Feel the need to get outta dodge? School breaks and extended weekends dot the calendar and make for the perfect opportunity to saddle up and head out for adventure-seeking. Just a mere five-hour drive from Chicago, St. Louis is an excellent bet for a quick getaway. Read on to see what the Gateway to the West has to offer.

City Museum, Altschuler Familyphoto: City Museum via Wendy Altschuler

Play
Numero uno on the list of best places to play in St. Louis no doubt goes to City Museum. It’s hard to explain this surreal 600,000 square-foot, former International Shoe Factory warehouse, that’s now home to a museum packed full of unique, found objects from around the city. It feels gritty and cool, with metal slides and staircases, reclaimed urban building materials and salvaged bridges and tunnels scattered in all directions. It’s an all-ages, city-inspired fun house that will inspire you and get the creative juices flowing as you climb, burrow and snake your way through passageways and shafts. With no maps or any real sense of direction, you’re forced to explore, touch and interact with everything . . . and you’ll be glad you did.

photo: City Museum via Maria Chambers

Some things you’ll discover: a human hamster wheel; a bank vault; a dark and slightly creepy 10-story slide; two airplanes connected via wire tunnels that are suspended in the sky (you can crawl across the wing!); fiberglass on the ceiling, donated by Boeing; a boiler expansion tank with the mug of an angry pig that fills up with water and then dumps, making the pig puke; a beautiful 1924 pipe organ that plays; and an Alexian Brothers Hospital cross where, in the 1940’s, the exorcism that inspired the novel and film The Exorcist took place.

Pro tip: wear comfortable shoes and clothes that won’t prohibit you from dragging your body in and out of tubes and caves. No one would snicker at you for wearing kneepads, either.

photo: The Gateway Arch via Maria Chambers

St. Louis’ 630-foot Gateway Arch, a memorial to Thomas Jefferson and the role St. Louis played as the Gateway to the West, is another can’t-miss activity. You’ll ride in a five-seat, egg-shaped pod to the uppermost point of the arch. The view from the tiny rectangle windows from the top of this man-made monument (the tallest in the U.S.) is incredible — you can see the Mississippi River; Busch Stadium where the Cardinals play; Ballpark Village and the Old Courthouse, which is where Dred Scott’s historic slavery trial took place, sparking the start of the Civil War.

Pro tip: During the current construction, purchase tickets at the Old Courthouse or online, not at the Gateway Arch, and allow yourself extra time to walk through all of the current grounds construction.

St. Louis Science Centerphoto: St. Louis Science Center

Finish off the night by stargazing at the Planetarium at the St. Louis Science Center.  If ancient history is more your thing, The Discovery of King Tut exhibit is on display until January 7, 2018. Walk like an Egyptian and experience what King Tutankhamun’s tomb was like at the moment of discovery in 1922, complete with all its many treasures. You’ll find a total of 1,000 breathtaking recreations hand-crafted over 5 years by leading Egyptian artisans, fascinating insights into Egyptians’ belief in the afterlife, a three-dimensional recreation of the excavation site and much more.

Eat
University City and Delmar Loop is about 20 minutes northwest of St. Louis. Here, in this old streetcar suburb, you’ll find Blueberry Hill Pub and Restaurant for American cuisine and pop culture memorabilia, Fitz’s Restaurant and Bottling Company known for their delicious pub grub and house-made soda that churns out on a visible bottling line (a bottle a second!) and Blueprint Coffee with in-house roasted beans when you’re ready for a little caffeine jolt (don’t leave without grabbing a jar of their canned jelly for home).

Four Seasons St. Louis Restaurantphoto: Cielo Restaurant and Bar via Wendy Altschuler

Cielo Restaurant and Bar, OpenTable’s 2015 Diner’s Choice winner, takes modern Italian cuisine and boosts it up several notches by using quality, fresh ingredients in an arrangement that looks gorgeous on a plate, alongside well-paired wines. Standout dishes are the butternut squash soup, winter Tuscan greens, the risotto and the salmon. The service is on-point — no special request is too big.

If having a view is your top priority, visit Three Sixty, located atop the Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark where you can see, you guessed it, a 360-degree view of St. Louis. This 6,000 square-foot contemporary indoor/outdoor space holds lots of comfy seating, fire pits and tables pointed directly at the Gateway Arch. Culinary lead, Rex Hale, has created many small plates that are perfect for sampling a wide variety in a casual atmosphere. Pizza’s, fish tacos, local artisanal cheeses and a variety of salads top the menu. For dessert, order the beignets with cinnamon, sugar and espresso anglaise or the house Kit Kat Bars — they’re both worth every calorie.

Tour
Besides the lineup of incredible restaurants, the Loop is also home to the St. Louis Walk of Fame, a long line of brass sidewalk stars that include musicians, actors and famous folks like: Chuck Berry, Miles Davis, Tina Turner, Maya Angelou, Betty Grable, Josephine Baker, Kevin Kline and John Goodman.

St. Louis Butterfly HousePhoto: Butterfly House courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden

Shake off the cold weather blues and engage in a little tropical fun amongst the monarchs and plants at Butterfly House, a beautiful glass dome where more than a thousand species flutter.

If wingless and fuzzy is more your style, help care for furry residents at the Endangered Wolf Center, where tame Mexican gray wolves, red wolves, swift foxes and African painted dogs defy the stereotype these creatures have of being vicious hunters.

St. Louis boasts more free chief visitor attractions than anywhere else in America, outside of the nation’s capital that is. The Saint Louis Art Museum, Zoo, History Museum, Anheuser-Busch Brewery, Laumeier Sculpture Park, Citygarden and more are free of charge and perfect for families that want to see a lot, but not spend a lot.

Stay
Located in the heart of all St. Louis has to offer, the Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis makes a perfect home base for your family getaway. Mini road trippers will be greeted with a Radio Flyer wagon full of toys and a plate with their names written in chocolate and handmade solid chocolate arches standing tall alongside sprinkle-covered marshmallow treats.

Four Season St. Louis Pizza Makingphoto: Four Seasons pizza making via Wendy Altschuler

Venture outside the room and you’ll find a heated outdoor pool 8 stories up that will make you feel like you’re swimming in the clouds.  Looking to stay on dry land? The hands-on pizza making class with the very patient Chef Colucci is a must-do mealtime activity.  Young pizza lovers will get a behind-the-scenes kitchen adventure where they’ll toss dough in the air, load up their favorite toppings and then pop their creation in the oven.

Pro tip: When eating at the in-house restaurant, Cielo, after the dinner plates are licked clean, kids who ask sweetly can get an insider’s view of the kitchen to make their very own gelato sundae with the pastry chef.

Do you have a favorite destination in St. Louis? Tell us about it in the Comments below!

—Wendy Altschuler