I could write an entire book about St. Louis cuisine.
First chapter: Toasted ravioli, those fresh, perfectly stuffed pillows of pasta dough, breaded and fried, then dusted with Parmesan and served with a dish of marinara.
Second chapter: Gooey butter cake, that delightful regional specialty that’s like a dense and yes, gooey, cake dusted with powdered sugar.
Third chapter: Provel, a white processed cheese that combines cheddar, Swiss and provolone and results in a delightfully smooth texture when used atop pizza (ideally Imo’s Pizza).
As I said, I could go on and on about St. Louis’ staple foods. And during my February visit with my family of eight, including my six kids between the ages of 7 and 14, we sampled all of the above and more, including old favorites like the iconic Ted Drewes Frozen Custard (don’t miss the adjacent gift shop and museum) and new favorites like The Shack, where delectable, hulking gluten-free pancakes are among the menu highlights.
But enough about the food. Because when we’re not eating our way through town during our regular visits to St. Louis to see family, we’re soaking in all of the family-friendly attractions that make this Midwest city a joy to traverse with kids. There are so many options for family fun during a long weekend in St. Louis.
The first place to mention? The City Museum. The City Museum is easily my favorite interactive museum in the country, filled with surprises and adventures around every corner. Opened in 1997 and set within 10 stories and 600,000 square feet, the City Museum describes itself as “a mixture of children’s playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion and architectural marvel made out of found and repurposed objects.” Set inside a 100-year-old warehouse in downtown St. Louis, the City Museum is a haven for artists who transform unwanted artifacts into explorable tunnels, slides, bridges, ball pits and secret passages. There are some live animals on deck, too, including axolotls, the adorable pink salamander that’s become a pop culture darling in recent months (and the absolutely favorite animal of my fifth-grader). Tell the kids you’re going to a museum, then revel as their groans turn to squeals of delight when they lay eyes on this wonderland.
As a family of eight, “free” is our favorite word. If an attraction is free, we’ll try it, even if it’s mediocre. Thankfully, that isn’t the case at the St. Louis Zoo, which opened in 1910, has one of the most fantastically diverse and accessible groupings of animals I’ve ever seen and is always free. Even if it wasn’t free, this zoo would still be my favorite. Stroll through the Dennis and Judy Jones Family Humboldt Haven and feel the tiny droplets of water as they fling from the backs of Humboldt penguins grooming on the rocky shore. Witness a polar bear’s chest rise and fall as it sleeps peacefully at Polar Bear Point. Or watch elephants taking turns feeding themselves using their curled trunks in the zoo’s Center for Asian Elephant Conservation. With 12,000 animals that represent 500 species, the experience here is truly unparalleled.
Newer on the scene but also loads of fun with the kids is the St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station. Once one of the largest and busiest passenger train terminals in the world, Union Station now finds itself filled with more than 13,000 animals, from zebra sharks to alligator snapping turtles. Opened in 2019 and spanning 120,000 square feet, can’t-miss features of the aquarium include a 200-foot-tall St. Louis Wheel, a carousel, an 18-hole mini-golf course, a mirror maze, a ropes course, a train park and restaurants. Advance ticket purchase is required.
Finally, for a surprising, educational and photo-op-worthy afternoon, be sure to, er, check out the World Chess Hall of Fame, which is open daily and, like the zoo, is always free. Here you’ll find, yes, even more family fun during a long weekend in St. Louis thanks to a variety of exhibits on everything from unique chess sets to Bobby Fischer’s influence on the game to famous chess prodigies. The biggest draw, however, is the World’s Largest Chess Piece, which is made of 10,860 pounds of African sapele mahogany and stands a towering 20 feet tall.
If You Go
Multiple airlines offer direct flights from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to St. Louis Lambert International Airport. You can also drive to St. Louis in about 12 hours.
Stay: Le Meridien in Clayton served as an ideal home base for us thanks to its thoughtful design, mid-century modern flourish and perfect location in a bustling and cosmopolitan neighborhood just outside of St. Louis proper. With 268 beautifully designed rooms and 17,000 square feet of event space, the hotel has options for any size party.
Eat: St. Louis is home to numerous iconic restaurants and neighborhoods that showcase its wonderful cuisine. For a true Italian experience, don’t miss The Hill, a long-established Italian-American neighborhood featuring family-owned delis, trattorias and upscale eateries.