St. Louis with kids: Missouri Botanical Garden

The Missouri Botanical Garden, established in 1859, is regarded as one of the top public gardens in the world. This 79-acre paradise, located only five miles from downtown St. Louis, exists thanks to local 19th-century businessman Henry Shaw, who admired the great public gardens of Europe and wanted to offer his hometown a similar resource.

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The gardens are exquisite, with pools, ponds, and fountains to please the eye. You can easily spend a full day there, although the visitors’ guide provides a helpful list of what to see if you’re short on time. The tram tour, available April through October, lets you see the whole garden in half an hour without wearing out the little ones. The spherical Climatron houses tropical plants, and next door, the Brookings Exploration Center offers hands-on learning about plants, trees and the environments in which they grow.

  • If you have time for a more in-depth visit, you can wander the beautiful grounds, which are set up to showcase gardening styles from around the world. A few don’t-miss-this spots include:
  • Feeding Koi fish in the spectacular and often-photographed Japanese garden
  • Walking through Tower Grove House, Henry Shaw’s Victorian home, housed in the park (April-December)
  • The observation tower and maze beside the house (My kids played tag in it—which might not be wise or even possible if the crowds are big, but it was quiet in that part of the garden when we visited.)

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Children’s Garden:

But without a doubt, the highlight of the Missouri Botanical Garden for families is the Children’s Garden. Open April through October (and requiring a separate admission of $5 for kids 3-12; little ones and adults are free), this extensive play area is one part garden, one part children’s museum, and one part playground. But your local park never had a playground like this! Each area represents a piece of Missouri history or geography: steamboat, tree house, cave, fort, Native American camp, and general store stocked with toy food, to name a few. There’s even a splash pad in the summer. (See this map to get a sense of the scope.)

Staff offers daily programming from 10:30-2, giving kids an interactive look at tree identification, wetland biodiversity, and more. Your kids will not want to leave this area. Even my preteen boy wasn’t ready to go.

Note: The Children’s Garden is large and when there are a lot of kids around, as there were the day we visited, it can be easy to lose track of your children. Set up a meeting spot and make sure your kids have your mobile number with them in case they need to ask an adult for help finding you.

Getting the most out of your visit:

Keep an eye on the weather. There are things to do indoors, but you will probably spend most of your time outside. On certain days, the garden offers interpretive and educational programming, and in the summertime there are concerts in the amphitheater. Large-scale exhibitions are also hosted in the summer—in 2017 the Climatron will be home to a collection of large glass art—and other festivals are scattered throughout the year. The garden can be crowded during some of these events, so plan accordingly.

Picnicking is NOT allowed on the grounds, but re-entry is permitted. Keep a cooler in the car or take time to enjoy one of the authentic Italian restaurants on The Hill, just a few blocks away. Easier still, eat on-site, at the Sassafrass Cafe, which offers mostly locally-sourced soups, salads, sandwiches and kids’ fare for $10 and under.

For a lasting keepsake of your visit, check out the large Garden Gate Shop, which sells plants, home furnishings, books and tools both for growing plants and for cooking up the fruits of your labor.

Accessibility:

By and large, the garden is accessible to wheelchairs and strollers, including much of the Children’s Garden. Walkways are wide and smooth. Parents with nursing or easily overstimulated children might want to take advantage of the “calming corner” inside the Brookings Exploration Center. For kids with sensory issues, check out the “Pre-Visit Guide” prepared by the garden.

Location, Parking, Hours/Admission:

Missouri Botanical Gardens is open 9-5 daily and is open in the early mornings and Wednesday evenings for walking. Admission is $12 for ages 13 and over; kids are free, and residents of St. Louis County get half-priced admission every day and free admission on Saturdays.

The Children’s Garden ($5 ages 3-12) and the tram ($4 ages 3-adult) require separate tickets, and during some special events, garden admission may be higher, so again—check the garden calendar.

The garden is located at 4344 Shaw Blvd., St. Louis, MO, 63110. Parking is free on site, and there is quite a bit of it, but on busy days cars are parked for several blocks up the surrounding streets. Using public transportation will earn you a $1 discount on admission.

Our family visited the Missouri Botanical Garden as guests of Explore St. Louis, in exchange for an honest review.

Photo credit

About the author

Kathleen Basi

Freelance writer Kathleen Basi has lived her entire life in “flyover country,” but she’s an old pro at road trips, having taken the first of many extended driving vacations at the tender age of five. She’s a huge proponent of letting kids see and experience the space between “here” and “there.” Find her at http://kathleenbasi.com/blog/.

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