St. Louis is a great getaway city. It offers so many things to do and see, unique restaurants, and has a flavor all its own. Birthplace of several famous individuals and site of the 1904 World’s Fair, St. Louis lets its history take center stage throughout the city. The number of greenscapes within this urban metropolis are astounding and really lend themselves to the beauty and enrichment of the area.
Our family loves St. Louis and thought we would try to budget our last trip. While we didn’t include the cost of our hotel or gas in our daily budget, we were determined to see if our family of four could spend four days in St. Louis on $90 or less a day. While we didn’t succeed in our goal each day, we did save enough on the first two days of our vacation to make up for the next two days. We hated blowing our daily budget, but there were just some things that were too good to pass up.
Below is a breakdown of our vacation. Of course, you are free to plan your vacation and days for whatever works for your family. You may choose to stay at a different hotel or visit attractions in a different order. Whatever goes, but if you are looking to do as much as you possibly can while sticking to a budget, this may be a good starting point.
Where We Stayed
While we didn’t include our hotel stay in our daily budget, it did play a big part in our vacation as a whole. We decided to stay at the Pear Tree Inn St. Louis Near Union Station for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the rates were great and the rooms were excellent. Second, it offered free hot breakfast AND free evening snacks such as popcorn, nachos, soda, beer and wine. Third, its location to Union Station made it an easy choice for our transportation needs. Everyone at the Pear Tree Inn was extremely helpful and friendly. There is also an on-site restaurant and bar if you would rather take food back to your room and relax.
We’ve also, stayed at Union Station and loved that as well. It is a unique hotel that is in the middle of the action and offers a ton of onsite fun for the whole family.
How We Got Around
We used the local forms of transportation as much as possible. St. Louis has a MetroLink line, which is a light rail transit system. They also have a MetroBus system, which has multiple routes throughout the St. Louis metropolitan area. Using the MetroLink and MetroBus systems allowed us to get around without getting lost and also saved us on gas and parking fees. We purchased one-day Adventure Passes for three days of our stay. Adventure Passes allow unlimited usage of both the MetroLink and MetroBus for one day. We had to purchase them for both myself and my husband, as well as our nine year old. Our four year old was free to ride and we did not have to purchase a pass for her. There is also a weekly pass available, which is cheaper in the long run if you are staying more than four days. However, knowing that we would only be using transportation for three of our four days, it was cheaper for us to purchase one day passes. Our Adventure Pass also allowed us to use the Forest Park Explorer line, which was great for getting around within Forest Park.
As I said, St. Louis has a lot to offer families. We were as busy as we could possibly be each day and we had a blast. Below you find a breakdown of our days, as well as starting and ending budgets for each day. Our food totals include sales tax, which is 9.68% in St. Louis, as well as any tips left for sit-down service.
Hotel (Not included in our budget, but still important to know): $470.00
One Day Adventure Passes for MetroLink/MetroBus: $67.50
3 passes @ $7.50= $22.50
3 days @ $22.50= $67.50
Our Starting Budget: $360
4 days @ $90.00= $360
To go ahead and make sure we had factored in the cost of our MetroLink/MetroBus passes, we went ahead and subtracted the whole amount of the passes to get our actual budget.
Our Actual Budget: $292.50
$90 – $22.50= $67.50
$67.50 x 3 days= $202.50 (this is how much we had total for the three days we used transportation)
$202.50 + $90.00= $292.50 (this is how much we had left over for our four days)
We then divided that amount by four days to see how much we had available to spend each day.
Daily Budget: $73.13
$292.50/ 4 days= $73.13
So, let’s see how we did.
Day One- Starting Budget $73.13
- Woke up about 8am and got dressed. Headed down to a wonderful hot breakfast at the hotel.
- Finished up about 8:30am and got ready to head out.
- Walked to Union Station terminal (about a 15 minute walk)
- Took the MetroLink to Forest Park (about a 20 minute ride)
- Catch the MetroBus #90 and head to the St. Louis Zoo (about 10 minutes)
- Got to the St. Louis Zoo about 9:15am. Admission to the St. Louis Zoo is FREE.
- Spent around 3 hours at the Zoo. Left about 12:30pm.
- Boarded Forest Park Trolley and headed to the Missouri History Museum (about 10 minutes)
- Got to the Missouri History Museum about 12:45pm. Admission to the Missouri History Museum is FREE.
- Ate lunch at Cafe St. Louis in the MHM. We brought our own water since we had just been to the zoo, so we only purchased food. We got each of the kids a meal from the Kid’s Menu, which come with a side of grapes and an Oreo cookie. The husband and I split a Chicken Caesar Wrap, which came with a side. $22.80
- We explored the MHM for about 2 and a half hours. We left about 3:50pm.
- We boarded the MetroBus to the MetroLink Station (about 4 minutes).
- Took the MetroLink downtown to the 8th & Pine Station (about 15 minutes).
- Headed from the Station to the Gateway Arch (about a 10 minute walk).
- Arrived at Gateway Arch about 4:20pm. Entry to the Gateway Arch Visitor Center and Museum is FREE.
- Spent about an hour and a half exploring the Visitor Center and Museum. The Visitor Center closes at 6:00pm, but grounds around the Arch are open until 11:00pm, so we spent some time looking around the Arch. We left the Arch about 6:30pm.
- Headed to Caleco’s Bar & Grill for dinner (about a 10 minute walk).
- Dinner Time!! We were hot and thirsty, so we all got water to drink with our dinner. We decided to split a large pepperoni pizza. We still had some slices to bring back to the hotel with us! $18.31 + $3.50 tip= $21.81
- Walked back to 8th & Pine Station to catch MetroLink (about a 4 minute walk).
- Took the MetroLink back to Union Station Terminal (about 4 minutes).
- Walked from Union Station back to our hotel (about a 15 minute walk).
- We missed the snack hour at the hotel, but we were so tired and just wanted to relax. Off to bed and ready for Day 2!
Day One Totals: $22.80 + $21.81= $44.61
Difference: $73.13 – $44.61= $28.52 left!
Day Two- Starting Budget $73.13
- Woke up a little later today, we were worn out! Got up about 9:00am and went down to some yummy, very appreciated, hot breakfast.
- At around 9:30am, we were headed on our way to Union Station.
- Took the MetroLink to Forest Park.
- Hopped the Forest Park Explorer to the Saint Louis Science Center (about an 18 minute trip)
- Explored the Saint Louis Science Center & McDonnell Planetarium for about an hour and a half. Admission to the Saint Louis Science Center & McDonnell Planetarium is FREE.
- Grabbed lunch at the Science Center. We ate at the Science Cafe and it was delicious. We got two Kids Meals, each which came with animal crackers, applesauce and a Capri Sun. The husband and I split an order of BBQ Pork Nachos and had the water we brought along with us to drink. $26.16
- Stayed and played at the Science Center for another 30 minutes. We left the Science Center about 1:15pm.
- Hopped back on the Forest Park Trolley and headed over to the Saint Louis Art Museum (about a 25 minute trip, but you will enjoy the ride around Forest Park).
- Arrived at the Saint Louis Art Museum. We spent about an hour here before the kids decided they had enough art for one day. Admission to the Saint Louis Art Museum is FREE.
- We hopped back on the Forest Park Trolley and made our way to the Boathouse (about a 12 minute ride).
- We hung out at the lake at the Boathouse and watched the ducks, geese, and fish. We hopped back on the Trolley about 3:30pm and headed back to the MetroLink Station (about 10 minutes).
- Took the MetroLink to the station at 8th & Pine downtown.
- Walked to the Citygarden Sculpture Park (about a 4 minute walk). Citygarden offers great views of the Old Courthouse and the Gateway Arch. Next to Citygarden are the Serra Sculpture Park and Gateway Park. The kids loved playing in the water features and taking pictures with the sculptures. We played in the parks for about an hour.
- We decided to have breakfast for dinner at Chris’ @ the Docket (about a 7 minute walk). The kids split a short stack of pancakes with two eggs and sausage. I had the biscuits and gravy and hubby had the Classic Breakfast with two eggs, bacon, hashbrowns and pancakes. We had happy bellies after all was said and done. $27.42 + $5.00 tip= $32.42
- After dinner, we walked back to the 8th & Pine MetroLink Station (about a 6 minute walk) and headed back to Union Station.
- We decided to go on back to the hotel and relax since we were hot, tired, and the kids were still a little damp from the water features at Citygarden.
- When we got back to the hotel, we collected our free snacks and drinks and headed up to the room to wash up and get some rest.
Day Two Totals: $26.16 + 32.42= $58.60
Difference: $73.13 – $58.60= $14.53 left!
Day Three- Starting Budget $73.13
- Having gotten plenty of sleep the night before, we were back up-and-at-em at 8:30am. We grabbed our breakfast downstairs at the hotel and were ready to head out the door at 9:15am.
- Knowing what we were going into today, we grabbed some snacks at the hotel to carry with us. Today was not a day we were going to be able to keep it cheap, but we weren’t going to go crazy. $8.00
- We walked to Union Station and caught the MetroLink to the Civic Center (about a 3-4 minute ride).
- At the Civic Center, we caught the #99 MetroBus which took us to the City Museum (about a 10 minute ride).
- Well, we were here. The City Museum was about to blow our budget, but it is one of the most unique, interactive museums we had ever visited and we wanted to take our kids. Can’t win them all I guess. We were upset to have failed at today’s budget, but realized we had saved almost $40 the previous two days, so we were still doing okay in the long run. Admission to the City Museum is $16 per person, ages 3 and up. $16.00 x 4 people= $64.00
- We spent about 4 hours at the City Museum. After a couple of hours of play, we decided it was time to take a break and divvy out the snacks we had brought with us. We still had our water so we had plenty to drink. Once we had refueled, it was back to the grind. We finally pulled the kids (and ourselves) away at about 2:15pm.
- We caught the #99 MetroBus back to the Civic Center and took the MetroLink back to Union Station. It was around 2:30pm at this time and we still had a lot of daylight left to burn.
- We decided we wanted to properly check out Union Station. There is a lot to do at Union Station, but since we were trying to stick to budget (or as close as we possibly could), we would just have to save the St. Louis Aquarium and St. Louis Wheel for our next trip. However, the inside of Union Station is pretty awesome to explore. We sat down in the Grand Hall and watched the Light Show. The kids were in awe of the pictures and lights dancing across the ceiling. They sat there for about 20 minutes, not moving!
- We walked around inside and outside Union Station and found a really cool koi pond. We sat and watched the fish for a while.
- Around 5:00pm, the Fire & Light Show on the lake. It was spectacular and definitely worth the watch.
- At around 5:30, we started the walk back to our hotel.
- Since it was about 5:45 when we got back, we were ready to eat. We decided to take advantage of the on-site restaurant Syberg’s. We ordered a chicken wrap with fries for hubby and I to split and an appetizer order of chicken strips for the kids. Since the hotel was having its free snacks, we got drinks and extra sides from the hotel. We decided to take our food and drinks back to the room since we had a busy day of playing. $20.82
Day Three Totals: $8.00 + $64.00+ $20.82= $92.82
Difference: $73.13 – $92.82= $19.69 overage (shoot!)
Day Four- Starting Budget $73.13
- We woke up around 8:30am again and headed down to breakfast.
- After breakfast, we headed up to our room to gather all of our things and get ready to check out. We were checked out and in the car by 9:45am.
- Today we were headed to The Magic House (about a 20 minute drive).
- This unique Children’s Museum has it all! We were lucky and found some ‘Buy One, Get One Half Off Admission’ coupons through our hotel. We decided that we would split up and each have a coupon for us and one kid. Coupons can definitely make ALL the difference in a budget. $12.00 x 2 adults= $24.00, $6.00 x 2 children= $12.00, $24.00 + $12.00= $36.00
- We played for a couple of hours, then grabbed some snacks at the small cafe. My husband and I each got a pita and hummus snack pack, while we got the kids some string cheese and goldfish crackers. We chose to eat outside on the covered porch and enjoy the fresh air. $13.16
- After playing for another hour and a half, we left The Magic House about 2:30pm and headed for the Laumeier Sculpture Park (about a 7 minute drive).
- The Laumeier Sculpture Park is so cool! There are sculptures that are “for your eyes only”, but there are also interactive sculptures to sit on, walk on, and touch. Exploring the park and walking the hikes and trails was right up our alley, and we spent about a couple of hours here.
- When we left the sculpture park, we were ready for some dinner. My husband and I had a surprise for the kids before we left Saint Louis, so we wanted an easy (i.e. cheap) dinner. We found a McDonald’s on the way to our final destination, so we stopped and got a couple of Happy Meals and utilized my McDonald’s App to save on some Big Mac’s for my husband and me. $15.35
- It’s almost an unspoken rule that when you visit St. Louis, you make some time for Ted Drewes Frozen Custard. We wanted to end our vacation on a sweet note, so we got some concretes. We got mini sizes for the kids and regular sizes for ourselves. A concrete is similar to a Dairy Queen Blizzard, but is made from a thicker frozen custard. There are tons of toppings and add-ins to choose from to make your dessert your own creation. It was the perfect end to our vacation. $9.11.
Day Four Totals: $36.00+ $13.16+ $15.35+ $9.11= $73.62
Difference: $73.13 – $73.62= $0.49 overage
So, How Did We Do?
All in all, we did pretty okay. Of our $360.00 starting amount, we spent $337.15 and had $22.85 left over. Yes, there were a couple of days that we went over on our budget, but we really weighed what we wanted to do and whether the cost was worth it. I feel like we did well overall! Obviously, you could probably do it for less money or more money depending on your interests, and there are plenty of more things to do in St. Louis than we covered here.
Have you done a St. Louis vacation? What were some of your favorite places? Did you have a strict budget to work with? Check out our list of fun things to do with kids in St. Louis. Let us know how you plan a vacation!