Wondering what to do with your little ones this weekend? Here are ten attractions that are perfect for toddlers, preschoolers, and young school-age kids. There's a good selection of indoor and outdoor activities, ranging from art to animals, and most are free!
The listings are in no particular order. But it was hard to limit the list to just 10, and I tried to squeeze in some of the lesser-known ones. But here's a quickie bonus #11 for you, in case you're new to the area: don't miss Grant's Farm, either!
Lone Elk Park
1 Lone Elk Park Road, St. Louis
A natural oasis in the middle of Kirkwood, this wildlife refuge is the best-kept secret in the city. Open woodlands and a small lake, populated with herds of elk and white tail deer, are waiting for you to hike, photograph, and explore. Near the visitor's center, you'll find a few picnic tables with grills. After you've fully explored the elk side of the park, drive slowly through the bison area and be amazed at the size of these great native American beasts.
Tip: Don't forget your camera, and wear tick repellant and hats, the ticks are thick in these woods.
Laumeier Sculpture Park
12580 Rott Rd, St. Louis
Do kids like art? They will if it's a sculpture of a giant eyeball! Laumeier's giant outdoor sculptures will have even the most jaded kiddos running ahead on the trail to be the one who 'discovers' the next piece of art.
Picnic tables, restrooms, and water fountains are available. Admission is free.
Tip: Bring Fido and his leash! There are sensory exhibits especially for dogs along the woodland trails, including doggie karaoke.
St. Louis Children's Zoo
1 Government Drive, St. Louis
The Children's Zoo offers a full day of fun for just $4. Kids can slide through the otter pool in a see-through slide, climb a web like a spider, practice digging for bugs like an aardvark, or cool off in geysers of water that spurt from the ground. Zookeepers are always on hand to answer kids' questions about the animals they will meet, watch, pet, feed, and learn about.
Then there's the whole FREE area of the zoo to explore! Tip: If you arrive during the first hour the Zoo is open, admission is free for all!
Powder Valley Nature Center
11715 Cragwold Rd. Kirkwood
This hidden gem is just the right size to entertain little ones without overwhelming them. Kids can look out through insect eyeballs, put on a puppet show, watch bees at work, or see how trees make food from sunlight, air and water inside the Visitor's Center at Powder Valley. The outdoor trails include a short, wide, paved trail that's perfect for strollers or wheelchairs. Tip: Sit down and watch the butterflies feed in the Butterfly Garden, too.
The Magic House
516 S Kirkwood Rd., St. Louis, MO 63122
The Magic House Children's Museum in Kirkwood just keeps growing and growing. Toddlers can play all day with imaginative, interactive exhibits designed to stimulate their budding brainpower. Preschoolers and young school-age kids are invited to play pretend by running a restaurant, servicing a car, or managing a grocery store in the Children's Village.
Tips: The magnitude of the space can be ovewhelming, so let your little one set the pace and don't insist on trying to see everything in one visit. There's not much room to push a stroller, so if you're bringing an infant, consider a chest or back carrier.
St. Louis Art Museum Family Sundays
One Fine Arts Dr., St. Louis
Think it's way too soon for your little wild child to appreciate art? Think again! On Sunday afternoons, the Art Museum offers a Family Program just for you and your kiddos. Each month, the weekly activities center around a theme. Hands-on art and craft activities are available from 1-4pm, with a family tour of the galleries at 2:30pm. This program is one of the best freebies in St. Louis for young learners, and a sheer delight for parents. Some weeks there are treats, performances, scavenger hunts, and cultural or historical themes as well as art-based topics.
Tip: Bring a picnic and enjoy the grassy spaces of Art Hill.
St. Louis Science Center & Discovery Room
5050 Oakland Ave., St. Louis
Like the zoo, the Science Center offers free admission to the general museum, and there are treats for little kids in most areas of the Center. But for $3.50, you can take kids age 12 months and up inside the Discovery Room for hands-on science play. Tiny scientists can experiment with water and magnets, or dress up and explore Native American or medical environments. Discovery Room sessions last for 45 minutes and start on the hour.
Tip: If you park on the Planetarium side, in Forest Park, and walk across the Sky Bridge, parking is still free.
Museum of Transportation
3015 Barret Station Rd., St. Louis
If your kids love planes, trains and automobiles (but especially trains), they will love the Museum of Transportation. Steam, diesel and electric trains are the highlights here. Antique cars, street cars, busses and aircraft are also on hand. Admission is $4 for kids or seniors and $6 for adults. You can ride a train for $4 or visit the Creation Station activity area for $2.
Tip: Most of the exhibits are outdoors, so plan this trip for a nice day.
Missouri Botanical Garden
4344 Shaw Ave., St. Louis
Do tiny tots really enjoy the Botanical Garden? Oh, yes. They love to be pushed in strollers or walk along the paths, and squeal with delight when they get 'lost' in the boxwood maze. The Climatron, with its winding paths, waterfalls, aquariums, and flittering birds usually holds their attention for a long time. But did you know that MOBOT has added a massive Children's Garden that's essentially a giant playground? It's two solid acres of slides, treehouses, and more. Admission is $5 per child over age 3, but free to chaperones age 13 & up. This is in addition to Garden admission, which is $8/adults and free for kids.
Tip: Bring a change of clothes and a small towel and put your child in shoes with grippy soles. Kids love to play in the Garden fountains, and there's a splash area in the Children's Garden.
6059 Wells Rd, St. Louis,
Quick, name the St. Louis County Park with a petting zoo… Did you say Suson? Not every St. Louisan knows about this little jewel of a park, either. The lovely lake is popular for fishing, but ducks and geese like it too. The grounds offer picnic facilities and a playground. But the unique feature of Suson is the working animal farm, where kids can meet cows, chickens, horses, pigs and more. The farm is free (donations are accepted) and is open daily from 10:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. in summer.
Tip: Bring some bread for the ducks, and your camera.