My uncle got married last weekend, so we turned it into a road trip! I honestly wasn’t expecting much from this city, located in the very center of the continental US. It surprised me, however, with budget-friendly options, beautiful green spaces, and tons of fun for those with children (or without!). And are you wondering what it’s like to have a toddler in a wedding? Visit my other website and read this.
Total gas (8 hours each way on interstate highways) = $105
*driving with a mpg average of 38 mpg
Total accommodations = $154
*$77/night at a Red Roof Inn, locked in rate on Hotwire.com
Total food = $99.50
*$75 groceries for trip, a couple milks for bottles, a couple coffees and red bulls for driving, one beer, one hot dog, one lemonade, one overpriced water
Total entrance fees/admission/parking = $38
Total trip = $402, or $134 per person (there were 3 adults), or $44.66 per person per day (not including toddler)
Our first tourist stop was at the Arch, the symbol of St. Louis. It is also the 2nd tallest free standing monument after the Eiffel Tower. The Arch has its own parking structure, which is much cheaper than parking anywhere else downtown ($6 per day as opposed to $2 plus $1 each 30 minutes). Unfortunately, the waterfront here is under a ton of construction, and as a result it is not wheelchair or stroller accessible. I didn’t realize this when I got my riverboat ticket, and so I took my stroller and toddler down 100 steps, and despite much searching for a ramp, had to carry them up about 50 steps to the parking garage. We enjoyed the Museum of Westward Expansion, underneath the arch, and free! It especially fit in well with the book I was reading about the Donner Party and their travels by covered wagon on their way to California in the 1840s.
The riverboat cruise was neat ($14 per adult), but… there is really absolutely nothing to see on the river front here. The speaker narrated the history of the bridges we passed under, and the crumbling factories on the river’s edge, but I wouldn’t do this cruise again. It lasted one hour, and silly me, I forgot that my toddler doesn’t like boat rides. She climbed up and down the steps from deck to deck the entire time. Did I mention it was almost 90 degrees and muggy as hell??
Larger than NYC’s Central Park, Forest Park is a green oasis amidst unappealing urban sprawl. Here you can find a forest, an open air theater, a zoo, two playgrounds, a boat house next to a large pond (small lake, whatever), a museum of Missouri History, some kind of historical mansion… and probably more. We visited the playground located by the visitor center, where you can buy food and drink. The playground was very nice, modern, clean, and had everything, including water play and a small enclosed garden. Perfect place to get coffee in the morning and relax.
St. Louis Zoo
Located in Forest Park, admission is free! Not only that, but it’s the most visually appealing zoos I’ve ever been to, with lush gardens and flowers and greenery everywhere you turn. Admission to the Children’s Zoo is $5 per person over the age of 3, and it was worth it. The enclosed slides go beneath waterfalls, a large splash pad spouts water seemingly at random, and miniature cabins housing caged birds and rabbits also have pretend food and brooms for sweeping. There are donkeys and cows, a goat enclosure, and an indoor play area with aquariums, more pets to touch, and more play equipment. There is a carousel that costs money, for both children and adult riders, and a train that encircles the zoo and costs $5 for anyone over the age of 2.
Tower Grove Park
Another large green space not very far from the Forest Park area, you find several beautiful structures here (buildings, pavilions). Another park that has a ton of attention to detail, clean and well-maintained with beautiful landscaping. We found two playgrounds separated by a nice splash pad.
Missouri Botanical Gardens
Less than a 5 minute drive from Tower Grove Park, you find the Missouri Botanical Gardens. Admission is $8 (toddlers free). The Children’s Garden also charges a few dollars for anyone ages 3-12, but we all got in for free falling outside of that range. The Children’s Garden also had a splash pad that was lots of fun, plus bridges, forts, secret gardens, and a general store with lots of pretend products. The rest of the gardens were simply beautiful. I had to see the Japanese Garden but also thought that the Victorian Garden was beautiful, as well as the rose garden.
Eight hours, in a car, with a toddler
I recommend having a portable DVD player, or laptop, that can either plug into the car charger OR hold a charge for more than 30 minutes. Cause mine did neither. Also, charge your kindle before leaving (I forgot) or have a car charger for it (I didn’t). Books were helpful, and snacks, and a cooler was a must for the all-important “ba ba” of milk. Plus cheese sticks. Stop frequently and allow plenty of running around. Keep diapers dry. Don’t feed the kid tons of junk food… but a lollipop or chocolate here or there can help pass some time.
I thought driving overnight might be the best thing, but as it turns out, my toddler pretty much hates sleeping for that long in an upright position. So no go!
Would I go back?
I probably wouldn’t go to St. Louis again just to go, but if I find myself there or passing through, I would definitely stop again at the Botanical Gardens and the zoo!
Next stop… NIAGARA FALLS!