Photography by Clary Pfeiffer
Children grow up fast. One day, they’re proudly carrying their Superman and Taylor Swift lunchboxes to grade school; the next, they wouldn’t dream of it. What was “supercool” has become “sooo boring.” With that in mind, we asked the real experts—kids age 12 and under—for their list of local destinations every St. Louis child must experience before becoming a teen. Parents are probably already familiar with many of the picks, which is why we asked where, exactly, the kids prefer to go once they’re there. The resulting list is youngster-approved.
Saint Louis Zoo
First, do your family a favor: Arrive at 8 a.m., when you can nab a free parking spot on the streets of Forest Park (avoiding the $15 parking lot), beat the crowds to visit Sea Lion Sound, and pet the animals at the Children’s Zoo for no charge during the first hour that the zoo’s open. Then take your time admiring all of the other critters throughout the park. “I like the tiger—it’s a great animal!” says 11-year-old Spencer. “I like the Banana Brain Studio, where the monkeys live,” adds Aidan, age 7. (That’s not the Primate House’s official name…but it sounds way cooler.) 1 Government, Forest Park, 314-781-0900, stlzoo.org.
After opening last November, Myseum quickly became a draw for kids, with engaging exhibits. Take, for instance, the interactive, wall-size video screen. “It waves, like, different things, and you put your body up against it and try to stop it and move it,” explains 10-year-old Macy. Another favorite: the Seaweed Swamp, a maze comprising 2,000 swimming noodles where kids can search for a “swamp monster” mural—or purposely get lost. “I like to hide in the noodles,” says my daughter, 3-year-old Jade. 283 Lamp & Lantern Village, Town & Country, 636-220-7930, stlmyseum.com.
What’s so brilliant about this urban oasis is that (almost) nothing is off-limits. “Citygarden has a bunch of cool sculptures you can climb on,” says Mallory, age 12. Youngsters can scale two oversize white rabbits, pose in front of a colossal Pinocchio look-alike, or peek inside a giant head-shaped sculpture. Then there are the fountains and wading pools: “I really like it here, but I wish I could swim in that pool,” says Aidan. Apparently, no one told him he could: It’s a foot deep, and pool monitors are typically on duty. 801 Market, 314-241-3337, citygardenstl.org.
The Magic House
Five years ago, when The Magic House doubled in size, so did the number of attractions. Beyond the classic electrostatic generator, kids can look presidential inside a replica of the Oval Office, climb a three-story beanstalk, or encapsulate themselves in a giant bubble. But that’s just the beginning: “They have fishing with real water, a grocery store, an ice-cream shop…” says 8-year-old Eleanor, who adds that there’s also a dimly lit room where visitors’ shadows are captured on a wall. “It is really, realllly cool, and it is supercool!” You get the idea. 516 S. Kirkwood, 314-822-8900, magichouse.org.
Missouri Botanical Garden’s Doris I. Schnuck Children’s Garden
Open April through October, the 2-acre children’s garden at the heart of the Missouri Botanical Garden has four paths weaving throughout it: 1. the Settler’s Path, with a kid-size town hall and general store; 2. the Botanist’s Path, featuring a treehouse and a secret garden; 3. the Adventurer’s Path, where children can explore a limestone cave and a miniature steamboat; and 4. the Discoverer’s Path, complete with its own pond. There’s even a splash area for hot summer days. The real attraction, though, remains the garden’s natural inhabitants. “I like the plants and butterflies,” says Macy. 4344 Shaw, 314-577-5100, mobot.org.
Saint Louis Science Center
It might take several visits to discover all the wonders here. (Fortunately, you’ll find parking—and general admission—free, as long as you park in the lot north of Interstate 64.) Gaze up at the stars in the Planetarium. Clock cars speeding down the highway. And if the kids still have energy, stop (for a fee) at the children’s Discovery Room. “There’s a dance floor,” says Finni, who also notes perhaps the center’s most classic exhibit, composed of soft, numbered blocks: “You get to build an arch.” 5050 Oakland, 314-289-4424, slsc.org.
The Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House
The 8,000-square-foot glass conservatory houses more than 150 varieties of tropical plants and 60-plus species of butterflies. “There are butterflies from all different tropics all over the world,” says Eleanor, “and they have butterflies that live in rain-
forests and stuff.” You can also visit a demonstration garden and an exhibit hall filled with other insects. During March Morpho Mania, it’s especially worth the $4 price of admission for each child age 3 to 12—even if they’re swamped with other activities. “I go there sometimes,” says 10-year-old Samantha, “but not as often as I used to, ’cause I got a lot more busy.” Faust Park, 15193 Olive, 636-530-0076, butterflyhouse.org.
“I really love it in the fall, when we go apple-picking,” says Mallory. “The activities are really fun, but I just love going out in the orchard and seeing rows and rows of apple trees.” That’s the beauty of Eckert’s: There are apples, peaches, strawberries, pumpkins—plus other draws, like holiday events, concerts, and festivals. But don’t forget the main attraction. “We eat all the apples,” says Tyler. “We get, like…20.” 2719 Eckert Orchard, Millstadt, Ill., 618-233-0513; 20995 Eckert Orchard, Grafton, Ill., 618-786-3445; 951 S. Green Mount, 618-233-0513, Belleville, Ill.; eckerts.com.
Even kids aren’t eager to climb into the small, egg-shaped elevator cars that take visitors to the top of the 630-foot memorial. “It wasn’t necessarily fun to go up,” says Eleanor, “but it was fun when you got to the top and got to look out the windows.” Spencer agrees. “I like the view from the top windows—I go with my cousins from Hawaii.” After kids and adults are done escorting out-of-towners to see the view, it’s time for one other stop along the Mississippi River. “There are riverboat cruises by the Arch,” says Eleanor, referring to the Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher paddle-wheel boats. “Those are really cool.” 200 Washington, 877-982-1410, gatewayarch.com.
Six Flags St. Louis
It’s not as cheap as the zoo or Science Center (read: free), but it’s easier on budgets than a trip to Walt Disney World. The wee ones gravitate toward the family rides,
while older kids love the water rides at Hurricane Harbor (open through September 2) and thrill rides at Six Flags (open through October 27). “The ride Pandemonium—you spin around and around, and you go on a drop,” says Tyler. Then there are the roller coasters. Asked their favorite ride, siblings Pauli and Joey exclaim, “The Screamin’ Eagle!” 4900 Six Flags, Eureka, 636-938-5300, sixflags.com/stlouis.
Summer in St. Louis and The Muny just go together—even more so since the 95-year-old outdoor musical theater installed new fans to cool audience members. Productions are typically family-friendly, with Shrek The Musical and Mary Poppins among this past summer’s lineup. The biggest dilemma: choosing where to sit. “There are the front-row seats, which are expensive,” says Eleanor. “There are the free seats in the back, which aren’t that good. The center is the best.” 1 Theatre, Forest Park, 314-361-1900, muny.org.
The late Bob Cassilly had a way of capturing children’s imaginations, with his whimsical designs filling the former International Shoe Company building. There’s the World Aquarium on the second floor, the World’s Largest Pencil on the third floor, and an entire playground on the rooftop, with a giant praying mantis, a Ferris wheel, and a yellow school bus teetering on the edge. Kids can explore the Enchanted Caves on their way up, then take the fast way down, an incredibly long spiral slide. “I like going in the 10-story slide,” says Ellie, age 10, “and the cave.” 701 N. 15th, 314-231-2489, citymuseum.org.
Other kid-friendly destinations worth a visit
1. St. Louis carousel When the Forest Park Highlands amusement park caught fire in 1963, the historic St. Louis Carousel was the only thing left standing. A little more than two decades later, the carousel was moved to Faust Park. Today, for $2 per ride, kids can pick out a hand-carved animal to ride round and round. 15189 Olive, Chesterfield, 314-615-8383, stlouisco.com/parksandrecreation.
2. Missouri History Museum Every Friday morning at 10:30, families gather in the museum to hear stories: about the Wild West, ninjas, pirates, space, and more. Besides the storytelling, the 45-minute sessions include hands-on crafts and activities. 5700 Lindell, 314-746-4599, mohistory.org.
3. Museum of Transportation The giant playroom known as the Creation Station features a hands-on learning environment for kids age 5 and under. There’s no shortage of activities—or of course, locomotives. 3015 Barrett Station, 314-615-8668, transportmuseumassociation.org.
4. Turtle Playground Years ago, Sonya “Sunny” Glassberg hired St. Louis artist Bob Cassilly to design giant concrete turtles perched on a small plot of land south of the zoo. To be exact, she wanted three 40-foot-plus turtles—named Dick, Tom, and Sally, for her kids—and four smaller turtles for her grandchildren. She called them “symbols of peace.” Today, they stand in tribute to Glassberg and Cassilly, and serve as a continual draw for kids. Oakland and Tamm avenues, 314-289-5300.
5. Suson park This 98-acre South County park includes an animal farm, a playground, and a stocked lake for fishing. Kids can see cows get milked, pet goats, and check out the pigpens and stables. 6073 Wells, 314-615-8822, stlouisco.com/parksandrecreation.
6. Busch Stadium For kiddos, the action on the field is just one part of the baseball experience. At the northeast corner of the stadium, U.S. Cellular Family Pavilion has a batting cage and play area. And members of the Cardinals Kids Club ($32 annually) get first-in-line privileges to do what the grown-ups can only dream of: run the bases. 700 Clark, 314-345-9600, stlouis.cardinals.mlb.com.
7. Hardee’s Iceplex For those kids who just can’t wait for their neighborhood outdoor skating rink to open, there’s the Hardee’s Iceplex, the state’s largest ice-skating facility and the place for kids aspiring to play for the Blues. 16851 N. Outer 40, Chesterfield, 636-537-4200, hardeesiceplex.com.
8. Purina Farms You might immediately think of cats and dogs when you hear Purina Farms (and it has no shortage of either), but you’ll also find other animals at the barn and play area, including sheep, horses, and piglets. Visitors can even try their hand at milking a cow during a demonstration. 200 Checkerboard, Gray Summit, 314-982-3232, purinafarms.com.
9. Oh Lolli Lolli Itsy Bitsy Candy Shoppe This DeMun candy store isn’t big, but it’s chock-full of sweet things: jellybeans, gummy worms, lollipops, ice cream, shaved ice… You name it, and Oh Lolli Lolli more than likely has it. Just brace yourself for a sugar high afterward. (And consider a visit to the next item on the list in the near future.) 802 DeMun, 314-721-9600, ohlollilolli.com.
10. Delta Dental Health Theatre That first trip to the dentist can be terrifying for tots. This hygienically inclined theater offers a look at 16 giant teeth, taller than the average preschooler, and its shows demonstrate the importance of dental health, fitness, and nutrition. Mom and Dad can thank us later. 727 N. First, 314-241-7391, ddhtstl.org.
Tower Grove Creamery
“I really like it because it’s connected to a dairy farm in Jefferson City,” says 8-year-old Max, referring to Central Dairy Ice Cream. The creamery also serves frozen yogurt, smoothies, and soda—but Max is sticking with a classic. “I like the chocolate ice cream.” 3101 S. Grand, 314-772-2456, towergrovecreamery.com.
“You get to shoot pumpkins out of little pumpkin shooters,” says Eleanor, referring to the Punkin Chuckin attraction. “You can win free candy!” Then there is the John Deere Express ride for tykes: “You go on this really cool, superhuge tractor that pulls you—my parents are way too big for it.” (Sorry, Mom and Dad.) 26415 S. Stringtown, Wright City, 636-745-3927, pumpkinsgalore.com.
What was once the home of the Busch brewing family and President Ulysses S. Grant is today a 281-acre attraction for families, complete with elephant and tropical-bird shows, a deer park, and the Budweiser Clydesdales. 10501 Gravois, 314-843-1700, grantsfarm.com.