Growing up in Jefferson City in the ‘80s, no summer was complete without a road trip to Six Flags St. Louis. I never felt as brave as I did the day I conquered my first roller coaster, the River King Mine Train. I also have fond memories of taking the wheel on the Moon Antique Cars just before I was old enough to apply for my learner’s permit and being serenaded by a vampire during a live stage show at Fright Fest. Parents visiting Six Flags today can still ride many of their favorite rides, like the log flume, the Colossus, Thunder River and the Screaming Eagle, and make new memories in Bugs Bunny National Park and on the long roster of daring roller coasters that have opened in recent years. For added retro fun, be sure to recreate that photo of yourself posing with Bugs Bunny.
Saint Louis Zoo: With free admission, a convenient location inside Forest Park and nearly 15,000 wild animals, Saint Louis Zoo has been a popular stomping ground for generations of families. Saint Louis Zoo, which dates back to the 1904 World’s Fair Flight Cage, has preserved and maintained many of its historical structures and the Zooline Railroad, which has been taking guests on zoo safaris since 1963. Long-time zoo fans will also remember the birth of Raja, the first elephant ever born at the Saint Louis Zoo, in 1992. In recent years the zoo has expanded with the addition of immersive exhibits like River’s Edge, Puffin & Penguin Coast, Sea Lion Sound and Polar Bear Point.
Crown Candy Kitchen: Founded in 1913, Crown Candy Kitchen is vintage St. Louis wrapped up in a delicious little candy wrapper and served alongside a frothy chocolate malt. Billed as St. Louis’ oldest soda fountain, Crown Candy Kitchen maintains its original charm with a jukebox, collectibles and more. Stop by with your kids for lunch or a sundae, or simply grab a bag of confectionaries to go.
Tower Grove Park: Founded through a land conveyance by Missouri Botanical Garden founder Henry Shaw in 1868, Tower Grove Park has enchanted generations of visitors with carriage rides, lily ponds, colorful pavilions and the lovely spread at Cafe Madeline. In recent years, the addition of a playground and the Muckerman’s Children Fountain have made Tower Grove Park one of St. Louis’ most popular parks.
Saint Louis Art Museum: Free admission and lofty galleries filled with work by some of the most renowned artists in history have long attracted families seeking culture, beauty and enlightenment to the Saint Louis Art Museum. The museum, which is housed in a 1904 World’s Fair building, expanded with the addition of the East Building in 2013 and a Sculpture Garden in 2015. Today families can explore the galleries through a variety of classes, activities and events, including Family Sundays, a free program that includes tours tailored to children’s interests. And, of course, no serious discussion of St. Louis family traditions would be complete without a nod to Art Hill, which has served as a sledding spot for many intrepid families over the years.
The Magic House: Though part of what makes The Magic House Children’s Museum a popular destination for families year after year is its ever-evolving selection of new and visiting exhibits, like the STEM-inspired “Wonder Works” and the “Star-Spangled Center,” long-time fans of The Magic House, which opened in a quaint (and a bit mysterious) Victorian mansion in 1979, can still take a hair-raising selfie touching the Van De Graaff generator, a fan-favorite for decades.
Saint Louis Science Center: For a generation that grew up dreaming of orbiting the earth like the teens in “Space Camp,” the James. S. McDonnell Planetarium in the Saint Louis Science Center was a popular launching point. Today families can fuel their own children’s interest in astronomy with a Live Sky Tonight planetarium show.
Blueberry Hill: With a jukebox and vintage pinball machines, Blueberry Hill on The Loop is just as popular with today’s teens as it was with their parents back in the day. If you’re looking for a way to score serious street cred with your 15-year-old, grab a burger together at this local legend.
Gateway Arch: If you’re a St. Louis native, one fundamental truth exists: You can’t help but feel proud when you see the Gateway Arch in a movie or television show. Even those who grew up in St. Charles County and Metro East most likely claim this national landmark as an insignia of their own “hometown,” and will recall memories of taking the tram to its tippy-top on school field trips or special family outings. Though the Gateway Arch is in the process of a makeover with revitalization efforts along the St. Louis Riverfront and a reimagined Museum of Westward Expansion on the horizon, parents can still take children to the top and experience that same feeling of wonder as they look out together over the St. Louis skyline.
Happy Joe’s Pizza: When in St. Louis, celebrate your birthday as the St. Louisians do: with a birthday party at Happy Joe’s Pizza. Those who have grown up in St. Louis have fond memories of marking another year with a pizza at Happy Joe’s.
Rollercade Roller Skate Center: For those who grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the quintessential social activity was the local roller rink, and for St. Louis natives, that roller rink was the Rollercade Roller Skate Center. Strap on your skates, spray on the Aquanet and Baby Soft and show the kids your best moves.
Grant’s Farm: At Grant’s Farm, which opened to the public in 1954, bottle-feeding the baby goats and visiting the world-famous Clydesdales are popular summer traditions that have been passed down from one generation to the next.
Ted Drewes Frozen Custard: If you grew up in the St. Louis area, chances are no matter where your day of adventure took you, it often ended with a concrete at Ted Drewes Frozen Custard, a local institution that’s been serving up frozen delights in St. Louis since 1930.
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