Affordable and Family Friendly Vacation in St. Louis


Nate and I have had a busy, busy year: he got a new job, we had a baby,  our camp had the busiest retreat season we’ve ever had and frankly it’s been a long winter. We were also sorely overdue for a family vacation….we haven’t been on a “just us” vacation since our honeymoon!

So we knew we wanted to go on vacation, but we didn’t have a location in mind. We didn’t want to go far and needed something that would work with a one year old.

Our affordable and family friendly vacation in st. louis

Thanks to the power of google we found our perfect, affordable and family friendly vacation in St. Louis, Missouri!

St. Louis Pros:

  • Less than an 8 hour drive. By the books it is about a 6.5 hour drive from our home in Michigan, but we took more stops so it was about 8 hours for us.
  • Lots of free thing to do! St. Louis has the most free attractions outside of Washington, D.C! There were so many options of affordable (and fun!) things to do!
  • South of us. We were hoping to go somewhere warmer than Michigan! The spring temperatures were in the high 60s to low 70s so it was absolutely perfect weather!

visit st louis in spring

Where We Stayed:

We stayed at a really nice apartment in “The Hill” neighborhood. It was a one bedroom that had a small kitchen, dining area, laundry access, living room, and office area. There was also a backyard deck we could use but we didn’t.

We found it on VRBO.com and we’d definitely look for something similar. For the same price of a hotel we could cook our own meals (which helped us save money), had more space, and could use free laundry facilities.

St. Louis Family Vacation Activities:

Ah! There was so much to do in St. Louis! You could easily be busy from morning to night!

Having Layla with us helped us slow down and not feel guilty about daily naps and coming home each night at 8:00. (Nate and I hung out and watched movies the rest of the night in our room!)

Here’s what we decided to do:

  • The St. Louis Zoo–This free zoo was great! We went on Friday and it was crazy busy. We made our way around most of it, we really enjoyed the big cats exhibit and the penguins and seals! We went back again on Wednesday and we were so glad we did! It was much quieter and we had a much better time not being elbowed by strangers. I’d definitely try to go NOT Friday-Sunday.

zoo fun

st louis zoo attractions

  • Grant’s Farm–One of our favorite places on our trip. This farm was owned by the Anheuser Busch family and had lots of exotic animals like buffalo, deer, elephants, camels (even a baby!) and lots of baby goats! They also had free samples of beer! And cool things like feeding canaries and pony rides. It was fun and a good size for Laya. You ride a tram into the farm and that was one of our favorite parts. It was opening day when we went so it was pretty busy and we waited close to 45 minutes to get on the tram, but once we were in it was awesome! Visiting the farm is free, but parking is $10.

Grant's Farm


feeding birds at grant's farm


  • The Saint Louis Science Center–This was a fun spot, and definitely kid-oriented. We were a little disappointed, perhaps because we were comparing it to the Science and Industry Museum in Chicago. Most of the exhibits were geared for kids, but we had fun with them and Layla got to run around a little too! Visiting was free, parking was $10.

st louis science center

  • The Missouri History Museum–We stopped by here briefly one evening and it was really beautiful and informative. We liked the exhibit on the World’s Fair and the Louisiana Purchase. We both learned a lot of interesting stuff. I would not say this was kid-friendly for the elementary and younger age group, but they are opening a new children’s section of the museum in June! Visiting and parking was free!

Near the St Louis Art Museum

  • Citygarden in downtown St. Louis–A very cool urban park downtown. We enjoyed playing and climbing and splashing in the fountains. Then we were close enough we decided to walk to the Arch. But it is undergoing some major construction to create a new beautiful park around it, so we never made it there! But we did enjoy walking around and taking in the architecture of the downtown buildings. Street parking, but otherwise free!

downtown st louis


citygarden st louis

  • Forest Park–We walked here one day and it was beautiful! They also had a fun playground that Layla loved! Free!
  • Missouri Botanical Garden–This was probably my favorite spot. It as $8 per adult over 13; children were free. The gardens were GORGEOUS! Walking around was incredibly peaceful and just good for the soul. We also looked at some exotic plants in greenhouses and checked out their neat little children’s garden area! There were lots of play spaces for climbing, slides, musical instruments, and even a little general store!

botanical garden missouri


playing music


missouri botanical garden


Fun Things We Passed On for this Visit, but can’t wait to try next time:

These were things we wanted to do, but we had so many options that we decided to pass on. Or some would definitely be fun for older kids, but just weren’t a good fit for us this visit with a one year old.

  • City Museum–We were very drawn to this place! But we decided that it would be more fun when Layla would be a little earlier and we could all play and enjoy it! Nate’s knee was also bothering him so we didn’t want to aggravate it with lots of crawling and climbing either. But it looks soo fun!
  • Trip to the top of the arch–We weren’t particularly keen on doing this with a baby either. It might have been fine, but it might have been a disaster.
  • Cahokia Mounds–I though this would have been really neat to explore and learn about this ancient Native American Civilization too!

Nate went out one afternoon and explored a couple guitar shops during naptime. There was lots of shopping, including an Ikea in St. Louis that we passed on as well, but could be really fun to check out!

Family Food in St. Louis

Our original plan was to cook more at the apartment, but what can I say? Who wants to cook on vacation and when there are so many new restaurants to try!

Here are the places we went to…

  • Racanelli’s Pizza–New York Style Pizza. I had the bacon cheeseburger pizza. #noregrets
  • Smoking Barrels BBQ–Nate got the three meat plate with ribs, pork and beef brisket. I got the turkey bbq. I’d recommend their potato casserole as a side, it was amazing!
  • El Maguey–Mexican restaurant in the Delmar Loop shopping area. We passed it and all the sudden I really wanted Mexican food! Great margaritas! My carnitas enchilada was pretty darn good, but not outstanding (but I’m probably tough on Mexican food since living in Texas!), the service was a little slow, but we weren’t in a hurry. Nate got enchiladas as well and enjoyed them too. Layla ate a little of everything.

Layla eats Mexican

  • Pi Pizza–Deep dish Chicago-style pizza with a cornmeal crust. This spot had good reviews, but we were both a little disappointed in it. Maybe because we go to Chicago for Chicago-style pizza and that’s all we can compare it to.
  • Bailey’s Range–This cool little joint served up some seriously amazing burgers! I had the Whiskey BBQ burger and it was so good! We also had the fries with two different kinds of dipping sauce, the chipotle mayo and the cheddar. Nate said he wished we would have skipped fries and ordered a second burger! Definitely my favorite place we ate. They also have homemade ice cream so of course we both ordered shakes. I got salted caramel (soo yummy!) and Nate got vanilla and cinnamon.

whiskey bbq burger

  • El Burro Loco–Our Mexican was good earlier in the week so for our last night in St. Louis we decided to check out this spot! We were glad we did! They were very friendly and fun! I had the steak and chicken fajitas and the meat was perfectly flavorful and juicy! Nate had the chimichanga. We both agreed that the food was better than the other spot, but the drinks weren’t as tasty.
tasty mexican
The steam fogged up my phone!


As you can see we ate really well in St. Louis! Probably too well! I’m scared to weigh in tomorrow!

One good thing about this vacation is we spent 2-3 hours a day on our feet walking around so hopefully we were burning off some of those tasty treats too!

scott family vacation

Overall we had a wonderful St. Louis family vacation!

It was perfectly laid back, but also full of fun! We woke up every morning picked something to do and then did it!

Everyone we encountered was pleasant and hospitable, the city had a great vibe, and we will definitely be back in the future!

St. Louis Arch with city in background and text overlay affordable and family friendly st louis vacation

Have you ever been to St. Louis? Where do you like to vacation as a family?

Anyone from the St. Louis area that wants to tell us if St. Louis is considered Midwestern or Southern? 




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  1. Looks like fun! I went to St Louis once for a race and we did a few things while we were there but didn’t get to nearly enough of the sites. We need to go back for another trip!

  2. I love recaps like this, because it reminds me that there is so much in the US to explore. Sometimes I always want to go travel in another country, but there are so many stones to uncover here, and some of them are in our back yard.

    The flowers are gorgeous!!! And the animals are COOL! I love bison and penguins.

  3. We’ve never been to St. Louis, but it sounds like a great trip! Will keep it in mind for the future. Thanks for sharing at the #HomeMattersParty 🙂

  4. We’ve lived in the St. Louis metro-region for 6 years now and I STILL can’t figure out if we’re considered ‘Southern’ or ‘Midwestern’ 😀 DEFINITELY the Magic House is a fabulous place to visit with younger kids but can be a bit pricey for larger families. You also left out all the SHOPPING! There are more malls in a half hour radius than you can shake a stick at including the Chesterfield Mall which has an American Girl store among others. There is also the antique district near Lafayette Square and of course ‘The Hill’ for fab authentic Italian Cuisine (our favorite is Zia’s). And did you visit Ted Drewes for the most awesome frozen custard EVER? If you visit in the fall (the weather is GORGEOUS), be sure to take a drive up the Great River Road alongside the Mississippi into historic Alton/Grafton for some great scenery and stay over night at the Beall Mansion, one of the area’s top rated B&B’s (maybe not kid friendly but with an all you can eat chocolate bar, how can you go wrong?!). On a side note, our Ikea is still under construction and is not expected to open till fall of 2015 :/

    1. Thanks for all the great info!! I love that St. Louis has so much to do! I’ll be sure to check out these places when we go back!

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