It seems like everyone in Indianapolis spends at least one fall break, spring break or summer vacation in St. Louis, and with all of the fantastic family fun available, there’s no question why. Plus, St. Louis is a short drive for Indy area families and it’s super affordable! Did you know that there are so many free museums and attractions that you couldn’t possibly visit all of them during one visit?
Here are some of the best things to do in St. Louis with Kids;
Disclosure: I was hosted for some of these activities for the purpose of creating this content.
Gateway Arch National Park
I feel like the most obvious place to start is with the Arch. A brand new museum opened at the Arch last summer and it’s a fantastic immersive experience that helps children and adults understand the role that St. Louis played in the westward expansion of the United States. We loved the stories found in the six galleries; Colonial St. Louis, Jefferson’s Vision, Manifest Destiny, the Riverfront Era, New Frontiers and the Building of the Gateway Arch. Kids will love the interactive opportunities; learn through video panels, fragrance pods, miniature replicas and more.
A visit to the Museum at the Gateway Arch is free. From there, visitors may choose to ride the tram to the top of the Arch or take in the riveting vintage film about the construction of the Arch. When you see the arch being built, you’ll have so much appreciation for the structure, the builders and gravity. There is a fee to see the movie and ride the tram, National Park pass holders can save $3 per adult admission ticket. Children can participate in the free Junior Ranger program and earn their Gateway Arch Jr. Ranger badge. If you collect crushed pennies, you’re in luck! There’s a penny crushing machine available. Don’t forget to stamp your National Parks Passport if you have one.
The ride to the top of the Gateway Arch is thrilling and it’s so easy to take for granted the sheer incredibleness of this adventure, but a walk through the museum and the movie about the arch really bring it all together when it comes to understanding the significance of where you’re standing and how amazing it is that you are up there.
The Old Courthouse
The stunning dome inside of the Old Courthouse isn’t the only thing that will give you a jaw dropping moment during your visit. The Old Courthouse in St. Louis is where the trial of Dred Scott was first held and where finally, years later he was set free. But not before the Scott family spent 11 years battling decisions into the highest courts. This landmark is a part of the Gateway Arch National Park and is a worthwhile stop within the National Park. Guests will learn about the Dred Scott case, see restored courtrooms and enjoy the beauty of the building itself.
St. Louis Riverfront
The updated park grounds and riverfront now feature new biking and walking paths along greenways. Along the river front, visitors have the option to enjoy a riverboat cruise on the Mississippi River. Take the scenic one hour tour and learn about the Gateway Arch and the importance of St. Louis and the Mississippi River. There’s also a two hour dinner cruise and themed cruises throughout the year.
Union Station Aquarium
St. Louis’ Union Station is being transformed from the train station turned shopping mall, in to a state of the art aquarium and entertainment center! This gorgeous property will re-open later this year as the St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station, boasting six galleries, including “Shark Canyon,” foodie influenced restaurants, animal encounters, behind the scenes access, a multi-level ropes course, an observation wheel and experiences you only read about, the St. Louis Aquarium opening is highly anticipated by everyone!
Union Station Fire and Water Show
Right outside of Union Station, on your way to Landry’s Seafood or the Soda Fountain is a large pond with fish swimming around. As you walk by during scheduled times during the afternoon and evening, you’ll see a musically synchronized show with fire, lights and water. Don’t let those lotus plants floating on the water fool you, during the show they shoot flames 25 feet into the air. The lights in the trees will pulse with the music as delightful bursts of fire and water play in the water. Relax in a lounge chair and catch the shows at: 12:30pm, 1:30pm, 5:00pm, 6:00pm, 7:00pm, 8:00pm and 9:00pm
Union Station Music & Light Show
The Grand Hall in Union Station is historic and lovely and in pristine condition, reminiscent of the peak years of train travel, but the ceilings and walls come alive every evening with hourly music and light shows. Grab a beverage at the bar or lean your head back on the couches as you take in the sights and sounds of one of the 18 different shows that project on the magnificent ceilings of Grand Hall. This free attraction will amuse all ages.
The National Blues Museum in St. Louis
Music lovers (of any genre) should absolutely add the National Blues Museum to their itinerary. Through artifacts, interactive panels and videos stories, this museum connects the world of the Blues to American history and culture. The Blues Museum is a self guided museum. In addition to perusing the museum (admission fee), there’s a live performance area where local musicians perform live. On Thursday nights, visitors can pop in to hear the free jam sessions where anyone can show up and sign up to jam on stage with their own gear.
Drury Plaza Hotel St. Louis at the Arch
Every single time that I’m asked where someone should stay in St. Louis, I recommend the Drury Inn. Drury operates several properties throughout St. Louis and you really can’t go wrong staying at any of them. Our family likes to stay near the Gateway Arch because it puts us within walking distance of the National Park, the Old Courthouse, good restaurants and the sculpture garden. Other attractions aren’t too far away and can easily be reached with a quick ride-share, public transportation or by hoping in the car.
The Drury has always had spacious, clean and updated rooms but they really hit a home run when it comes to value. Each morning, there’s a hot breakfast served up; breakfast burritos, waffles, sausage, potatoes, biscuits and gravy, scrambled eggs…the list goes on and one. But there’s more; Drury offers an evening reception time where each adult can have up to three alcoholic beverages, plus there’s a hot food bar with items like tacos, baked potato bar, nachos and other filling choices.
Sugarfire Smokehouse St. Louis BBQ
The best brisket I’ve ever had was at Sugarfire in downtown St. Louis. The perfect lunch spot before or after a visit to the National Blues Museum, Sugarfire is fantastic! I had the Brisket Dip Sandwich, sort of like a French Dip with Au Jus. There was so much brisket stuffed on to my sandwich that I was able to remove some just so I could dip it in the special barbecue sauces. The best sauce in my opinion? The White BBQ Sauce. Oh.em.gee.
I had no idea that Sugarfire also has a location in Indianapolis!
Bailey’s Range is just one of several restaurant concepts in the Bailey’s Restaurants family. This burger joint with community seating is popular for their traditional and boozy milkshakes and french fries with a selection of dipping sauces. At the recommendation of a friend and with the promise of delectable fry sauces, we walked the several blocks from our stay at Drury Inn near the St. Louis Arch. My friend Sara recommends the hamburger with two thumbs up! Bailey’s Range sources many ingredients locally and prides themselves on their farm-to-table mission.
FORM Skybar at Hotel St. Louis
This historic hotel offers more than a comfy bed, the rooftop bar is one of the hippest places to meet up with friends or grab a drink in the evenings. Grab a babysitter, meet up with a friend or go on a date night in this beautifully illuminated space that serves fantastic small plates and unique drinks. We indulged in the sangria but then had to some of their specialty cocktails.
The City Museum
When I tell my friends about taking our kids to the St. Louis City Museum, I describe it as the most dangerous fun you’ll ever see. Kids and adults love the City Museum for so many reasons and the thrill of the unexpected is just the start. There are places to climb, places to crawl and places to create and SO MANY things to see! We took our daughter for the first time when she was two years old and we just keep going back!
This eclectic collection of treasures from architecture, industry and design is on display and mostly hands on. There really aren’t many things in this “museum” that kids aren’t allowed to touch. Be prepared and have a plan for meeting up if you become separated…I mean, WHEN you become separated. Also, be prepared to allow for some independence for your kiddos that are about school aged, this place is amazing!
The Missouri Botanical Garden
We’ve visited the Botanical Gardens with our children twice and it’s been one of the favorite attractions for us every time. The Missouri Botanical Gardens are great to visit with kids specifically because of the Children’s Garden. The Doris I. Schnuck Children’s Garden is open daily April – October. Admission is free for adults and only $5 for children age 3-12. When the temperatures rise, there’s a splash area to cool off in.
Kids will love this space for all of the pretend areas and the places to explore. There are interpreters through the area, engaging young visitors in activities. My kids especially love the treehouse that are connected throughout the gardens. There are plenty of places to play and explore and climb, this makes the Children’s Garden a MUST during our spring and summer visits.
St. Louis Zoo
If you haven’t heard it yet, I’m here to tell you that St. Louis has one of the absolute best zoos in the universe and visiting the zoo is FREE! That’s right, your visit to this zoo won’t cost you a penny if you don’t want it to. Kids love the St. Louis Zoo because of the variety of animals that call the zoo home. Parents love it for the learning opportunities, the family togetherness and the incredible affordability.
This sculpture park in downtown St. Louis is brimming with art and gardens that catch your eye and draw you in. There’s even a seasonal splash pad. Citygarden is the perfect space to step in and wander around, stretch out on the grass, sit in a seating area and watch the world go by.
As you can see, there are so many places to explore in St. Louis, and we’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg. I’ll add more information about other attractions after our next visit. If you have any questions or suggestions for our next big road trip to STL, drop them in a comment below!
Photos by Katy Mann
St. Louis Aquarium photos courtesy of St. Louis Aquarium