It’s clear St. Louis loves families, with plenty to keep them busy. Many other museums and attractions have exhibits and programs designed for young visitors, but these top the list of family experiences.
The 625-foot symbol of the city’s role as the Gateway to the West is the first landmark everyone will notice, and kids are sure to want to ride to its summit. Eight elevators climb to the observation platform on the tip-top of the arch. To be sure of a space on the observation platform, buy tickets ahead at the Gateway Arch Ticketing and Visitor Center, in the Old Courthouse. Kids also like taking a cruise on a replica of the traditional steamboats once a common sight on the Mississippi River. Boats leave from the Arch.
Set in Forest Park, site of the 1904 World Fair, the 90-acre St. Louis Zoo is home to upwards of 16,000 animals, including Asian elephants, tree kangaroos, jaguars, hippos, gorillas, tigers and sea lions. You can meet some of the most exotic of these in the Wild Zone, where naturalistic habitats show how hardy species survive in environments from sub-Antarctic to tropical rainforests. Kids especially love the Penguin & Puffin Coast.
In the Red Rocks area are the most dramatic predators — lions and tigers — along with zebra, giraffes and other natives of the savannas. Discovery Corner is the most interactive area, where kids can see animals up close and even pat or brush some of them. At the zoo’s center is a place to grab a bite, shop for animal-related toys and gifts, and relax in the grassy plaza. Recently voted America’s Top Free Attraction, the zoo is a place you can see in small visits and come back to frequently without paying multiple admissions, especially attractive to parents of smaller children.
Picture a giant, factory-sized funhouse for kids and you have the City Museum. Designed by a sculptor and using only discarded materials from the St Louis area, the museum is filled with ingenious activities and surprises. Donations from farther afield inspired new features as the museum is constantly changing. There’s something for kids of all ages, and for adults as well; favorites are Toddler Town Castle, a 10-story spiral slide, a giant indoor tree house, a room full of preserved insects, an aquarium, a giant coil to climb through and the skeletons of two airplanes to explore.
Each room in this three-story Victorian home inspires curiosity and encourages kids to experiment. Everything is hands-on, and the themed areas explore computers, science, communications and cultures to encourage creativity and critical thinking. A new exhibit features the daily lives of children in Kenya, and includes a typical schoolroom where children can learn Swahili words using touchscreens. Other exhibits explore dress, traditions, even native animals and their conservation. When kids need a break from the activities there’s a Calming Corner with quiet games and activities, and a special area is reserved for babies and toddlers.
Many features of this public garden will appeal to the whole family: the rose garden, Japanese Garden, the “aqua-tunnel” under the water-lily pond and the Climatron filled with tropical plants. But the Doris I. Schnuck Children’s Garden was created especially to engage young visitors. Attractions there include an artificial cave, a treehouse and wetlands exhibits, and daily hands-on activities include spelunking to discover cave life, and even harvesting vegetables from the edible garden and potting plants to take home. When the temperatures reach 70 degrees, the splash area is turned on in the Children’s Garden.