Travel Tips: Taking Kids to the St. Louis Science Center

EDITOR’S NOTE: Prices and hours are accurate as of 2019.

When you’re looking for some indoor fun in St. Louis, especially for the kids, you can’t beat the St. Louis Science Center. Located in Forest Park (home of the St. Louis Zoo, St. Louis Art Museum, Missouri History Museum, The Muny outdoor theater, and more), this centrally located attraction is known for its free admission, kid-friendly exhibits, live demonstrations, and more.

St. Louis Science Center

Hours, Admission, and Parking

The St. Louis Science Center is open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Sundays. Special hours and holiday closings are listed here on its website.

General admission is free, although there are some ticketed attractions I’ll cover later in this post. However, you can spend several hours just viewing the free exhibits, so it’s a great place to visit if you’re on a budget.

It costs $10 to $12 to park in the main Science Center lot, depending on the season. There is limited free parking outside the planetarium.

Free Exhibits

St. Louis Science Center

The Science Center is divided into various galleries and exhibits, including:

  • Ecology and Environment: View life-sized animatronic dinosaurs, dig for fossils, learn how earthquakes and tornados work, and more. The dinosaurs are among my kids’ favorites things to see here.
  • Experience Energy: Explore different forms of energy and learn about physical laws that govern how energy works. Try generating energy yourself with a stationary bike activity.
  • Energy Stage: Scheduled interactive science presentations happen here, with topics ranging from volcanoes to electricity and more. It’s worth taking a break from exploring the rest of the Science Center to catch a show or two here. Shows last between 15 and 30 minutes, and it’s easy to slip in or out if you have active little ones.
  • Structures: Try your hand at building the St. Louis Gateway Arch, and learn about bridges, roads, pipes, and other infrastructure.
  • GameXploration: A showcase of everything from board games to video games, with retro video game consoles, larger-than-life Nintendo games, and over-sized games like Connect 4. Choose from a stack of traditional board games and sit down to play.
  • GROW: Learn about agriculture and the science behind food production. Parts of this exhibit are outdoors, including raised garden beds, a chicken coop that looks like a space ship, farm vehicles kids can sit in, and water play features.
  • Life Science Lab: Learn about genetics, biotechnology, medicine, and health.
  • Liftoff: See the real Gemini and Mercury spacecraft, which were built in St. Louis.
  • Makerspace: Try your hand at building boats or lunar rovers or designing a parachute that floats. My family’s only criticism of this exhibit is that there are not always enough building pieces available. The Science Center’s website says free two-hour workshops are available here, but my family hasn’t been presented when any guided workshops were going on.
  • Mission Mars: Learn about how scientists study the red planet.
  • The Skybridge: This bridge connecting the planetarium building with the main Oakland building runs over highway 40/64. You can watch traffic go by and point speed radars at cars, or look through windows in the floor.

Paid Attractions

You can make a full day, or close to it, just seeing the free attractions at the Science Center. If you want more, here are your options:

  • OMNIMAX THEATER: Choose from a variety of films to watch in this large domed theater. Prices vary depending on the film.
  • Planetarium: Learn about the night sky. Tickets are $6 to $7 for adults, $5 to $6 for children and seniors, and $4 for military members.
  • Experience Flight Simulators: The Pulseworks Simulator ($5) is suitable for all ages (kids under 42 inches must have an adult ride with them). The I-360 Interactive Flight Simulator ($7) simulates an aircraft in flight and goes upside down barrel-roll style; riders must be 48 inches, and some ability to manipulate video game controls is helpful.
  • Virtual Reality Transporter: Dive in the ocean, or float in space. Tickets are $10.
  • Discovery Room: This play-themed space is geared toward kids up to early elementary age, with activities such as water play, painting, a rocket ship slide, saltwater aquarium, shadow theater, dress up clothes, and star room. This is a timed activity, with sessions starting on the hour and lasting 45 minutes. Admission is free for infants 0-11 months, $5 for ages 1 and older, and $4 for military members. Check the website to make sure there is a session on the day you plan to go.
  • Rotating special exhibits: The Science Center brings in a variety of limited-time exhibitions that usually cost extra. Most recently, artifacts and body casts from Pompeii were on display. One of my family’s favorites several years ago was a Star Trek exhibit.

Where to Eat

St. Louis Science Center

No outside food is allowed in the Science Center, but if you want to dine like a true St. Louisan while you’re at the Science Center, pack a picnic lunch and go eat outside in Forest Park if the weather is nice. There are plenty of grassy areas to sit and eat at. Because general admission is free, you can come and go from the building as you please. Just be aware that if you park in the free lot near the planetarium and drive somewhere for lunch, there is no guarantee you’ll find another free parking spot when you return.

The Science Center has several food counters that sell sandwiches, pizza (whole or by the slice), wraps, salads, and kid fare such as quesadillas, PB and J sandwiches, and hot dogs, as well as snacks like popcorn, chips, cookies, and fruit. The food is surprisingly good — my family recommends the quesadillas, burrito bowls, and chili. Prices are about what you’d expect for an entertainment venue, with sandwiches running $8 to $9 and kids’ meals at around $6. There’s also a counter that sells ice cream and a variety of drinks, including coffee, smoothies, and fountain drinks. A large counter outside the OMNIMAX Theater sells snacks and beverages. There’s also a food area in the outdoor GROW exhibit featuring alcoholic drinks and barbecue.

Membership

If you plan to visit the St. Louis Science Center and do a lot of the paid attractions often, it may be worth getting a membership. A family membership starts at $89, with $95 and $175 plans as well. Memberships come with free parking for every visit, plus a set number of tickets for the OMNIMAX Theater, planetarium, and Discovery Room, and a set number of discounted tickets for special exhibitions. Membership also gets you a 10% discount on shopping and dining, a subscription to NewScience, and discounts on classes and birthday parties. The higher membership levels offer discounts for a summer camp program along with a Smithsonian Affiliate Membership.

My family has never purchased a membership to the Science Center, and we have no plans to do so in the near future, as the things we most enjoy at the Science Center are typically the free attractions. A membership at the nearby St. Louis Zoo may offer a better bang for your buck in terms of its cost-to-benefit ratio.

Additional Tips for Families With Kids:

  • Plan to spend around three hours at the St. Louis Science Center, although you can easily spend all day depending on how long you play at certain exhibits or if you want to do more of the paid exhibits.
  • You can bring your own stroller, or you can rent one for free at the main entrance near the paid parking lot. Elevators and ramps make the entire building accessible with a stroller or wheelchair as well.
  • The Science Center can get crowded at times, so be aware of the potential challenges of navigating the building among the crowds.
  • A nursing station is located on the lower level of the main building (called the Oakland building), but there are plenty of benches and chairs throughout the Science Center where you can comfortably nurse.

What are your tips for visiting the St. Louis Science Center with kids? Share your suggestions in the comments. 

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