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Visit St. Louis for free, well almost for free

By Doug Rich

Unless you are a professional athlete, rock star, or the CEO of a major corporation you will be planning your family getaway this year with a budget in mind. Gas prices, airline tickets, meals, and hotels--basically everything associated with travel--are up this year.

If you are looking for someplace to take the family for a long weekend where you can tailor the trip to meet your budget consider St. Louis, Mo.

The Saint Louis Zoo

Start your stay with a visit to the Saint Louis Zoo. It is open all year and admission is free. From Memorial Day through Labor Day the Zoo is open from 8 a.m., to 7 p.m. daily. The rest of the year it is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. It will take a full day to see the more than 5,000 creatures that reside at the Saint Louis Zoo. The Zoo is renowned for its naturalistic animal habitats.

If the kids still have energy to burn take them to Turtle Park across from the south entrance of the Zoo. Children love riding the turtles which are sculpted from concrete and represent species native to Missouri.

There are special days and events at the Zoo all through the year. Currently, the Awesome Amphibians exhibit is being shown. This is a major new exhibit highlighting the global extension crisis facing this incredible group of animals. It will showcase 150 frogs, toads, newts, cecilians, salamanders and the rare Chinese giant salamander. A favorite with locals is the Boo at the Zoo held in the fall. Kids and adults come to the Zoo dressed in their Halloween costumes. For other information about the St. Louis Zoo, visit www.stlzoo.org or call 1-800-966-8877.

Forest Park

The Zoo is located in Forest Park, one of the largest urban parks in the U.S. Bring a picnic lunch and take a mid-day break in the park. At 1,371 acres, it is about 500 acres larger than Central Park in New York City. The 1904 World's Fair was held in Forest Park. You can check with the park for more information by visiting www.forestparkforever.org.

Art Museum

Forest Park is also home to the Art Museum, Science Center, Jewel Box greenhouse, History Museum, and the Muny Theater. Admission is free for the Art Museum, Science Center, and Missouri History Museum. There may be charges for certain special exhibits. Annually 12 million people visit Forest Park so expect crowds on the most popular days.

The Saint Louis Art Museum has a collection of 30,000 objects from ancient to contemporary. It is known worldwide for its pre-Columbian and German Expressionist collections.

Take a break from the Art Museum and stroll around the Emerson Grand Basin, a lake just down the hill from the north entrance to the museum. There is a Boat House where you can rent canoes or paddle boats.

The Science Center on the south end of Forest Park is one of only two science centers in the U.S. with no admission charge. There are charges for the OMNIMAX Theater, the Boeing Space Station, and traveling exhibits. Check with the museum for more information by calling 314-289-5300, or by visiting www.slam.org.

Grant's Farm

If you have small children who like petting zoos, you can go to Grant's Farm or the Purina Farms. Grant's Farm, the former homestead of President Ulysses S. Grant, is the only house still standing that was hand-built and occupied by a U.S. president. Admission is free but there is a $5 charge for parking. Grant's Farm is also one of the Budweiser Clydesdale breeding and training facilities. For more information, visit www.grantsfarm.com.

Purina Farms is an animal education facility operated by Nestle Purina Pet Care Company. Visitors can observe and pet farm animals. Admission is free but reservations are required. Purina Farms hosts nearly 60 dog shows every year. Most of these are open to the public. For more information on upcoming events or to make reservations, visit http://events.purina.com/dogs/farms or call 1-888-688-7387.

Free Attractions

The list of free admission attractions in St. Louis includes the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site and Interpretive Center. Cahokia Mounds is the site of the largest prehistoric Indian city north of Mexico. Admission is free but donations of $2 for adults and $1 for children are suggested.

Gateway Arch-Jefferson National Expansion Memorial

The number one free attraction in St. Louis is the Gateway Arch and Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. Admission to the Museum of Westward Expansion is free. There are admission fees for the tram ride to the top of the Arch, the Odyssey Theater big screen movies, and the "Monument to the Dream" a documentary about the building of the Arch.

If you have never taken the tram ride to the top of the Arch, I highly recommend it. Everyone should do that at least once in his or her lifetime. Take plenty of time to stroll around the base of the Arch and the riverfront area. A grand staircase leading from the Arch to the Mississippi riverfront was added in 2003. The Arch is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. Over 4 million people visit the Arch every year. For more information regarding the Arch or the Expansion Memorial, visit www.gatewayarch.com or www.nps.gov/jeff/index.htm.

Other Attractions

Other free attractions in and around St. Louis are the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, Laumeier Sculpture Park, the historic Old Courthouse downtown, and the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis.

If you would like to visit an offbeat but still free attraction head to the Dental Health Theatre. The main attraction is a set of 16 three-foot tall illuminated fiberglass teeth. It also features a giant toothbrush and oversized dental floss. I know this is hard to believe but the Dental Health Theatre is the only one of its kind in the world.

End your St. Louis Getaway with a relaxing stroll through the Missouri Botanical Gardens and the adjacent Tower Grove Park. The Missouri Botanical Garden is one of the top three botanical gardens in the world and features indoor and outdoor display gardens. The Climatron is one of the first geodesic dome conservatories built in the U.S and first to be used as a greenhouse. There are guided tours or you can wander through the lush gardens on your own, I recommend the 14-acre Japanese garden, the largest traditional Japanese strolling garden in North America.

The Missouri Botanical Garden is open every day except Christmas. All children under 12 are free. There is a nominal admission charge but parking is free. Admission for non-resident visitors is $8. Be sure to visit www.mobot.org for more information on the botanitcal gardens.

Tower Grove Park is an elegant 19th century Victorian walking park adjacent to the Missouri Botanical Garden. Free concerts are given under the cupola-covered bandstand every week during the summer months. Admission is free.

If you want to spend some money you can attend a major league baseball game in a beautiful new downtown stadium or take the family to Six Flags amusement park. However, there is a lot of good family fun in St. Louis for free or reduced admission prices.

Doug Rich can be reached by phone at 785-749-5304 or e-mail at richhpj@aol.com.

Date: 5/8/08

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