St. Louis Aquarium

Located in what was one of the busiest passenger rail terminals in the world, the St. Louis Aquarium takes your family on an aquatic journey that dazzles and entertains. From alligator snapping turtles to zebra sharks, more than 13,000 animals hang out in and around 250,000 gallons of water. The behind-the-scenes tour takes a half hour and is totally worth it, and little ones will really enjoy the personalized animal encounters.

St. Louis Blues Hockey

If you’re visiting us in winter, heat things up with a visit to the Enterprise Center for a St. Louis Blues hockey experience. It’s been especially exciting since we took home the Stanley Cup in 2019.

St. Louis Cardinals Baseball

If you can, a trip to St. Louis should include a day catching a St. Louis Cardinals game as an honorary member of “Cardinal Nation.” Home games happen at one of the nation’s most beautiful ballparks, Busch Stadium. Designed to give almost every seat a great view of the St. Louis Arch, there’s also the food, the fun, the baseball excitement, and the inevitable spotting of our team’s mascot, Fredbird. Make sure you visit the Cardinals Hall of Fame and see one-of-a-kind stadium models that showcase the team’s home going back to 1920s. Also hold an actual Cardinals bat in the “Holding History” area. Don’t miss family fun and eats at Ballpark Village.

St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium

St. Louis Union Station

There’s a lot to do inside this National Historic Landmark. Just walking through it, looking at the architecture, and imagining what it was like in the early 1900s when 100,000 travelers a day went through is enough … well, at least for us adults. Meanwhile, St. Louis Union Station has something for kids of all ages: a classic old school carousel, mini golf, a mirror maze, and a rope course. Oh, and there’s a Build-A-Bear, among other fun shops. Daily on the lake outside its grand entrance is a fire and light show that dazzles. (Note: this is also where the Aquarium is and it’s next to the St. Louis Wheel).

St. Louis Wheel

The 200-foot-high St. Louis Wheel is a must. It became an immediate hit with locals and visitors alike. Take your kids for a 15-minute perfect skyline view. And for the record it’s not a Ferris wheel but an “observation” wheel because instead of open-air seats there are enclosed, climate-controlled gondolas—so they are perfect for the littlest ones. Whew.

Want to splurge? Sign up for the VIP climate-controlled gondolas, which offer opportunities for the kids to learn concepts in math, engineering, and geography. Oh, and leather captain chairs. Oh, and a glass floor.

World Chess Hall of Fame

If you or your kids are remotely interested in the world’s most popular and challenging game of all, a trip to this chess mecca is a must. One floor of the World Chess Hall of Fame explores the connection of chess to art, culture, and history, and the others display thought-provoking exhibits. If it’s a nice day, play a game with the toddler-sized pieces outside!

Perhaps unexpected is the excellent gift shop, which is filled with interesting games and, of course, fascinating chess boards and pieces! It’s open seven days a week, and there’s a suggested donation.

Get Outside, Get Active

Whether it’s a leisurely bike ride, coming face to face with wild animals, exploring an underground cavern, or a thrilling ride on a zip line, St. Louis has the perfect way to get your family outside and active.

Adventure Valley Zip Line

While officially little kids just need to be potty trained and fit into a harness, it’s the bigger kids, tweens, and teens who will most love this ten-zipline canopy tour and paintball park. We are talking 1.5 miles of ziplines including a single one that is 1,100 feet long and gets you flying up to 50 mph. (If that makes parents squeamish, there’s a ride in a six-seater for them and the little ones.) The Adventure Valley guides make it all fun, and no worries, the safety standards are stringent. The paintball park has open play on Saturday and Sundays for those 12 and older. Really, this is a largely underappreciated gem of a place that offer experiences kids will remember for a lifetime!

Citygarden

Citygarden was design specifically for you and your family, and any downtown visit should include it. This oasis of interactive art, gardens, and dancing fountains for kids (including toddlers) to run through is a perfect hour-long stop between visits to the Arch or the ballpark – both within walking distance. The winding path takes the family through 24 conversation-inducing sculptures. Then there are six rain gardens, a children’s spray plaza, and a 180-foot-long shallow pool with a six-foot waterfall, all especially popular on a hot afternoon (Note: you’d be wise to have a towel handy).

Oh—and there are usually several food trucks dispensing snacks, drinks, sandwiches, and desserts.

Endangered Wolf Center

Unique to St. Louis is the Endangered Wolf Center, a nonprofit wildlife facility in Eureka (home to Six Flags and just a half hour from downtown St. Louis). It is dedicated to protection of the endangered wolves, so it’s a must for the little conservationist in your family. Some planning is recommended, so call for a reservation and check the event calendar. There’s overnight camping here, too!

Lone Elk Park

It’s not just the deer and the antelope playing here  – there are also bison, wild turkeys, waterfowl, and elk. Lone Elk Park has an interesting history: It was originally used for testing and storing ammunition during World War II. After that, herds of elk and bison were brought in. Then the land was re-acquired by the government during the Korean War, and all the animals were moved elsewhere…except one who managed to not get caught. One lone elk. It makes for a beautiful hike that’s not too strenuous, and there’s fishing too.

Mastadon State Historic Site

Any future archeologists in your family? Then check out the museum of Missouri’s Ice Age animals and the Native Americans who hunted them more than 10,000 years ago. Mastadon State Historic Site offers an important archaeological and paleontological site—the Kimmswick Bone Bed. Here, scientists discovered the first solid evidence of the coexistence of humans and the American mastodon in eastern North America.

Meramec Caverns

Have some kids and teens who like exploring? Take them to “America’s Cave,” because this 4.6-mile cavern system was formed from large limestone deposits over millions of years ago just for you! The guided tour of Meramec Caverns is fascinating and filled with facts and urban legends. Hey, if it is good enough for Jesse James….  Tip: No matter the weather, bring a jacket as going down the equivalent of five stories into the earth tends to make one a little chilly. Also it’s not conducive to strollers so maybe it’s not a good idea for the very young.

Now, when you’re out of the cave, check out the riverboat rides, canoe rentals, sluicing operation, and zipline. The zipline would be a big hit for the big kids, tweens, and teens—just call ahead because it’s not always open.

Missouri Botanical Garden

At a glance, you might see the words “Botanical Garden” and judge it to be not “kid-worthy.” With this one, that would be a serious mistake. Sure, the word “horticulture” might make some teens and tweens roll their eyes, but one of the coolest gardens in the country will win them over. Here are a few specifics.

  • The Climatron, the first geodesic dome to be used as a conservatory, is a tropical rainforest including plants and birds.
  • The Japanese Garden features 14 acres of carefully designed plantings, waterfalls, and an island. Kids love standing on the bridge feeding the huge colorful koi (carp).
  • The Children’s Garden, open from April to October, is a place to explore, pretend, and climb (there’s an extra fee for this but it’s totally worth it).
  • A maze!
  • Many special events, like the summer Whitaker Music Festival, where you can pack a picnic and listen to some of the best local music after strolling the garden.

Photo: Missouri Botanical Garden Children's Garden

Myseum

A whole lot of fun for all, especially for those with little kids (it’s for those 2–12, but really under 10 enjoy it the most). This combination children’s museum, science center, and indoor playground is a delightful way to spend two to four hours. Myseum has over 30 diverse exhibits to explore, including a zoo vet clinic, an interactive video wall, and a magnetic ball wall! Definitely keep this in mind if some other outdoor plan gets rained out.

Powder Valley Nature Center

If you need a break from theme parks or indoor activities, a perfect respite is Powder Valley, especially if you have little ones. There are hiking trails that are short (including one that is ADA accessible), and the nature center has two levels of exhibits related to backyard wildlife and conservation practices in urban areas—it’s especially kid- and even little-kid-friendly (play with the animal puppets!). You’ll see deer, and the bird watching is exquisite!

Purina Farms

We love our animals—in fact the Purina pet food company’s roots started here in 1894. The company owns a really fun farm and visitor center 40 minutes southwest of downtown, Purina Farms. The Incredible Dog Team is a hoot, especially for young ones, and the Pet Center features a 20-foot multi-level home for cats. There are also wagon rides, interactive exhibits, cow-milking demonstrations, a baby animal petting area…it’s a nice respite from the sometimes hectic on-the-go aspects of other tourist attractions.

Raging Rivers Waterpark

A 40-minute drive across the river takes you to Grafton, IL, where you’ll find the Raging Rivers WaterPark. Take a spin on Swirlpool, the cool water attraction that’s three rides in one. Enjoy the giant wave pool, body flumes, Tree House Harbor, an endless river, and a family interactive play area that is fun for all ages. This is 20 acres of wet n’ wild fun for the entire family.

Raging Rivers Waterpark

Saint Louis Zoo

No visit to our town is complete without a stop at the Saint Louis Zoo, consistently voted among the top zoos in the world. Discover more than 500 species in 90 beautifully landscaped acres in historic Forest Park. You could easily spend the whole day here, though that is taxing even on older kids. This means a little planning and prioritizing are likely in order.

General admission is free, but parking in one of the two zoo lots is pricy. During the week or very early or late in the afternoon you can likely snag a spot on the park streets, especially if you don’t mind walking a bit through the beautiful park.

Once inside the zoo, some sections and shows cost money, but some are free during the first hour of operation. If you have little ones, the Children’s Zoo is a must as they can crawl and climb and generally monkey around. The Zooline Railroad is fun and saves on walking; a ticket comes with on/off privileges. The Sea Lion Show is certainly worth spending a little money on. Otherwise at the top of your list should be Penguin & Puffin Coast, Big Cat Country, Polar Bear Point, and the Primate House. Little kids will want to take a break with a ride on the colorful Carousel, and teens might most enjoy the River’s Edge. That involves a lot of walking but is a journey along a mythical waterway through four continents to discover how wildlife, plants, and people interact.

Going on a weekday is a good idea—just know that a lot of local parents bring their little kids there first thing in the morning. Otherwise on a Saturday and Sunday, early mornings or later afternoons tend to be less crowded. Even at its most crowded, the zoo is still a great time.

But wait! There’s more! Across from the zoo is Turtle Park, where big sculptures of turtles (and a snake) wait to be climbed on. Especially great for little ones before or after a zoo visit.

Shaw Nature Reserve

Missouri is a beautiful state, and for the nature lovers in your family, these 2,400 acres of Ozarks border is a must visit. Part of the Missouri Botanical Garden, Shaw Nature Reserve is out in Gray Summit, 40 minutes from downtown (35 miles). It’s a place to walk and hike, and study nature.

Six Flags St. Louis

Since 1971, this popular theme park has been thrilling and entertaining kids of all ages, and if you have teens and tweens, it’s pretty much a must. Six Flags St. Louis is the coaster capital of Missouri with nine heart-pounding roller coasters (three wooden and six steel), and combined they feature over 22,700 feet of track.

Located just a half hour from downtown in Eureka, the park is adding attractions every year, so it just gets better and better. And if your mix of kids includes toddlers and little kids, no worries as they have Bugs Bunny National Park, a section with great rides for the little ones and a fun treehouse.

There’s a great waterpark, too, so consider fitting that in, although unless you have the stamina to do an all-day run, maybe just one or the other is more reasonable.

It’s a popular theme park, so the universal rules apply: Getting there during the week is better than the weekend and getting there right when it opens is better than at 1 pm. Another option is later in the afternoon as the tired families are leaving, plus night riding is really fun. To save money, bring a picnic lunch, get your hand stamped, leave the park to go eat, and return. Otherwise, rumor has it that the vast majority of those entering the park go left, so going right and hitting a popular ride like Batman is easier. It is a clean, well-run park with fun shows too.

Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House

You really haven’t lived until you’ve been in a glass room where butterflies swarm around you … so bring your family to the Butterfly House in Faust Park. Part of the Missouri Botanical Garden, the carefully controlled environment houses nearly 2,000 tropical butterflies in flight, and they dazzle and hum around the 150 tropical plant species. It’s magical for all, but the littlest will really love it. Also for them is the “Lopatapillar,” a 30-foot long caterpillar sculpture just outside the house suitable for climbing on. Oh, and an eye-popping old-fashioned carousel!

Steinberg Ice Rink

For those who visit in the winter, a stop at Steinberg Skating Rink in Forest Park is a must. It is the largest outdoor rink in the Midwest, and it’s open to the public all day, everyday. A pause at the Snowflake Café right on the premises for hot chocolate is definitely going to happen, and they also sell hot dogs, burgers, and beer and wine. They have plenty of skates to rent, so all you have to do is bundle up.

Suson Park Animal Farm

This beautiful park in the county, south of the city, is always a joy on its own. But also keep in mind it’s the perfect fallback if Grant’s Farm and/or the Zoo are too much/too crowded. This working animal farm lets you get up close and personal with cows, horses, donkeys, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and sheep. Suson Park Animal Farm is especially perfect for little ones and toddlers. There are two catch and release lakes for the fisher folks in your family, or just stroll the grounds. Finally, there’s a great playground.

Suson Park Animal Farm

World Bird Sanctuary

The World Bird Sanctuary is both a distinctive St. Louis attraction and an entertaining environmental education opportunity. Featuring over 305 acres and over 200 animals, they offer a one-of-a-kind wildlife experience. World Bird Sanctuary strives to preserve and safeguard bird species as part of the global community for future generations. It is a nice, relaxing way to spend a couple of hours in nature. Plan ahead to get into a guided tour.

World Bird Sanctuary

Get Smart, Get Art

Visit museums about rivers, transportation and toys or see what it was like living in the St. Louis area hundreds of years ago. Learn about the explorers Lewis & Clark and the role St. Louis played in their expedition, or try some hands-on science experiments.

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site

One of the greatest cities in the history of the world flourished just across the river, and it is a must for any history buff or budding archaeologist. In 1250, Cahokia was larger and more advanced than London, and was the most sophisticated prehistoric native civilization north of Mexico. The Mississippians who lived here were accomplished builders who erected a wide variety of structures from practical homes for everyday living to monumental public works that have maintained their grandeur for centuries. Then it quickly vanished—and no one is sure why!

Left behind, though, is the 2,200-acre tract that is still the site of archaeological digs as well as the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site interpretive center/museum that is as intriguing as it is educational. In June, July, and August they offer public tours; register on the website. If the timing doesn’t work, don’t let that discourage you from this amazing experience because even in winter it is always a great place to take the family.

Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis

The Contemporary Art Museum is an important stop for any burgeoning artist in your family. The building itself is impressive. Created by Brad Cloepfil in 2003, it received the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Architecture in 2018. Check the website for what exhibits are there during your visit, but they will likely be fascinating and conversation-inducing. Definitely best for tweens and older kids.

Daniel Boone Home & Homesfield Village

A brisk 50-minute drive from downtown takes you to the Boone Home, nestled in stunning hills and overlooking a gorgeous valley. Yes, while mostly associated with Kentucky, this pioneer, explorer, and all-around folk hero settled in Missouri in 1799, before it was a state, and spent his final years here. The nearly 300-acre site includes the Historic Daniel Boone Home and adjoining village. The dozen buildings in the village include the general store, schoolhouse, and grist mill, and offer curious minds a peek into life on the Missouri frontier. It’s a great learning experience and fun to imagine what life was like for Colonel Boone. Definitely do a little planning and catch a guided tour.

Field House Museum

First of all, kids will think this house is cool. It was built in 1845 and was home to Roswell Field, a lawyer for the Dred Scott case. Roswell’s son, Eugene Field, was a writer known for his poems for children and humorous essays. The Field House Museum was opened as the first historic house museum in St. Louis in 1936 and named a National Historic Landmark in 2007.

The lure will be what exhibits they happen to have, as they change all the time. Check the website. Otherwise you have to ring the bell to get in and pay a small fee for a tour. On the third floor, kids will find and love the toy museum that displays toys from the 1700s to today.

Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site

If you’re a family who likes to visit presidential or Civil War related sites, the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site is a must. Grant was the general who handed Lincoln a victory and saved the Union, then went on to become the 18th president. In Grant’s youth, he landed here and married a local gal from a wealthy local family, Julia Dent. (Paradoxically, from 1854 to 1859 the Dents and the Grants lived and built up the property with an enslaved workforce.)

The house and outbuildings are approximately 400 feet up a gradual incline from the visitor center. All but one room on the main floor of the house is stroller accessible. The guided tour takes approximately 30 minutes, and there’s a 20-minute documentary that is concise and educational. Kids love visiting the historic summer kitchen, chicken coop, and icehouse. This is right by Grant’s Farm, so include a stop here if you’re nearby.

Griot Museum of Black History and Culture

The Griot opened as the Black World History Wax Museum in 1997 and has added additional art and artifacts along the way. In addition to learning about our city’s role in African American history, kids enjoy “meeting” those who lived here or played an important role including Dred and Harriet Scott, Miles Davis, Clark Terry, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Josephine Baker, Carter G. Woodson, and many others. (This is a terrific stop to take the kids before or after a visit to the Old Courthouse.) There’s an interpretive program that includes an authentic slave cabin, originally built in the town of Jonesburg, Missouri. Plenty for the little ones, and the older kids will learn a lot.

Missouri History Museum

First, the building: It was originally built as the first national monument to Thomas Jefferson. Meanwhile, though, for the family that wants to learn about the history of the place they’re visiting, this excellent museum is a must. There’s exhibit on our proudest moment, the 1904 World’s Fair. Other Missouri History Museum exhibits change regularly, but all are well done and offer up a history on the city and the people who have lived here. For the little ones, there is the totally fun History Clubhouse, a free family gallery filled with hands-on activities where kids 3–9 can pilot a steamboat, learn about life in Cahokia, and build a downtown skyscraper.

Missouri History Museum fun for Kids

Museum of Transportation

This gem of a museum is “hidden” out in our suburbs, but is well worth the 30-minute drive from downtown. The Smithsonian Institution calls it “one of the largest and best collections of transportation vehicles in the world.” Trains (70), planes, carriages, and one of the coolest collection of cars are found at the Museum of Transportation (including Bobby Darin’s famous “Car of the Future”). There are trolleys and boats too! Lots to climb in and on, and for the littlest ones, there’s the Creation Station play area. Check the website and plan your visit, because you’ll want to go when the miniature train is offering rides.

National Great Rivers Museum

A quick 35 minutes across the river and north of St. Louis is the National Great Rivers Museum. It is one of 11 visitor centers operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the best one to tell the story of the mighty Mississippi and its impact not only on the region, but on the nation. It’s also near Alton, IL, which is fun river town to nab lunch or dinner. The museum is self-guided, though if you can catch one of the staff tours at 10 am, 1 pm, or 3 pm on most days, they’re more engaging for kids.

National Great Rivers Museum

Historic Old Courthouse

History happened here in two of the most pivotal trials in our history. In the Old Courthouse a slave named Dred Scott fought for his freedom, and later, Virginia Minor fought for women’s right to vote.

Scott and his family had two trials here, in 1847 and 1850. He sued for his freedom and that of his wife and daughters because his owner had taken him briefly into a free state, then brought him back to Missouri, a slave state. He won here but lost in the Supreme Court—many historians believe it was one of the factors that hastened the Civil War. In the 1870s, Minor brought a case for a woman’s right to vote, further cementing this humble courthouse’s place in history.

If your kids are studying slavery, the Civil War, women’s suffrage, or American history in general, this is a must-visit. Today it’s part of the national park system, and rangers give guided tours, which you’ll definitely want to do if your schedule allows. Important for tweens and teens.

Saint Louis Art Museum

Recently expanded, the Saint Louis Art Museum is especially family friendly. Boasting one of the nation’s leading comprehensive collections, it offers up quality work from many cultures and time periods. Kids will especially dig the Ancient Egypt artifacts (mummies!), and the contemporary art section is inspired, too. (Tip: When they point to something and say, “I could do that,” point out that they didn’t.) For those with younger kids, Family Sunday is perfect. A family-friendly tour begins at 2:30 pm, and you need to sign up on site at 1 pm that day, plus there’s hands-on activities happening. Travel through time and across the globe with a self-guided tour of artworks with a Family Gallery Guide, or grow curiosity for art through drawing, writing, movement, and imagining using a Find Activity Card.

For the older kids, splurge and get the audio guides. They are well done and extremely informative. Free.

Saint Louis Science Center

For kids of all ages, science has never been so fun. Explore 700-plus exhibits (lots of them interactive), the OMNIMAX Theater with its four-story screen, James S. McDonnell Planetarium, and special traveling exhibitions. While the Saint Louis Science Center is mostly free, some special exhibits, the planetarium, and the theater are ticketed events. If you just want to enjoy what’s included in that free ticket, two to three hours will do it (less if you have little ones). Learn about space, dinosaurs, physics, aviation, chemistry, earth and environmental science, and more. Either before you go or once there with map in hand, prioritize to make sure you hit the things most interesting to your kids.

Rainy Day Indoor Fun

Sometimes the weather just doesn’t cooperate with your plans.  These indoor attractions are the perfect option when it decides to rain on your family’s parade through St. Louis.

City Museum

Whatever you’re expecting, it’s not this. Just be prepared to have your mind blown at one of the most unusual, imaginative, coolest places ever, City Museum. Artists with a bent sense of play repurposed pieces of old city buildings into miles of tunnels, slides, climbers, bridges, and—yes—castles in a century-old warehouse. Waiting to be discovered are secret passages, a circus, a train, playgrounds, ball pits, and grand galleries. There’s a 24-foot-tall metal praying mantis, a funhouse mirror, and the world’s largest pair of underwear. On the roof, there’s a Ferris wheel that is especially thrilling because it’s 10 stories off the ground. How to get down from the roof? How about the 10-story slide?

As you’ll want to climb outside through the maze of metal wire and into the old airplane hanging off the building, you must wear closed-toed shoes. To take advantage of everything, full-length pants or jeans are also recommended. While toddlers will find a lot to look at and activities to burn off some energy, this is really prime for the 7- to 15-year-olds. Everyone will enjoy the Everyday Circus that performs on the third floor. There are several spots to eat and drink (including adult beverages), so really plan on at least three hours if not six! It is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, but Fridays and Saturdays it’s open until midnight. How serious is this place about exploring? The museum shop sells knee pads. Not a bad idea.

Climb So iLL Indoor Rock Climbing

Climb so iLL is another great place for your kids to burn off some excess energy. This downtown rock climbing facility features multiple climbing areas, each designed for varying levels of ability. Beginners are welcomed as the helpful safety-first crew will get you going on your first rock climb. For the experienced and/or daring kid, there is a wall that is 50 feet high. Officially there is no age requirement, but it might not be that fun for the very little. Then again, it is colorful! It’s open seven days a week, too.

Demolition Ball

If your family likes indoor fun, head to St. Charles’ premier event facility that features Demolition Ball, a game where fun and action collide. Climb in a supercharged bumper car with two five-player teams, competing to shoot a wiffle ball through a 16-inch circular goal using a track ball scoop. But wait there is more—laser tag! Great way to burn off some energy.

The Magic House, St. Louis Children's Museum

This place rocks. Zagat named The Magic House the country’s best attraction for children, and it regularly makes national “best of” lists. Once inside, you’ll understand why. There are hands-on interactive exhibits appealing to preschoolers and younger children, especially the Children’s Village where they can grab a tool and fix a car, climb up to a treehouse, do some grocery shopping, fish, bank, and serve pizza in a restaurant.

Upstairs is great for bigger kids, with an electrically charged ball, 3-D printer, giant kaleidoscope wheel, three-story slide, and so much more. In the Star-Spangled section there’s a national treasure hunt, a voting booth, and the chance to sit at a replica of the president of the United States’ desk. There’s so much more—and that’s not even counting the special exhibits. It’s all located 15 minutes from downtown in the quaint suburb of Kirkwood, which is a gem of its own filled with parks and restaurants.

Those with the littlest kids will want to get there at opening, as afternoon tends to be for older kids, and after 2 pm it tends to be the least crowded. Allow at least four hours.

Missouri History Museum

First, the building: It was originally built as the first national monument to Thomas Jefferson. Meanwhile, though, for the family that wants to learn about the history of the place they’re visiting, the Missouri History Museum is a must. There’s exhibit on our proudest moment, the 1904 World’s Fair. Other exhibits change regularly, but all are well done and offer up a history on the city and the people who have lived here. For the little ones, there is the totally fun History Clubhouse, a free family gallery filled with hands-on activities where kids 3–9 can pilot a steamboat, learn about life in Cahokia, and build a downtown skyscraper.

Missouri History Museum fun for Kids

St. Louis Aquarium

Located in what was one of the busiest passenger rail terminals in the world, the St. Louis Aquarium takes your family on an aquatic journey that dazzles and entertains. From alligator snapping turtles to zebra sharks, more than 13,000 animals hang out in and around 250,000 gallons of water. The behind-the-scenes tour takes a half hour and is totally worth it, and little ones will really enjoy the personalized animal encounters.

Saint Louis Science Center

For kids of all ages, science has never been so fun. Explore 700-plus exhibits (lots of them interactive), the OMNIMAX Theater with its four-story screen, James S. McDonnell Planetarium, and special traveling exhibitions. While the Science Center mostly free, some special exhibits, the planetarium, and the theater are ticketed events. If you just want to enjoy what’s included in that free ticket, two to three hours will do it (less if you have little ones). Learn about space, dinosaurs, physics, aviation, chemistry, earth and environmental science, and more. Either before you go or once there with map in hand, prioritize to make sure you hit the things most interesting to your kids.

Victory Raceway

Serious Go Karting happens here! This is a thrilling chance for the family to drive up to 45 mph on racetracks. It’s been called the best secret gem in the greater St. Louis area, and your big kids, tweens, and teens will certainly agree. Victory Raceway open seven days a week and while there are often special and group events, individuals can walk in daily and get behind the wheel on a first-come, first served basis. Note: There are no two-seaters – everyone drives. Kids need to be at least six years old and a minimum of 50 inches tall.

Pole Position Raceway

Dining Fun with Kids

And Now a Word about St. Louis Cuisine …. We have developed a unique “St. Louis style” pizza that is a wafer-thin crust, made with provel cheese, and cut in squares. It’s found in many restaurants around town, but exemplified by our local chain Imo’s Pizza. It is rarely found outside the city, and some visitors who taste it wonder why; others … they think they understand why it hasn’t caught on after a few bites. Still, families with kids should try it. Also, a little more known, is our “toasted” ravioli. This delicacy is actually fried, and kids love it as an appetizer or even as a dinner. It’s found everywhere around town (it was actually invented here), and that should be tried as well!

Here are some kid approved St. Louis dining options.

America's Incredible Pizza Company

If you are looking for somewhere fun that involves pizza the America’s Incredible Pizza Company is your ticket. Here, the whole family can enjoy the ’50s themed facility, eat at a buffet that offers over 150 items to satisfy even the pickiest of eaters, and spend hours of fun in the game room, including indoor go-karts, laser tag, a spinning roller coaster, an XD theater, over 80 arcade games, and more. All this with affordable prices—but make sure to check out the website for coupons or special deals.

The Boathouse at Forest Park

In Forest Park, there’s a small lake where you can rent a boat and row around, alongside a lovely restaurant perfect for an afternoon break from a lot of St. Louis sightseeing. The brunch and lunch menu at The Boathouse both have delights for small kids and picky eaters, but the otherwise relatively limited menu tells you that you’ve brought the family for the view and atmosphere. If you’re lucky, you’ll be there when there is some music playing. Just be sure to check the website before you go because they close if the weather isn’t cooperating.

Forest Park Paddle Boat

Crown Candy

St. Louis history lives here. Opened in 1913, Crown Candy is an old school diner with candy and a BLT heavy on the B—so maybe split it. Actually, have your kids split a sandwich to save room for dessert, especially the World’s Fair Sundae. YOLO, you know—go big or go home. Now … it’s a tiny place and on a weekend you could wait 90 minutes to get in, so don’t go on a nice Saturday at noon. But seriously, history, and great meals and treats live here.

Fitz's

There are so many different places to eat that you can’t go wrong with any of them, but the kids will really get a kick out of Fitz’s. This diner doubles as a root beer factory, and during business hours you all can watch the soda being made. In related news, the ice cream floats are a must. And since 2019 there’s been a location in the county south of the city.

Kid-friendly Restaurants - Fitz's American Grill and Bottling Works

The Fountain on Locust

Another great diner for kids is found on Locust Street’s historic Automotive Row. Eating in a building that was built in 1916 to build “high end sedans” is pretty cool. Besides great food, The Fountain on Locust ice cream was voted St. Louis’ best. Oh, and you and the older kids will especially enjoy sitting on the west side bar booths to listen to the only restaurant radio comedy serial, “Soap Hospital,” with a new episode every two minutes. That said, if you have younger, picky eaters, just know there is no kids’ menu and food is a bit on the “fancy” side.

Pieces

Pieces is an especially great destination if your kids need to mellow out and/or our weather isn’t cooperating with your trip. There are 950-plus board games (and they are listed  with difficulty level, time required, and age). Even though the bar attracts adults, groups of families with even younger kids hang out there on Friday and Saturday nights. A big, diverse menu makes it easy for every palate to find something.

Ted Drewes Frozen Custard

There is nothing like Ted Drewes Frozen Custard. It is “heaven in a cup” and makes kids of us all. A St. Louis institution since 1930, the shop is located on historic Route 66; but none of that matters when you’re eating one of their “concretes”—which is a malt or shake so thick that it is served upside down. This is an especially great stop after the zoo, the ballpark, or one of the museums. Now, on weekend evenings after dinner, it is crowded, but don’t let the long lines discourage you as they move fast. It’s so worth it!

Kevin M. Mitchell is a born and breed (bread?) St. Louisan. He’s a writer, musician, and father of Owen and Beckett. He is a regular contributor for explorestlouis.com, and is the author of several books, including “St. Louis Dad”.

Kid’s Activity Book

Click here to download a copy of the 2019 Kid’s Activity Book.

Color your own versions of Archie and Louisa as they travel around St. Louis. Print your favorite pictures from the list below!

 

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