Over the 4th of July weekend, we packed up the minivan and headed for St. Louis. We wanted to check out Fair Saint Louis and other family-friendly spots around the city that we’d heard were fun for kids under five. Our friends the Applebys went with us. They have a daughter and son similar in ages to the Adventure Kids. We all had an AMAZING time! There was so much to do that we couldn’t fit it all in, so we’re already planning our next trip. Here’s a rundown of our travels and some tips for your next visit.
We headed out from Indy around 8:00am. Before jumping on the interstate, we stopped at Chick-fil-A first to get some fried yumminess and caffeine. We arrived in St. Louis around noon. Yep, it’s only a 4 hour drive! Totally do-able!
First Stop: Grant’s Farm
I was amped about this place since our friends Mark and Karen just took their family and told us all about it at our 4th of July party. It did not disappoint. Grant’s Farm is a 281-acre farm owned by the Busch family (as in Anheuser-Busch, the beer people), and it’s main attractions are animals and free beer. It’s called Grant’s farm because Ulysses S. Grant, 18th president of the United States, built the farm there on land given to him by his father-in-law. Entrance to the farm is FREE. However, there is a parking fee of $15 per vehicle and you’ll most likely spend money inside on food, animal feeding, carousel rides, and souvenirs/pictures.
When we arrived at the farm, we immediately saw a huge line of people from the parking lot to the entrance gate. Of course, no one wants to stand in a line with toddlers, so we thought about quitting before even getting started. However, it looked like the line was moving fairly quickly, so we persevered. Since we were there on a holiday weekend, of course there were more visitors than normal. After about a 30 minute wait, we were in. Why were we waiting in a line one might wonder? Well, the first item of business upon entering the farm is to get on a tram, which takes a bit of time to load.
This is an open-air bench seat tram with a roof (similar to the ones in the Disney World parking lot), and it takes you on a 15-minute long narrated trip through Deer Park (tiergarten in German). But don’t let the name fool you! There’s more than deer here. In addition to deer, you’ll see bison, antelope, zebras, Grant’s log cabin, and lakes filled with Japanese Koi. The Adventure Kids loved the ride, and so did we. The tram drops off at the sweet shop, which is at the front of the petting zoo and carousel area.
The next item of business was to check out the penned animals and ride the carousel. We walked around and said hello to the tortoises, wallabys, lemurs, bald eagles, cows, goats, camels, and several other animals. In this area, there are additional costs for some of the activities: the carousel is $2 per rider, animal food and baby goat bottles are available for purchase, and the camel rides are $6 per rider (height requirement). We purchased the “Fun Pass” for $7, and this included 1 carousel ride, 1 snowcone, and 1 ice cream cone filled with animal feed. The Adventure Kids loved ALL OF THIS. The farm also has two shows for visitors (one free and one not), but we did not check those out this time around.
Food and Beer:
The next stop for us was what they call the baurenhof (German for farmstead). I think it should be called the biergarten (German for beer garden). It is a super-cute courtyard that is surrounded by buildings that house the food lines, stables, restrooms, bar, and carriage collection. Sitting at the tables in this area really makes you feel like you could be in a 19th century German town. And–here’s what you need to know–everyone 21 and older gets 2 free beers. We ate lunch here, and the options included bratwursts, hotdogs, pretzels, chicken fingers, pizza, and sodas. They also had stands selling kettle corn, ice cream, and snowcones. We enjoyed lunch under our umbrella and took a look around at the stables, carriages, and a few more animals before hopping on the tram to get back to the parking lot.
At the end of the parking lot, there is a stable that houses between 25 and 50 Clydesdales that you can check out for free. We did not do this because we had already booked a tour for the next day to see the Clydesdales over at the brewery, but we’ll definitely check these guys out next time.
Tips for Grant’s Farm:
If you think you’ll need a stroller, make sure it’s an umbrella stroller. They don’t allow wagons or regular-sized strollers on the tram. They do have bigger strollers for rent inside the farm after you get off the tram, but if you can get away with not having one at all, I say that’s the way to go. Make sure you bring the stuff you probably normally carry anyhow: sunblock, bugspray, wipes, diapers, backup clothes, a couple of snacks (even though those aren’t allowed), sippy cups, and hand sanitizer. Wear comfortable shoes and clothes. Very important: Make sure you have your ID so you can get the free beer!
On Friday nights in the summer, the farm has extended hours, a band, and themed menu items with beer pairings. We wanted to check this out, but just didn’t make it that late this time. There are also some special events in the fall and around the holidays at Grant’s Farm that I think look really cool. We hope to visit during those times in the next couple of years. If you’re interested in learning more about these events, visit their website for more details.
Second Stop: Drury Inn and Suites
Next, we checked into our hotel. We’d heard from several people that Drury Inn at the arch was the place to stay, and we agree. This hotel is the perfect location. It’s seriously right at the corner of the last street before the arch. The lobby doors to our hotel were at the security checkpoint to get into Fair Saint Louis. They also have a clean indoor pool, free breakfast, free 5:30 happy hour, and free wifi.
I do want to say a little more about this free food. The breakfast is REAL breakfast. There were eggs, pancakes, meat, fruit, bagels, cinnamon rolls, and MORE. And, here’s where it gets really awesome: The 5:30 “Kickback” has REAL food like hotdogs, chicken fingers, pasta, salad, tacos, baked potatoes, and MORE. AND EACH ADULT GETS 3 FREE ADULT BEVERAGES. We stayed in a suite so the Adventure Kids would have their own space with a door between us. That worked out great for us! The room was very clean and quiet, and we found the staff to be helpful and friendly. We could not have been happier with our stay here!
So after eating and drinking for free, we took a dip in the pool, and then when it was dark, we headed down to the arch to watch the free fireworks over the water. There were food trucks everywhere, so we took the opportunity to buy some ice cream and lick our spoons while watching the colorful explosions above one of our country’s most identifiable historic landmarks. It was magical!
Tip for Drury Inn:
Drury Inn and Budweiser are partners, so if you choose to stay at a Drury Inn while in St. Louis, enter the promo code “BUD” to get a room discount when booking through the Drury website. You can find more details about that discount on this Drury website page.
First Stop: Budweiser Brewery
Bright and early the next morning, we headed to the heart of this city: The Budweiser Brewery. I will admit that I did NOT want to take the kids to this. I thought we would look like total drunks and hillbillies walking around a brewery with 4 kids in tow. The men in our party talked me into this, and I only agreed because I knew we’d get to see the Clydesdales, which I viewed as kid-friendly. People, this doesn’t happen very often, but in this case, I was wrong.
This experience is totally kid-friendly! We all had a great time even though it was one million degrees outside. There are several tour options, but we chose to just take the General Brewery Tour. This free guided and narrated walking tour lasts about 45 minutes. On it, you get to see all 7 steps of the brewing process, get up-close with a couple of Clydesdales and their historic stables, and drink some free beer. Yep, we definitely drank some beer on this trip!
The St. Louis Budweiser Brewery is really a campus of historic buildings, and they are beautiful. It was neat to get to touch the cold aging cellar tanks and hear about everything that goes into making a beer and a beer company. I was impressed. The Adventure Kids thought it was fun as well as there was lots to see, touch, smell, and feel throughout the tour. At the end of the tour, the kids picked out two small stuffed Clydesdales (they were actually reasonably priced!) from the gift shop. They now sleep with those guys every night. Should you take your toddlers to a brewery? We say, “Yes!”
Tips for Budweiser Brewery:
Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. Be prepared to get hot and cold in various buildings (only for a few minutes each). Don’t bring a stroller. The general tour is free, but it’s first come, first served, so if you’re going at a time that’s busy (like we did), then I would recommend spending $5 a person to reserve your tickets and spot online before you go. Oh yeah, and play “Gloria”!
Second Stop: The Magic House
This place is AWESOME!!! We live in Indy, and we have a family membership to The Children’s Museum, which is the largest children’s museum in the world, so we know a thing or two about this topic. Of course we love our museum to infinity, but I’m telling you what, The Magic House is a close second, especially for toddlers. Let me tell you what these people have packed into this “house”: bubble room, climbers, STEAM room, arts and crafts room, music play, waterfall patio, nature play, poem tree, electrically-charged ball, 3-story slide, math path, and so MANY MORE EXHIBITS. The admission price is only $12 per person ages one and up, which I think is very reasonable considering how much there is to do and see.
Let me tell you about the role playing areas. I am not kidding when I say we could have spent multiple days here, and the Adventure Kids would not have been bored. They were in love with this place! There are two separate role play areas: Star-Spangled Center and Children’s Village. We didn’t even make it to the Star-Spangled Center that includes a mock oval office, voting booth, and courthouse judge’s bench. We DID spend LOTS of time in the Children’s Village.
Here’s what you’ll find in the Children’s Village: grocery store, veterinary clinic, baby nursery, pizza parlor, library, electric company, mechanic’s garage, ice cream cart, utility truck, bank, and treehouse. What really makes this area so cool is how detailed everything is. For instance, in the baby nursery, there is a check-in desk, clipboards that tell the nurses and doctors what needs to be done for each baby, lab coats, swaddles, diapers, hats, a scale, cards to pick the baby’s gender and name, a sink, a rocking chair, thermometers, bulb syringes, and stethoscopes. It’s crazy how real all of this seems!
We loved The Magic House so much that I tried to convince Adventure Dad that we should go back the next day rather than driving home! I cannot wait until we go back there so we can see everything we weren’t able to hit on this trip.
Tips for The Magic House:
Everyone should wear clothes that can get dirty as there are lots of opportunities for water, sand, bubble liquid, marker, etc. to get on your clothes. Wear comfortable shoes as this place is much bigger than it looks from the outside! Take sippy cups, snacks, and all of the regular stuff (wipes, diapers, hand sanitizer) because you’re going to want to be here forever. Parking is free, so don’t worry about that. You can definitely take your stroller in here as you’ll be able to navigate it pretty well through most parts of the museum and it is nice to have somewhere to store the bag. Also, check out the online map and plan what you’re going to want to see before you get there (wish we would’ve done that!).
Tips for Eating at The Magic House:
They do have a cafe that serves sandwiches, soups, and salads, and you can actually pre-order the cafe food on an iPad at the front desk so that you don’t have to wait in line at lunch time. You can’t bring outside food into the cafe, but you can pack a lunch and eat at an outside picnic table if one is available. You can also come in and out of the museum with a return sticker if you want to leave to eat/nap and then come back.
Third Stop: Gateway Arch
We went to the top with toddlers, baby! After eating lunch and freshening up back at our room, we took the less than a 10-minute walk from the hotel’s front door to the entrance of the arch. Upon entering, we stopped at the welcome desk to ask for the National Park Service’s Junior Ranger Activity Book and putt-putt pencil. These are free. At the end of the experience, the Adventure Kids showed a ranger their completed activity book so that they could get their free junior ranger badges. I am SO GLAD that we did this because otherwise we would have went completely nuts in line waiting for the tram to the top.
You do buy tickets online ahead of time to reserve your time for the tram, but there is still quite a bit of a wait before you actually get on the tram. Additionally, there is a holding area where they show a video about the 1960s and building the arch. This video did not hold our attention, and there was nowhere to sit, so the Adventure Kids just sort of ran around screaming and touching the wall where they were projecting the movie. There was not much we could do to stop them. Everyone else in the holding cell with us could not enjoy (or hear!) the movie either. Sorry about that, fellow tourists.
Gateway Arch Tram:
I want to take a moment here to explain the “tram.” This is actually an elevator where you sit down inside of a pod on little tiny seats with your legs and feet all facing in towards one another. It takes four minutes for the pod to get to the top of the arch and three minutes for it to come back down. There’s not much airflow in there. The four of us fit just fine, but if you have more than two adults and two kids in your group, then you might try to get into two different pods.
Once we made it to the top of the 630-foot tall arch, the view was breathtaking! It seemed like we could see all of the way to Indy from up there! We spent some time looking out each window and taking pictures in front of signs. Then it was time to wait in line (not as long this time since there’s only so much room up there) to go back down. As for pricing, if you’re just riding the tram, kids under 3 are free, kids 3-15 are $8 each, and adults are $12 each. There are packages offered if you’re wanting to also watch the documentary movie and/or ride the riverboat. Check their website for more pricing and timing details.
Side note: We wanted to go on the riverboat that is run by Gateway Arch as well, but due to flooding, it wasn’t running at the time we were there. I think that looks fun. We’ll definitely take the kids cruising on the river next time we go to St. Louis.
Tips for Gateway Arch:
Buy your tickets online BEFORE you go or you might not get one. Do not bring a stroller or anyone who can’t walk up and down stairs and stand for longer periods of time. You have to be able to walk up and down at least 96 stairs (not all at once) and stand for about an hour. You cannot take strollers or wheelchairs up in the arch. Take something for the kids to do. Take snacks and sippy cups. Important: Make sure everyone has emptied their bladders right before getting in line for the tram because there is no bathroom at the top!
Fourth Stop: Union Station Fire and Light Show
After resting for a little bit and partaking in the 5:30 “Kickback” at the hotel, we got in the minivan and headed over to Union Station, which is only about a 10-minute drive. We paid a couple of dollars to park in the lot behind Union Station, and sat in adirondack chairs next to the outdoor pond to await the free fire and light show. You know what? It was really cool! The show consists of dancing lights, water, and fire all set to music. It only lasts about 3 minutes, but we were glad we checked it out. Show times are daily at 12:30, 1:30, 5:00, 6:00, 7:00, 8:00, and 9:00.
Also, this is right next to where the new 120,000 square foot aquarium is going to open (winter of 2019). We will definitely be checking that out on our next trip! Additionally, they’re planning to open a carousel, ferris wheel (200-foot-tall), rope course, and mirror maze in this area very soon (fall of 2019). All of this will make Union Station even more attractive to families like ours! Can’t wait!
Tips for Union Station Fire and Light Show:
Try to plan your visit to this for around the same time that you’re going to see the Grand Hall Light Show inside Union Station. Then you’ll only have to park once. The inside show is every hour on the hour from 5:00-10:00pm.
Fifth Stop: Pappy’s Smokehouse
The Adventure Kids love BBQ and so does their daddy, so we knew we wanted to check out Pappy’s on this visit. Their ribs were named “Best in America” by Food Network! They cook everything fresh each day, and their menu includes exactly what you would expect from a place called Pappy’s Smokehouse: ribs, burnt ends, pulled pork, pulled chicken, beef brisket, spicy sausage, and turkey breast along with traditional sides of baked beans, slaw, potato salad, corn on the cob, sweet potato fries, green beans, applesauce, and baked potato. It was definitely delicious!
Tips for Pappy’s:
Do not wait to go. Try to go as early as you can for whichever meal you’re eating there (lunch or dinner). We made the mistake of going late, and they had run out of almost all of the meat. Also, if you have toddlers with you, only send in one person to order the food. Pappy’s will not seat you at a table until you’ve ordered. We recommend that you have one person go in and wait in line to order, then he/she can text or call you once they’ve done so. Then you can all run in there and get your table. Make sure you take extra shirts or big bibs for the kids and plenty of wipes. 🙂
Sixth Stop: Union Station Grand Hall Light Show
Since we didn’t plan this out very well, we headed back to Union Station for the indoor light show in the Grand Hall. This building is so gorgeous inside and out! The inside show is every hour on the hour from 5:00-10:00pm.
The Grand Hall Light Show is a 3D light show set to music, and it’s about 9 minutes long. You just waltz into the Grand Hall, find yourself a seat at one of the swanky couches or tables, and wait for the show to begin. They do have a bar, and they serve “small plates” (appetizers) in the hall, so you could get a drink or snack if you’d like. They also have very clean bathrooms with changing tables. The show is projected onto the ceiling of the grand hall, and it’s truly a sight to see! When we were there, the show was music from Queen and was very entertaining. They change the show periodically, so make sure to check their website for more information about the current show. We all loved it!
Extras at Union Station Grand Hall:
Make sure you check out the “whispering arch,” which is located on the second floor, just above the main hotel entrance on the north side of the building. This is an architectural anomaly that allows someone whispering on one side of the giant arch to be heard plain as day by someone standing at the other side of it, which is 40 feet away! The Adventure Kids thought this was brilliant! Also, don’t miss the model train displayed in the gift shop right next to the grand hall.
After the show, it was back to the hotel for some much needed rest.
First (and only!) Stop: Blue Springs Cafe
If you’ve driven on I-70 anywhere near Highland, Illinois (40 minutes northeast of St. Louis), then you’ve seen the billboards for Blue Springs Cafe and their “Foot High Pies” and “Mile High Pies.” In the name of adventure, we decided to check this out. We were pretty impressed.
They serve their food family-style, so we had fried chicken, mashed potatoes, rolls, and green beans for lunch. The Adventure Kids and their mom split the chocolate meringue pie, and we thought it was delicious. The Adventure Dad tried the chocolate pecan pie, and hasn’t stopped talking about it since.
Tips for Blue Springs Cafe:
Come hungry. Make sure to bring cash as they do not accept any plastic payments here.
One Last Note:
I know some of you are wondering why we did not take the Adventure Kids to City Museum. Although I’m sure they would have absolutely loved it there, after reading reviews and speaking to our friends who’d recently been there with their children, we did not feel like this would be a good choice for our group until the kids are older. Once we heard that children can “disappear” into passageways, slides, and tunnels, we knew we’d need to wait until they are old enough to have a better sense of time and understand why they need to check-in with us every so often.
Overall, we had a fantastic trip to St. Louis! It was quite the adventure! So, what did we miss? What should we check out next time we’re in town? Let us know in the comments.