Above photo: Kids take a break from the animals at the Saint Louis Zoo to enjoy the children's zoo, which offers several play areas with water.
Story by Jody Mitori; photos by Lynden Steele
Jody is an editor and writer who lives in St. Louis. Lynden is director of photojournalism at the Reynolds Journalism Institute.
Whether your kids are animal lovers, science fans or adventurers, the city has many options to explore.
When I talk to fellow St. Louisans who moved away for a stint and then returned to live in the area, I usually find that they came back for the same reason I did: It’s a great place to raise children. The cost of living is affordable here, the area is easy to navigate and many activities are designed for kids. Here are some of my family’s favorite things to do at places we return to time and again.
Contrary to its name, the City Museum isn’t an institution dedicated to origins of St. Louis. Instead, it’s a wild adventure filled with dark caves, twisting, maze-like climbing areas and many, many slides. You can test your mettle on the steep 10-story slide, scramble through the imaginative wrought-iron structures of the outdoor playground MonstroCity or try walking into the school bus that is precariously poised on the edge of the roof. If you’re more of an observer, view the world’s largest pencil, walk through the Architectural Museum or watch a performance by the students of Circus Harmony, the circus school based in the museum. If you plan on going on the slides frequently, wear long pants to avoid motion burns down the slippery surfaces and bring a flashlight if you want to travel through the tunnels. The gift shop even sells knee pads for visitors who may not be used to crawling through tight spaces. Children 2 and under are admitted free.
The St. Louis Zoo is located on 90 acres of iconic Forest Park and is home to about 16,000 animals. The campus is so large that we often start our visits at the Children’s Zoo where kids can climb a rock wall, see a sloth, armadillo or naked mole rat or pet a chinchilla, rabbit or guinea pig. We then move on to our other favorite spots, including Sea Lion Sound, home to some of the zoo's most playful residents; River’s Edge with its majestic elephants; and the Wild where you can find grizzlies, polar bears, penguins and puffins. Admission to the zoo is free.
For a look at regional history, visit the Missouri History Museum, also in Forest Park. Families will enjoy the lively History Clubhouse with its exhibits that show life in ancient Cahokia, the steamboats on the Mississippi and foods that were popular at the 1904 World’s Fair. Kids can try on costumes, create puppet shows or pretend they’re fishing from a canoe. The museum also has several new and continuing exhibits in its galleries, including “Muny Memories,” which celebrates 100 seasons of the grand outdoor theater in Forest Park, and “Seeking St. Louis,” which traces the development of the city over 200 years. Admission to the museum is free.
The St. Louis Science Center is on the southeast corner of Forest Park and is a must-stop for anyone interested in science. A treat for the eyes, the space features impressive animatronic dinosaur models, a human hamster wheel that generates power and the Energizer Ball Machine that wraps around the lobby. Visitors can build foam architectural structures, measure the speed of highway traffic from the museum’s indoor bridge or learn about farm-to-table food at the "Grow" exhibit. The museum is free, but for an extra cost, you can see a film in the IMAX theater or gaze at the stars in the James S. McDonnell Planetarium.
Located in St. Louis County to the southwest of the city, the Magic House is a paradise for kids in grade school and younger. Every exhibit is interactive, so young explorers can spend hours playing, whether it’s climbing up the towering beanstalk, going grocery shopping in the Children’s Village, making a bubble dome or playing a song on musical chairs. No visit is complete until you pose for a hair-standing photo of yourself touching the electrically charged ball. I still have mine from when I was a kid. Free for kids under 1.
When I want to see what’s in bloom at the Missouri Botanical Garden, the best way for me to persuade my kids to join me is to promise a visit to the Children's Garden. Filled with bridges, a treehouse and slides, the area also has an edible garden, a pollination garden, a fountain and a general store. The nearby Brookings Exploration Center provides a place to learn about plants and why they’re important. The botanical garden also runs the Butterfly House in Chesterfield, Missouri, about a half-hour drive from the garden. The conservatory houses about 2,000 butterflies flying among tropical plants. Free for children 12 and under. Admission to the Children’s Garden (open April through October) or the Butterfly Garden is extra.
Once the home of St. Louis’ prestigious Busch family, Grant’s Farm is named for President Ulysses S. Grant who also lived on the land. Now, visitors can tour the farm, take a spin on the carousel and watch different animals, including goats, antelope, zebras and, most notably, the Clydesdales, which have their stables at Grant’s Farm. My favorite part is the tram ride at the beginning of the visit that shows off the beautiful grounds and its animals. Adult visitors can also enjoy the Bauernhof, which offers free beer samples. Admission to Grant’s Farm is free, but visitors pay to park.
A St. Louis native shares her list of must-see spots in her hometown.
When visiting, be sure to finish a meal with a piece of gooey butter cake.