Published Mar/Apr 2007

St. Louis offers a host of family adventures.
By Don Redman

A recent weeklong vacation in St. Louis unveiled a great kid-friendly city with oodles of fun for my two children (ages 5 and 16), wife and me. Budget-conscious vacationers will be happy to find several world-class attractions for free here.

Free fun in Forest Park

We stayed downtown (One S. Broadway) at the Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark, a AAA three Diamond hotel that overlooks the new Cardinals baseball field, which only months earlier had been the site of the 2006 World Series. My teenage son, a ballplayer, absolutely loved the view and couldn’t wait to tour the new facility. But I wanted to explore Forest Park, where most of the city’s free attractions can be found.

Located in the heart of the city, Forest Park officially opened to the public in 1876, and is one of the largest urban parks in the United States. At 1,371 acres, it is approximately 500 acres larger than Central Park in New York.

Forest Park visitors will find the Saint Louis Zoo, Missouri History Museum, Saint Louis Art Museum and Saint Louis Science Center among the free-admission attractions. The first stop you will want to make is at the park’s visitor’s center in Lindell Pavilion, 5595 Grand Drive. The street signs are poor throughout the park, but officials at the visitor’s center said the issue is being addressed and that new signs would soon be in place.

Plan your visit to Forest Park wisely. There is so much to do that it’s impossible to get in everything within one day. In fact, we had to spread our visit to the park over a couple of days, and we still didn’t have time to do it all.

When visiting the zoo, plan to pay $10 to park in one of two lots. Free parking along the streets bordering the zoo is available, but you may have quite a hike to the gate on busy days.

Also offered for $12 is the Safari Pass, which allows unlimited access to attractions within the zoo. We purchased the pass, but in my estimation, bypassing it in no way diminishes the experience; the zoo is simply fantastic.

The zoo, located at exit 34-D from Interstate 64/Highway 40, recently added a number of attractions and exhibits to its campus, including the Fragile Forest habitat for its great apes, providing a refuge for endangered orangutans and chimpanzees. This proved to be our favorite attraction. The lead male gorilla reminded my young daughter of King Kong.

Other newer attractions here include Cypress Swamp, which is housed in the refurbished 1904 World’s Fair flight cage; Conservation Carousel; and the Penguin and Puffin Coast.

The interactive Emerson Children’s Zoo is open daily from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Admission is free for the first hour and $4 per person after 10 a.m. My daughter petted lambs and rabbits and loved the otter pool, which allows kids an opportunity to slide through the water habitat without getting wet. Other favorite zoo activities included the Zooline Railroad and the motion ride, both of which are included in the Safari Pass.

We also enjoyed exploring the Science Center, located off I-64 at exit 36-A. Loaded with tons of free hands-on activities, the center is a great learning resource. The Boeing Space Station was a blast, offering insights into what it’s like to live, work and play in space.

Also available at a cost is an OMNIMAX® large-screen movie theater; the Space Show (a 30-minute planetarium show, which we all enjoyed); and the Exploradome with traveling exhibits.

Pressed for time, we regrettably made only a cursory visit to the Art Museum. I was sure to see works by favorite artists including Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet and Edgar Degas. I also had to settle my son’s curiosity by visiting the museum’s ancient art exhibit, which features the ever-popular mummy, Amen-Nestawy-Nakht, with his well-preserved painted plaster casket. But all said, I wish I had been able to spend more time there.

The kids also enjoyed their first ice-skating evening at the outdoor Steinberg Rink, one of the smaller attractions in the park. The fee for skate rentals was nominal and we had a great time skating and keeping warm by sipping coffee and hot chocolate beside a blazing bonfire. It was a memorable evening.

Have a ball

The 2006 baseball season had ended prior to our visit with the Cardinals winning the World Series, but we were nonetheless excited to explore the new Busch Stadium. Ballpark tours are available whenever the Cardinals are not playing, and it is well worth the cost of $10 ($6 for children). Budget about two hours for the tour. It was a highlight of my son’s vacation to sit in the same dugout as some of today’s greatest ballplayers.

While waiting for the tour of the stadium to begin, we ducked inside the nearby International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame (111 Stadium Plaza), a real hoot. The bowling museum and Cardinals Hall of Fame Museum are in the same building.

The Cards’ season opens April 1 at home against the Mets. It’s a sellout.
History tour

After switching hotels to the Hampton Inn on Washington Avenue where we had an awesome view of the Gateway Arch and the Mississippi River, we made our way to the St. Louis riverfront.

We started the day with a ride on the Mississippi River aboard the Tom Sawyer, one of two replica paddlewheel riverboats. After the boat ride, which provided an excellent, unobstructed view of the Arch, we toured the Museum of Westward Expansion underneath the Arch. The exhibits do a good job in detailing the world of the American Indians and the pioneers who helped shape the history of the American West. I recommend shopping at The Levee Mercantile, the museum shop that sells historically accurate goodies from the past.

The coup de grace of any visit to the Arch is the tram ride to the top of the monument. My wife stayed on solid ground while the kids and I rode to the top. Awaiting us was a breathtaking view of St. Louis and Illinois on the opposite bank of the Mississippi River. Both the teenager and his kid sister were in awe.

We completed the historical tour with a timely visit to the Old Courthouse where the Dred Scott slavery trial was held. My son’s history class had just begun focusing on the events leading up to the Civil War, including the historic Dred Scott decision.

The 150th anniversary of the landmark court case will be commemorated throughout this year with the exhibit “Dred Scott: A Legacy of Courage,” opening March. 3.

Funky fun

The City Museum (701 N. 15th St.) puts the fun in funky. While not garnering nearly the attention it deserves, this downtown museum is a must-do attraction, especially if you have kids. But be warned: wear comfortable clothing and shoes, and be prepared to ache for days afterward.

Housed in a former shoe warehouse, the museum is, in its own words, “an eclectic mixture of children’s playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion and architectural marvel made out of unique, found objects.”

Highlights included crawling in and out of caves in the aptly named Enchanted Caves exhibit. At the aquarium, my daughter interacted with sharks, stingrays and turtles. The exhibit leaves you with the sense that you have been at the beach.

The fun gets wilder outside in MonstroCity, an artsy jungle gym on steroids where kids and adults can crawl, jump, climb and bounce their way through an exciting montage of aircraft fuselages, a fire engine, a castle turret, a 25-foot tall cupola and several four-foot wide iron slinkies.

Where to eat

What’s a pickier eater than a 5-year-old kid? A 16-year-old teenager. However, our family liked Rigazzi’s (4945 Daggett), located in the Italian neighborhood known as The Hill; Calico’s Bar and Grill, downtown at 420 Olive St.; and Jake’s Steaks, 708 N. Second St., on Laclede’s Landing along St. Louis’ historic riverfront.

For dessert, you’ve got to try a “concrete,” a frozen custard from Ted Drewes. We got ours at the location along historic Route 66 at 6726 Chippewa.

I suspect we will be enjoying another frozen custard soon, for we plan to make frequent return visits to St. Louis. There are plenty of attractions to keep us coming back for years.

Don Redman lives in Louisiana and is associate editor of AAA Southern Traveler magazine.

In Title: The Gateway Arch is a must-see attraction on any visit to St. Louis, offering spectacular views of the entire metro area.

Above: The new Busch Stadium, where the Cardinals won the 2006 World Series, is an architectural gem and offers fascinating tours. ©St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission photos

Before You Go
For more information, contact the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission at 1-800-916-0040, or click on www.explorestlouis.com.

A portion of Interstate 64/Highway 40, a major route to downtown St. Louis, will be rebuilt from 2007–2010. For details, visit www.thenewi64.org.

Stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks and TourBook guides. View a list of offices.

Order free information through the Reader Service Card online. Click on Reader Resources.

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