The first year of my family residing in St. Louis, I was a graduate student. Fast-forward many years later to the present and still I don’t bring in big bank as a school teacher. So I know how to do family outings on a budget. All the places I will be mentioning here definitely deserve your patronage, but sometimes you just don’t have the cash. Between growing up around St. Louis, visiting while living out of town, and raising kids here for the last eight years, I have put together an iconic St. Louis day out on the cheap.
An outing to the zoo is definitely the most bang for your buck and one of St. Louis’ treasures. Parking is $12 and, of course, there are pricey food options. However, both of these can be avoided. I normally park close to the art museum, either using street parking or the free lot. This could be a little bit of a walk, but on a not-too-busy day a lot of the spots are closer than some of the paid parking lot spaces. You can bring in your own food (definitely bring a water bottle as they have lots of filling stations) and there is even a way to experience some of the usually costly activities! During the summer, arrive at 8am for the free hour during which you can ride the carousel, pet stingrays and enter the children’s zoo! We usually hit the carousel, stingrays, and then the children’s zoo, because as long as you enter the children’s zoo before 9am it is still free. This means the only things not free are the train ride, face painting, sea lion show, and 4-D theater, but you’ll never miss them with all the animals to see!
If you want some cheap food or drink close to the zoo, on the Loop is Fitz’s bottling company and restaurant. Fitz’s is a St. Louis staple and, while this one is definitely not free, you can experience the place on the cheap, provided your family can agree on flavors. Their floats are about $5 or $6, but realistically can feed 3 people. I mean, they are huge! Personally, I like the Cardinal Cream Soda with vanilla ice cream, which comes in a stein with 3 scoops of ice creams falling out of the top. While you enjoy the float you can watch the soda being bottled through the windows in the dining area. If you don’t feel like going to a sit-down restaurant you can pick up a bottle of Fitz’s along with lots of other specialty sodas (including the bacon one, which I haven’t been brave enough to try yet) at Rocket’s just down the street.
If for some reason the zoo itself is not enough of a day’s entertainment, Forest Park itself is definitely iconic St. Louis. You can walk or bike this large area and leave the other attractions for another time. Art Hill is particularly beautiful with it’s gigantic statue of St. Louis himself riding upon his horse and the grand fountain in the middle. We’ve had many a picnic in this scenic spot. If you come on a festival day (the African festival is our favorite) you can experience live music and activities for free as well.
Looking for a free show? If you are in Forest Park around June in the evening you could be privileged enough to enjoy Shakespeare in the Park right next to Art Hill. Every year is a different production and the grounds are full of people on their blankets with wine and picnic baskets. My favorite so far has been A Midsummer’s Night Dream with twins playing Puck making for some interesting hi-jinks.
Throughout the summer you can also enjoy a free show at the Muny. Show up about an hour and a half before the show and enjoy conversation, while you wait to get free seats in the back of this historic outdoor theater and enjoy the musical for the evening. If you don’t want to wait that long and you want to really make sure you get a seat, tickets sell for as low as $15. You can bring your own food and drink and witness live theater which often features at least one well known celebrity. (My favorite was Corbin Bleu from high school musical in Mama Mia.)
With some creativity and flexibility your philosophy for family outings in St. Louis can be, “No Money? No Problem!”