Missouri is known as the "Show Me State", and it definitely has a lot to show! My family started a yearly tradition of a yearly trip to Missouri to visit one of my best friends from high school - decades later we are still in touch despite the distance between us! What started out as a trip planned out of convenience (we had a place to stay and it was an easy 1-day driving distance) to visit friends, has quickly become one of our favorite destinations! Having four children, traveling on a budget is a necessity. I'll admit, there are some things we splurged for, and they were totally worth it! Here's my list of top greater St. Louis area destinations for a family:
From the moment you enter the City Museum, it's like stepping into another world. From the abstract metal climbing structure to the live circus shows to the underground slide, every corner you turn holds a new adventure. My kids loved exploring all of the different themed exhibits and I was amazed at the creativity and design! This is an attraction you could easily spend an entire day visiting, especially if you have elementary aged children.
The St. Louis Zoo has FREE admission! That's right, it's absolutely free to visit this enchanting zoo. Parking in the lots adjacent from the zoo is paid parking, however, if you're willing to drive around the perimeter of the zoo and walk a short distance to the entrance, on-street parallel parking is also free! At the St. Louis Zoo, you can see 13,000 animals representing 555 species. The zoo is open year round, though some animals might not be on display in the winter months and there are more limited selections for food and shopping during the off-season months. There is also an indoor aquarium on the zoo campus and there is no charge to visit the aquarium, which also includes hands on exhibits where you can get up close and personal with sting rays.
No visit to St. Louis would be complete without seeing the iconic Gateway Arch. The arch is located in the Gateway National Park that is rich with walking trails and beautiful landscaping, as well as a walking paths along the Mississippi River. You can take the journey to the top of the 633 foot arch to see a panoramic view of the city and also the Mississippi River. You can opt for a the addition of a short video about the design and construction of the Arch which is fascinating! If you do plan to take the journey to the top of the arch, consider purchasing tickets in advance, as all tickets are timed due to restrictions on how many people can be inside the arch at one time. While you wait for your turn to enter the Arch, visit the Museum to learn about the history of Missouri in a fun and interactive way. The museum is primarily interactive and hands on exhibits to keep kids of all ages (and the adults too!) entertained and excited about learning.
The St. Louis Science Center offers FREE admission. There is a small fee for parking, and some attractions inside the center require ticketed admission. We stuck to all of the free areas of the center and the kids had a great time! All of the exhibits are hands on and interactive, and throughout the day there are various mini-science lessons and demonstrations. We watched a "flying food" competition where food was dropped from a floor above us and the kids had to guess which food would hit the ground first. There are a few options for purchasing food inside the science center, and restrooms are readily available.
Meramec Caverns are a short and simple drive from downtown St. Louis. The 4.6 miles of caverns in the Ozarks were formed from the erosion of large limestone deposits over millions of years. A tour guide will escort you through the caverns and explain the history and science of the caverns. During the tour, you will experience a brief period of complete darkness - it's like nothing I've ever experienced before! Outside the cavern entrance is a park and a nice view of the river. We opted for a tailgate lunch in the parking lot and then treated ourselves at the ice cream shop just outside the cavern gift shop.
Lone Elk Park is located near Meramec Caverns and is another FREE attraction. During your drive through the park, you could see Buffalo, Deer, and Elk. We visited shortly after breeding season and had the opportunity to see many babies with their families. There are several areas for picnicking or tailgating in the park.
World Bird Sanctuary is adjacent to Lone Elk Park, and, you guessed it, another FREE attraction. Situated on 300 acres, you can view a variety of birds and other species, as well as enjoy walking trails and educational programs. There are areas for picnicking and tailgating, and at the visitor center you can fill reusable water bottles with filtered water at no cost. Tours of the wildlife hospital are available on the 1st Saturday of the month at noon with a $5 donation.
Laumeier Sculpture Park is a 105-acre open-air museum and sculpture park located in Sunset Hills, Missouri, near St. Louis. There are numerous larger than life art pieces of various styles. They make for great photo opportunities! There are also a host of walking trails, picnic areas, and grassy areas for the kids to run and play. My youngest two kids learned how to climb a tree at this park!
If you love soft pretzels, Gus' is a place you must visit! Made fresh all day long, you can enjoy you pretzels plain, salted, cinnamon sugared, or garlic buttered. Don't want pretzel sticks? No problem, they have pretzel bites too. Not only are these pretzels fresh and delicious, they are very affordable. My family had a hearty snack with each person choosing a different flavor and it didn't break the bank! The lines can be long at lunch time as it's a favorite lunch spot for the locals, but don't worry, the staff at Gus' is efficient and moves things along quickly. And, while you wait, you can watch the pretzels being made!
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