St. Louis: Full of fun freebies

St. Louis is one of those cities within an easy drive of Chicago that I had never visited. I’ve driven through and waved at the Arch, but never stopped. Until now.

My daughter and I are visiting for three days during her spring break. We’re staying 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 No. 1 most critical kid amenity: a swimming pool. On the plus side, the service is incredible and it’s conveniently located just a block away from the Arch, the iconic St. Louis attraction.

The Arch is not free, but the accompanying Museum of Westward Expansion is. We had only about 45 minutes there to learn about the Lewis and Clark expedition to explore the Louisana Purchase. If you want to go up to the top of the 630-foot Arch, book your tickets online before you go to reserve your spot. Seats are limited and were sold out by mid-day when we visited.

The Free Stuff

I love free. Especially traveling with kids. All those admission fees can add up quickly. That’s one of the reasons we chose St. Louis for our spring break trip was the plethora of free things to do in town.

In addition to the museum at the Arch, there’s the Old Courthouse, where we learned about the Dred Scott trial and the history of slavery, the calming Citygarden sculpture park where we had a lovely picnic lunch, and the incredible wealth of family-friendly and free attractions in Forest Park. Attractions at the park include the St. Louis Art Museum, the St. Louis Science Center and the St. Louis Zoo, one of only three free zoos in the country (the others are Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago and the National Zoo in Washington D.C.).

Our favorite, hands down, is the zoo. 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. It’s one of the most basic pleasures of parenthood.

Cindy Richards is the travel writer for Chicago Parent and the editor of

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