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February 20, 2012 2:20 PM   Subscribe

We live in the sticks. I'd like to take my 7-year-old out to where the people are! Can you help me conceive an awesome, week-long-ish trip for $1000 or less?

I've saved up about $1000 for the annual vacation my son and I take. Typically we visit the Lake of the Ozarks and relax and read and swim, all the while camping out in a house much nicer than the one we live in the rest of the year. However, this year I'd really like to TAKE him somewhere. I grew up and he's growing up just 30 minutes from this Lake and while the vacation is nice and does the job I'd like it to do in terms of a trip for us, I'd like to expand his horizons if I can afford it.

We are located about 2.5 hours south of St Louis and I thought the hive mind might be able to direct me to a vacation for the two of us. Typically, we're not so much interested in things like theme parks though state parks are right up our alley, if we can hike and see pretty things that will awe him and his 7-year-old brain. I have a reliable car so we can travel but I'd like that to take as little time as possible. I'd also like the 1000 bucks I've got stowed away to get us at least 5 days away from home, if that's possible.

I could actually come up with a couple hundred more dollars if someone knows of something right outside my price range, if that helps too. Anyone in a state bordering Missouri able to offer suggestions to get us out of the sticks for a week?
posted by youandiandaflame to Travel & Transportation around Midwest, WY (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'll be the first of many to recommend Chicago!
As a kid I loved, loved loved the Field Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry.

Especially if you come "off-season", you can get a decent, safe hotel downtown for $70 a night or so. It's a straight shot up I-55, dumps you right on lakeshore drive. It's about 4.5 hours from St. Louis, so it shouldn't be too bad.
posted by Oktober at 2:29 PM on February 20, 2012 [7 favorites]

I've never been there, but Branson sounds reachable both in cost and distance, and very different than what you usually do. Or what about a Mississippi riverboat cruise?
posted by apparently at 2:31 PM on February 20, 2012

Given that St. Louis is so close, I'm assuming you've hit most of the stuff up here, right?

Chicago would only be a 7.5 hour drive, they have a lake there, but it's decidedly different.

Also, the gulf coast isn't that far, and beach combing there is nothing like the lake. There's supposedly been a tourism slump down there since the oil spill which suggests deals could be found.

When would you be doing this?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:37 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Why not take him to St Louis, unless you've done everything there is to do there? There is baseball, football or hockey depending on the time of year. Also: Zoo! Science museum! Museum of Transportation! Moolah Theatre! Free Muny with binoculars! If you can get a deal on a hotel even just outside the city, and it has a swimming pool, that would delight basically any 7 year old I know. You could budget for one major thing a day, fill the rest of it with parks and playgrounds and hot dogs and ice cream, and stay in your budget.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:42 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: When would you be doing this?

We always do this mid- to end of July...but that's because I'm always cold unless water temps are like bath water and that accommodates my weirdness. We could go anytime June-August, really.

We've been to Branson numerous time and my issue with it the the only issue I have with our Lake: It's horridly expensive for little to nothing. Thanks for the suggestion though!

In re: to Chicago: I've been there numerous times, seen the giant body of water, but I have a dumb question. Can we swim in that?

I really like the Gulf Coast suggestion. Is there any particular place you could recommend?
posted by youandiandaflame at 2:43 PM on February 20, 2012

Do you want people like lotsa people, hustle bustle? Or people like maybe kids he can connect with??
If you mean the latter I would choose some type of family camp where he'd see the same kids all week. I don't know the area but the one I am thinking of is "farm & wilderness camp" in New England. I am guessing they have something similar in your area.
posted by beccaj at 2:50 PM on February 20, 2012

(I just want to suggest for future reference that if you do go back to the Table Rock area, you take him to the fish hatchery near Branson. Oh my god, was I obsessed with that fish hatchery when I was a kid.)
posted by something something at 2:50 PM on February 20, 2012

youandiandaflame: "When would you be doing this?In re: to Chicago: I've been there numerous times, seen the giant body of water, but I have a dumb question. Can we swim in that?"

posted by SuperSquirrel at 2:59 PM on February 20, 2012

Another vote for Chicago! There are plenty of beaches for swimming, lots of museums...if your 7 year old likes animals, the Lincoln Park Zoo is free!

He might also enjoy riding the El.
posted by SisterHavana at 3:08 PM on February 20, 2012

Can we swim in that?

Well technically "yes," but you and I wouldn't, because that thing is cold, even in summer. (By our standards.) Normal people swim in it! Quite happily. But I was always miserable. The dunes on the north shore of Indiana are still awesome.

Hmm. What if you did a light road trip? I love Louisville, though a week there would be... not much. But! You're already halfway to Memphis. Memphis to Jackson is 3 hours; and Jackson to New Orleans is three hours. :)
posted by RJ Reynolds at 3:10 PM on February 20, 2012

Memphis? Little Rock? Nashville?
posted by kestrel251 at 3:28 PM on February 20, 2012

Memphis! Memphis is great for kids, and has the city atmosphere you're looking for. There are tons of museums, many of which are kid related: Pink Palace, Civil Rights Museum, Children's Museum f Memphis, Memphis Zoo (we have pandas!). Chicks play baseball in one of the most beautiful minor-league stadiums in the country. The river and park system is really great, there are river boat rides, and even Beale Street is kid-friendly during the day. Graceland is pretty fun, but I'm not sure he'll get it, depends on whether he's ever been exposed to Elvis. Here's a comprehensive list. I think you would really be surprised to see what we have to offer for a family vacation.
posted by raisingsand at 4:56 PM on February 20, 2012

One of my son's favorite summer trips was a few days in Chattanooga, TN. We stayed in a railcar room at the Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel, went on rail excursions at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum and toured a nice aquarium. You could visit Nashville coming or going if time allows.
posted by maggieb at 5:35 PM on February 20, 2012

Apparently, Chattanooga is a very exciting destination for kids.
posted by R a c h e l at 6:50 PM on February 20, 2012

$1000 will get you 2 round-trip airplane tickets and 4 nights in a hotel just about anyplace in the continental U.S.

How about New Orleans where you can ride a ferry across the Mississippi, listen to any music you can imagine, and hear a few unique dialects?
posted by jander03 at 10:46 PM on February 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you consider Chicago, here are a few random thoughts.

I believe Amtrak has service from St. Louis to Chicago. This can be less stressful than driving, and it can be more enjoyable, especially if your train has a lounge car of some sort where you can mingle with others. I've never been on the line in question, but we've met interesting people on Empire Builder, Silver Service, etc. In particular, Amtrak has "community seating" in the dining car, so if you eat there, you're likely to be paired up with some other random people.

See if you can find a motel in the outlying areas that is within walking distance of the CTA ("El") system, or perhaps Metra if you don't mind some limitations on your schedule. They are usually less expensive than the ones downtown or in the Gold Coast region. Do not underestimate the hassle of a car in Chicago. The parking rates in the Loop are probably in the range of $25-$30 on average, with prime locations possibly being more. This can eat budget quickly. The car is great for outlying areas, of course, but finding a way to take advantage of mass transit is best for the Loop and surrounding areas.

The Sears, now Willis, Tower is a bit pricey but unparalleled for views of the Chicago area. I suggest going in late afternoon, around sunset, and staying until Chicago is lit. You can "explore" large amounts of the city visually. Also, there is currently construction going on to rebuild the dual-level Wacker Drive on the west side of the Tower, which is of interest to some kids - you can see into subterranean Chicago.

There are numerous offbeat things to do as well. I suggest a visit to the Choo Choo restaurant in Des Plaines. The Chicago Children's Museum at Navy Pier can be made into an inexpensive all-day destination. For shopping, Water Tower Place is a must-see (leave the credit cards in the hotel room though). They used to have an observation area at the Chicago Board of Trade, but I think that got shuttered after 9/11 - worth checking into, though.
posted by jgreco at 5:48 AM on February 21, 2012

Lots of people are giving great suggestions for Chicago, but I see you haven't yet answered the St. Louis question. There's lots to do in St. Louis with a 7-year-old. I'm sure you've done some of these, but:

- Cardinals game. For pre-partying, many of the sports bars in the area are kid-friendly, and there are a number of outside vendors. Show him the whole experience from a few hours before up through the end of the ninth inning (my guess is that you have gone to baseball games, though).
- City Museum. I grew up a little south of St. Louis, but this wasn't around back then, so I didn't first visit this until I was over 30. This is a great place for kids around your son's age and older (including 30-year-old kids).
- Magic House.
- All the amenities of Forest Park (definitely the Zoo, but most of the rest of the park will be enjoyable for a kid, too).
- Grant's Farm (haven't been since I was a kid, but I have no reason to believe it has went downhill; others can pipe up if so)
- Six Flags! A bit rollercoaster-heavy compared to places like Disney, but a couple of my family members don't like rollercoasters and still find ways to enjoy themselves. There's a water park connected, too.
- Speaking of water parks, there is a Raging Rivers up in Grafton, Il. Not sure how it is now, it has been many years since I've been.

- Camping in State Parks is something I enjoy as well. As I'm sure you know, Missouri is full of campgrounds of various qualities. Combine it with a float trip for an extra bonding experience.

- Another thing Missouri has is an extensive cave system. There's the usuals, like Hannibal and Meremac, but some of the less "famous" ones give more bang for your buck. Your mileage may vary.

Lastly, check newspapers/online for events. There are often festivals for music, apple butter, strawberries, etc. in the St. Louis metro area during the summer. These can take place anywhere from St. Charles to Kimmswick, depending on when your vacation is and what type of events you are looking for. County Fairs can offer a similar environment.
posted by mysterpigg at 7:42 AM on February 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Most travel sites have a section on places to go with kids. I never met a science museum/center I didn't love, and my son loved them, too. Look for kids' museums, too. What else do you love? If you love Rock-n-Roll, go to Cleveland, and go to the Hall of Fame, and other stuff (Cleveland actually has lots of cool stuff). If you love trains, go to train museums. Etc.
posted by theora55 at 4:21 PM on February 21, 2012

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