Burnham wanted to remake the city along the lines of Paris—the plan gained the nickname Paris on the Prairie—and, to a large extent, he succeeded, prescribing a series of projects that kept the city busy through the nineteen-twenties. Some things, such as a gargantuan civic center that would have made Les Invalides, in Paris, seem modest, were never built. But the campus of museums on the lakefront—including the Field Museum of Natural History, the Shedd Aquarium, and the Museum of Science and Industry—and the network of parks, boulevards, piers, and lagoons that have kept the area in public hands for a century is the plan’s enduring legacy. It forms a startling contrast to the elevated highways and industrial buildings that have come to obstruct the waterfronts of most other American cities.
Elevated highways? Industrial buildings? Obstructed waterfront? Sounds familiar, yes, but I think St. Louis beats itself up a bit too much. We had fun in Chicago, but a family like mine could put together a great vacation in St. Louis as well, and for a lot less money. A day at Forest Park, hitting the zoo, the art museum, and the science center, with a jaunt over to the Hill for lunch or dinner. A day out in the county, at Grant's Farm and Laumeier and the Magic House, with a pit stop at Ted Drewes on the way home. A day in the Botanical Garden, then over to the playground at Tower Grove Park, then to South Grand or Hartford Coffee Company for some refreshments. Downtown you could do the Arch, then pop over to the brewery tour and Gus' for a pretzel, then a baseball game followed by some music at BB's or the Beale on Broadway or the Broadway Oyster Bar (OK, that part wouldn't work with kids). Throw in a visit to Crown Candy or Soulard or the Loop or one of the other art galleries if you have time.
It's not all centrally located, like all the museums and Navy Pier in Chicago. You'd have to know where to go, and you'd have to have a car to get around, but it'd be a lot easier and cheaper than parking in Chicago.