Swinging By St. Louis

September 19, 2017

Last March we took our first trip to St. Louis to visit family, and you can read here and here how we had a grand old time. At the end of August we returned with a triple purpose: to cuddle up with an adorable new nephew, to celebrate Owen’s birthday, and to park ourselves in the path of totality of the solar eclipse.

We made a long weekend of the trip, allowing cousins to romp together while hitting up some of our now-favorite sites in St. Louis. Our first full day we returned to the City Museum. When we visited in March, the rooftop exhibitions weren’t open, so it was our first stop when we arrived this time.

City Museum has to be seen to be fully understood. It’s a museum, yes, but mainly it’s a giant industrial playground with hundreds of nooks and crannies and tunnels and bridges and funky decorations that encourage kids (and adults) to explore for hours on end. There’s no map, there are VERY few signs telling you what to do.

The rooftop has its own set of attractions, like a pool with stepping stones throughout it (see the top picture), more bridges and slides, and – as you can see above – an old school bus that’s half hanging off the building.

You can climb into the school bus, and when you’re sitting up front, you’re looking down off the building.

There are small metal towers and bridges to climb…

…like this tall metal cage. Running underneath it is a slide.

There’s even a working ferris wheel. Yes, on top of the eleven-story building.

I waited in line with the boys for a ride. It’s a thrilling ride, as you circle up and down, all the while looking over the city skyline.

Inside we discovered a new section: a five- and a ten-story curly slide.

Will, his cousin Gideon, and I climbed our way up the staircase and rode the slide down, looping slowly around and around as you circle down ten stories.

Outside on the main floor there’s another industrial playground, including a couple ball pits.

Owen and I explored more of the bridges and ladders.

This feature best encapsulates City Museum: on the elevators up to the roof there’s a window with pinwheels on the outside. As you ride the elevator up and down, you can watch the pinwheels spin. Such a simple detail, but it speaks to the whimsical nature of the Museum, and how they take every opportunity to make the place fun and engaging.

The next day we just had to make a return visit to Pappy’s Smokehouse.

Pappy’s was a favorite stop on our last trip. The burnt ends are simply amazing – tender and smokey and brown sugar sweet.

It’s an easy sell for the adults and kids.

On another morning we re-visited the Soulard Market, one of the oldest markets in the country.

The building is shaped like an H, with the legs as outdoor market stalls and the center as indoor shops. There’s all manner of fresh produce, eggs, live chickens, meats, flowers, baked goods, you name it.

We made a light lunch of the trip, stopping for sandwiches, snacks, and some tasty tamales.

I love love love the atmosphere of a busy farmer’s market.

On the Sunday of our stay we ventured to the St. Louis Zoo, a beautiful – and completely free – facility on the grounds of Forest Park. Forest Park sprawls over 1300 acres to the west of downtown, and includes parkland, an art museum, science center, the zoo, an outdoor amphitheatre, the World’s Fair pavilion, and more. See the full list of attractions here.

It was really hot that day, so we headed straight for their penguin exhibit.

It’s a remarkable facility, built so that you’re eye-level with penguins the entire time. A couple penguins splashed around in the pool, spraying water on us as we walked by.

We strolled around most of the zoo, riding the carousel, visiting the bird house, seeing giraffes, and finding owls.

The next day, Owen’s birthday, was August 21 so we headed to the World Bird Sanctuary for a – wait for it – BirdDay Party.

Owen is an owl enthusiast, so the Bird Sanctuary made for a logical stop on his big day. We started by attending a special raptor show.

The host showcased a number of birds that live at the sanctuary, from owls to falcons to vultures. Many of them flew over the audience’s heads from trainer to trainer. All the while, the host made lots of bird puns (“If you don’t laugh at my jokes, it’ll get hawkward,” he said) and taught us about the variety birds. Fun fact: did you know vultures have super-corrosive stomach acid that allows them to eat spoiled food? They also vomit it up as a defensive technique.

We had a special chance, through a connection from our friend Coyote Peterson, to meet Python Paige, an ambassador and trainer in their programs (and quite the Instagram star). Paige was kind enough to take us on a personal meet-and-greet with Jersey the barred owl.

A number of owls and other birds were on display throughout the sanctuary.

The Sanctuary is located in Valley Park, Missouri, a little southeast of St. Louis and directly in the path of totality of the solar eclipse that day. The Sanctuary was hosting a big party for it, with food and drink, special bird demos, and designated viewing stations throughout the park. They passed out special sunglasses to everyone on arrival.

The experience of the solar eclipse was fascinating. Here’s us before and during the eclipse. The Sanctuary was actually monitoring their birds to study their behavior during the eclipse. In the hours leading up the eclipse itself, the world looked like a sepia photograph, and the shadows were a beautiful crescent shape. The totality came on pretty quickly, and everything darkened except the light on the horizon. The temperature cooled, and the world looked like it does in the morning, just before the sun comes up. We could see the various shapes of the eclipse through our glasses. When the shadow passed, things slowly lightened, and the roosters at the Sanctuary started crowing!

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FOOD + TRAVEL WRITER

I go by Dr. Breakfast, but in addition to restaurants and recipes, I write about family travel, breweries and distilleries, the arts, outdoor fun, and so much more.

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