Find out what we think are the best things to see and do in St. Louis on your family visit
Attractions to fit any budget, delicious food and more make St. Louis a fantastic destination for a family friendly road trip
There are many great cities just a short drive from Champaign-Urbana, and we love them for different reasons. Taking a break from our quaint college town nestled among the cornfields, we love the hustle and bustle that comes with visiting a city and the experiences (and FOOD) we can enjoy together as a family while soaking in the sights. And over and over again, as our kids grow, we continue to find things to love about visiting St. Louis and have never run out of things to do while in the city.
Things to Know
St. Louis is nestled along the banks of the Mississippi River and is a city of just over 300,000 people as of the 2018 census. The county as a whole comes in with just under one million people, so while definitely a big city, it feels smaller (and at times, much easier to navigate) than Chicago does. The trip to St. Louis takes just under or about three hours from Champaign-Urbana, depending on where you’re heading in the city.
Where to Stay
This really depends on what part of St. Louis you plan on spending the majority of your time in. Hotels can be found throughout downtown and in surrounding areas. If you’re planning to attend a Cardinals game or ride to the top of the Gateway Arch, you may want to stay downtown. To stay near the free Saint Louis Zoo or the free Science Center, you could choose a place near the Forest Park area. And if geographical location isn’t a top priority for you, you may find the most reasonably priced hotels near the airport.
What to Do: Top Outdoor Picks
You can visit St. Louis any time of year, so we’re going to include both outdoor and indoor picks for you to choose from. There’s a ton of urban green space in St. Louis, so just because you’re visiting a city doesn’t mean you should expect to see blocks upon blocks of concrete.
- Play downtown outside the Arch at Kiener Plaza, where you’ll find a splash pad, a fenced in playground with lots of unique things to climb on and outdoor concerts happening during the warmer months. A welcome place to burn off some energy away from traffic right in the heart of downtown!
- Take in a Cardinals game, or just visit Ballpark Village for some of the excitement on a game day.
- Go wild at the Saint Louis Zoo, a huge and free zoo located in the Forest Park area of St. Louis. While you’re there, you can catch a show at the Muny (in Forest Park), rent a paddleboat or just have a picnic among the trees. (Remember: unless you find street parking, you will pay to park.)
What to Do: Top Indoor Picks
Because the weather doesn’t always cooperate, or you may find yourself visiting the city in the middle of winter, you’ll be glad to know there are lots of things to do indoors, too.
- Lose your kids (just temporarily) at the City Museum. Most of the museum is indoors, just certain attractions will be open during the warmer months and will be weather-dependent. Slide down slides that span multiple floors of the museum and explore all the nooks and crannies of the place as this is anything but a traditional museum (Hint: there’s no map!).
- Visit the Museum at the Gateway Arch … it’s free! You may be undecided on whether your crew is going to “ride to the top” of the famous St. Louis Gateway Arch, but you should definitely pencil in a visit down to the Museum. You don’t need to purchase tickets to the top to go through the museum, but you DO need to allow a little time to go through security, just like anyone going to the top of the Arch needs to do. Don’t forget to take advantage of the free National Park Junior Ranger Program — a great program for kids — while you’re there.
- Get your hands on everything at the Saint Louis Science Center. Another free attraction in St. Louis, we think you can spend a whole day at the Science Center if you want. Don’t skip the awesome dinosaur area and remember to show your museum pass if you have a children’s museum membership (or another ASTC museum), as it’ll get you some free Planetarium tickets and maybe some other things.
- The St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station opened in 2020 in the former “mall” area of St. Louis Union Station, and the train theme is cleverly continued throughout the aquarium. (Be sure to purchase and reserve your timed tickets ahead of time as they continue to sell out frequently.) There is plenty here to keep smaller visitors entertained, including a large stream water table and a KidZone play area. Visitors of all ages will be mesmerized by the continuously circling inhabitants of Shark Canyon. Older kids may gravitate toward the 3-story ropes course (indoors) or the landscaped mini-golf course (outdoors) also located at Union Station.
Where to Eat
- Head over to Laclede’s Landing, just a short walk from the Gateway Arch for a row of dining spots so quaint you’ll forget you’re in a big city. We chose to eat street tacos at Mas Tequila cantina and they did not disappoint.
- Check out Westport Plaza, located outside of the congested downtown area and jam packed with dining options, both chains and unique stand alone establishments. Visit Drunken Fish for sushi, if that’s your thing.
- To stay close to downtown or the Forest Park area, check out the Central West End, for yet more dining options. A St. Louis local recommended Little Saigon to our group and they fed us well.
Other Things You May Consider
Meramec Caverns is located about an hour outside of St. Louis and provides an experience unlike anything you can see in Champaign-Urbana. Or to amp up the adrenaline in your St. Louis getaway, you can always plan a day at Six Flags St. Louis too!
Some ideas for trips you can take with your family:
- Midwest Indoor Waterparks Within a Few Hours of Champaign-Urbana
- Winter Road Trip: Visiting Ice Castles at Lake Geneva, Wis.
- Visiting the Arthur Amish Area with Kids
- Spend a Saturday in Tuscola
- Peaches Aplenty at Okaw Valley Orchard
- Best Midwest Summer Road Trips for Champaign-Urbana Families
- 31+ Unique Summer Day Trips from Champaign-Urbana
- Visiting the Indoor Waterpark at Grand Bear Resort Near Starved Rock
- How to Rent a Boat on Lake Shelbyville with your Family
- Road Trip: Visit St. Louis as a Family
- Visiting Imagination Grove Near Bloomington-Normal
- Road Trip: Visiting Wisconsin Dells
- Day Trip from Champaign-Urbana: Living Large in Casey
- Head North for Family Fun: What To Do On Your Chicago Trip
- An Insider’s Guide to a Springfield Getaway
- Effingham, a Trip to the Crossroads
- Winter Break Day Trip: Family Fun in Peoria
- Travel Back in Time at Lincoln Log Cabin