People gather on Art Hill in Forest Park to watch films al fresco.

Forest Park

What to See and Do in One of the World’s Most Beautiful City Parks

Did you know that Forest Park in St. Louis is approximately 500 acres larger than Central Park in New York City?

Home to world-class attractions – most of which are also free! – it’s considered one of the best urban parks in the country. You can spend hours, even days, enjoying cultural institutions such as the Missouri History Museum, Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis Science Center, Saint Louis Zoo and The Muny, an outdoor theater that has filled Forest Park with the sounds of Broadway for more than 100 years.

The park also allows visitors to connect with nature. In recent years, Forest Park Forever, a private nonprofit conservancy and the steward of this treasure, has made a concerted effort to rewild the park, restoring and reinvigorating the native beauty and ecological diversity of the environment.

More than 30 miles of walking and biking trails traverse Forest Park, which also boasts more than 190 acres of nature reserves that encompass old-growth forests, restored forests and woodlands, wetlands, tallgrass prairies and savannas. These habitats form a corridor across the park that both wildlife and visitors utilize. Together, the nature reserves provide a positive environmental impact, natural balance, educational opportunities and appealing aesthetics, all within the heart of a highly urban area.

If you like sports, you’re in luck. The park has two golf courses, tennis courts, racquetball courts, a skating rink and a cricket field. There are now plans to add basketball courts, as well. Their inclusion to the park’s offerings will make it an increasingly diverse and dynamic place to gather.

Annually, Forest Park also hosts epic events, from the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival, which begins in late May, to the Great Forest Park Balloon Glow and Race, which takes place during the third weekend in September.

Taking all this into consideration, we believe Forest Park is the perfect place to wile away a vacation day with family or friends. Read on to learn more about the park’s main attractions.

A family uses a paddle boat to explore the Emerson Grand Basin in Forest Park.

The Boathouse at Forest Park offers tasty fare for hungry visitors. Here, you can also rent paddle boats, canoes and kayaks in spring, summer and fall to embark on a miniature expedition of Post-Dispatch Lake.

Constructed with cantilevered glass supported by arched steel beams, the Jewel Box holds hundreds of flowers.

Boasting a magnificent Art Deco design, the Jewel Box’s unique construction of cantilevered glass supported by arched steel beams was a groundbreaking technical achievement when it debuted in 1936. Inside, you’ll find hundreds of flowers in bloom, ready for their close-up.

An aerial view shows the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park.

Explore the storied history of St. Louis, from its founding in 1764 to the 1904 World’s Fair to the present day. The Missouri History Museum’s exhibits occasionally change, but they’re always well done. You might also find the Missouri Historical Society’s See STL walking tours interesting. With an infectious enthusiasm for the area and its exciting progress, the tour guides mix engaging storytelling and historical knowledge to create an unforgettable experience. Each tour lasts two hours, and topics range from St. Louis neighborhoods to LGBTQ+ community life to the sound of St. Louis.

Thousands of theatergoers watch a Broadway performance at The Muny.

During summers in St. Louis, the limelight shines on The Muny. For more than 100 years, the outdoor theater has filled Forest Park with the sounds of Broadway, attracting out-of-town professionals as well as local talent for memorable musicals ranging from As You Like It (the very first production ever mounted at what would become The Muny) to Kinky Boots. Every season features first-rate productions that stir up audiences – think Chicago, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Footloose, Jesus Christ Superstar, Legally Blonde and Rent. The shows are enchanting, electrifying and empowering, and every night, there are free seats available on a first-come first-served basis, so everyone can experience the magic of live theater.

The Nature Playscape in Forest Park has distinct areas that engage visitors' senses.

You’re never too old to play in the dirt. At the 17-acre Nature Playscape in Forest Park, visitors of all ages can connect with nature and engage their senses as they explore nine distinct areas, including sandy spaces, rocky boulders, willow tunnels, stump steppers, water pumps and more. The experiential play space features diverse species that also encourage discovery.

A couple experiences arts and culture at the Saint Louis Art Museum.

Travel across time, places and cultures at the Saint Louis Art Museum. Boasting one of the country’s leading comprehensive collections, the free museum perched atop Art Hill inspires discovery and elevates the human spirit. If you dig the colorful paintings and ancient artifacts, take a deeper dive into the artwork with an audio guide. On select Sundays, the museum also offers family-friendly tours with hands-on activities. Each Family Sunday features a different theme and art project.

A young boy pretends to be an astronaut at the Saint Louis Science Center.

Another fantastic and free attraction, the Saint Louis Science Center specializes in “Aha!” moments. As you test the laws of physics, sneak by a life-size, animatronic Tyrannosaurus rex, explore the night sky and build a replica of the Gateway Arch, you’ll ask and answer hundreds of questions. You might also consider paying for a special exhibition or a film at the OMNIMAX Theater if something sparks your interest.

Families watch the sea lions and seals play at the Saint Louis Zoo.

A leading zoo in animal management, research, conservation and education, the Saint Louis Zoo should be at the top of your travel bucket list. On any given day, you might see bears splashing in plunge pools, monkeys swinging through the trees or penguins squawking for more fish. Got questions? Look for dedicated education volunteers and docents throughout the zoo, as they’re always happy to share their wealth of knowledge about the animals, their care and the Saint Louis Zoo’s conservation efforts. If you’re traveling with little ones, consider a ride on the Emerson Zooline Railroad or the Mary Ann Lee Conservation Carousel – the latter features 64 hand-carved wooden animals that represent some of the protected and endangered species at the zoo. The thrills never stop, so plan to spend a good chunk of time here. General admission is free, as is street parking.

In winter, people zoom around Steinberg Skating Rink in Forest Park.

To warm up in the winter, both shaky skaters and seasoned professionals enjoy taking laps around Steinberg Skating Rink. Situated in the sprawling acreage of Forest Park, it’s the largest outdoor skating rink in the Midwest. After you glide around the festively lit venue, snuggle up with hot chocolate by a fire pit.

The World's Fair Pavilion is a perfect place to picnic in Forest Park.

Although the World’s Fair Pavilion wasn’t part of the 1904 World’s Fair, it was built in 1909 with proceeds from the event. Sitting atop Government Hill, the open-air pavilion commands a dramatic view of Forest Park, making for a picturesque place to picnic in between other activities.