St. Louis is a city known for its abundance of free events and attractions and that's certainly the case when it comes to entertaining the kids. Children and parents in the Gateway City have all kinds of options for free fun.
Families can visit the elephants, learn about Native American history, fly a kite and visit the Clydesdales. St. Louis has history to be discovered and water features to play in.
The St. Louis Zoo is always a top destination for families and it's easy to see why. The Zoo is home to thousands of animals on 90 acres in the heart of Forest Park. From polar bears and penguins to elephants and hippos, there are more than 500 species to see and learn about. The Zoo is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended hours in the summer.
Monks Mound is part of Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Collinsville, Illinois. The 100-foot high earthen mound was the center of an ancient civilization that lived along the Mississippi River. On a nice day, visitors can climb the stairs to the top of Monks Mound for a great view of the river valley below and the St. Louis skyline in the distance. Then stop by the Interpretive Center to learn more about the history of the site.
Monks Mound and the outdoor areas of Cahokia Mounds are open daily until dusk. The Interpretive Center is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. This historic park lies in southern Illinois between East St. Louis and Collinsville.
The Missouri History Museum in Forest Park has a special exhibit area just for kids called the History Clubhouse. It's a hands-on learning experience that allows visitors to step back in time and see what life was like many years ago. Children can steer a steamboat, walk through historic buildings and sell ice cream at the 1904 World's Fair. The History Clubhouse is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
It's St. Louis' version of Willy Wonka. Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Company offers free tours of its candy factory located in south St. Louis. Visitors can go down to the factory floor, watch machines like the chocolate enrobers and learn all about the candy-making process. Tours are available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. (Note the factory is not in operation on Saturday.) Walk-ins are welcome, but reservations are suggested for Saturday tours and larger groups.
The St. Louis Astronomical Society hosts star parties at locations throughout the area. There are usually several star parties each month at local libraries, schools, and YMCAs. The Society also hosts a free star party on the first Friday of the month at the St. Louis Science Center. During these events, volunteers set up several different kinds of telescopes for viewing the night sky.
For a neighborhood park with something extra, there's Suson Park in St. Louis County. Suson Park is a big hit with kids because of its working animal farm. The farm has horses, pigs, cows, chickens, goats and more. Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the farm and see all of the animals. The Suson Animal Farm is open daily from 9 a.m. until dusk.
Experience public transportation in a new way with a ride on the Brussels Ferry. The ferry shuttles vehicles and people across the Illinois River just north of its confluence with the Mississippi River near Grafton. Riders can stay in their cars or get out for a closer look at the water. The Brussels Ferry runs all day, every day (weather permitting) and is a popular place to see bald eagles in the winter.
When the weather's nice there's nothing better than getting the kids outside to burn some energy. St. Louis has a lot of great neighborhood parks where children of all ages can run and play. These parks offer updated playgrounds with swings, slides, climbing walls and more. Many also have walking trails, picnic areas, fishing ponds and, perhaps most important, clean restrooms and water fountains.
There's plenty for kids to do on The Hill in St. Louis. The city's historic Italian neighborhood is a great option for where to spend an afternoon. Children can play at the playground and soccer fields Berra Park, enjoy a cold treat at Gelato Di Riso, and see the homes of baseball legends Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola at Hall of Fame Place.
See falcons, owls and bald eagles up-close at the World Bird Sanctuary in St. Louis County. The sanctuary is home to hundreds of raptors. Many are injured and unable to return to the wild. Grab a map and take a self-guided tour of the 300-acre facility. The World Bird Sanctuary is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sunday afternoons are the best time to bring kids to the St. Louis Art Museum in Forest Park. Family Sundays are a weekly event designed with children in mind. Kids have the chance to make their own great works of art during the crafting workshop. Daily public tours of the galleries are offered at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday-Friday and at 1:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Family Sundays are also held from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Citygarden is an urban park in downtown St. Louis with wading pools, bubblers and lots of green space. There are benches for parents to relax a bit, while their kids splash around in the water. Citygarden also has large sculptures that kids like to climb, and it's a nice spot for outdoor picnicking and people watching. The park is open daily from sunrise to sunset.
About two dozen of the world famous Budweiser Clydesdales make their home at Grant's Farm in St. Louis County. Visitors can tour the Clydesdale Barn and see these impressive horses up close. Grant's Farm is also home to more than 900 other animals from around the world including elephants, kangaroos, lemurs, and giant tortoises. Operating hours change seasonally. Admission is free, but please be aware that parking costs $15. Tram rides and animal shows are free of charge. There are other rides and attractions that cost a few dollars each.
On a warm spring day, kites are often flying at Art Hill in Forest Park. The large hill located between the Grand Basin and the St. Louis Art Museum is one of the top spots for outdoor fun in St. Louis. Kids can fly kites, throw frisbees, blow bubbles or just run around having a good time. Bring a blanket and a picnic basket and make a day of it.
The Touhill Performing Arts Center in St. Louis County hosts a variety of free concerts and performances throughout the year. Options include jazz concerts, dance performances, and the St. Louis Storytelling Festival. The schedule of free events is posted at the Touhill website.
See the inner workings of a real lock and dam system on the Mississippi River. Visitors can tour the Melvin Price Locks and Dam in Alton, Illinois. The 45-minute tour offers an up-close look at how barges navigate the river. Tours are offered three times a day at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Just sign up for a spot at the visitor desk at the National Great Rivers Museum located next door. Admission to the museum is also free.
Want to explore outer space, build a replica of the Gateway Arch or experiment with electricity? Kids can do all of that and much more at the St. Louis Science Center in Forest Park. The Science Center offers three levels of hands-on exhibits in all areas of scientific discovery. From dinosaurs and fossils to wind and weather, there's always something new to learn. The Science Center is open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Lewis and Clark made one of the most important journeys in American history. Visitors to the Lewis and Clark State Historic Site in Hardin, Illinois, can follow in the footsteps of the great explorers. Children are invited to learn about the difficulties of the journey, see a replica of a keelboat used during the trip and hear stories from those who traveled with Lewis and Clark. The historic site is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
It's easy to see a free movie in the summer in St. Louis. Dozens of area parks host free outdoor movie series and most are family-friendly. During other times of the year, families can catch free movies at top attractions like Ballpark Village and the Missouri History Museum.
The Planet Walk on the Delmar Loop is a unique way to learn about the solar system. The Planet Walk has nine outdoor stations (one for each planet and the sun) stretched out over a five-block area. The sizes and distances are proportional to the actual solar system. The Planet Walk is open daily.
There are dozens of libraries across the St. Louis area that offer storytime and other free events for children. From crafts and cooking to video games and movies, there's something fun to do nearly every day of the week. For more information, see the St. Louis Public Library calendar of events or the St. Louis County Library's schedule of children's programs.
Another thing to do on the Delmar Loop is to visit the St. Louis Walk of Fame. Like with its bigger counterpart in Hollywood, golden stars in the sidewalk honor famous St. Louisans like Chuck Berry, Tina Turner, Kevin Kline, and Miles Davis. New honorees are inducted into the Walk of Fame each year.
Baby animals and dog agility shows are the big draws at Purina Farms in Gray Summit. Young visitors can watch talented canines performing high-flying tricks. There are also cow-milking demonstrations, a petting zoo, and a hayloft play area. Purina Farms is open from mid-March to mid-November.
The Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge in Brussels, Illinois, offers the chance to explore nature in its purest form. The refuge hiking trails take visitors through tall prairie grasses and on top of river levees. The trails provide viewing for heron, beavers, turtles and other animals. The refuge is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and the first two weekends of the month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
For a nature hike with a great view, head to Castlewood State Park in Ballwin. The 2,000-acre park has several hiking trails that lead to the bluffs overlooking the Meramec River. From the top, there are expansive views of the river valley below. Parents with smaller children also have the option of sticking to easier trails without the steep climb. Castlewood State Park is open daily from 7 a.m. until 30 minutes after sunset.