Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
- 1. The Museum at the Gateway Arch
- 2. St. Louis Zoo
- 3. St. Louis Art Museum
- 4. Kiener Plaza
- 5. The Old Courthouse
- 6. St. Louis Public Library, Central Library
- 7. Light Show at Union Station
- 8. Missouri History Museum
- 9. St. Louis Science Center
- 10. Anheuser-Busch Brewery
- 11. Schlafly Tap Room & Music
- 12. Soulard Farmers Market
- 13. Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum
- 14. Citygarden
- 15. The Muny
- 16. Soldiers Memorial Military Museum
- 17. St. Louis Walk of Fame
- Where to Stay Near St. Louis, Missouri
As a college student in Missouri, this writer took full advantage of free things to do in St. Louis. The Anheuser-Busch Brewery tour topped the list. Visiting as a mom on a return trip, she discovered even more free things to do in St. Louis.
Returning to a place where you used to live can be jarring. I spent five years in St. Louis, Missouri, in college and graduate school, but hadn’t been back since my 10th college reunion. Let’s just say it was a while ago. In my absence, St. Louis blossomed with breweries, a new Busch stadium for the baseball Cardinals, fantastic vegan food, more green spaces and museums (among them, City Museum and The Magic House), and more free things than you could cover in a weekend, making it a terrific cheap family vacation destination. So plan a long trip to the Gateway to the West and see all the free things to do in St. Louis.
1. The Museum at the Gateway Arch
The Museum at the Gateway Arch, formerly known as the Museum of Westward Expansion, is one of the top things to do in St. Louis. The hands-on museum, the first update to the museum since the arch opened in 1965, was long overdue. You can learn about colonial St. Louis through the competition to build the Arch. There are plenty of interactive elements and things to touch to keep kids interested. Afterwards, take a walk along the riverfront, and take pictures of the arch. If you went in the past, it was renovated in 2018 and worth another visit.
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TravelingMom Tip: The museum is free but the ride to the top of the Gateway Arch requires a paid ticket. Riding the tram to the top starts at $12 for adults and $8 for kids ages 3-15. The single-seat ride is fun and the view from the top is impressive. But is it worth $40 for a family of four? We think everyone should ride to the top at least once, but every family is different.
The St Louis Zoo is one of the best zoos in the United States, and admission is always free. I used to run track in college, and my long runs would involve a visit to the polar bears. Those polar bears now enjoy fancy digs with a glass viewing wall of the pool where the bears frolic.
TravelingMom Tip:There are now some paid attractions at the zoo, but early risers take note: During the first hour of operating, the Children’s Zoo and carousel are free. You can always see the grizzly bears, penguins, apes and big cats.
Another Forest Park attraction, the St. Louis Art Museum has free family Sunday programs and free daily tours. Among the more than 34,000 works of art are collections of armor, sculpture, decorative arts, and ancient through modern art. The museum is truly a gem. Highlights include Picassos, Impressionist paintings, German art, Warhols and Georgia O’Keeffes.
Admission to the museum is always free. Special exhibits charge a fee, but even those are free on Fridays.
4. Kiener Plaza
The downtown St. Louis green space didn’t have much going on until its recent makeover. Now it boasts a colorful playground, two water features, and free weekly Sunrise Yoga classes. There are also evening boot camps and family friendly days with storytelling and lawn games. Kiener Plaza offers great photos ops of the Gatweay Arch framing the Old Courthouse.
5. The Old Courthouse
The Old Courthouse, where Dred Scott sued for his freedom, is open daily. Take a free National Park Service Ranger-led tour, or explore on your own. The 19th century building is beautifully restored. Don’t miss exhibits on Lewis & Clark, native Americans and colonial St. Louis Missouri. The courthouse is part of Gateway Arch National Park.
6. St. Louis Public Library, Central Library
The stunning Beaux Arts Central Library offers free tours of the meticulously restored 1912 building. You can also explore the building, which occupies a full city block, on your own.
7. Light Show at Union Station
Union Station, a National Historic Landmark, has a free light show every day. The grand lobby of the St. Louis Union Station Hotel has a soaring 65 foot high ceiling. The light spectacle is about 1o minutes long, and recurs every hour, on the hour, from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily. I highly recommend this stunning and delightful show.
TravelingMom Tip: The St. Louis Union Station Hotel is a great place to stay while you are in St. Louis. You can even watch the light show from the atrium on the upper floors; kids watch in their pajamas.
The Missouri History Museum has a continuing exhibit on the 1904 World’s Fair, with photographs and artifacts. Another exhibit features panoramic photos of St. Louis from the early 20th century. You can learn how the Mississippi River led to St. Louis’ prominence.
This is a terrific science museum that is just as much fun for adults about it is for kids. You can build a bridge, the Gateway Arch or a skyscraper; learn about ecology and the environment, or take a trip to Mars. There are hundreds of interactive exhibits and daily demonstrations of different scientific principles.
Admission to the general science center exhibits is free. Tickets to the planetarium and Omnimax carry a fee, but on the first Friday of each month, there are free tickets for the Omnimax.
The Science Center, the St Louis Zoo and St. Louis Art Museum are all in Forest Park, St. Louis’ answer to New York’s Central Park.
10. Anheuser-Busch Brewery
Tour the original Anheuser-Busch Brewery, built in 1852. The free tour of the Budweiser home is family friendly. You see the Clydesdale horses, and kids get free soft drinks. Adults get to sample beer for free. The daily tours last about an hour. There is a free trolley from Busch Stadium ballpark daily.
11. Schlafly Tap Room & Music
Another brewery tour, this low-key tour is offered on Sundays. Just show up and ask. You get to see the largest locally-owned independent brewery in St. Louis, and learn about the ways the corporate behemoth (see above) tried to squash the growing craft brewery scene in the Midwest. We were the only people on our intimate, hour-long tour, and we could have had as many free beers as we wanted after (one sufficed). Kids can take the tour, and get a free soda.
Stick around after the tour; the outdoor patio often hosts free live music. Schlafly Bottleworks in Maplewood also offers free tours on Saturdays and Sundays.
12. Soulard Farmers Market
Anheuser-Busch Brewery is in Soulard, which has a year round farmers market. The Soulard Farmers Market started in 1779. There is plenty to buy, of course, but you can just walk around the market, see flowers and local produce and score a few samples.
Washington University’s Kemper art museum has a large collection of contemporary and modern art. You can see works by major artists including Willem de Kooning, Berenice Abbott, Matisse, Max Beckmann and Picasso.
Citygarden, an urban green space, has sculptures, lush plantings and water fountains that kids can play in. There are also free concerts midday on Wednesdays, June-August, and free yoga on Saturdays. There is a coffee shop, Kaldi’s, with excellent drinks and sandwiches. Food trucks arrive in summer. Basically it’s free on top of free things to do in St. Louis.
15. The Muny
Summer theater doesn’t get any better than this. The outdoor shows, at a band shell in Forest Park, have week-long runs. The musicals include venerable hits like Meet Me in St. Louis and Gypsy and more current fare like Jersey Boys. Every performance has free tickets, available first come first served.
The Soldiers Memorial Military Museum explores stories of St. Louis soldiers from the American Revolution to current wars. There are artifacts and memorabilia in this renovated Art Deco building. Put this on your list of educational things to do in St. Louis.
See plaques of the famous people who grew up or lived in St. Louis. In the Delmar Loop, a restaurant and nightlife district (and the live music hub) walking distance from Washington University, there are 140 plaques embedded in the sidewalks. Honorees include Chuck Berry, John Goodman, Yogi Berra and Cedric “The Entertainer.”
My name was not there. Yet.
Bonus: Wander the Central West End, with art galleries and boutiques. Tower Grove, home to the glorious Missouri Botanical Garden (paid admission), has grand Victorian houses lining the streets.