How can I possibly say enough about The Saint Louis Zoo? People come to town and the zoo is the first recommendation out of my mouth. Almost unfailingly, they look at me skeptically. I know that look. It says, “I’ve seen animals before and I’ve been to other zoos. There can’t be anything that special about this one.” And, of course, they are very, very wrong!
The Saint Louis Zoo has been voted the best zoo in the country according to USA Today two years running and is consistently ranked highly on par with the San Diego and Omaha zoos. So the zoo is objectively awesome, not just a nostalgic part of my life. What makes the zoo my constant go-to destination?
1. It’s free! I’m always amazed how much other cities charge for zoos that just frankly aren’t as good. Forest Park’s attractions admissions are all free, a fact that meant lots of childhood visits despite my family being broke. Now I get to enjoy taking my kids. I lived in Kansas City for 4 years and visited the zoo twice, because it was just too expensive a trip. Here, I go at least once a month! (To read more about a budget day in St. Louis check out the Free Day in St. Louis post)
2. The animals (duh). Of course, all zoos have animals, but St. Louis knows how to make you feel good about it with sprawling enclosures that resemble the animals’ habitats. The newest bear exhibits are a great example with large brown bear and polar bear habitats where the bears have lots of space to roam, a variety of activities, and several viewing areas.
My favorite enclosure is the River’s edge. The elephants viewing area is quite a walk, but allows you to find them playing in their makeshift river, waterfall, or even with the tire swing!
3. The Dole Whips. Most zoo food can be quite pricey, but on a hot day a Pineapple Dole Whip for $3 is pretty hard to beat. Gluten free (not that that matters to me) and all kinds of deliciousness means I would almost go to the zoo just for the Whip!
4. The sea lions show. The show is one of the few paid items, but it is worth it. The sea lions usually have an eco-friendly theme show, which means teaching us how to help them, while showing us the incredible feats they are capable of! Your child may even get the opportunity to throw fish and squid to the stars of the show.
5. Petting The Stingrays. For a minimal fee you can pet stingrays and some small sharks. It is amazing how the stingrays come up to your hand floating on the top of the water and nuzzle it like a cat. The look on you or your child’s face will be priceless. The staff walks around with fun facts while answering guests’ questions and, boy, does my little one like to ask them questions! You can also feed the stingrays, but we’ve never felt the need to do so.
6. The Penguins. I know I already mentioned the animals, but the penguin exhibit has been featured on national television. There are penguins outside that seem to put on their own show and as soon as you walk inside, you are nose to nose with more penguins! You can watch them swim through the glass or marvel at how close they are in this open enclosure.
7. The Environment The St. Louis zoo is serious about going green and teaching guests how to be as well. Throughout the grounds you will find water bottle fill up stations, trash sorting for compost, and not a straw to be found. We’ve visited on Sea Lion Day and were given free grocery tote bags, taught how to weave plastic bags into rugs, and taught how to order eco-friendly fish. The zoo does their part to help the world’s animals and helps you know how to too!
8. The special events. Boo at the Zoo and Wild Lights allow you to visit the zoo at night. The zoo is all lit up with decorations and activities aplenty for about $5 a person. If your child finds Halloween a little scary Boo at the Zoo may just be the solution. You can hear animal stories in many different locations, including around a fire-pit if you need to warm-up, and find some crafts to make while taking advantage of the many photo opportunities. Most of the animal enclosures will be off-limits, but the children’s zoo has a few animals to pet and see. Sometimes you can sign up beforehand for a tour of some of the night animals. Wild Lights is similar except the penguin house is open, since it is virtually the same temperature in there as it is outside.
Hopefully, I have convinced you just how visit-worthy the St. Louis zoo is. Every visit, you will find another animal out or putting on a show, which makes this a destination you can come back to time after time.