St. Louis: Surprising Attractions, Easy on the Budget

Monday June 10, 2013

If one word describes St. Louis, it’s “surprising.”

Visitors to the Gateway City often express surprise that the destination is bursting with great attractions. Whether you’re into sports, history, art, museums, animals or just keeping the kids happy, St. Louis has something for everyone.

But even better, visitors are surprised at how easy St. Louis is on the budget. You can spend several days here and not have to open your wallet for admission fees to top-rated attractions.

General admission is free to each of the cultural institutions in St. Louis’ 1,300-acre Forest Park–the world-renowned Saint Louis Zoo, the acclaimed Saint Louis Art Museum, the ever-fascinating St. Louis Science Center and the long-lived Missouri History Museum operated by the Missouri Historical Society.

And summer in St. Louis means “extras.” The Saint Louis Zoo, for example, is open late on until 7 p.m. Friday-Sunday through Sept. 2 during Prairie Farms Summer Zoo Weekends.  Visitors can also enjoy free music at the Jungle Boogie Friday Night Concert Series on Friday evenings through Aug. 30. (Note: the Zoo will close at noon on June 21 for a special event.)

Locals and visitors alike party every Friday night in July at Saint Louis Art Museum where free outdoor movies are shown on Art Hill. The Art Museum is also planning a weekend of festivities June 29-30 when the new East Building, designed by award-winning architect Sir David Chipperfield opens.

Here are a few more free, only-in-St. Louis attractions:

  • Anheuser Busch Brewery where you can take the free Budweiser Brewery Tour and see the historic Brew House, Budweiser Clydesdale stables, lager cellar, packaging plant and gift shop. Visitors get a free of A-B products or soft drinks at the end of the tour.  For a slight charge, attend St. Louis Beer School or take the St. Louis Brewmaster Tour.
  • Audubon Center at Riverlands in nearby West Alton, MO, on the Mississippi River where you can learn about birds, migration patterns and managing the wetlands in the center or watch nature from the wrap-around deck, picnic overlooking Ellis Bay or hike the Santuary’s 8.5 miles of trails.
  • City Garden, St. Louis’ newest free attraction. Kids and adults alike love this 2.9-acre park, with 24 pieces of modern sculpture and three unique water features – a 180-foot rectangular basin with a six-foot waterfall; a 34-foot-diameter tilted granite disc partially covered by a scrim of water and a state-of-the-art spray plaza with more than 100 computer-controlled spray jets.
  • Grant’s Farm, the 281-acre ancestral home of the Busch family where more than 900 animals from six continents roam in the Deer Park. Besides a tram ride through the Deer Park, included on the free tour: the Tier Garten, the Bauernhof, animal shows and the Clydesdale stables. Grant’s Farm is named for the President Ulysses S. Grant who farmed a portion of the land and built the cabin he called “Hardscrabble,” visible on the tour. While the tram ride and tour are free, there is a charge for parking.
  • Laclede’s Landing, a nine block historic district featuring restaurants and live entertainment. The Landing is where St. Louis began.
  • Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing, the site three miles north of downtown that  commemorates an 1855 attempted escape to Illinois of a group of fugitives slaves led by Mary Meachum, a free woman of color. It’s Missouri’s first nationally designated Underground Railroad site. Old Courthouse, site of the first two trials of the pivotal Dred Scott case which hastened the beginning of the Civil War. Also heard here was the Virginia Minor case in the 1870s after she sued for the right to vote. The Old Courthouse is listed in the National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network To Freedom.
  • White Haven (Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site), the family home of President Grant’s wife Julia Dent. Grant farmed the land there for a short time before the Civil War. Admission to White Haven and tours are free but time-specific tickets, available at the Visitors Center, are required.
  • World Bird Sanctuary, where you can learn everything you ever wanted to know about wild birds and then some. Located in a hardwood forest next to Lone Elk County Park and Chubb Trail, the WBS features free seasonal shows, nature trails, educational programs and picnic pavilions.

Some St. Louis attractions charge admission, but it won’t break the bank:

The Magic House

With “dynamic pricing,” you might be able to attend a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game for a song. Dynamic pricing adjusts ticket prices upward or downward on a daily basis based on factors such as team performance, pitching match-ups, weather and ticket demand. It’s been a great hit with fans. Last year 77% of games in had tickets available for $10 or less and 37% of games had tickets available for only $5.

There’s so much to see and do in St. Louis, chances are you probably won’t have time to do them all. You’ll find yourself planning your next trip here before you even leave town!

Insider’s tip: Don’t forget to build in a trip to Ted Drewes for his luscious frozen custard treats including “concretes,” shakes so thick you can turn them upside down and they won’t fall out of the cup.  Founded in 1929, Ted Drewes was a staple along Route 66 since its heyday.

Guest Blogger Kathie Sutin a freelance writer from St. Louis, Missouri contributed this blog.

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