Looking for an eclectic escape? How about taking the family out for a bit history and some traditional river fun? Take the crew up to St. Louis, Mo., famous for the 1904 World’s Fair and the tallest national monument in the US—which happens to overlook the Mighty Mississippi. Or for a quick jaunt, stay close to home and experience the bayou charm of Jefferson, Texas, which to this day celebrates its heritage by offering boat rides to give you the lay of the land—just like they used to in the early 20th century. It’s the perfect way to blow off some steam (we mean the riverboat kind) …
BY PLANE: St. Louis, Mo.
What to do: Unleash your inner Tom Sawyer by spending the afternoon at the Gateway Arch Riverfront. Take a ride up to the top of the legendary Gateway Arch (a monument to westward expansion, and the spot on which St. Louis was founded), then hop on board a 19th-century replica steamboat. A sightseeing cruise runs from now until November and costs $14 for adults and $8 for children ages 3-15 (book online). You’ll experience the sights and sounds of the old Mississippi, back to the days when steamboats ruled the river.
Another must-see for the kiddos? Stop by the City Museum, where the young (and the young at heart!) can romp around a monumental montage of monkey bars and ladders, textured caves, hidden mazes, circus shows, art exhibits and more.
Where to stay: Retreat to the Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis, where you can relax while the little ones play … all while enjoying beautiful views of the Gateway Arch. This uber kid-friendly hotel will prepare for your arrival, from offering up a red wagon stocked with goodies at check in to prepping your room with tasty treats (read: Rice Krispies treats with your kiddos’ names in chocolate icing). When you and hubby want a night to yourself, you have several options: Leave the kids with a babysitter at the hotel, provided by Sitters to the Rescue ($25 per hour; two days’ notice required), or let the kids get competitive in the Kids for All Seasons game room, staffed during peak hours. Rollaways and cribs are available. Price varies based on availability.
Where to eat: It’s the stuff of legend among St. Louisans (no, not the toasted ravioli variety). Since its inception in 1947 in a small hamburger joint, Fitz’s Root Beer has been satisfying thirsty Midwesterners who love its thick, creamy texture. Try the old-fashioned goodness for yourself at Fitz’s American Grill & Bottling Works, where you can sip the legendary root beer (made with pure cane sugar) from a frosted mug on the patio. While you wait for your meal, check out the authentic root beer bottling line. Kids can then munch on a hot dog, pizza, burger and more … all served in a vintage mini-automobile. Top off the meal with a Dreamboat Float.
BY CAR: Jefferson, Texas
What to do: Texas may not have the lore of the great Mississippi, but the steamboat business from here to New Orleans has quite a storied history. Before the era of the railroads, steamboats were responsible for all shipping, making Jefferson a booming town. Take a relaxing ride on steamboat along the Big Cypress Bayou with Turning Basin Riverboat Tours, where a guide will give you information about local wildlife and the history of Jefferson in regard to steamboats. Rides are available twice daily from Tue-Sat; cost is $7 adults; $4.85 children.
Where to stay: When you check in to the Jefferson Hotel, you can inject a bit of history and southern charm into your stay (the building was once used as a warehouse to store cotton!). Here, no room is the same—each featuring unique restored furniture from the mid-19th century. The hotel is conveniently located in the Riverfront District, making it easy to enjoy a leisurely afternoon stroll down the riverbank. In the morning, rise and shine and cross the street to eat breakfast at The Bakery Restaurant, which offers homemade breads. Weekday rates start at $99; weekend rates start at $119 for single or double occupancy; $5 additional guests under 12.
What to eat: It’s named for the burgers, but you’ll remember the pies—how could anyone forget a mountain of meringue? At Jefferson’s Old Fashion Hamburger Store and More, you can build your own burger or choose from a BLT, grilled cheese, chicken salad or more, then “add fries and apple pie” (because, as they say, what could be more American?). Then indulge your sweet tooth with a tasty, homemade chocolate, coconut or lemon meringue pie.