Cover photo by the Gateway Arch for Explore St. Louis
Unless you’re a Cardinals fan (cue Cubs’ fans cringing) or planning a road trip along historic Route 66, St. Louis, Missouri, may slip below the radar when it comes to summer travel, but it shouldn’t. This Midwestern, mid-sized city packs in family fun with plenty of attractions, great eats and attention-grabbing sights to satisfy everyone from pint-sized explorers to temperamental teens and parents aiming to create lifelong vacation memories.
Here are the top reasons to head to St. Louis next summer:
Check a landmark off your bucket list
Every city has its iconic landmark, one that instantly calls to mind its location, and the Gateway Arch should be on any first-time visitor’s must-see list. Standing at an impressive 630 feet, it’s America’s tallest manmade monument. First opened in 1965, it offers a birds-eye view of the St. Louis riverfront and city. Before or after your tram ride to the top, visit the impressive museum at its base, tracing America’s history from 1764 to 1965 with an emphasis on St. Louis and including the building of the Arch. Afterwards, stroll the Gateway Arch Park grounds, grab lunch (in season) at the Paddlewheel Café and then watch the scenery unfold along the mighty Mississippi River on a riverboat cruise. The narrated, one-hour trips highlight the history of St. Louis and the importance of the river.
Find a historic train station reinvented
Though St. Louis’ Union Station saw its last passenger train depart in 1978 after 84 years as a rail hub, the station is welcoming visitors once again, this time, to its many attractions – enough to keep everyone happy for several hours if not a full day. Here you’ll find the 120,000-square-foot St. Louis Aquarium filled with 44 exhibits containing more than 13,000 animals. Nearby, 90,000-cubic-feet of rope creates a climbing course with 30 obstacles. Those under 48” tall can try out Sky Tykes instead. There is also a Mirror Maze with interactive exhibits within the station. Play a round of 18-hole mini golf, ride the carousel, or climb aboard the 200-foot-high St. Louis Wheel, with 42 climate-controlled cars, each seating up to eight passengers. Dine on casual fare at the colorful Soda Fountain, where ice cream confections provide the perfect way to cool off, or several other eateries ranging from food truck to fine dining. Don’t miss the Fire and Light Show from 12:00 to 9:00 p.m. on the hour at the lake, or, for guests staying at the St. Louis Union Station Hotel, the Grand Hall Lightshow, on the hour between 12:00 and 5:00 p.m.
Head to the park
Forest Park isn’t just any old park, and it’s not just some green space set aside by the city. The park’s 1,300 acres contain five cultural institutions (Missouri History Museum, St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis Science Center, St. Louis Zoo and The Muny – the largest outdoor musical theater in North America), forests, lakes, nature preserves, and a 17-acre nature playscape for little ones. Kids will love the Zoo, one of only a few free zoos in the country and the most visited attraction in the city. It’s home to more than 14,000 animals representing 500 species. The equally impressive St. Louis Science Center contains more than 700 interactive exhibits, an Omnimax Theater, and the James S. McDonnell Planetarium. Visit the Boathouse for a casual lunch or dinner (live music on the weekends in season) and rent a paddleboat, canoe, kayak, paddleboard or bike to explore the scenic landscape.
Immerse kids in creativity
What happens when you take a 100-year-old warehouse in the city and fill it with artists’ work fashioned from repurposed pieces of old cities? You get a fantastical landscape of sculpture, mosaics, bridges, tunnels, slides, a Ferris Wheel, play spaces and more. Though anyone will marvel at the creations here, the City Museum will really appeal to kids ages 5-12 who can easily spend hours exploring. After being inspired by all of the creativity here, head over to MADE for Kids, a 7,000-square-foot permanent satellite to The Magic House St. Louis Children’s Museum, where kids from 4 to 14 can create take-home projects (some with a little help) ranging from laser cut key chains, earrings and tags to screen printed T-Shirts and pottery or can investigate stop-motion animation, build a robot or paint on a digital easel.
Feast on a diverse range of local food
As with many cities, St. Louis has a wide array of restaurants to satisfy everyone from the pickiest of eaters to the most discerning gourmand. For barbecue, visit Salt+Smoke at its downtown location in Ballpark Village near Busch Stadium. It’s so close to the stadium you’ll know when the Cardinals bat one out of the park (and it’s crazy busy on home game days), but the casual eatery is worth a visit any time for all manner of barbecue meats, sides and craft cocktails. For a quick meal in between exploring, grab a burger, salad or sandwich and wash it down with an ice cream shake at Hi-Pointe’s downtown location. Want a respite from sightseeing? Venture out of dowtown to Olio for Mediterranean and Middle-eastern cuisine – don’t miss their famous egg salad or humus, or fill your craving for Mexican fare in neighboring Kirkwood at Mission Taco Joint. The cute downtown is perfect for an afternoon stroll and some shopping, and this location (there are several, including in St. Louis) boasts an arcade full of video games, pinball and Skee-ball.
Hole up in a historic hotel
The Hotel St. Louis, a Marriott Autograph Collection property, is the only hotel built by architects David Adler and Louis Sullivan that still remains. The hotel was finished in 1893 and is on the National Historic Trust. Frank Lloyd Wright was the lead draftsman and the attention to detail is evident throughout. Every guestroom has a different wallpaper design, and 30 of the rooms feature balconies, giving the hotel a decidedly residential feel. Kids will love the rooftop outdoor heated pool while parents can recharge in the fitness center and spa. Some of the 142 rooms (including 53 suites) connect and they boast modern amenities such as heated toilet seats/bidets and electric mirror TVs in bathrooms.
Get your green on
Commune with nature in a serenely beautiful environment at the Missouri Botanical Garden, the nation’s oldest continually operating botanical garden and a National Historic Landmark. Explore 79 acres with highlights including a Climatron greenhouse containing 2,800 plants; a 14-acre Japanese Garden; a Children’s Garden for kids ages 3-12, where kids can climb a tree house, enter a limestone cave, experience wetlands, visit a Midwestern prairie village, board a steamboat and go down a Spelunker’s slide; and daily tram tours between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.
Watch preservation in action
It’s about 20 miles outside of St. Louis but well worth the drive to see the vital work done at the Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka, Missouri. The Center protects Mexican wolves, red wolves and other canid species. To date, every Mexican gray wolf in the wild can be traced back to the Center. In addition to Mexican gray wolves and American red wolves, visitors may be able to spot African painted dogs; Maned wolves; and Swift, Fennec, Red and Arctic fox. Book a group or private or behind the scenes VIP tour. There are also a series of events and experiences available at select times and a gift shop for souvenirs such as plush stuffed animals, puzzles, T-shirts and other wolf-themed mementos.
Cool off with an icy treat
Frozen custard fans may know of Ted Drewes, a local institution for more than 80 years, drawing long lines of locals and visitors alike for a variety of concretes (mix-ins), sundaes, floats, shakes, malts and ice cream sodas. It’s no frills, but so worth the wait and the calories! Other great spots to indulge include Clementine’s Naughty & Nice (the naughty is booze infused and the nice is sans alcohol – both equally tasty), Ices Plain & Fancy, where you can watch your ice cream selection flash churned on the spot with liquid nitrogen, and Fitz’s Root Beer in the colorful Delmar Loop – 10 blocks of shops and restaurants in renovated buildings. Here you can order from an extensive menu of kid-friendly food, but be sure to save room for an amazing array of floats made with signature and featured sodas, loads of toppings and a whopping four scoops of ice cream.
For more information these and other reasons to spend time in St. Louis next summer visit www.explorestlouis.com or call 800-916-8938.
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