When I told my two children we were headed to St. Louis last summer, the reaction was less than enthusiastic. They didn’t want to know when we were going, just “why?” Little did they know, St. Louis would be one my well-traveled children’s favorite trips.
Just what is in St. Louis, Missouri? Well, most people think immediately of the impressive arch, the symbolic “gateway to the west.” But our family found it is merely an entry way to all St. Louis has to offer visitors, whether cultural, historical, sporting, educational or just plain fun. As locals will tell you, “there’s more than meets the arch” to St. Louis.
The Gateway Arch itself was built in 1965 by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen as a tribute to President Thomas Jefferson for his westward expansion and his “forward vision.” One of our nation’s tallest manmade monuments at 630 feet (192 meters), my son was thrilled to find it in his Ripley’s Believe It or Not book. This soaring Arch, the Museum of the West and the Old Courthouse make up the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, now a National Park monument.
Take a ride to the top of the amazing arch. You can even feel it move on windy days. Then see an IMAX film and learn how it the Arch was built or perhaps you prefer a movie reflecting on the Louis & Clark Expedition.
Enjoy the Museum of the West with its interactive, kid-friendly exhibits that the most museum-phobic child will find inviting. The Arch is great during the day or after dark, when it is lit up with 44 powerful floodlights. You can see much of downtown St. Louis and the Mississippi River looking thru the small windows on top.
Back outside again, walk up to the Mississippi River herself just across the street, where you can take a trip and enjoy a narrated tour of the area on the Gateway Arch Riverboats. The narrator will help you re-live the days of the Mississippi steamboats and what happened along the banks during those days, and maybe even tell a Mark Twain tale or two.
Of course, your guide will tell you that St. Louis is barely in Missouri, just over the banks of the mighty Mississippi River from Illinois. It was once home to Frenchmen and Spaniards before becoming American, and even before that, a civilization of mound builders – Native Americans – lived in this valley along the river, providing it one of its earliest nicknames, “Mound City.”
But Thomas Jefferson’s exploration of the West and his Lewis & Clark expedition to chart the new Louisiana Territory in 1804 put a real “mark” on the area, and it is this expedition that is recounted in the Museum of the West, housed inside the base of the Arch in St. Louis today.
Re-enter St. Louis circa 1950 with a trip down Route 66, or at least, Route 66 revisited. See the Route 66 State Park, where you can see a model of one of the most famous highways in America, with changing memorabilia and interpretive exhibits, along with a “really cool” gift shop.
Be sure to visit Ted Drewes Frozen Custard, open since 1929. This frozen custard shop has served frosty “concrete” weight custard to travelers along Route 66 and in St. Louis for years and is a local favorite. It really is true – you can turn your cup upside down and the frozen custard will stay put – it’s THAT thick.
Families won’t want to miss the impressive St. Louis Zoo, offering more than 6,600 animals and a price that can’t be beat. It is FREE! This world-class zoo has new exhibits including the River’s Edge and the Insectarium. Some attractions do have a fee. Opening in 2003 is The new Penguin and Puffin Coast was opened only last year.
Families searching for fun and thrill rides will enjoy Six Flags St. Louis, with its many exciting roller coasters, the new “Scooby-Doo Ghostblasters” interactive adventure and the new Hurricane Harbor Water Park, free with the theme park admission. If you visit in summer, don’t forget the swimsuits, or your name will truly be “mud.”
There’s the newest attraction, “The Boss,” a 5,000-foot (1,500 meters) roller coaster. Six Flags St. Louis alone is easily worth a day or two, depending on how many rides your kids will chance.
Children and parents alike also love The Magic House, St. Louis Children’s Museum, offering more than 100 hands-on educational exhibits for kids from “1 to 101.” The St. Louis Science Center now has America’s newest space attraction at its James S. McDonnell Planetarium.
Inside the Planetarium’s Boeing Space Station, visitors can learn about space sciences, astronomy, aviation and the environment through a “living future” picture of space not found in any other science center in the nation.
St. Louis became a major industrial center in the late 1800s, with more than 100 breweries operating in the city, and the largest one, Anheuser-Busch, still maintains its headquarters there today. You can tour the historic complex for free, Mondays-Saturdays. See the Clydesdale stables, the lager cellar and the Bud World gift shop.
The Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis offers the largest traditional Japanese garden in North America and is a real treat year-round. See the Kemper Center for Home Gardening, the Climatron rain forest and more. The Great Garden Adventure tours are offered here since 2003. The self-guided tours around the world-famous oasis include a Kid’s quest and a Fitness Foray.
Whatever the season you visit, St. Louis probably has the sport, so check ahead if you want to take in a game. There are the famous St. Louis Cardinals who play at baseball Busch Stadium; the St. Louis Blues Hockey Team; the St. Louis Rams, a member of the National Hockey League; the Missouri River Otters, Professional Hockey Club; and even the Saint Louis University Billiken Basketball team.
On top of everything else, you can get a list of many “free” attractions from the St. Louis Convention and Visitors’ Center. Among such “freebies” are the St. Louis Zoo, the Art Museum, the Science Center and the History Museum. And this is only touching the “hem of the skirt” of all St. Louis has to offer. If you go, be sure to get a guide and plan out your family’s special fun time in St. Louis. You won’t regret it.
IF YOU GO
St. Louis Convention and Visitors Bureau
Anheuser-Busch Brewery Tours
Ted Drewes Frozen Custard
Gateway Arch Jefferson National Expansion Memorial
The Magic House
Missouri Botanical Garden
Saint Louis Zoo
Six Flags St. Louis
Gateway Arch Riverboats