Tween travels: Fun places to visit with kids in St. Louis

Tween travels: Fun places to visit with kids in St. Louis

With the Gateway Arch, the City Museum, riverboat cruises on the Missisippi , and Clydesdales, St. Louis offers something for family members of all ages. Just 5 hours from Chicago, it's an easy road trip from Chicago.

We had a great time visiting for a weekend with our tween last spring break. Here are our recommendations.

The most obvious attraction is the Gateway Arch, the nation's tallest monument that soars 630 feet into the sky. Tweens LOVE this. You can go to the very top, and get a picture with the sign that proclaims "630 feet." I have a fear of heights, but this was fun. There's a wait to get to the top, but you can check out fascinating photos showing the construction of the Arch, and they helped my tween appreciate what an engineering and construction marvel the Arch really is. The movie on the building of the Arch is also great, touching on architecture, engineering, construction, etc.

The get to the top, four people squeeze into one pod and travel, somewhat noisily, up the Arch. Once there, you can check out the views for as long as you like. We went over spring break and there were people, but it was full, but not crowded. In the summer and over holidays, however, it is far busier and if at all possible, buy your Journey to the Top tickets in advance here. Prices: Adults (ages 16 and up): $10; Children (ages 3 to 15): $5.

Bears headed west before people did.

While the 30 mile view from the top is great, what's underneath the Arch is also impressive. the Museum of Westward Expansion in the underground space beneath the Arch. Being honest, I knew nothing about it but based on the name, I thought it would be okay and I wasn't sure my tween would be interested. I was wrong. We all really enjoyed it, and we learned a lot. The people working there were very kind and told us all kinds of interesting information. It reminded us of Night at the Museum, and it turns out that they in fact do host a Night at the Museum evening. The next one is March 23, 2013. I so wish we lived closer so we could do one. Just like Lewis and Clark, the museum covers a lot of ground, as there's a lot here to learn about pioneers, cowboys and Native Americans who helped forge our nation. And it's free!

Across the street from the Arch (literally), is the Mississippi River. You can take an hour-long Riverboat Cruise on either the Tom Sawyer or the Becky Thatcher, both beautiful paddlboats. We learned a little about Mark Twain, and a lot about the river and its importance in both our  nation's development and current commerce, particularly in shipping as we passed commercial vessels. It also provided a nice chance to sit after trekking around the museum. Cost: Adults (age 16 and up): $14; Children (ages 3 to 15): $8; Children under age 3: Free.

The Old Courthouse is just 2 blocks away from the Arch (and the walk can be through a garden). The courthouse, on which construction began in 1839, is where Dred Scott filed suit for and was first granted his freedom in 1847.  Virginia Minor also sued here for a woman’s right to vote in 1872.There is a short video about it in the Courthouse that may not be riveting to your kids, but the educational value is worth it. The Courthouse is beautifully restored. Bonus: it's free!  The above attractions are all part of the Core of Discovery, which has a helpful trip planning site here. We did this all in one day with time to spare.

City Museum St. Louis

My husband and tween climbing at the City Museum.

My tween's hands down very favorite part of our visit was the mind-blowing City Museum. There really is no place like it and the tag line "where the imagination runs wild" is very accurate. They have a a perfectly tween-sized ball pit, a 10 story slide, a human-sized hamster wheel, abandoned planes, caves, a pipe organ and a million other marvels in the 600,000 square foot space. It's hard to describe. Its website says it is an "eclectic mixture of children’s playground, fun house, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel made out of unique, found objects." Yup, that.

Visiting the City Museum can be a remarkably physical endeavor, perfect for burning off tween energy. Hats off to my husband who did the 10 story slide twice with my tween. I was good after one trip. It was also a little nerve wracking watching my husband and tween scale crazy metal structures stories in the air. That just meant I would fully appreciate our next stop.

Clydesdale stables at Budweiser Brewery St. Louis

Clydesdale stables at Budweiser Brewery St. Louis

The Budweiser Brewery Tour. Two words, parents: free beer. Two more words: educational tour. Yup, I found this stop to be more kid-friendly than I anticipated. Only the famous Clydesdales (a few of which are on site) have stained glass and a chandelier in their stable built in 1885. The tour covers everything from the science of fermentation to immigration history to recycling to the business strategy that enabled Budweiser to survive Prohibition. The tour covers several buildings on the grounds of the brewery, and they're lovely. Who knew it was so pretty? The tour concludes at the tasting room with a variety of alcoholic options for parents, soda for kids and tweens and lots of pretzels. It's all free.

There is a lot more to do and explore, like the St. Louis Zoo, Forest Park and Grant's Farm, but this was all we had time during our weekend in the city. If you're driving, the Cahokia Mounds are less than half an hour away. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, they are worth the visit. You can climb the largest mound built in 1000 years ago, and see the Arch from there. The juxtaposition of the modern arch and Native American mounds is striking.

We stayed at the Drury Inn Hotel at the Arch, which was a wonderful location. We could see the Arch from our room, and we could easily walk to all the Core of Discovery sites and take a free downtown trolley to the City Museum. It's also a great location if you want to catch a Cardinals' game.

For information on trips to places like Disney, Niagara Falls and Chicago, or for tips on traveling with tweens, check out the Travel section.

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