There are so many great places to take kids in St Louis. I have to say I was super impressed by the green spaces, parks, and gardens. Outside of these areas the city is non-impressive urban development, just a sprawl of chain stores as far as the eye can see. But within these parks you will find attention to detail and chances to be surrounded by beauty at every turn. From toddlers to older kids, there were so many opportunities for unique exploration and adventure. The play areas were second to none, even I enjoyed exploring them!
The Gateway Arch
This was our first stop mainly because I’m a history nerd and also because the Arch is so eye-catching. We didn’t take the trip to the top (too long in a box for a toddler) but we did enjoy the park area, the museum, and even took a river boat cruise! I must say… the views from the river are so underwhelming that I almost wasn’t that disappointed that my constantly climbing, running toddler kept my attention diverted. They did narrate some of the sites and historical facts through a speaker, and that was more entertaining.
Just for the record, there is a ton of construction at the site, and access to the riverboats are not currently handicap/stroller accessible. I was told there was a path, but there was not. I was forced to either take my stroller down 100 steps, or walk far out of my way to go down about 50 steps, that were not as steep. I did those going up, in the 90 degree heat and high humidity, and some kind gentleman took pity on me and helped me carry stroller and toddler to the top in order to reach the parking garage. For more of my photos of the Gateway Arch, visit my travel blog.
Early the next morning, before getting ready for the wedding, we drove five minutes down the road to Forest Park, St. Louis’s version of Central Park (although Forest Park is actually larger). Everything in the park is free, from jogging trails, preserved forests, a huge outdoor concert venue called the Muni, the zoo, the playgrounds, and the Missouri History Museum. We only had an hour and a half, so we went to the playground next to visitor center. They had everything, including water spout fun and small gardens with paths. I grabbed a coffee and let her loose!
St. Louis Zoo
Located within Forest Park, the zoo itself is free, although the Children’s Zoo section charges $5 admission (just me, since my toddler is under 2). The train and carousel, of course, are about $3-5 as well. But the rest of the zoo is truly free, and it is the most beautiful zoo I’ve ever visited. From start to finish the whole place is full of greenery, flowers, and canopies of trees. The animal enclosures were large and lovely. There were extensive indoor exhibits on fish, insects, birds, and butterflies. We thoroughly enjoyed the train ride, and the Children’s Zoo which includes animal petting areas and interesting and creative play equipment. My child, now getting exhausted even though we napped long and hard after the wedding, got a little too enthusiastic about petting the guinea pigs, and pulled out a fistful of their hair. The keeper was not pleased, and the rest of the time we were there the other children referred to her as “the girl who pulled out the guinea pigs’ hair”.
Tower Grove Park
With an amazing park like Forest Park nearby, it’s hard to believe there was another equally (but smaller) stunning park just a few minutes’ drive ahead. The next morning we decided to give this one a try, and talk about the perfect place for wedding or senior photos! Each pavilion was more grand and creative than the next. There were two playground areas on either side of a huge and lovely fountain and splash pad, with a stunning pavilion in the background that opened up to large green spaces. Jo Jo enjoyed playing with some local children and expending more of that boundless energy.
Missouri Botanical Gardens
Our last stop before leaving Missouri for home was to the Botanical Gardens, very close to Tower Grove Park. It costs $8 per adult, and the Children’s Garden costs some money for children ages 3-12 but is free for grown-ups! So we all went in for free. I thought it would be easy to spend a day wandering about the gardens, especially because it is the perfect place for roaming, running toddlers. Jo Jo is very gentle with flowers, almost always remembering to touch softly and smell only. She loved the animal statues and many paths that circled around. The Children’s Garden was an amazing place, especially for older kids. I felt like I was in a wild treehouse land, there were rope bridges and secret gardens and tree houses and hidden forts. There was a general store filled to the brim with pretend food and old-fashioned baskets, huge slides, and a pavilion picnic area where learning activities are held (as well as birthday parties, for a fee). Jo Jo, of course, was all about the splash pad. Yes, another one! Wish I could show her face, because I got a few really beautiful shots of her smiling amidst the trees.
The Car Ride
Being in a car for 8 or 9 hours with a toddler is no piece of cake, but really, it could’ve been worse. She did ok, not worse or better than I expected. If the DVD player could hold a charge for any period, or if I’d had the kindle charged before we left (never got it fully charged) we would’ve been in much better shape. The little cooler for milk was important, for her bottles, but even though she is a good car napper, she was quite unhappy to be expected to sleep for more than an hour in there. Music was important, and books, and other random things she liked to play with. She slept like a champ with me on the couch at a relative’s, and great in the hotel room, naps included, so who could ask for anything more?
St. Louis is a great place for kids! I’m sure if I lived in that city we would be back in all of the aforementioned places on a weekly basis. I think those St. Louis toddlers have it good!