So, why would someone who lives in the Chicago area want to visit St. Louis? St. Louis has professional baseball, hockey and football teams, an exciting children’s museum, an amazing botanic garden, a world-class zoo and tons of delicious Italian restaurants -- but Chicago possess all those things, too.
Of course, I could point out that St. Louis’ baseball team actually has winning seasons most of the time, but ... Hey! That’s just a good-natured joke from a Cardinals fan.
St. Louis is definitely worth a visit, however, for any family looking for an easy getaway, located about a five-hour drive from the Fox Valley. Many of the attractions are inexpensive, and while public transit is very limited, with a car you can get from downtown to its near suburbs in less than 20 minutes outside of rush hour.
WHAT TO SEE:
St. Louis is located on the Mississippi River just south of where it meets up with the Missouri River. It was founded by French traders in 1764, about 70-some years before the city of Chicago was incorporated. Its position as the “Gateway to the West” lends it a different sort of history than the brawny, blue-collar tales of Chicago.
Its most famous feature, of course, is the Gateway Arch, which is located in downtown in a park called the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, part of the National Park Service. In addition to the arch, this area includes paved paths overlooking the river and a building called the “Old Courthouse,” where slave Dred Scott unsuccessfully sued for his freedom.
Once you see the Arch, you’ll likely want to board a tram for a trip top of this 630-foot stainless steel monument during your stay. But so does everyone else visiting St. Louis, so this one requires some advanced planning. I was at the visitor’s center (located underneath the arch) on a dreary weekday in mid-May at 11 a.m. and the next available tram ticket wasn’t until after 3 p.m. Tickets often sell out. So either plan to stop at the visitor’s center very early in the day, very early in your stay, to buy your timed-entry tickets. Or buy them ahead of time via phone (877-982-1410) or on the web at gatewayarch.com. You’ll have to pass through a security check-point for going up in the Arch, always a fun proposition with kids, so make sure to allow plenty of time before your tram time if you have pre-purchased tickets.