Five Awesome Ways to Spend a Family Day in St. Louis
Some of the best things in life really are free, at least in St. Louis. The local zoo and science center are just two of the destinations that are amazingly free, all day, every day. Get out the calendar and fill in family free time for some truly free fun when you're in St. Louis.
Visit the Zoo
By some monetary miracle, entry into the Saint Louis Zoo (One Government Dr., St. Louis, MO) is free to visit all day, every day. The zoo is open every day except Christmas and New Year's Day, so just about any day is a good day to visit. The zoo is divided into six zones based on animal habitats. Kids who enjoy insects will appreciate the many varieties on view at Discovery Corner, which also houses the Emerson Children's Zoo. Historic Hill is home to numerous birds, as well as reptile and amphibian exhibits. In warm months, visit the waters near Lakeside Crossing in the center of the park to check out the sea lions and stingrays.
Note: Even though it costs nothing to enter the zoo, certain attractions, such as the sea lion show, safari tours and the 4-D theater, carry a nominal fee. The stingray exhibit at Caribbean Cove is only free during the first hour that the zoo is open each day.
Comfort-wise, visiting the zoo is best when the weather is dry and warm enough for spending a good deal of time outdoors, yet not so hot that the heat wears everyone out in a hurry. Late spring and early autumn are ideal.
Boost Your Brain Cells at the St. Louis Science Center
The St. Louis Science Center (5050 Oakland Ave., St. Louis, MO) offers free admission, except to some of its special exhibits. Live shows serve up education disguised as entertainment. Take in family-friendly interactive science demonstrations, such as It's a Blast or Creepy Chemistry. Visit Makerspace so the kids can try their hands at making objects that float, fly or that can be used in an all-original game.
The center also has an exhibit about ecology and the environment. It features an ground-shaking earthquake exhibit and a tornado that forms in front of your eyes. There's even a simulated archaeological site to dig for fossils and dinosaur bones. Features that require a fee include planetarium shows and the Omnimax theater, as well as special exhibits, such as one dedicated to King Tut.
Walk the Planets, See the Stars
Ever wonder how far apart the planets are, on a scale larger than the solar-system models built in science class in nearly every elementary school? Now you can, by walking the scaled distance between the sun and the planets at various stops along the Delmar Loop Planet Walk (6177-6691 Delmar Blvd., St. Louis, MO). Each planet has its own educational sign offering information, such as the length of one of its days and years. The entire planet walk is just over half a mile from the sun to Neptune. Sorry, Pluto fans, this ex-planet is not part of the Planet Walk.
The Planet Walk is a great place to engage the kids in some educational activity while you're just out exploring the town on a nice day. The Loop itself is exciting and home to a diverse array of businesses, galleries and the occasional arts festival. It's also home to the Hollywood-style St. Louis Walk of Fame (6504 Delmar Blvd., St. Louis, MO), featuring local celebs such as Josephine Baker, Ike and Tina Turner and Maya Angelou.
Pet Some Four-Legged Friends at Purina Farms
While Purina Farms (200 Checkerboard Loop, Danforth, MO) is 39 miles from St. Louis, it's well worth a visit, especially for kids who haven't had much of a chance to experience animals in a farm-like environment. The Purina Farms Visitor Center offers free admission and is open from the middle of March through the middle of November. There may be a fee to park if a special event is scheduled.
The Visitor Center offers wagon rides twice a day, plus cow-milking demonstrations, a barn and a hayloft the kids can explore. It also has an area where kids can pet baby farm animals, plus the Incredible Dog Arena next door, where adopted and rescued shelter dogs perform feats of agility, doggie dives and high jumps for flying discs.
Be sure to check the center's schedule before driving out there—it's closed on Mondays year-round and on Tuesdays during spring and fall.
Scope Out the Sites at Laumeier Sculpture Park
Laumeier Sculpture Park (12580 Rott Rd., St. Louis, MO) is open year-round, except during the May art fair, the Harvest Festival in October and on Christmas Day. Leashed dogs are allowed to visit the outdoor areas of the park with you, for a complete family outing. Take in views of a variety of large outdoor sculptures, lounge on the lawn or sit at a picnic table for family break time. The park also has several walking trails, including a 1.6-mile loop nature walk. Pick up the loop trail's scavenger-hunt printout for a little extra educational fun for curious kiddos.
Visit the park's Kranzberg Education Lab on select second Sundays for family bonding time in the form of art projects suited for all ages. Call ahead for the Free Family Days schedule and project information.
Kathy Adams is an award-winning journalist and freelance writer who traveled the world handling numerous duties for music artists. She writes travel and budgeting tips and destination guides for USA Today, Travelocity and ForRent, among others. She enjoys exploring foreign locales and hiking off the beaten path stateside, snapping pics of wildlife and nature instead of selfies.