Top Five for Big Kids
Local dad and blogger Kevin Mitchell’s top five things big kids will love to do in St. Louis.
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. 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.
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. 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 at open 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 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. For an extra thrill, on windy days it even sways a little! The windows are small and little kids will need a lift to see out, but you have plenty of time to enjoy the experience and take plenty of selfies.
After it all, head north to Laclede’s Landing for restaurants and brewpubs. Many feature children’s menus. Parents can appreciate that draft beer or glass of wine and relax over a good meal.
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. The little ones will really enjoy the personalized animal encounters.
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 it’s mostly free, some special exhibits, the planetarium, and the theater are ticketed events. If you want to enjoy what’s free, 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.
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 pricey. 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 of those 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 for the kids to climb on them. Especially great for little ones before or after a zoo visit.