Perhaps best known for its iconic Gateway Arch and blues music scene, St. Louis is one of the biggest cities in the Midwest.
It has a rich history. This is where Lewis and Clark began their expedition in 1804, where the Supreme Court heard the pivotal Dred Scott case, and it was host to the World’s Fair in 1904.
Today St. Louis offers an abundance of free museums and attractions for visitors, making it a prime candidate for your next family road trip.
Here are 15 free family activities in St. Louis, plus some bonus ideas for your itinerary.
Free Family Activities in St. Louis
1. Forest Park
When the World’s Fair came to St. Louis in 1904, the magnificent Forest Park served as the main fairgrounds.
Today, it is home to 1300 acres of forests, lakes, and nature preserves, as well as five major cultural institutions (the Missouri History Museum, the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Saint Louis Science Center, the Saint Louis Zoo, and The Muny theater).
The park attracts 13 million visitors each year, making it the sixth most visited urban park in the United States.
It’s a great place to take a leisurely stroll, have a picnic, or attend a special event or festival.
Art Hill, located between the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Emerson Grand Basin, is one of the park’s most iconic and beloved locations. It is home to summer picnics and winter sledding, concerts, film series and more.
Find out more at www.forestparkforever.org.
“I present to you, the people of the County of St. Louis, your own, this large and beautiful Forest Park for the enjoyment of yourselves, your children and your children’s children forever . . . The rich and poor, the merchant and mechanic, the professional man and the day laborer, each with his family and lunch basket, can come here and enjoy his own . . . all without stint or hinderance . . . and there will be no notice put up, ‘Keep Off the Grass.’”— THEN-PRESIDING JUDGE OF ST. LOUIS COUNTY CHAUNCY F. SHULTZ DURING FOREST PARK’S 1876 DEDICATION CEREMONY
2. St. Louis Zoo
Within Forest Park, you’ll find the Saint Louis Zoo, a free zoo located just east of the Art Museum.
The giant walk-through Flight Cage was the Smithsonian Institution’s exhibit at the World’s Fair, and at the time it was the largest aviary ever built.
Today it is the landmark structure of the Zoo’s Bird Garden, a lush habitat for birds native to the lower Mississippi River. At 228 feet long, 84 feet wide, and 50 feet high, it is still one of the largest free flight cages in the world.
The Children’s Zoo within the main zoo is currently home to a temporary dinosaur exhibit called Dinoroarus.
Another top-rated attraction is the Sea Lion Show. The whole family will love watching the sea lions dive off a high-dive platform and do other acrobatic tricks in their large amphitheater.
Watch the sea lions swim in the 40,000-gallon saltwater pool, and get an up close look from the rock bridge that extends into the audience.
Find out more at https://www.stlzoo.org.
3. St. Louis Science Center
The Saint Louis Science Center, also located in the Forest Park, is one of the nation’s only free nonprofit museums.
There are more than 700 interactive experiences, including the indoor-outdoor GROW agricultural pavilion and gallery, the famous James S. McDonnell Planetarium, a four-story OMNIMAX® Theater, and the popular Discovery Room.
General admission is always free, and there are additional ticketed experiences available to visitors.
4. The Muny Free Seats
The Muny is St Louis’ theater, filling Forest Park with music and live entertainment every summer.
The last nine rows of The Muny (more than 1,400 seats) are always free to the public. The seats are claimed on a first come, first served basis. The gates open at 7:00 p.m. each evening in Lichtenstein Plaza.
While you wait, there is always a free Pre-show Festival with live performances, theatre troupes, musical guests and kids activities.
Bring a blanket and make a night of it!
5. St. Louis Art Museum
The historic Saint Louis Art Museum on Fine Arts Drive was founded in 1879, and is one of the five free cultural institutions located in Forest Park. The museum is home to thousands of works of art and ancient artifacts spanning 5,000 years of history and cultures.
Engraved above the main entrance are the words “Dedicated to Art and Free to All.” True to its word, admission to the museum’s permanent collection is always free.
There are drop-in tours weekly on a first-come, first-served basis, and Family Sunday programs with a different theme and art project each week.
Fun Fact: The statue of Saint Louis, King of France that sits outside of the museum’s main entrance was originally located at the main entrance of the World’s Fair.
6. Grants Farm
Since opening to the public in 1954, Grant’s Farm has become an animal preserve and refuge for more than 900 animals. Visitors can interact with many of them throughout the day and learn from the animal caretakers who work there.
You can also visit the log cabin hand-built and occupied by the 18th U.S. President and Civil War general Ulysses S. Grant.
The log cabin was on display at the World’s Fair in St Louis. After the fair, if was purchased by Adolphus Busch (of Anheuser-Busch) who moved it to his property.
You can also check out the Busch family’s “Big House”, traditional German-style stables, and more.
Ticketed opportunities include getting up-close with the Budweiser Clydesdales and hand-feeding the animals in their Deer Park.
7. Gateway Arch National Park
The iconic Gateway Arch is perhaps the most recognizable symbol of St Louis, and it’s a national historic landmark.
Constructed from 1963-1065, the arch stands 630 feet tall and is 630 feet wide. It’s designed to sway as much as 18 inches in 150 miles per hour winds, and it can withstand an earthquake and lightning strikes.
You can visit the park for free, where they have a free museum about St. Louis’s role in westward expansion and a documentary movie about the building of the arch.
For a fee, you can also take the popular tram ride to the top of the arch. It takes four minutes to get to the top, and three minutes to travel to the bottom.
On a clear day, it’s a great way to get an amazing view of the city. You can see up to thirty miles in either direction, offering an unparalleled view of the Mississippi River, downtown St. Louis, and the surrounding area. But beware: On a hazy day, visibility can be zero.
The park is also home to the Old Courthouse, where Dred Scott sued for his freedom. When the Supreme Court decided in 1857 that no African-Americans were entitled to citizenship, it hastened the start of the Civil War.
8. Missouri History Museum
Yet another free museum located in Forest Park is the Missouri History Museum.
Here you can see the original Louisiana Purchase Transfer Document, artifacts from Lewis & Clark’s journey, and their signature exhibit, “1904 World’s Fair: Looking Back at Looking Forward”.
A map of the Louisiana Purchase territory that traces Lewis & Clark’s route is etched in the stone walkway at the museum’s north entry.
You’ll also definitely want to the visit the History Clubhouse, an award-winning family exhibit.
It’s an interactive space where families can explore downtown St. Louis with re-creations of iconic buildings that stand up to 15 feet tall.
Then you can take a trolley ride back in time to serve food at a café during the 1904 World’s Fair, pilot a steamboat on the Mississippi River, and play house in the ancient city of Cahokia.
Kids can dress up in period costumes, put on a puppet show, fish over the edge of a canoe, and more.
9. World Chess Hall of Fame
The World Chess Hall of Fame is home to the World’s Largest Chess Piece (WLCP), certified by Guinness World Records in 2018.
It’s on display in front of the museum, and across the street from the Saint Louis Chess Club.
The WLCP stands 20 feet tall, 9 feet, 2 inches wide, and weights 10,860 pounds. It’s made of African sapele mahogany.
10. Lone Elk Park
Lone Elk Park is a wildlife management area with an abundance of bison, elk, wild turkey, waterfowl, and deer.
It doesn’t cost anything to visit. You can drive through, or hike one of the many trails to explore the area.
There is a family-friendly 30-minute hike that starts at the trailhead near the Visitor Center and takes you to the lake and back.
11. Cahokia Mounds
Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site sits on 2,200 acres, and is home to the archeological remains of the most sophisticated prehistoric native civilization north of Mexico.
Museum admission is free, and donations are accepted.
You’ll find the 100 foot high Monks Mound, the largest earthwork in North America, plus other self-guided and guided tours.
There is an Interpretive Center (currently closed for renovations) that offers exhibit galleries, an orientation show theater, restrooms, a courtyard, a museum shop, and more.
12. St Louis Union Station
The first train pulled into St. Louis Union Station on September 1, 1894, and over the next several years, it became one of the largest and busiest passenger rail terminals in the world.
Today, the stylish Grand Hall preserves elegant historic touches like the original terrazzo floor, green glazed terracotta bricks, the Allegorical Window (a masterpiece in stained glass windows made of Tiffany glass), and impressive wooden carpentry.
But Union Station has kept up with modern times, installing an exciting 3D lights show set to music across the Grand Hall’s 65-foot vaulted ceiling. It happens every day at 5:00 p.m.
For a fee, you can ride the 200 foot St Louis Ferris Wheel, open year-round.
Union Station is also home to popular family attractions like the St. Louis Polar Express Train Ride and the St. Louis Aquarium, a 120,000 square-foot destination housing thousands of aquatic species.
13. The Loop Trolley
The Loop Trolley is free to ride during the initial three-month pilot program through October 30, 2022.
The 2.2-mile route runs on Delmar Boulevard and DeBaliviere Avenue (the Delmar Loop) between the University City Library and the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park.
A round trip on the Loop Trolley will take approximately 60 minutes.
You can board the Loop Trolley at any of the 10 stops along the route.
The trolley offers access to the famous Delmar Loop, home to the St. Louis Walk of Fame, and one-of-a-kind shops, restaurants, art galleries, live music, plus a vibrant café culture.
14. Purina Farms Visitor Center
The Purina Farms Visitor Center is free and open to the public from April through October, Wednesday through Sunday. This family-friendly attraction is located just outside of St. Louis.
You can visit the Incredible Dog Arena, where you can see Purina Incredible Dog Team demonstrate their amazing skills, the Pet Center, where Purina’s dogs and cats live, featuring a 20-foot, multi-level home for cats, and the Barn and Play area, which houses Purina’s domestic farm animals.
15. Tower Grove Park
Tower Grove Park is a public park and arboretum in the city of St. Louis, Missouri. It sits on 289 acres, adjacent to the Missouri Botanical Garden.
Most of its land was donated to the city by Henry Shaw in 1868.
The landscape consists of grassy meadows, approximately seven thousand trees and varied flowerbeds.
You can take advantage of well-maintained trails, tennis courts, athletic fields, Victorian pavilions, three playgrounds, and a splash pad.
While you’re there, you may catch the Summer Children’s Concert Series, the Tower Grove Farmers’ Market, lecture series, art exhibits, and more.
Free For Kids in St Louis
The following St. Louis attractions are free for kids, but adults pay an admission fee.
16. Missouri Botanical Garden
The Missouri Botanical Garden sits on 79 beautiful acres, and is also home to the 9,000 square-foot historic home that served as Henry Shaw’s residence.
They offer free admission for kids 12 and under. Parking is also free.
Visit the Climatron, a half-acre tropical conservatory featuring a geodesic design that has no interior support and no columns from floor to ceiling. It’s home to 1400 different plant species. Look for the double coconut palm which has the largest seeds in the plant kingdom, weighing up to 50 pounds each.
You can also check out the 14-acre Japanese Garden, with lush waterfalls and carefully designed plantings, the Chinese Garden, the German garden, a Children’s Garden, and more.
17. Butterfly House
The Butterfly House is an 8,000-square-foot glass conservatory where you can mingle with more than 60 species of butterflies.
It is part of the Missouri Botanical Garden, but it is in a different location. It is also free to kids 12 and under.
18. World Bird Sanctuary
The World Bird Sanctuary houses birds from all over the world on its 305 acres of hardwood forest and aviaries.
Kids under 5 get in free!
You’ll see eagles, falcons hawks, owls, vultures, reptiles, and more. Their hiking trails range from easy to moderate, and the trailed marked “easy” are suitable for all ages.
You can watch birds of prey fly right over your head in one of their free shows.
More Family Activities in St Louis (Not Free)
The following St. Louis family destinations are not free, but are worth a visit:
The Magic House is St. Louis’ very own Children’s Museum, featuring hundreds of interactive exhibits designed to spark your family’s imagination.
Check out the Wonder Why? Early Childhood Learning Lab, the Children’s Village with kid-sized community, a waterfall patio, STEAM Studio, Make-It Workshop, and more.
The City Museum is a wacky and whimsical destination housed in the 10-story, 600,000 square-foot warehouse of the International Shoe Company.
It’s part children’s playground, part funhouse, and part architectural marvel, made almost entirely out of found and repurposed objects.
Your kids will love exploring the indoor treehouse, the rooftop ferris wheel, the world’s largest pencil (weighing 21,700 pounds), the skateless park, the incredible MonstroCity sculpture, a network of caves, and more.
Six Flags St. Louis
Six Flags St. Louis is Missouri’s large theme park with over 45 thrilling rides and attractions.
There are heart-pounding roller coasters, mild rides for younger kids, water attractions, live shows, and more.
Catch a St. Louis cardinals game at Busch Stadium, or take a stadium tour for a unique look at areas of the ballpark that may not be regularly accessible during gamedays.
All tour tickets include admission to the Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum at Cardinals Nation.