You may not think of a big city like St. Louis as a great destination for a budget vacation, but it’s actually one of the best cities in the country for free attractions. Throw in tons of great restaurants and inexpensive sights and you’ve got yourself a pretty good time in the city.
If you don’t have your own set of wheels, fear not!
Forest Park Trolley: If you plan to spend the day in the park, which isn’t difficult to do as it’s a huge park, consider grabbing tickets for the trolley. You can park your car once in any of the free spots all over the park and hop on and off at all your favorite attractions for only $2 per person.
Lambert Airport: The best place to land if you’re flying into the city. There are lots of inexpensive hotels nearby and the MetroLink offers rides into the city.
MetroLink Light Rail: No car? No problem. Catch a ride from the airport to downtown on the Red Line or hop to the Blue Line for destinations that include Forest Park and Shrewsburry. MetroBus takes you farther from those routes and a day pass for both is only $4 or $15 for a book of up to 10 rides.
Free Things to do in St. Louis
Don your hat and head outside!
Forest Park: Larger than Central Park by far, this large, open space is free to the public and great for picnics by the pond, jogs along sparsely populated sidewalks, and a game of Frisbee in wide open spaces. Plus, it is also the location of many other free attractions like the ones listed below.
St. Louis Zoo: This is no piddly free zoo. It’s a world-class zoo that just happens to be free. Besides wild animals there are scheduled feedings that visitors can check out and various events throughout the day. There are some things that cost a few bucks, like the carousel petting zoo and train, but everything else is free. Plan to spend several hours milling about. Parking isn’t cheap in the zoo’s designated lot, but if you’re not visiting at peak times (like weekends) you can probably find a spot down the road or around the corner in any of the free spaces in Forest Park. One Government Drive in Forest Park.
The St. Louis Science Center: Most every other science museum I’ve ever seen costs something like $20 to get in, but St. Louis’ is free and brimming with interactive displays and information for kids of all ages. Build your own gateway arch out of foam blocks, see how much it would cost to buy a ticket to space, and find out who’s more relaxed with a game that reads your brain waves. The OMNIMAX and special exhibits cost extra. 5050 Oakland Avenue in Forest Park.
St. Louis Art Museum: This museum boasts over 30,000 works of art and even offers special free lectures and activities from time to time. If you like German art, they’ve got plenty of that, too. On top of Art Hill in Forest Park.
Missouri History Museum: If history is your thing, you can’t beat a trip to this museum. There are exhibits on the 1904 World’s Fair, Lewis and Clark, and tons of other events that put Missouri on the map. Again, special exhibits cost extra, but general admission is free. On the corner of Skinker and DeBaliviere in Forest Park.
The Municipal Opera (The Muny): A huge outdoor stage known for it’s free summer shows. Some seats are ticketed (the best ones, of course), but if you plan ahead and show up about an hour and 15 minutes before the show starts you may be lucky enough to nab one of the 1,500 free first come, first served seats available. One Theatre Drive in Forest Park.
Anheuser Busch Brewery Tours: If you’re a beer drinker, you can take a free tour of the plant and even get a sample at the end. The pint’s on you, though. Corner of 12th and Lynch Streets.
World Bird Sanctuary: If you love birds and there weren’t enough at the zoo to appease you, check out the WBS where you can see birds of prey up close and personal and even tune in for some educational presentations. 125 Bald Eagle Ridge Road in Valley Park.
Our Favorite Things
They may not be free, but these attractions may be worth the cash spent if you’re looking to have some fun.
The Gateway Arch: This one is totally worth the admission cost. For only $10 per person ($5 for kids) celebrate westward expansion by taking a ride up into the 630 structure and enjoy the views of the city and the river from the top.
Left Bank Books: Two levels, new and used books, author book signings, games, friendly staff, I could have spent hours in here. And I could have: the store doesn’t close until 10:00pm. If you’re a bibliophile, don’t miss it. 399 North Euclid Avenue.
Window Shopping: If it’s strolling the streets and taking in the sights you want, wander around the neighborhoods of Clayton and Central West End for boutiques and shops you won’t find anywhere else.
Grab a Bite
There is absolutely no shortage of quality restaurants in St. Louis. Whether it’s Italian dining on The Hill you desire or a more urban setting downtown, you can always find something amazing to slake your appetite, even on a budget.
Pi Pizzeria: There are more than a few pizza places to choose from, most serving up classic St. Louis style pizza, but this one’s vegan pizza rocks. Thin crust that’s chewy but crispy, delightful toppings, and sidewalk dining with a view of Euclid (and Left Bank Books). delightfully-topped pizzas start at $16 and go up from there. 400 N Euclid Ave.
How Sweet is This: Just around the corner from Seedz (listed below), this tiny shop is a great place to pick up a treat. They have so many different kinds of candy and sweets it would be nearly impossible to find something you didn’t like (lemon icing covered blueberry pound cake bites, anyone?). After we stopped I munched happily on dark chocolate covered almonds for a week. Mot items are priced by the pound so you get precisely how much you want. 804 DeMun Ave.
Seedz: A cozy plant-based (i.e. vegan) cafe that offers up raw and non-raw foods for the health conscious. Employees recommend the raw zucchini pad Thai, but the tempeh Reuben is pretty kickin’. They also offer juice and smoothies for an afternoon pick-me-up. Meals hover around $10. 6344 South Rosebury.
Imo’s: No vegan pizza at this popular local chain, but Josh liked the traditional St. Louis style cheese and thin crust combo. The toppings are traditional and two can get away with spending less than $20. Multiple locations.
Fast Eddie’s: Decidedly NOT for vegetarians (again a Josh dive), this place is a legend. Very much reminiscent of a dive bar, this joint is actually across the river in Illinois, but it’ll definitely have the cheapest food you eat on your trip. Price for burgers, kebabs and shrimp are the same as they were when they were added to the menu 20 years ago (.99-2.99). Their wide selection of beer, however, is priced for today’s market. 530 E. 4th Street Alton, IL.
The Cup: The place for cupcakes, they feature weekly and monthly flavors in addition to staple like Gold Rush and Red Velvet. It’s a swank place with tasty treats that is an acceptable substitute if your momma isn’t on hand to whip up a batch. Plus, they’re pretty. Multiple locations.