kid-friendly and affordable things to do in St. Louis

17 February 2016

I don't even think I need to start by saying: I am NOT an authority on all things St. Louis. At all! I did a terrible job of getting out and about during our four year tenure but there's so much to do in St. Louis that it can be overwhelming if you're there for a short stay. I'll narrow down some of our favorites that were stroller-friendly and totally doable with little kids in tow. Plus, my sweet friend Heidi asked me for some tips and I can never resist turning a seemingly simple response into a full blown blog post.

These are in a particular order: favorite to least favorite, just so we're clear.

1. Grant's Farm

I'm not going to say this is a MUST-SEE but it's a lot of fun and FREE (aside from parking but you can just park down the road and walk a little ways) and they give out free beer. To parents. Grant's Farm is the 281 acre ancestral home of the Busch family (hence the beer) and is named for Ulyssis S. Grant who worked a portion of the land back in the day. When you get there, you hop aboard a train (of sorts) and get a little tour of the property, wild life and all. And then are dropped at the farm portion where there are goats a plenty. You can pay to feed them but do so at your own risk because they are aggressive. Think pigs in the Bahamas. There's also elephants, a merry-go-round, and other animals (you like that air of mystery/vagueness? I thought so).

And if that hasn't sold you ... the Budweiser Clydesdales are kept on the property as well and it's fun to get up close and personal (from a safe distance) and see them in their fancy quarters. It would be worth it just to stop and see those bad boys. Really.

So, that's that. Highly recommend. They are really accommodating about folding up strollers to put on the train and the paths are nice and wide and even though we've gone during popular times (Saturday morning) we've never felt like it was overcrowded at all.

2. Zoo

Here me out! It's a really great zoo and you guessed it! It's FREE. Which is awesome. They do charge for parking ($12.50, I believe?) but we always found parking along the side of the road OR we went in the evening for the last hour that it was open when parking was abundant and free and just hit up our favorite exhibit instead of tackling the whole thing.

Sebastian always begged and BEGGED to do the train but we were mean parents and never did but when I was in the hospital with Bosco ... Simon put on his nice parent hat and took them not only to the zoo but let them ride the train too. 

Theo hated it. Oops.

It can get pretty crowded and obviously really hot in the summer so I (in my infinite wisdom!) would recommend going in the evening and scout out your favorite couple of animals to see.

3. Turtle Park - Maybe you won't think this is as fun and cool as we did but directly across I-64 from the zoo is this really fun park full of massive turtle sculptures for the kids to climb on.

We lived a few minutes from the turtle park and loved going in the evening to let the kids burn off some energy before bed. There's a fun little park with swings too if your kids are little swing addicts like ours are.

4. Eckert's Farm (no picture, I'm sorry!)

Your classic apple orchard/corn maze/pig race/delicious carnival-esque food good time. I believe Groupon runs a promo most years to get buy one get one free tickets and we've only ever gone in the fall but the kids always love it.

5. Parks!

There are SO many great parks in St. Louis. It's like they compete with each other for the prize of BEST PLAYGROUND. There are too many to list but a few of our favorites were: Des Peres park (and there is a Chick-Fil-A dangerously close that lent itself to many a picnics on evenings that Simon worked later than expected) ...

... Theo was always thrilled.

Conway Park is kind of a hidden gem and there were rarely other people there AND there's a nice little walk around a pretty little pond if you're feeling adventurous. Tilles Park has a splash pad and can get kind of crowded but it's very little kid friendly. There are two playgrounds so if the big one is too crowded you can drive around the park and you'll find the smaller one. And there are lots more over on this site

6. City Museum - I actually blogged all about this here AND specified just exactly how kid-friendly it isn't. But, if you have older kids or maybe just a baby in a carrier - it's definitely worth checking out. It's not free but it's so fun and unlike anything you've ever seen. I would imagine ....

7. The Arch -

How have you yet to mention the arch, Crazy? Well, I didn't find it to be terribly kid friendly. If you just want to go hang out underneath it and take it in in all it's massive glory (it is crazy!) then ... go. But if you're wanting to go inside and up to the top ... maybe split up and leave the little kids at the bottom if you brought another adult along. But, I'm not fun. It might be a total breeze for you!

I'm missing a whole lot of things and I'm scared I've forgotten some big ones but if we were to go back to visit these are some areas we would definitely go back and stalk. If you have better recommendations .... I'm ALL eyes, and Heidi is too.


  1. We are just a couple hours from St Louis and find our way there quite often with the kids for quick weekend trips. You hit our favorites and gave me clue to a couple more to check out. One you didn't list that our girls loved at age 2 and 4 - The Magic House.

    1. I thought about including it! It felt a little pricey and we all got REALLY sick after we went one year. Probably a coincidence but I was scarred - haha. But, it was super fun!!!

  2. The Science Center is free, although the theater and special exhibits are not. We really enjoyed the Magic House, but I don't remember how expensive it is. We also love the botanical gardens, and they often have special events that appeal to kids in addition to their large and very fun kids' section - but again, not free. For Catholics, Our Lady of the Snows is a nice shrine just across the river, and they have an awesome Christmas light display.

  3. And City Garden! Our little guy still talks about playing the fountains there.

  4. We love City Garden in the warmer months. Right before sunset is the best way to avoid the crowds and see the lit up fountains. And I personally love taking the kids to the graffiti wall--down the road from the arch. But maybe I'm just a strange mom. Just as long as they don't read some of the 'not so nice' words haha. And well, Ted Drewes is tradition--though I don't think this post was about food. Anyway, I'll stop now!

  5. Just kidding! I'm back! There's also the Science Center--also free and fun every once in a while.

  6. The Science Center, which is near all the other stuff you've mentioned, the Muny has free seats and does at least one kid's show a year, the history and art museums are also in forest park, also free, and have kid-friendly tracks. I believe the history museum even has little scooters for them to use as they try to find all the items on a little list. City Museum is great for kids around the age of reason (or above). Don't let tiny ones loose in the caves, but you can alway go through the aquarium, the circus, the train, etc... And Windows Off Washington is great for adults! Elephant rocks and Johnson Shut ins are awesome, but a bit of a drive...ditto for six flags, which can also get pricey. First night isn't free, but it's a giant new year's celbration taking up tons of blocks downtown and includes lots of family-friendly events. The Magic House is amazing--just a warning; never diss it in front of a native. There's also really fun paddleboat rides on the Mississippi (not free, my third grade class rode the Becky Thatcher). You can go to the Old Coathouse where the Dred Scott case happened, and of course both cathedrals. I've heard that the new cathedral is the largest collectino of mosiac in the americas, but that could be hometown pride speaking :). If you take the tour, which is quick and involves enough moving to keep littles occupied, they'll also explain how Salvation History and the history of Catholicism in the archdiocese is explained through the murals. There's a free museum downstairs where you can see all the stuff from when JPII visited. The Old Cathedral is worth seeing simply because it's the first Cathedral West of the Mississippi.

    You can hike parts of the Lewis and Clark trail (free) or go on family bike rides on the Katie trail (also free). Old Town St. Charles is SOOOO cool. It's especially great to go around Christmas time--they have carollers, and kids can collect cards from different iterations of Santa from around the world (again: Free).

    Lone Elk Park (free) in Valley Park is a wildlife refuge you can drive through. Some of their coolest features include an entire herd of buffalo and another of elk. There are loads of beauitufl picnic spots, as well (don't worry--the buffalo are kept in a restricted sections). Susson park has live animals and picture cuttouts, fishing ponds, and the coolest play structure I've ever seen (It looks like a Southwestern rock formation, but with tons of extra foot/handholds for littles).

    Lots of the bowling alleys will let kids in free/cheap, and most of the Churches have bingo and other social events. Bingo is not taken lightly in STL. It is not uncommon to see millenials with their own card blotters.

    Our Lady of the Snows and the National Shrine of the Miraculous Medal are nearby. Purina Farms is fun (actually, I'm not sure if that's even open anymore). Adults can get free beer and see the clydesdales on the free Anheiser Busch factory tour. Around Christmas, there are tons of free light shows, including some by neighborhoods who also rent radio stations to go along with their displays.

    There's a train museum in there somewhere....Mastadon State Park has tons of cool fossils, Cahokia mounds is beautiful and informative and sometimes has culture days, there's a wolf sanctuary that has open days (Again: Not as dangerous as I made it sound). St. Louis Outlet Mall has a positively BONKERS children's section, and they even have a free website filled with crafts and activities (
    Almost every parish has a homecoming, in which they rent tons of rides and games. It's far from free, but all the money goes back to the parish.
    I'll stop now before I start to get into restaurants and music venues for grown ups...but if you are in St. Louis for more than 48 hours and don't visit the Hill then you probably aren't sane. that enough help?

  7. Pigs in the Bahamas! Hahahahaha.

    Just saw this:

  8. This post is so timely... We just found out we are leaving STL and moving to SoCal in July (not the fun part, the desert part....) so we need to fit all our St. Louis sightseeing in this Spring. We are frequenters of Eckerts and the Zoo. Still haven't done Grants Farm but it's on the list! I have to add Busch Stadium though. Kind of like City Museum in that you don't want a toddler running around too much in the concrete stadium with the steel bars everywhere (I've done it - we all lived - but it was stressful), but it's sort of something you have to do if you're in St. Louis, like seeing the arch. If your kid loves airplanes and you are coming in from the IL side, there is a free air park outside Scott AFB and usually lots of planes taking off from base. My two year old cries when we don't turn in the right direction to head toward the flight line. We've also been wanting to check out the transportation museum in Kirkwood, but not sure if it's worth the drive.

  9. I love the history museum (totally free) and they just opened a newish kids exhibit (totally free but you do pick up a ticket bc they space how many people play in it at a time). Our family also loved the Botanical Gardens and Shaw Nature Reserve. They aren't free, but if you get a yearly pass you can go to both, AND the Butterfly house AND get free admission to a lot of other Botanical Gardens around the country!

  10. Oh...and STL has some amazing libraries worth checking out, all of which host plenty of family/kid friendly events! Also the art museum can be fun, depending on your child's temperament (or what kind of day they're having, ha-ha). At any rate, it's free!!

  11. Ohhhhhh...and -last one! - Cahokia Mounds on the IL side is surprisingly fun for kids, too!

  12. All great lists so far! A few that I don't think have been mentioned that I have discovered this winter that are great for toddlers when you can't play outside (I've got 3 under 5) - Jolly Jumps, We Rock the Spectrum kids gym, World bird sanctuary, Powder Valley and it's worth mentioning that if you have more than 1 little one and are worried about losing them at the magic house there is a toddler time from 10:30-12 most mornings. They close off a small section of the magic house to toddlers so that you can't easily lose them. Magic! The magic house is pricey but if you buy the value membership ($80/year I think) it more than pays for itself after a few of these morning trips. Thank you Grace for posting this and starting this feed!!!

  13. We're turning in our rank list for residency (eeeeek) this week, and St. Louis is pretty high up there. Saving this post!

  14. I don't have any more suggestions, but I had to come comment. I live in Columbia now and my best friend from college lives in St. Louis (on Washington St.)even thought we're both from Indiana. This fall two of our other friends drove over from Indiana, and we went to the City Museum and the Bridge for dinner too. Funny! I LOVE LOVE LOVE the City Museum! All those somewhat secret passages in the caves and the slides. I did do the 10 story slide, but honestly it doesn't go super fast down because it curves so much. The Bridge was great too!

  15. I know you're happier to be in winter-free Florida, but I always love the way you write about my hometown! Makes me homesick (in a good way) every time.

  16. We are finishing our 4 years of dental school in Nebraska right now, maybe we can make it to St Louis before we move because we're only going more west from here on out! Such a great round up!



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