Road Trip: Visit St. Louis as a Family

Find out what we think are the best things to see and do on your family visit to St. Louis

Attractions for all budgets, great food, and more make St. Louis a great destination for a family-friendly road trip

There are many great cities just a short drive from Champaign-Urbana and we love them for a variety of reasons. Taking a break from our quaint university town amid the grain fields, we love the hustle and bustle that comes with visiting a town and the experiences (and FOOD) we can enjoy together as a family while enjoying the sights. And again and again, as our children grow, we keep finding things to love about visiting St. Louis and never running out of things to do in town.

Things to know

Located on the banks of the Mississippi, St. Louis is a city of just over 300,000 people as of the 2018 census. The county as a whole has just under a million people. While it’s definitely a big city, it feels smaller (and at times a lot easier to navigate) than Chicago. The drive to St. Louis takes just under three hours from Champaign-Urbana, depending on where you are going in town.

Kiener Plaza near the Gateway Arch.

Where to sleep

This really depends on which part of St. Louis you plan to spend most of your time in. Hotels can be found throughout the city center and in the surrounding areas. If you are planning on attending a Cardinals game or headed to the Gateway Arch, you may want to stay downtown. To stay near the free Saint Louis Zoo or the free Science Center, you can choose a location near Forest Park. And if geographic location isn’t your top priority, you might find the cheapest hotels close to the airport.

St. Louis Hotel near the airportHotels near St. Louis Airport have great views for kids who love airplanes.

What To Do: Top Outdoor Picks

You can visit St. Louis at any time of the year, so we offer both outdoor and indoor choices. There is a lot of urban green space in St. Louis. Just because you’re visiting a city doesn’t mean you have to expect concrete blocks.

  1. Play downtown in front of the Arch at Kiener Plaza, which is where you’ll find a Splash Pad, a fenced-in playground with lots of unique things to climb and outdoor concerts that happen in the warmer months. A welcome place to burn some energy off the traffic right in the heart of the city center!
  2. Take part in a game of Cardinals or simply head to Ballpark Village for a game day fun.
  3. Curl up at the Saint Louis Zoo, a huge free zoo in St. Louis Forest Park. While you’re there, you can see a show at Muny (in Forest Park), rent a paddle boat, or just have a picnic among the trees. (Remember, if you can’t find street parking, you’ll pay to park.)

Get wild at the Saint Louis Zoo.

What To Do: Top Indoor Picks

With the weather not always cooperating or with visiting town in the middle of winter, you’ll be happy to know that there’s plenty to do inside too.

  1. Lose your children (only temporarily) in the city museum. Most of the museum is indoors. In the warmer months, only certain attractions are open and depending on the weather. Slide down several floors of the museum and explore every nook and cranny of the place as this is anything but a traditional museum (note: there is no map!).
  2. Visit the museum at Gateway Arch … it’s free! You may not be sure if your crew will “drive” up the famous St. Louis Gateway Arch, but you should definitely plan a visit to the museum. You don’t have to buy tickets to the top to go through the museum, but you do need to allow a little bit of time to go through security, just like anyone who goes to the top of the arch must. Don’t forget to take advantage of the national park’s free Junior Ranger program – a great program for kids – while you’re there.
  3. Get it all at the Saint Louis Science Center. Another free attraction in St. Louis. We believe you can spend a full day at the Science Center if you want. Don’t skip the amazing dinosaur area and remember to show your museum pass if you have a children’s museum membership (or any other ASTC museum) as it will give you some free planetarium tickets and maybe some other things.
  4. New addition! The St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station opened in 2020 and is ready for visitors. Buy and reserve your timed tickets in advance as they continue to sell out frequently and you don’t want to miss this attraction.

Roof of the city museum
Saint Louis Science Center

Where shall we eat

  1. Head to Lacledes Landing, a short walk from Gateway Arch, and find a number of restaurants so quaint you will forget you are in a big city. We chose street tacos at Mas Tequila Cantina and they did not disappoint.
  2. Check out Westport Plaza, which is outside of the congested downtown area and filled with restaurants, chains, and unique, standalone establishments. Head to Drunken Fish for sushi if that’s your thing.
  3. If you want to live near downtown or Forest Park, head to the Central West End for more restaurants. A local from St. Louis recommended Little Saigon to our group and they fed us well.

Other things to consider

Located about an hour outside of St. Louis, the Meramec Caverns offer an experience not seen in Champaign-Urbana. Or to get the adrenaline pumping on your St. Louis vacation, plan a day at Six Flags St. Louis!

Some ideas for trips to take with your family:

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