Meet me in St. Louis, a city full of free fun

St. Louis is one of those cities I always took for granted. It’s only five hours from Chicago and I’ve driven through many times but never stopped before this spring.

St. Louis offers plenty of views like this one – and many are free!

Had I paid more attention, I would have stopped much sooner. That’s because so many of the city attractions are free. That’s right: free. My favorite admission price.

During a whirlwind three-day visit, my daughter and I toured the Old Courthouse, where we learned about the Dred Scott trial and the history of slavery, and had lunch at the calming Citygarden sculpture park. Then we headed to Forest Park, home to the St. Louis Art Museum, the St. Louis Science Center and the St. Louis Zoo, all of which are free and fantastic.

Our favorite, hands down, is the zoo, one of just three zoos in the country that still are free (the others are the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and our very own Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago). Could be it was the picture perfect spring day that brought out a crowd and seemed to energize the animals. Or it could be that zoos are just so cool. I never get enough of watching the faces of the children the first time they see a real bear or watch a monkey swing from one vine to the next.

Riding to the top of the Arch is not free ($14 for adults, $7.50 for kids 3-15), but the accompanying Museum of Westward Expansion is. We had only about 45 minutes there, but could have spent more time learning about the Lewis and Clark expedition to explore the Louisiana Purchase. If you want to go up to the top of the 630-foot Arch, book your tickets online to reserve your spot. Seats are limited and were sold out by mid-day when we visited.

My daughter and I stayed as guests of the newly renovated Hyatt Regency St. Louis at the Arch. It’s a beautiful hotel that is better for business people than families, mostly because it lacks the critical kid amenity: a swimming pool. But it is conveniently located across the street from the Arch.

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