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Family Adventures: All aboard to St. Louis

July 2, 2014

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I know there's still a lot of time, but I think the Kid is going to grow up to be a train engineer. We have tinker toys and stuffed animals and a miniature farm, but the only toys that really get played with are the trains. Which is why, when blessed with a free Memorial Day weekend, we decided to let the Kid see some real-live trains up close as we hopped on the Amtrak to St. Louis.

Getting to St. Louis on the train

For the grown-ups, train travel is less expensive than traveling by car, with the added benefit that no one has to concentrate on driving.

For the small ones, there is much less need for entertainment. The Kid spent the first two hours staring out the window. When that got old there was the dining car and Wi-Fi for streaming his favorite “Thomas the Train” videos ― all so much more fun than being buckled into a car seat.

You can technically ride the train all the way to St. Louis from Lawrence, but there's a decent chance you'll miss the connection you need to make in Kansas City if you do. We chose to play it safe and got up early to catch the direct train from Union Station in Kansas City.

One disadvantage of riding the train is that once you get wherever you're going, you won't have a car. In that department, though, St. Louis is amazing. The train drops you off downtown where there are a number of hotels and activities within walking distance.

What we did once we got there

We stayed at the downtown Sheraton, which was a bit older, but clean, reasonable and right across the street from the train station. After checking in late Saturday afternoon, we grabbed a quick dinner and walked to the Arch.

Particularly on a holiday weekend, you need to buy tickets for the Arch ahead of time. (See gatewayarch.com for more information.) The crowd for Memorial Day was insane.

The Kid runs around City Garden in St. Louis.

The Kid runs around City Garden in St. Louis.

Also, if you have even the slightest touch of claustrophobia, it's better to enjoy the Arch from the bottom. The capsules that get you to the top are tiny, and the viewing room once you get there is only a little better. The Kid enjoyed it much more than his (very claustrophobic) mother, but I think he would have been just as happy watching the nearby helicopter tours take off and land from a safe spot on the ground.

Sunday morning, we started with tasty crepes for breakfast at Rooster. It looked crowded, but the line moved fast and the bloody marys were excellent. Once we were full to the brim, we headed off for the City Museum.

The City Museum is like walking into the brain of a 12-year-old boy. Dark caverns to explore, a 10-story slide, gigantic ball pits, twisting wire tunnels that lead to airplanes suspended a hundred feet above the ground ― we spent four hours there, and easily could have stayed longer if we hadn't run into nap time.

After a short rest back at the hotel, we swapped the Kid into his swim suit and went to City Garden, which is part sculpture exhibit, part water park. With three fountains that children are encouraged to splash and swim in, we enjoyed a cool interlude and snapped some fun photos with the art.

After a change of clothes, we shared a delicious deep-dish pizza at Pi Pizzeria. It was one of those perfect restaurants that was creative enough to please us, but casual enough that it was still fun for the Kid. The nearby Culinaria gourmet grocery store happily provided after-dinner gelato and some snacks for the train ride home the next day.

While our short trip was just full enough, if you wanted to add an extra day, Busch Stadium is right downtown, so you could easily catch a Cardinals game. The St. Louis Zoo is out of walking distance, but it's only a 30-minute ride on the Metro, so that would also be fun for small ones.

There are so many options ― hop onboard a train and meet me in St. Louis!

— Meryl Carver-Allmond lives in Lawrence and writes about chickens, babies, knitting, gardening, food, photography, and whatever else tickles her fancy on any given day at mybitofearth.net.

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