Gas-Tank Getaways: Family Vacation to St. Louis, MO

Family Travel

St. Louis is a fantastic family destination for Lake County families looking for a change of scenery and a large variety of family-oriented activities. There are so many attractions in and around St. Louis that both our contributors and readers have recommended it might be time to fill up the gas tank and get ready to hit the road for a St. Louis getaway. Several Little Lake County contributors have had successful family trips to St. Louis, so we pooled our experiences to provide our readers with the ultimate guide to a family vacation in St. Louis, MO.

Family Vacation to St. Louis, MO

St. Louis is about a five to six hour drive from Lake County, straight downstate. Springfield, IL, where the Illinois State Capitol is located, is nearly a halfway spot during the ride if you want to break up the drive. A great weather tip I received from a friend who is a Lake County transplant from St. Louis, is that it’s almost always 10 degrees warmer there than it is here in Lake County. This makes St. Louis hot in the mid-summer but typically pleasantly warm in fall or spring. We went this past spring break and enjoyed the weather in the mid to upper 70s, while it barely reached the mid-60s back home. It wasn’t tropical, but we drove five hours and were able to break out our shorts for the trip to the zoo.

Top places for families to visit in St. Louis:

city museum, st. louis
© J. Johnson | Little Lake | 2015

City Museum

750 North 16th Street, St. Louis, MO. |  (314) 231-CITY (2489) | FacebookExperience by Maureen
By far, City Museum is the one place I kept hearing about when I told people we were planning a trip to St. Louis. When I perused the website, I couldn’t quite figure out what to expect, but we decided we had to check it out based on the amount of recommendations I received. Let me tell you; City Museum is definitely one of a kind! What I can say is that calling it a “museum” is a bit of a stretch. It’s basically one of the world’s largest and most intricate indoor/outdoor climbing and play areas. When you pull up, there is a school bus hanging off the side of the building, and an airplane, and all sorts of stairs and wire tunnels connecting it all for anyone to climb. At the ticket booth, there was a sign that said “No Maps.” My kids were thrilled; I was overwhelmed.

city museum st. louis, family vacation st. louis MO
© M. Collier | Little Lake | 2015

There are stairs and tunnels and slides and tiny caves spread out among all levels of an old shoe factory. It’s a dream for older children. Younger kids love it too, but it is difficult for parents to keep up with them and not get separated. Many tunnels require climbing and crouching on your knees. Some people actually come in knee pads because there is so much crawling. As a family of six, with children ages nine, seven, and two and a half, the City Museum was really too much for us to handle. There is a “toddler” area, so we divided one parent with the little guys and one parent with the older kids. Unfortunately, the toddler area is not fully enclosed, and still a bit crazy to track little ones.

city museum st. louis, family vacation st. louis MO
© M. Collier | Little Lake | 2015

After a little more than an hour, I was exhausted and pretty stressed by trying to keep up with twins in the hectic toddler area, so I gave up and took them to the car. Thank goodness for our DVD player and some good snacks. We camped out in the parking lot while my husband explored the outdoor tunnels with the older kids. My seven and nine-year-olds loved the whole thing, and it is definitely unlike anything I have ever seen before, but it’s a challenging place for kids under the age of eight.

city museum st. louis, family vacation st. louis MO
© J. Johnson | Little Lake | 2015

City Museum (with older children) Experience by Jennifer
Older children definitely have more options to play and explore at City Museum. My family took advantage of letting our older child lead his younger sibling through the multiple slides, tunnels, and attractions, which made the visit a little easier to manage. For the most part, we were able to stay together as a family and enjoy the museum together. There were are few areas that were a challenge to keep track of the kids and we couldn’t always easily discern where they were going to end up after crawling through a tunnel, but we made it through a several-hour visit without any incidents. We would definitely visit again. Editor’s Note: We also visited with kids 8-16 and had a similar experience.

City Museum is part curiosity shop and part rugged jungle gym, with a side of eclectic art-inspired creations. Many of the areas in City Museum are designed from reclaimed and repurposed items, artfully crafted into new, imaginative playthings.

You can spend a few hours here or the whole day–it’s that big. There are several eateries within City Museum where you can grab a bite or drink, and some even serve adult beverages. One grill area is located near a giant outdoor ball pit, where families can dine outside and relax alongside an exploration area for kids; it’s also lit up at night for a nighttime play experience.  There is also a rooftop level to explore and take in scenic views of the sun setting over downtown St. Louis in the evening.

The Gateway Arch

11 North 4th Street, St. Louis, MO | (877) 982-1410 – Experience by Maureen
The Gateway Arch is the iconic metal arch that signifies the gateway to the west. It’s a beautiful engineering feat located downtown along the Mississippi River and a site to behold. If you decide to go to the top of the arch, be aware that you must buy tickets in advance for a specific time. Even with your tickets, expect a long wait to get into the Arch, and when you do, you ride in tiny pods (5 people per pod unless you have lap sitters) up to the viewing area.

It’s very hot, and the windows are very small at the top, but it’s still a pretty cool experience. The long wait and the view might not be worth the trip if you have small children, but all four of my kids really enjoyed the pods that transport you to the top and peeking out the windows to St. Louis below.

The Magic House Children’s Museum

516 S. Kirkwood Rd. St. Louis, MO | (314) 822-8900 | FacebookExperience by Maureen
The Magic House Children’s Museum in St. Louis is a hands-on, interactive children’s museum that will delight children of all ages. Spread among multiple levels of a beautiful historic mansion (which has seen many upgrades and expansions over the year), the children’s museum is split up among many different and fun exhibits in separate wings. My kids, ages two through nine,  spent hours among the many exhibits.

Highlights of the Magic House were the three-story, jack and the beanstalk leaf climbing structure inside the stairwell, the patriotic karaoke in the star-spangled center, the library mystery, and the kids and toddler play area. There were so many cool exhibits around this museum; I would rate this as a must-visit attraction in St. Louis if you have children between the ages of two and 10.

Busch Stadium

700 Clark Ave, St. Louis, MO | (314) 345-9600 | FacebookExperience by Jennifer
Bush Stadium offers family-oriented tours of the stadium that allow unprecedented, behind-the-scenes access to areas such as the radio broadcast booth, the esteemed Cardinal’s Club–home of several World Series Trophies, and the Cardinal’s dugout. Our family gives top ratings to this ballpark tour.

busch stadium tours, family vacation to st. louis mo
© J. Johnson | Little Lake | 2015


801 Market St., St. Louis, MO – Experience by Jennifer
Citygarden is a unique, urban respite located in the heart of downtown St. Louis. It stretches for two city blocks and showcases public art, plantings, sculpture, gardens, and water features. Works by world-famous artists are featured here, and there are no fences, gates, or barricades.

city garden, family vacation to st. louis mo
© J. Johnson | Little Lake | 2015

Citygarden is a great place to take the entire family to explore and enjoy a no-holds-barred approach to public art and collaborative modern urban design.

city garden, family vacation to st. louis mo
© J. Johnson | Little Lake | 2015

Forest Park

Experience by Holly
I believe that Forest Park is undoubtedly the heart of St. Louis. While the Gateway Arch may be its tourist attraction, residents of St. Louis will tell you that Forest Park is where it’s at. I’d liken it to Chicago’s lakefront parks or New York’s Central Park, but it has its own unique character. The sprawling 1,293-acre park is about 500 acres larger than Central Park, just to give you an idea of its vastness. Development began in 1876, and it is now one of the largest urban parks in the United States.

The city’s major cultural institutions are located here, including the Saint Louis Zoo, Saint Louis Art Museum (FREE!), Missouri History Museum, Saint Louis Science Center, The MUNY (America’s Oldest and Largest Outdoor Musical Theatre), The Jewel Box (a display greenhouse) and The Boathouse. The park is home to historic buildings, festivals, concerts, special events, miles of trails (paved and gravel), wildlife, monuments and art installations, waterways, and bridges. There is free street parking throughout the park, making it easy for families to hit all the spots they want to see.

St. Louis Zoo

One Government Drive, St. Louis, MO | (314) 781-0900 | FacebookExperience by Holly
The St. Louis Zoo is a delightful family zoo located within Forest Park. The zoo has many wonderful animal exhibits, as well as an excellent children’s area, with a petting zoo, play area, and indoor interactive education center. We found the zoo large enough to see all our favorite animals, but not so big that we were overwhelmed, and we all loved taking a break to play in the children’s area.

The Jewel Box

Wells and McKinley in Forest Park, St. Louis, MO | (314) 531-0080 – Experience by Jennifer
The Jewel Box is an amazing art-deco display greenhouse that is listed on the National Historic Register. It houses permanent and seasonal floral displays. A gorgeous pond is located to the front of the building with dazzling displays of seasonal flowers and floating lily pads. The Jewel Box is open to the public and is surrounded by walking paths and picturesque areas, making it a great place to stop and snap a few family photos.

jewel box, family vacation to st. louis mo
© J. Johnson | Little Lake | 2015

The St. Louis Science Center

5050 Oakland Ave., St. Louis, MO | (314) 289-4400 – Experience by Jennifer
A whole day can be spent at the Saint Louis Science Center, and it is FREE! The Saint Louis Science Center is located just across a bridge to the James S. McDonnell Planetarium, but there is a nominal admission fee to visit the planetarium. There are plenty of hands-on and feet-on exhibits for the family. Popular spots include an architectural exhibit, “Structures, ” and the star shows at the planetarium are interesting and informative for the whole family.

st. louis science center, family vacation in st. louis mo
© J. Johnson | Little Lake | 2015

St. Louis Art Museum

One Fine Arts Drive, Forest Park, St. Louis, MO | (314) 721-0072 | FacebookExperience by Holly
The Saint Louis Art Museum is another free-admission attraction located in Forest Park. It is home to a vast collection of art, and the museum offers family tours and activities on Sunday afternoons.

Six Flags St. Louis

4900 Six Flags Rd, Eureka, MO | (636) 938-5300 – Experience by Jennifer
Six Flags St. Louis is located 30 miles southwest of downtown St. Louis in Eureka, Missouri, and it is a theme park that does not disappoint. There are plenty of rides here for the entire family to enjoy, and it’s all housed in a park surrounded by lush, tree-lined landscapes.

Six Flags St. Louis, family vacation to st. louis mo
© J. Johnson | Little Lake | 2015

St. Louis has so much to offer for families with children of all ages. This is just a sampling of activities your family might enjoy on a trip to St. Louis. For more ideas, please visit Explore St. Louis for more tourism offerings or to request a current St. Louis Visitors Guide.

Has your family visited the City Museum or taken a trip to St. Louis? What is on your list of not-to-miss attractions?

Gas-Tank Getaways: Family Vacation to St. Louis, MO
About Maureen Collier 30 Articles
Maureen calls Vernon Hills home and four children call her “Mom.” With her children (boy 2/06, girl 9/07 and twin boys 6/12), Maureen is a busy Stay-At-Home Mom, who dedicates herself to modeling an active lifestyle for her family.

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