If you’re a Midwest family and haven’t planned your St. Louis family trip yet, you need to get busy! This easily accessible, affordable, and just plan fun destination is the perfect place to plan your next family weekend getaway, Spring Break trip, or Midwest summer staycation.
We recently returned from our spring break adventures to St. Louis, Missouri and I thought it might be helpful to outline how we organized a kid-friendly St. Louis itinerary.
Planning your St Louis Family Trip – A 4-Day Itinerary for Kids
Explore Forest Park + one FREE museum
You can’t go wrong with kicking off your first day in St. Louis with a trip to Forest Park. It’s one of the biggest city parks in the country and was originally developed as the grounds for the 1904 World’s Fair. Now it’s home to several museums, beautiful gardens, trails, and outdoor recreation opportunities.
Start at the Forest Park Visitor’s Center for a lay of the land, free bathrooms, and a great playground. There’s also folks staffing the desk who can answer questions for you about the city and offer you brochures and travel guides for lots of the area’s attractions. Free parking is available across the street.
Then, spend some time exploring various parts of the park before heading to one of the city’s FREE museums. Yup, that’s right, St. Louis boasts an incredible offering of FREE public museums including the St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis Science Center (there are some special perks for ASTC Passport Members), and the Missouri History Museum. Some have additional fees for special exhibits or parking but general admission is FREE to everyone.
We chose to visit the Missouri Museum of History on our rainy first day and it was the perfect place to showcase some of the history of the city. Don’t miss the History Clubhouse area for kids with lots of hands-on exhibits. It’s also free, but you do need to stop by the front desk for a timed entrance ticket.
Stay at the Drury Plaza Hotel at the Arch
To finish your day, head to the Drury Plaza Hotel at the Arch. The hotel is literally steps from the iconic Gateway Arch and even though most rooms don’t have a direct view, you can still take advantage by exploring the riverfront or grabbing your best Arch selfie when you head outside.
Like all Drury Hotels, an evening reception and full breakfast are included and there are plenty of suites available for families. Parking is an additional $20 per day but we were able to leave our car until mid-afternoon on our check-out day so it saved us paying for parking while we visited the Arch.
The hotel is extremely popular and when we stayed on a Saturday night, the pool and eating areas were pretty busy, so it’s something to keep in mind if you prefer a calmer hotel. Our room was nice and quiet though, and the location can’t be beat.
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Visit the Arch and Gateway Arch National Park
Leave your car and walk across the street to begin your day at Gateway Arch National Park, one of the newest national parks in the country. You’ll need to do a bit of pre-planning to make sure you get tickets for the Arch. Tickets can be purchased online ahead of time but you need to check often to see if they’re selling out, especially if your travel plans aren’t flexible.
Over spring break, the tickets were available until a few days before and then quickly sold out. Luckily I checked again the morning of our visit (as I stood in a huge line to see if there were any walk-ups available) and they had opened another tram so I bought tickets online for a few hours later and we picked them up at will-call.
Plan to get in line at least 30 minutes ahead of your tram ticket time to go through security (more if it’s a holiday or peak summer hours). It moves quickly and then you’re able to check out the museum while you wait for your tram time.
Kids can earn a Junior Ranger badge by picking up a workbook at the Information Desk before security. Turn it in near the theater entrance across the from the gift shop. Both my boys love this free program and always learn so much as they complete the workbooks.
My kids also loved the top of the Arch. The views are fantastic and they had fun playing “I Spy”. My youngest was a little nervous about the small tram car, but once we got going it wasn’t bad. It’s a 4-minute ride to the top and can be a little crowded in the viewing area but you’re welcome to stay at the top of the arch for as long as you like.
Overall, we spent several hours here and still had more we could have seen. I can’t stress enough to buy your tickets ahead of time to make sure you can ride to the top if you want.
Lots of people skip right over this part of the Gateway Arch National Park and miss out on some really cool history at the Old Courthouse. Not only did famous court battles like the Dred Scott case take place here, but the building itself is beautiful and includes some interesting exhibits about the city. Its also offers another Junior Ranger badge so if your kids are on a roll, you can earn another one right here.
We found it to be quiet and a nice break from the crowds while we waited for our tram time. It opens at 8:00 most mornings (typically before the Arch) so if you’ve got early risers like I do, it’s nice to have sometime to do with them.
Play at a Park
After you’ve finished at the National Park, walk west directly behind the Old Courthouse to find Kiener Plaza Park. It’s a great open plaza with some restaurants surrounding it and a super fun playground (plus splash pad in the warmer months) that my kids loved. A few blocks further west and you can visit Citygarden, which is a public sculpture park perfect for selfies and ‘gram posts.
Ice Cream at Fountain on Locust
All of your exploring will have earned you a treat and there’s no better place for both kids and grown-ups than Fountain on Locust. It’s just a few miles from downtown in a retro art deco building. The menu offers sandwiches and salads if you’re hungry for a meal, but even if you’re not, you’ll need to make room for one of their fabulous ice cream treats from the restored soda fountain.
Plus the real fun for parents is the huge dessert martini list or boozy shakes. Use Yelp’s Waitlist to find out the wait time and add your name to the list before you arrive as it can get busy at peak times.
Stay in a neighborhood Airbnb
While we love staying in a big downtown hotel, we also love the quiet and space of an Airbnb, and so I highly recommend exploring one of the many unique neighborhoods of St. Louis. We lucked out and found the perfect 2 bedroom house in historic Lafayette Square just a few miles from downtown.
As always, do some research online before choosing an Airbnb to make sure you’re comfortable with the neighborhood. I find reviews are often very helpful along with a quick Google map search. If you’ve never tried Airbnb, I’ve got some tips for you + a $40 off coupon.
Related Post: Airbnb with Kids: Tips for Your First Experience
Let Your Kids Explore
Today’s all about playing and exploring! For older kids and teens (ages 6+), I highly recommend City Museum, a crazy one-of-a-kind art-installation-meets-playground for adults and kids. We had so many recommendations for this place and none of them are wrong. It truly is something you have to experience with your kids but make sure they’re up for it as this place is big and vast and can make a helicopter mama’s heart stop.
I found this post from Crystal at Exploration America really helpful in knowing what to expect. Dress your kids in bright colors. Have a plan if they get separated from you, and most of all, be ready to let go a little and have fun.
If that seems a little overwhelming or you have younger kiddos with you, I recommend skipping City Museum and heading to The Magic House, St Louis’s children’s museum. You can read a review here and here’s some tips on saving money.
More Treats at Crown Candy Kitchen
It wouldn’t be vacation if you don’t fit in as much ice cream as you can! So, hitting up St. Louis’s oldest soda fountain was definitely on our list. Crown Candy Kitchen is just north of downtown and is in a bit of a developing neighborhood, but we loved grabbing homemade shakes and admiring the case full of freshly made chocolate. If you don’t want to wait for a table, you can grab to-go orders at the counter.
Dinner at Mission Taco Joint
Chances are, no matter where you stay, you’ll be close to one this local taco chain’s locations and you should NOT pass it by. Mission Taco Joint has delicious and creative tacos, great drinks, and awesome service and I highly recommend it for a kid-friendly option. Don’t skip the queso, trust me!
St. Louis Zoo
For your final day in St. Louis you’ll need to take a walk on the wild side. The St. Louis Zoo is consistently ranked as one of the best zoos in the country and the best part is that it’s FREE. There is a charge for parking, but if you get there early you can snag street parking for free, plus the carousel and children’s zoo are free for the first hour of the day.
The zoo winds around in various sections, each themed around a different habitat. If you want to splurge a little, grab the Adventure Pass which lets you take advantage of all the extra-cost attractions for one low price. The on and off privileges for the train alone are worth it, especially if you’ve got little feet that will get tired.
Don’t miss the penguin exhibit, sea lion show, or a trip through the special Children’s Zoo section. There’s tons of hands-on animal experiences for kids and during the summer you can check out the daily show.
We spent a full day here and still didn’t see everything so it’s probably best to make a plan so you can hit the places you most want to see.
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Additional Ideas to Add to Your St Louis Family Trip
If you’ve got extra time, here’s some other St. Louis attractions that I heard were kid-friendly. Some of them are seasonal or outside the city but all could be swapped out for any of the above ideas.
A St. Louis family trip won’t leave you disappointed no matter what you choose to do. The free attractions, great food, and unique history of the city make it one of our favorite Midwest getaway spots for kids!
What’s your favorite thing to do or eat in St Louis? Leave your recommendations below or ask a question so we can help you plan your best trip yet!