Best American Landmarks to Visit with Kids: The Gateway Arch & St. Louis

America’s historic landmarks may not be as ancient as those found in other parts of the world, but their more recent origins add a tangible quality that may inspire a child’s learning. Whether seeing firsthand the documents our nation was built on, or gazing in awe at the beauty found in our national parks, visits to these places are an opportunity for memorable family bonding and can bring history to life for a powerful learning experience. This series includes tips and educational resources for visiting some of the most amazing landmarks our country has to offer with your kids. Some may be in your back yard, while others require a longer trip, but all are well worth a visit.

St. Louis and the Gateway Arch

If you are planning a visit St. Louis, you have to visit the Gateway Arch. Commonly known as the St. Louis Arch, this impressive monument was built in 1965 to symbolize the “gateway” to the West. It was from St. Louis that Lewis and Clark embarked on their journey as cartographers, mapping the West. The site was also a key point on the Mississippi River for trade in the early 17th century.

The Arch has a tram system in both “legs,” which have eight capsules with room for five passengers each. There is an observation area at the top of the Arch with the city of St. Louis on the west side and Illinois and the Mississippi River on the east side.

If you do plan on visiting the museum of Westward Expansion at the base of the arch, WAIT! The museum is currently closed for renovations but should open sometime in the spring of 2017. It promises to bring the 19th century into the 21st with updated exhibits. The museum is also known as the Jefferson National Museum, because it was Thomas Jefferson who tasked Lewis and Clark with the expedition. The museum may be closed, but the city of St. Louis hosts a plethora of other activities for you and your family to enjoy.

Must-See Surrounding Sites

St. Louis was an extremely important city during the 17th and 18th centuries as a trade destination. French, English, and Native Americans all traveled up and down the Mississippi to trade furs and other goods.

  • The Magic House

A must-see if you are traveling with kids. This 55,000 square foot mansion was converted into a learning center for kids. The museum features hands-on exhibits which kids interact with to better understand science, math, and history. The Magic House was founded by Barbie Freud and Jody Newman and was inspired by the Chinese proverb:

I hear and I forget.
I see and I remember.
I do and I understand.

  • Music

St. Louis is not only the birthplace of the blues, but also was home to many famous faces including Chuck Berry and Miles Davis.  Their tradition continues. There are many venues where you can enjoy live music. You can also visit the Fabulous Fox Theater for a Broadway show, comedian, or band.

  • Sports

St. Louis is proud of their sports and depending on the season, you will have a variety of choices including MLB, NFL, and NHL. You can also head to the Scottrade Center to see what other performances will be going on during your trip.

  • Garden

If the weather is nice, plan to visit the Missouri Botanical Garden. It is the oldest botanical garden in continuous operation since 1859 and hosts more than 79 acres. They have attractions for teachers as well as students and families.

  • Forest Park and St. Louis Zoo

The St. Louis Zoo began with the World Fair in 1904 when a “flight cage” was featured. The population liked it so much that it ended up staying after the fair, and the zoo was built around it in 1910. Today, the zoo is free with attractions costing a little extra, but the zoo also offers a unique feature of going behind the scenes to meet the animals! The zoo is located in Forest Park, which is 500 acres larger than Central Park.

Educational Resources

The gateway to the West set the ground work for the Manifest Destiny movement of the mid 19th century.

Great movies for teaching Manifest Destiny

St. Louis activities and crafts from Pinterest

More ideas on how to plan your trip

Suggested Reading

Books for Grades K–3

What was the Lewis and Clark Expedition? by Judith St. George
A retelling of the Lewis and Clark adventure for kids.

Books for Grades 4–8

The Spirit of St. Louis by Charles Lindbergh
Detailing the flight across the Atlantic. Charles Lindbergh was in the air force but moved to St. Louis to work for the post office where he flew the Spirit of St. Louis for his routes.

Books for High School Students

Rising St. Louis by Carl J. Ekberg
A non-fiction book detailing the events and politics that led to St. Louis being a key city in the expansion west.

Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose
An in-depth story of the push to move west. Detailing the decisions from Thomas Jefferson and the adventures of Lewis and Clark.


  • Why was St. Louis chosen as a location as opposed to other points along the Mississippi?
  • If Lewis and Clark did not go on their mission, would that have changed the shape of America?
  • What is your favorite invention from the 1904 World Fair?
  • What landmarks were you able to see from the top of the Gateway Arch?
  • Who is your favorite performer/athlete/writer/poet from St. Louis?

Fun Facts

Featured Image – Dave Herholz / CC by 2.0

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