For my son’s 10th birthday, we decided to take a trip to St. Louis instead of spending a ton of money on a birthday party. We are all about having experiences, so naturally, traveling is frequently on our minds. The City Museum in St. Louis had been on my list for years. Once I told my birthday boy to be about the City Museum, we booked a trip without hesitation. He was just as excited as I was. Being the Midwesterners that we are, we decided to drive since Chicago is only a few hours away from St. Louis, Missouri.
I would like to also mention that I am a huge fan of Airbnb. I prefer Airbnb (most of the time) instead of staying at hotels. Many times they tend to be cheaper and more private. They are also extremely homey and cozy. During our St. Louis trip, we stayed at a lovely little Airbnb in a very old and historic house near downtown St. Louis. It was nothing fancy, but it was part of the experience.
On our quick weekend road trip, we had tons of fun! Here are some of the best things to do with kids in St. Louis, Missouri.
- The City Museum
The City Museum is like one giant artifact full of other artifacts that have been repurposed to make a giant indoor/outdoor playground for kids (and adults if you’re up for it). There are so many fascinating exhibits inside of the City Museum, that you will be sure to spend an entire day there. The City Museum is ginormous and is very, very interactive for the entire family. We went in June, on a hot summer’s day. Despite the air conditioning throughout, we were still sweating from all of the running and playing – not to mention all the other humans creating their body heat and energy! If you go to the City Museum and plan to play in their multi-level indoor and outdoor exhibits, wear something that will keep you cool. Make sure to pack water, and snacks if you can! Note: At the entrance, the staff will ask you to put your phone number on your child’s wristband because if you don’t crawl and climb with them in every single nook and cranny of that building they will more than likely wander off and get lost.
The City Museum is a museum that has tons of exhibits that consist of repurposed architectural and industrial objects. The International Shoe building in the St. Louis Loft District is where the City Museum and all of its glorious antique repurposed artifacts are currently located. The museum has attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors since it opened in 1997. When we first entered the “museum” (gigantic multi-level, indoor & outdoor play place), it felt like entering an urban madhouse that had similarities to a wild jungle. Art was everywhere. There were fish tanks. Octopus tentacles sticking out of the ceilings and walls. Mirrors were everywhere. Giant whales and bugs that you can play in and on. There was even a passageway that had a door of an old antique bank vault with massive gears on it. This place is WILD!
The art being incorporated all over the museum was exciting for my son and me. It was interesting to see how many old vintage and antique items were placed throughout the museum and repurposed into new things that were meant for kids to play on, in, or under. At some point, we were even crawling in underground caves (bring flashlights or wear a hard hat with a light) and made our way into a treehouse with a giant slide. After sliding down we found ourselves in a large hallway with a very old piano. I know this sounds crazy, but this is very real. We spent the entire day here. What I am describing is merely a small fraction of what the City Museum entails.
During our lunch break, we sat at a round table in the cafeteria and two preteen girls approached us asking if they could sit with us. Of course, I said yes, and the girls (very smart) told me they came prepared. They were wearing knee pads! Yes. Knee pads. They informed me that before their visit they saw reviews online stating to wear kneepads due to the amount of crawling, climbing, and adventurous exploring that would be done at the City Museum. Smart girls! This reiterates the point that I have made in some other posts. Always, always, read the reviews. If we visit the City Museum again we will be sure to bring knee pads. They do sell them in the gift shop, but no one at the entrance told us that so we found out only at the end of our visit!
The outdoor portion of the exhibits was closed until the rain finally let up. Once the storms stopped that day, and the burning hot sun dried everything up, the employees let us play outside. Here we climbed up towers, played in old fire trucks and airplanes, and even explored secret medieval-looking dungeons. The City Museum is a place that you must go to if you want to have fun with your family in St. Louis.
2. The Magic House
During our trip, we also made our way to The Magic House in Kirkwood, Missouri. Kirkwood is only a 20-minute drive from St. Louis and is worth the trip. We again spent almost the entire day in this museum. The Magic House is extremely clean, well lit, and beautifully organized with a large variety of educational and interactive exhibits for children of all ages. It is a non-profit museum and has been operating since 1979. The location of the Magic House in Kirkwood is at an old Victorian mansion that is a large and well-maintained 5500 square foot building. The outside of The Magic House looks like a house. Once you walk up on the porch, it feels very homelike, but as soon as you enter the doors you are about to experience a new interactive play world!
The Magic House is a wonderful place, truly. There are exhibits where your child can be anything or anyone they want to be. At The Magic House, you can teach your children about archaeology, animals, insects, art, STEAM, and more. There is even a replica room of the Oval Office at The Magic House. Most of our day was spent analyzing rocks, bugs, and fossils and completing tasks throughout the exhibits, and creating projects. A memorable moment was also playing in the pretend library, restaurant, and grocery store. The Magic House is full of activities that place children in real-life scenarios, (like working at a veterinarian clinic equipped with x-ray machines for plushy stuffed animal cats and dogs) that help them learn and discover things about the real world that they live in.
The Poet Tree, Dinosaur Train Exhibit, and the 3D Art room were some of our favorites. The Magic House is well worth the ticket price and visit. You can never be bored inside of The Magic House. You may even lose track of time. There is also an outdoor play area with some sand for building sandcastles and sprinklers to play in on those hot Missouri summer days.
3. City Garden Sculpture Park
Traveling on a budget also includes visiting free places. The City Garden Sculpture Park is free, and open year-round in downtown St. Louis. It’s a beautiful park surrounded by skyscrapers and urban landscape and is home to many peculiar and fascinating sculptures in St. Louis. It is located in the city’s “Gateway Mall” area. The park is well kept and maintained by the Gateway Foundation (which I find very inspiring). The Gateway Foundation is a non-profit program that operates treatment plans for people who have had issues with substance abuse and have been involved in the criminal justice system.
One of the first sculptures we noticed was a giant head laying in the middle of the walkway. The head was large enough for us to fit inside (not recommended) and appeared to have bandages over its face. It’s a very unique piece of art that seems to have a much deeper meaning than just what appears on the surface. This is a statue of the Greek god, Eros. Eros, the god of passion and love is practically a name that everyone can recognize being that he is so popular. According to Greek mythology, in the beginning, the world started with three ancient beings: Chaos, Eros (love), and Gaia (Earth). This sculpture represents Eros and was created by Polish artist Igor Mitoraj.
There are many other fascinating works of art throughout the park including bunny rabbit sculptures, beautiful gardens with precisely arranged gravel that displays a pattern, and even a giant horse on a hill made of metal. While you are there, don’t forget to take a picture near the giant Pinocchio statue! Being that my son and I love mythology, folklore, and tales of old, that was one of our favorites!
You can roam freely through the urban garden and sculpture park as long as the weather permits. The only downfall for my son and me was that the sculptures themselves had no direct information or tags stating the names of the works, or the artists.
4. National Blues Museum (Best for Big Kids & Adults)
St. Louis is widely known for its music history and its BBQ. Before leaving the city, I highly suggest grabbing lunch from the Sugarfire restaurant that is conveniently located right near the St. Louis National Blues Museum. The smells coming out of the place were enticing and we floated straight into the restaurant as if we were on command!
If you are the type who loves history and likes to explore then the Blues Museum is the place for you (especially if you love music). The impact of the blues on the entire country will never be forgotten and is still alive and well in our world today. The Blues inspired countless artists over the years like Jimi Hendrix, Ma Rainey, and Jack White – all of whom we learned more about at the National Blues Museum. I was thrilled when my son told me he wanted to make a pit stop there.
The museum is a wonderful educational resource focusing primarily on the blues and has several interactive musical exhibits. The Jack White Experience was our favorite one! My son loved that exhibit near the end of our visit. The price to get in is relatively cheap, as the museum itself is not that large. However, it was still worth the visit in my nerdy opinion! The museum is a non-profit museum and its main intention is to inform all of its guests about how The Blues changed the world!
5. St. Louis Arch National Park
Naturally, our St. Louis, MO trip would not be complete until we went to the Arch! We did go twice. We visited the Arch on our first day in St. Louis, and we also went again on the last day of our 3-day mini weekend vacation. The Gateway Arch is about 630 feet tall and is made of stainless steel. It is the tallest man-made structure in the western hemisphere and is the tallest arch in the entire world. Built-in 1963 the Gateway Arch has been entertaining families for almost 60 years. The St. Louis Arch National Park is easily accessible and you can even go inside of the Arch and to the top which provides an incredible view of St. Louis, and Missouri. There is also a museum inside, and during the tram tour, you will learn about the history of this world-famous structure.
This “Gateway to the West” was designed in 1948 by the Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen. We felt incredibly lucky and in awe that we were able to see the Arch in person. At night, the Arch lights up the sky for all to see. If you plan on taking the tram to the top of the arch, you should purchase your tickets in advance. We made the mistake of not doing so, and therefore, the days we saw the arch, the tram tours were completely sold out!
There is still plenty to explore and many opportunities for photos near the arch and in the park itself. The Gateway Arch National Park is right near downtown and is within walking distance to many other fascinating little gems that St. Louis has to offer.