Seven Quick Takes: Free in St. Louis
St. Louis was named the “Best City for Cheapskates” a couple of years ago. While we no longer top the list, I still believe St. Louis is the best place in the country to do things for free. Here are my top seven things to do, all for free, all in St. Louis, with or without kids.
I also love that in St. Louis, you can bring your own food and drink almost anywhere! This includes the Muny, Cardinals games, the zoo, and more.
1. Forest Park
Forest Park is the main park of St. Louis (bigger than Central Park!) and it is a jewel. It’s kind of cheating to include it because the park is home to the next three free things on my list, but also has even more. It’s home to the St. Louis Science Center, the St. Louis Art Museum, the Muny, the Missouri History Museum, and the St. Louis Zoo, (all free!) among other things. It was home to the 1904 World’s Fair and still hosts many special events, like Shakespeare in the Park, the Great Forest Park Balloon Race and more. Plus it has all that a park has to offer, with athletic fields, playgrounds, golf courses, restaurants, paddle boats rentals, a skating rink, and picnic areas. You could literally take a vacation to Forest Park.
The St. Louis Zoo was rated the third best in the country last year. The prices to visit the top two? $16.95 in Omaha and $48 in San Diego. Ours? Free. And like I said, feel free to bring your lunch in a cooler. Also, for the first hour of the day, many of the paid attractions, like the carousel, children’s zoo, and ray petting exhibit are free!
We loved coming here as children and I still love visiting as an adult. We often stop in to see a couple of things and then head back out, knowing we can come back any time for free. My personal favorites are the prairie dogs, hippos, and sea lions. We haven’t been to the new polar bear exhibit yet, but I’m looking forward to seeing it!
Even if you’re not a huge art lover, stop in for an hour to see your favorite pieces and then head out, knowing you got your money’s worth. They also host special activities and music at SLAM Underground the last Friday evening of the month (still free) and play movies on Art Hill on the weekends in July (again, free). If you want to see a special exhibit, just get your tickets for Fridays. They’re free.
I love the Impressionists, Gavin likes the armor, and we both enjoy the American art. The new building that houses the modern art and special exhibits is beautiful. (And has what are probably the nicest public bathrooms in Forest Park.)
4. The Muny
The Muny is a St. Louis institution, celebrating its 97th season this year. It’s the country’s oldest and largest outdoor musical theater and is impossible to explain to someone who’s never been. It seats 11,000 people, almost like a sports stadium. You even sing the National Anthem before the show, no kidding. The majority of the shows are not traveling, but cast, designed, and costumed in house for the week to ten days that they run. And they are good.
While there are obviously paid tickets (we have season tickets and love them), the Muny has free seats as well! They are first come-first serve and all the way in the back, so arrive early and bring your binoculars. Whether you are a teen on a date, going with your young kids who might fall asleep, or just want to save your money, the free seats are a great option.
5. Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis (aka the “New Cathedral”)
This cathedral is gorgeous. Like, Europe gorgeous. They are ready for tourists, so don’t feel weird about stopping by. I have yet to see a picture that does it justice because it is impossible to capture the beauty (and sheer volume) of the mosaics that adorn almost every surface of this church.
They started building it in 1907 to replace the outgrown Basilica of St. Louis aka the “Old Cathedral” downtown (where we wed), finished the building in 1914, consecrated it in 1926, and finished the mosaics in 1988. You’ll understand why it took so long when you see how many tiles there are.
My favorites: the rear dome with American Saints, the narthex with images showing the life of St. Louis, and the small side chapel to the right of the altar.
Do you like beer? Or rather, do you like free beer? If so, this tour is for you. You get to see the classic Clydesdale horses, learn how beer is made, admire some beautiful architecture, and my favorite, watch the bottling line. And after your entertaining and educational tour, you get free beer. There are a lot to choose from, too! We joke that we take everyone who comes to visit us on this tour, because what could be better, or more St. Louis? Bonus points if, after the tour, you go to Gus’ Pretzels just across the highway and splurge on some 50 cent snacks.
CityGarden is a fun place to visit and the newest attraction (by a lot!) on my list. You can walk through quickly and see the art, bring your kids to play in the splash pad, or even have lunch. It’s downtown, close to the Arch, Convention Center, and Busch Stadium. If you have a long restaurant wait time or just some general time to kill downtown, I recommend checking it out.