Visit St. Louis

While I plan on sharing all about our summer of travel at the end of the month, we thought this last trip deserved a post with more detail than what that post will entail. We went to St. Louis from 8/1 to 8/5. It’s 4.5-5 hours from Central Kentucky and a really easy drive on I-64.

When we mentioned to people that we were going there, it was usually a negative reaction. I was starting to get concerned about how safe it would be, but the moms in one of my Facebook groups always raved about their trips out there. I was concerned enough that I didn’t book our lodging until the day before we left.

LODGING

We went back and forth on whether our dog would take the trip with us, which affects our lodging options. Our usual sitter (through Rover.com… and if you’ve never used it, let me know because I could save you $20) wasn’t available for our trip dates, so it left us in limbo on what we wanted to do. Taking the dog with us hinders our ability to be out all day, but the more we thought about the logistics, it seemed none of our plans were for a full-day activity at once. I searched through Rover to see if there was anyone available for about $25-30 per night either near our home, or in Louisville, or in St. Louis. I came up with nothing. I contacted 3 different people in St. Louis who had availability on their calendar, but then they said they were busy.

Knowing that we’d have the dog with us, I went back and forth with whether to go for a hotel or AirBnB. At a hotel, I felt more confident that we’d have a clean and comfortable experience, plus we’d have the amenities of a pool and breakfast provided. St. Louis reinstated their mask mandate as of 7/26, so that may have limited the breakfast options to bagged food rather than something substantial. The pet-friendly hotel that I was looking at was about $700 for our stay to include the dog. I started looking at AirBnB and VRBO options. The pro to that type of option is that I can have separate bedrooms so that: 1) I can black out the windows with multiple layers of curtains for my children, and 2) we can still hang out in the house once the kids go to sleep.

If you’re looking at AirBnB in the area, stay away from any of the listings by “The Stay.” While one of their properties may have good reviews, nearly all of their properties have very bad reviews. I’ve never experienced as many listings with negative reviews as I did when searching this area. I’m used to deciding between someone with a 4.8 star or a 5.0 star review. “The Stay” had many negative reviews, and then there were even others in the area that had 3.0 star reviews. “The Stay” had all the same issues – the property wasn’t the same as the one pictured (that they circumvent by saying in their listing that pictures are of similar units), they provided the bare minimum on towels and linens, their doors were questionable if they closed and locked, and some units were even dirty.

I searched several times. The morning before we left, I found one that I hadn’t seen before. It was a 2 bedroom and pet friendly; she had a rating of 4.85, but the reviews were all glowing. I decided to go for it and messaged the host, who accepted our reservation request within the hour! Even better, it was only $585, where I was earmarking about $700 for lodging.

ACTIVITIES

St. Louis has a lot to offer. Many activities/attractions seem to have adopted a model where entry is free, but you pay for parking. There are many parks to explore, including the massive Forest Park, which is larger than Central Park in acreage. The parks have lots to offer – from sports to the arts, and they’re free. When we were in Atlanta, we explored parks, but the parking was always a beast, entry cost a bit, and the park was dirty and overused. Conversely, St. Louis’ parks are used, but not overused; parking is free, and there’s plenty of it; and they’re clean.

We visited the Gateway Arch, which is a staple. We made reservations online and paid their fee to ride to the top, which was $35 (2 adults, both kids were free). Their website includes a link to a nearby parking garage that is $9 for 5 hours of parking. The garage was about 3 blocks away from the entry to the Arch. Note that if you click the link, it auto populates for one hour; you need to manually change it to a 5 hour reservation. If you don’t make it a 5 hour reservation, then you’re charged for going over that 1 hour. We learned through experience. The parking garage was so nice about it though, and they refunded us for our screw up on the reservation when we had to pay for going over time.

There’s a museum that’s free under the arch; you still need to go through security, but you don’t need a reservation or have to pay the entry fee to see it. Once you get through the museum, you get in line for the ride to the top of the arch (either the north side or south side, based on your reservation). Strollers are permitted everywhere except here. We simply left our stroller at the bottom, and it was there when we returned. They give you some history about the arch and show you a video about the 60s and building the arch before you get in line for the elevator. Then you get in a little “pod” that takes you to the top. It’s little. It’s confined. It only has 5 seats. It’s “scary,” but only a 4 minute ride to the top. You spend a few minutes looking around, and then you head back down when the next group arrives. You’re assigned a “pod” number, so they make sure you leave with the group that you arrived with.

The Science Museum (pictured above with our itty bitty daughter waving to the dinosaur) is free! The parking is $12, which we paid. There were spots outside the museum on the street that were free, but we didn’t feel the need to seek a spot out. It was a last minute decision to go here. They closed at 5:30, and we wanted to get in as soon as possible since we were already arriving about 1:30. They had a lot to do there. Our almost-3-year-old had a great time exploring. They had dinosaurs, puzzles, arcade games, infrastructure exhibits, space exhibits, and a fire show to see. Everything was hands-on, and we had a great time. We really didn’t expect to spend nearly 4 hours there, but we did!

The Zoo is free! And it’s incredible! Parking in their lots (one on the south side and one on the north side) is $15. But we parked on the street in Forest Park and walked 0.4 miles to the entrance for free. Honestly, we planned on paying the $15, but we don’t like sitting in long lines to get somewhere. When we saw the line, we checked the map, saw it was about a 10 minute walk, and we just parked the car right there. It worked out perfectly. The zoo was well maintained and very shaded. We were impressed by the aesthetics of the exhibits for all the animals (e.g., grass, blending of tree protection instead of wire cages). We spent about 4 hours there, moving at a fairly slow pace. We contemplated purchasing the “Adventure Pass,” but decided against it. There are several activities within the zoo that you can pay for individually, or you can buy the Adventure Pass. For example, it’s about $8 per person to ride the train. That’s something that our son would really enjoy, but that seems steep. So we thought about the adventure pass, which is about $15 per person and includes the train, carousel, sea lion show, stingray exhibit, 4D theater, and a dinosaur exhibit. Our son would have loved all of those things, but as we wandered the zoo, we noticed all the lines were really long. Our two kids would not have enjoyed standing in long lines in the heat, so we decided to see how far we got without the activities. Since that brought up to nap time for our daughter, we decided to just go back to the AirBnB at that point.

We did a brewery tour at Anheuser-Busch. Tickets were $33 total for the adults. The tour was 75 minutes long with a lot of walking (and a lot of time spent outside). At the end, they gave us a bottle of beer to take home that was fresh off the production line (yet ironically we haven’t drank it yet), and then they gave us a beer from the tap to enjoy in the biergarten. Their food options were expensive though. We looked into an appetizer to enjoy with our beers since it was about lunch time, but chose to pass. The kids ran around the picnic table while Mr. ODA and I chatted and enjoyed our beers.

While on the tour, they mentioned Grant’s Farm. Their website hadn’t been very clear on what the experience entailed, so I had written in off. We decided to risk it. It was free admission, but you had to pay $15 for parking. We arrived and were still lost on what to do! We went to see the Clydesdales in their barn, and then we walked across the parking lot to a bridge. When we got to the other side, we were in a queue and still really lost – haha. We ended up getting on a tram that took us on a 20 minute ride through their property. We got to see a lot of animals like a safari tour (e.g., water buffalo, bison, several types of deer, yak), and then they dropped us off at the end. It was a zoo of sorts with a bunch of animals to look at, and some that you could feed for a fee (milk bottle for goats… which was only $2 and I would have done if it didn’t involve standing in a really long line with two kids in the heat; and pellets for llamas, cows, and goats in another section). They offered other things, like parakeet feedings ($7) and camel rides ($10). At the end, you enter a little german-looking village that had food for sale and some horses to see. Most interestingly, it had two free beers per adult. So again, we enjoyed our beers while the kids ran around the table and ate some pretzels!

The reason we picked this timeframe was because the Braves were in town playing the Cardinals. We bought tickets on StubHub for $23.80. We paid the $9 for the Arch parking garage for a 5 hour window; the garage is one block from the stadium. I still can’t believe it worked because game day parking was actually $25 or $30 for the garages on that block. We got to the garage at 5:30 for a 7:15 game, so we got a great parking spot that was easy to leave from (no long queues after the game lets out!). We explored the Ballpark Village before the game. There were lots of restaurants, but we had already eaten, so we just played with the giant games (Connect4, Jenga) in the center of the Village. We walked the whole stadium, as we like to do when visiting a new one. While it was nice, it wasn’t anything special. We really like how the Braves have a section for their history that you can visit, and we were surprised that this was a newer park and didn’t have such a section. The Braves won, so we ended on a great note.

FOOD

I’ve mentioned before that we don’t spend a lot of time or money on food when we travel. We’re not “foodies,” looking for the eclectic options of a region. We usually rotate between fast food options while we’re racing between activities. However, we purposely spent more time on this trip to spread everything out, so we ended up having an evening free. We went to the “Delmar Loop” to try a place that had good reviews: Blueberry Hill. We were disappointed. We tried fried raviolis, which claims to be a St. Louis “must have,” but other than that, it was just regular bar food (that was overpriced). The “Delmar Loop” was cool to walk down after dinner, but the drive to get there was sketchy.

SAFETY

There are areas of the city that are run down with boarded up buildings, just like with any city. While we drove through a couple of these areas, it wasn’t our destination. Even driving through it didn’t feel overwhelmingly unsafe (as it did in certain areas of Detroit). Our destinations were always in safe-feeling areas that were clean and well-lit. Whether we were downtown or in the suburbs (where our AirBnB was), we weren’t concerned.

As for the pandemic concept, the mask mandate was put into effect again right before we arrived. We had to wear masks for all indoor activities, regardless of vaccination status. Some places also required masks during entry (like at the zoo) or in crowded areas.

A FUN MIDWEST TOWN WITH A BUNCH TO OFFER

The whole trip was amazing. There was obviously a great selection for a family with young kids, but many more things to do if your traveling party is just adults. Bars, the Arts, Local Food, Museums, etc. There are even more things available to do (Botanical Gardens was one on our list if we had the time). The people we interacted with were all very pleasant, and the price was right. It’s worth putting on a travel list if you haven’t been!

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