Saturday, August 13, 2016

Road Trip: St. Louis

After an amazing, jam-packed, family-friendly trip to St. Louis, wanted to share our experience to make sure you consider a trip to this city.

Quick Family Travel Facts:
  • We like to save money & time where we can
  • We wake up at the crack of 6 am, so we over-prepare and plan to fit in everything we can into each day before the kids tire out and/or have melt downs.  This has continuously worked well for us and wanted to share some of the tips.
  • Assume for each section, we arrive at or before the place opens.

Accommodations, Transportation, & Misc:
We stayed near the airport, and while it was only 20-30 minutes to get to each activity, would look for a new area in the future (open to suggestions) - contemplating downtown or the Galleria area to be near evening activities & restaurants.
  • Car: We drove to St. Louis (5 hours from Chicago). Parking at each venue was inexpensive.
  • Stroller: We used our stroller at the Zoo and Botanical Garden to extend the "life" of our kids.
  • Apps: Used the zoo app a few times to give animal facts to the kids.

Gateway Arch:
The quintessential Gateway Arch monument is a fun stop if you have never been. Not to mention it is the tallest monument in the world (stands 630' high and 630' wide - remember this fact to share during the tour. You're welcome).

If you pre-purchase tickets, the wait is no issue. We purchased online when 3 hours from the city. You leave with your assigned "group" time, then are shuffled to another area for quick facts and then routed to the transit to the top - which may feel claustrophobic to some as 5 people sit in a cozy egg-shaped car. The viewing area can feel congested, but be patient for the ebb and flow to see the nice views of the downtown and river.

Note: During our visit, the grounds surrounding the Arch were under construction, making it a longer walk from where we parked ($6).  However, we loved walking through Laclede's Landing & Riverwalk - the cities oldest district.

After the Arch, we walked to The Old Spaghetti Factory for dinner. Kids loved the roaming balloon artist, parents loved the warehouse feel.

St. Louis Zoo
Although the St. Louis Zoo is the Best Free Attraction in the US, it could easily compete with many of the nation's zoos that have an entrance fee.  The zoo is beautifully kept, signage is great, and animals are plentiful (They have a ton of elephants!). We could have spent another day there.

While entry is free, add on costs are: Train, Children's Zoo, Carousel, 4D Theater, Stingrays, and the Sea Lion Show.  Purchasing an Adventure Pass is recommended to save money and/or these areas are free for the first hour the zoo is open (confirm this before going).

Parking is a cost at their lot, but the surrounding area has street parking for free.

Speaking of the surrounding area, the zoo is nestled in the city's gorgeous Forest Park.  It is an expansive park with rolling hills, museums, restaurants, and theater.

Check the zoo website for tips on when divers are active in tanks or feeding is likely to occur.

City Museum
I could write an entire blog about the City Museum.  It is absolutely amazing and unique. The best way to describe it is a real-life Chutes and Ladders.

There are no maps. I repeat - no maps. There were definitely areas of the museum we missed (am guessing ...I mean, there are no maps, so who knows). It is a series of rooms with tunnels, caves, slides, skate board ramps, ball pits, airplanes, buses, human-sized hamster wheels, and more.

My (strong) advice:
  • Wear workout clothes - athletic fit is best to avoid getting caught on slides and ladders. Long-sleeved and pants will protect your skin as you will be sliding and crawling a lot.
  • Wear knee pads - I'm not kidding.  See sentence above. Crawling a lot. On metal. 6 year olds seem unphased.  Those over 30, not the same.
  • Take a flashlight - Many had headlamps and it took everything in me not to steal it off their heads. You will need it to find your way through a lot of the space.
  • Age - Recommend 5 years old and up. Our 3 year old did fine, but held us back. The 5 year old did great. 
We grabbed a quick donut breakfast at Pharaoh's Donuts near the museum. While it is a hole in the wall establishment, you can watch them make the donuts and they are really good. I may have gone back for seconds. 

City Museum: Indoor & Outdoor Climbing Bonanza

Missouri Botanic Garden
The Missouri Botanic Garden was beautiful and had a lot of great areas to enjoy.  The garden (and parking) is free, though the Children's museum is a small cost.  The kids had a blast playing in the different areas - climbing structures, slides, ropes, and a water feature (kids will get soaked).

In the main garden, we were able to touch turtles and feed Koi Fish.  Another nice touch: Water Bottle filling areas, so you can bring and fill up your own bottle!

Recommend visiting Ices Plain & Fancy in the nearby, historic Shaw neighborhood. The ice cream is made in front of you using fast-churn liquid nitrogen. Very futuristic!

The Magic House
The Magic House is hands down our favorite Children's Museum we have visited.  And we've seen a lot. It is massive, pristine, and creative: something to discover at every turn. The entire family had a blast - we came when it opened, and closed it down.

Some of our favorite rooms (though it is hard to narrow down): Coloring a fish and then scanning it onto a projection wall where it moved around; and the Construction Zone - it features a small scale versions of a house.

Not sure if this is standard, but the museum started to clear out around 3 p.m. so we felt like we had the run of the place.

This shows a glimpse of the facility:

This shows some of our favorite areas:
Clockwise from top left: Construction site (was unbelievable), two Presidents!, Little Car Repair, Musical Balls,
Football Test Area, Art to Action, Ice Cream Cart, Puzzles!
All of the restaurants were great with kids and had something for them to do at each spot.  Our favorite area for meals was in the Delmar Loop neighborhood of St. Louis. We ate at Fitz's and Salt + Smoke.

Fitz's Root beer is a St. Louis staple for ginormous root beer floats and a bottling room you can watch in action (check site for the bottling schedule). While no reservations are accepted, place your name on the list, eat at a nearby restaurants (Salt+Smoke!) and then have dessert at Fitz's.

Conclusion: We had a great time and still had more we wanted to see - Grant's Farm, City Garden, Butterfly House, and Myseum. However, we are confident the ones we did were a perfect fit for our family!  Hope you are able to take a trip to this city and this was helpful in your planning!!