If the iconic arch isn’t enough to put this city on your radar, maybe once you read through my list of all the things there are do it within its boundaries, you’ll be convinced to add it!

St. Louis is my husband’s hometown, and we lived there for six years of our marriage. In the throes of adjusting to married life, a new job, new house, bills and then later, babies, we never got out and explored much. Thankfully, we made lifelong friends while there, and whenever we go back, they take us to all the things we missed as well as newly added attractions.

The best part? You can visit a lot of these places absolutely FREE! Let me share with you what I’ve discovered over the years about St. Louis…

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33 Stellar Things to Do in St. Louis

things to do in St. Louis (arch)

Oh, the Food!

Here are some of my top recommendations of not-to-miss St. Louis restaurants.

1. The Hill

The Hill is a long established Italian-American neighborhood known for its deliciousness, where even the fire hydrants are painted green, white and red.  You won’t go hungry as you feast on toasted ravioli (no one knows EXACTLY which restaurant created this, we’re just glad they did!), pizza and pastas.

Grab a table at Charlie Gitto’s or Mama’s on the Hill, or discover your own favorite while walking its streets. Then pick up some ingredients from a local market and try to create your own version once you get home.

2. Crown Candy Kitchen

Aptly named “heart stopping” BLT! 🙂

Crown Candy Kitchen, opened in 1913 and run by the third and fourth generation of family, is not just known for its homemade chocolates and other confections. In fact, it’s been featured on “Man Versus Food” and The Travel Channel.  You’ll be a believer, too, after you’ve tried their “Heart-Stopping BLT” absolutely loaded with bacon. WARNING: probably NOT for those on cholesterol meds!

Save room for the malts (by splitting a sandwich!), and, if you’re really brave like the Man (see the St. Louis episode here), take the famous challenge that’s been around since they opened their doors: Anyone who can drink five malts in a half-hour (120 ounces) gets them FREE!!! Just so you know, HE LOST and didn’t feel so good afterwards…:(

And don’t try to go after church on Sunday. They’re CLOSED.

3. Lion’s Choice

Just now, after 50 years in ONLY St. Louis (please, please come to Indiana!!), Lion’s Choice has ventured into the Kansas City market (my hometown). If you want a REAL roast beef sandwich from a fast-food restaurant, look no further EVER!

Cooked to medium perfection, sliced thin, expertly seasoned, placed on a buttered and toasted bun and served with a side of au jus, you’ll pity the fool who ever eats anything else. Don’t forget to grab a mini-cone on your way out the door if you are not completely stuffed!

4. St. Louis-style Ribs

St. Louis style ribs

A BBQ staple in the Gateway city, St. Louis-style ribs are pork ribs with a dry rub topped with sauce after smoking. Grab lots of napkins when you try your hand at putting down a slab at Pappy’s Smokehouse, Salt + Smoke, Bogart’s Smokehouse or Sugarfire Smokehouse.

5. Ted Drewes

No trip to St. Louis would be complete without a stop at Ted Drewes at its location on Chippewa Street, which is part of historic Route 66. Known for their frozen custard, Ted Drewes is a classic staple firmly established here since 1930 that takes its basic vanilla custard and adds in all sorts of things to satisfy your palette. Home of the original rich and thick “concrete,” you can turn the cup upside down and not a single drop will escape. 

Once you’ve had your fill of food, it’s time to explore more of what St. Louis has to offer. Let’s turn our attention to some Show Me state historical sites.

Historic Stuff

6. Forest Park

Looking up from the Grand Basin in Forest Park toward Art Hill

Opened in 1876 and more than 1,300 acres, Forest Park was home to the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exhibition (better known as the World’s Fair) and 1904 Summer Olympics. Currently, it houses five major cultural institutions and a lot of other things as well.

Spend your time outside by renting a bike or paddle boat, canoe, kayak or stand-up paddle board by the hour at Big Muddy Adventures to navigate its 22 acres of waterways followed by a picnic lunch on Art Hill. I also recommend seeing the fountains at the Grand Basin at night and then enjoying dinner at The Boathouse restaurant.

7. Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis

This basilica was built in 1914 with other parts completed at later dates, including many beautiful mosaics that are part of this house of worship. The church holds Mass here roughly nine times a week. Check out this video of the interior of the cathedral.

Guided tours are available during the week between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. by appointment only. Contact the tour office at 314-373-8241 for reservations. You can also take a tour most Sundays following noon Mass with no appointment needed. Self-guided tours are available whenever the church is open and not reserved for an event. 

8. Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site 

Part of the National Park Service, this site is free to enter and park. Ulysses S. Grant is known as the victorious Civil War general who saved the Union, and he was also the 18th President of the United States.

Enjoy the museum, an orientation movie and finish your visit with a guided tour of the Main House, White Haven, to learn more about Grant and his wife who lived there from 1854-1859.

9. Missouri History Museum

Missouri History Museum

One of the cultural institutions located in Forest Park, Missouri History Museum focuses on local and regional history with continuing exhibits about the 1904 World’s Fair and the founding of St. Louis, called Seeking St. Louis, as well as with changing exhibits. 

With free admission and even a free audio tour, there’s no reason not to pop in for an hour or two. The museum is open most days from 10-4 and until 8 on Thursdays.

10. Soldiers Memorial Military Museum

Soldiers Memorial Park St. Louis

Honoring local military service members, veterans and their families, the state-of-the-art Soldiers Memorial Military Museum offers long-term continuing exhibits as well as short-term special exhibits.

Located downtown with parks surrounding it on all sides, this museum is open every day from 10- 5. It’s free to visit, but you’ll have to pay to park at a meter or in a nearby garage.

11. Jefferson Barracks Park and Museums

Speaking of military, take a drive to Jefferson Barracks park and museums, a U.S. Army post named for Thomas Jefferson, established in 1826. It was the first “Infantry School of Practice,” serving as a major military installation until its deactivation in June 1946. 

There are many museums on the grounds, including a telephone museum, the post exchange, POW-MIA museum and the 1905 gymnasium building that currently houses the Missouri Civil War Museum.

Maybe you’ll get as lucky as my friend who found some genuine cannonballs from the Civil war down by the river while you tromp around the grounds!

Family-Friendly Fun

Got kids in tow on your trip? Here are some more things to do with kids in St. Louis.

12. The City Museum

Yep, there’s a bus hanging off the roof of the City Museum!

Wow, the City Museum sure looks like loads of fun! It wasn’t around when we lived there and my littles are all grown, but my grandkids are getting to the right age, so I might have a legitimate reason to go after all!

Formerly a shoe company warehouse, an artistic couple purchased the building and started renovations, not revealing their plans to anyone, with secret construction lasting for years before the grand opening.

It’s been evolving ever since and is an eclectic mixture of children’s playground, fun house, surrealistic pavilion and architectural marvel made out of unique objects with more than 30 slides and caves. Watch their drone fly-through the museum here

Tickets start at $20 with season passes also available. Be prepared to pay to park, since it’s located downtown. Their hours vary so be sure to check their calendar before you go.

13. The Gateway Arch

You’ve been waiting for me to say it, I just know…

Every first-time tourist to St. Louis should make their way to the Gateway Arch. With a long history, it is now a National Park, which includes a free museum, exploring 200 years of America’s history; a tram ride to the top of the Arch; the Old Courthouse and beautiful grounds with many walking trails all the way down to the mighty M-I-SS-I-SS-I-PP-I.

You can buy tickets for the tram ride to the top, as well as the documentary movie and riverboat cruise at the box office. Spring for whatever combination floats your steamboat! Further questions? Check out the FAQs.

14. Six Flags St. Louis

Six Flags St. Louis (formerly Six Flags Over Mid-America) is located a short drive outside St. Louis proper. With more than 50 rides, including those in the water park, you’ll be hard pressed to ride them all in one day.

The fix? They sell season passes for less than the cost of what you’d pay for two single-day tickets, which you can buy them online. The amusement park also hosts special event days during the holidays like Fright Fest and Holiday in the Park.

15. St. Louis Union Station

St. Louis Union Station
Credit Christine Kohler

The former railway station welcomed its first train in 1894 and saw its last train in 1978. Since then, St. Louis Union Station has been reinvented many times. When we lived there, it had been newly transformed into a hip shopping and restaurant venue which, sadly, is no more. 

You can still enter the Grand Hall and be wowed by its 65-foot barrel vaulted ceiling and Tiffany glass. This area now has a lounge bar run by Hilton Hotels where you can attend the 3D show nightly on the hour from 5-10. Outside on the lake, take in the multi-million dollar Fire and Light show at one of the seven times it runs each day.  

The original hotel of 75 rooms that adjoins the Grand Hall has now grown to house more than 500 rooms and keeps you right in the middle of the action in downtown St. Louis.

On the grounds, you’ll find an enclosed Ferris wheel dubbed the St. Louis Wheel, the Rope Course, Mini Golf, a Carousel, Mirror Maze and the 120,000 square-foot, 1.2 million gallon, six gallery St. Louis Aquarium.

Shopping

My how times have changed since we left St. Louis where shopping is concerned! The mall where I used to work has since been demolished and the Chesterfield Mall, which at one time was home to 150 stores, now houses things like pickleball courts. What?

Strip malls you will find in abundance everywhere, but if you want to shop many stores and park your car only once, head for one of the following:

16. Plaza Frontenac

Plaza Frontenac is the place to go for high-end shopping in St. Louis. With stores like Louis Vuitton, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and the like, it’s one of the few indoor malls left. I remember shopping here with my husband’s aunt, and, while she used the dressing rooms in Saks, they brought us tea and cookies! 

17. St. Louis Galleria

With a directory of more than 165 stores, St.Louis Galleria is the largest indoor mall in town. Within its doors, find stores, restaurants, a movie theater and even a comedy club, but don’t plan on dropping your teens off here unaccompanied after 2 p.m. on the weekends. There’s a strict age limit in place to keep the mall inviting for all, which you’ll appreciate.

18. Outlet Malls

Two outlet malls are St. Louis Premium Outlets, which boasts some 75 stores, and its nearby rival Chesterfield Commons, which has around 50 stores. Lucky for you if you like that type of shopping, because they are located within only 10 minutes of each other!

19. St. Charles

A historic gem founded in the late 1700s, nearby St. Charles is home to lots of shopping, restaurants and events. Walk cobblestone streets and peruse shops in historic buildings while you hunt for that one-of-a-kind treasure.

For Animal Lovers

20. Grant’s Farm

Grant's Farm - things to do in St. Louis

Across the street from the Ulysses S. Grant site is Grant’s Farm, so named because he, at one time, worked part of the land. It’s actually the ancestral home to the Busch family of beer fame.

Entrance to Grant’s Farm is free, but you’ll have to pay for parking and whatever extras you decide to do during your visit. You’ll find all kinds of fun things for kids like a tram ride, carousel, animal shows and a petting zoo.

Discover what it takes to become a Budweiser Clydesdale at the behind-the-scenes tour or go inside Grant’s cabin and then feed animals as part of the Animal Encounter.

Take a break during your visit with food and free samples of Anheuser Busch products (age 21 and older) at The Bauernhof (German for “farmstead”) built in 1913.

21. Purina Farms

Purina Farms is a little further from town but is totally free, including parking, unless there is a special event. Your kids can enjoy wagon rides, cow-milking demos, a petting zoo, the animal barn and hayloft play area, trainer talks and canine performances.

Check out the video from Purina Farms for more information on all they have to offer.

22. Missouri Botanical Garden Butterfly House

To get your fill of butterflies, check out The Butterfly House at the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Faust Park. This 8,000-square-foot Conservatory Garden is surrounded with glass to assure a safe, natural habitat for butterflies. It also hosts educational programs and special events.

On the grounds at Faust you will also find a historic village, picnic areas and a carousel as well as a program called “Farmsteading at Thornhill” where your child can try their hand at the physical chores expected of a 19th century child. What parent wouldn’t love that?! Maybe they’ll never complain about putting clothes in the laundry hamper again…:)

23. St. Louis Zoo

St. Louis Zoo

The St. Louis Zoo in Forest Park is home to more than 17,000 animals. You’ll find six “Zoo Zones” with a wide variety of species, including lions, tigers and bears, oh my! There are also penguins, stingrays, kangaroos, gorillas, elephants, monkeys, hippos, pandas, cheetahs, rhinos and more. 

Entrance is to the zoo is free but there are at least 7 activities that will cost you extra. If you can find on-street parking, that is also free. Otherwise, expect to pay $15 to park in the lot.

St. Louis Zoo - things to do in St. Louis

While there, catch a sea lion show, watch the zookeepers feed the penguins or even feed a stingray during your visit!

Feed Your Brain

Want to learn a thing or two during your visit to St. Louis? Here are some attractions that will make you smarter :).

24. St. Louis Science Center

Also a part of Forest Park, the St. Louis Science Center has more than 15 exhibits and attractions. Learn about the moon, ecology, energy and structures; experience a flight simulator; virtual reality and more. Explore the red planet in Mission:Mars or dig into GROW and learn about agriculture.

While general admission is free, there are ticketed special attractions. Parking is also free if you park at the adjoining Planetarium. You know kids will love walking across the bridge towering over the highway from the parking garage, so you might as well take advantage of it!

25. McDonnell Planetarium

“Looking Up” outside the McDonnell Planetarium

Since you have to park there and cross the bridge, enjoy the McDonnell Planetarium as part of your visit to Forest Park.

Your gateway to the stars, the world’s best star projector, known as the Zeiss Universarium, simulates a brilliant night sky projected on a 24-meter dome. Without air pollution or any other deterrents, the sky is absolutely clear and staff can demonstrate meteor showers and eclipses, as well.

Make your way to the Space Station area where you’ll find two levels, which depict life on the International Space Station. How fun for your budding astronaut!

If that wasn’t enough, the StarBridge exhibit focuses on all the essential operations needed for life in space, check out the 33-foot sculpture outside called “Looking Up” and see an F/A Hornet 18B plane on the grounds.

26. St. Louis Art Museum

Yet another attraction in Forest Park, the St. Louis Art Museum‘s collection holds original artwork from many renowned artists, such as Mary Cassatt and Vincent van Gogh. There are 34,000 to be exact, though only approximately 2,700 items are on display at one time. 

Set aside a whole afternoon to peruse its treasures in this absolutely FREE museum, including a free coat check room. While there, feel free to take photographs of your favorite pieces as long as you don’t use a flash.

You’ll be at the top of Art Hill when you exit the museum, looking down at the Emerson Grand Basin, the central panorama for the 1904 World’s Fair, complete with waterways, bridges, fountains and a paved walking trail. 

27. The Magic House

Just a short drive away in Kirkwood is The Magic Housea museum my kids loved to explore that has grown exponentially since we used to visit. It features hundreds of interactive displays that will keep your kids busy for hours all while promoting creativity, collaboration and critical thinking.

The folks at the Magic House have gone to great lengths to ensure that your child will have an absolute ball while learning about art, math, electricity, nature, water, steam, music, bubbles, construction and more. Who knew LEARNING could be so much fun?

28. Budweiser Brewery Experience

Learning for the adults can be just as fun at the Budweiser Brewery Experience, formerly known as the Anheuser Busch Brewery Tour. Here’s a video peek of what you’ll experience.

Built in 1852, this locale, which became one of the largest and oldest breweries in the U.S., will not only teach you about making beer but steep you in its rich architecture, as well with three buildings registered as National Historic Landmarks all at the fair price of FREE!

Observe the entire seven-step brewing process and see the world-famous Budweiser Clydesdales at the historic stables built in 1885 on this 45-minute tour. And learning wouldn’t be complete without sampling the wares of this fine establishment, now that you’re an expert, with both a sample and a free drink! For an upcharge, you can also choose from one of several tours.

On location, you’ll also find the Biergarten during the warmer seasons where you can grab dinner and another brew. If your visit is around the holidays, the view at night is spectacular.

Get Artsy

With more than 30 venues for theater in St. Louis, I’ll take just a moment to highlight a couple I’ve been to over the years.

29. The Muny

Back in Forest Park once again, get yourself a seat at The Muny, touted as America’s largest and oldest outdoor musical theater. With hits like “Guys and Dolls,” “Around the World in 80 Days,” “Footloose” and more performed almost every weekend during the summer, you’ll be singing along in no time!

They also offer 1,450 FREE (yes, you read that correctly) seats for EVERY performance!! Get there early to nab one for yourself and a friend in the last nine rows of the theater, but be sure to bring your binoculars. 🙂

30. The Fabulous Fox Theatre

When my husband and I were dating, the very first Broadway show I ever saw was at The Fabulous Fox. Starring Yul Brenner in the “King and I” with practically front-row seats, I fell in love with musical theater from that day forward!

This St. Louis venue opened its doors in 1929, shuttered in 1978 and made its debut once again in 1982. Going strong today with tons of concerts and smash Broadway musicals, let’s hope it never closes again.

Get Sporty

31. Busch Stadium

What’s as American as apple pie and can be found downtown at Busch Stadium? Why, baseball of course! Home to the Cardinals, winners of 11 World Series, baseball has been a staple in St. Louis since 1882. 

When we lived there, my in-laws had season tickets, so we got to go to lots of games. I’m not a sports fan, but going to the stadium, grabbing an order of ball park nachos and people-watching was fun for me. Whether or not you’re a Cardinals fan, experiencing an MLB game in this state-of-the-art stadium is a fun way to spend an evening while in town. 

32. Cardinals Nation

Before the game, why not head over to Cardinals Nation, a truly unique venue right across the street? Here you’ll find the Hall of Fame and Museum, a restaurant and bar, memorabilia shop and rooftop section.

Consider the rooftop section with its 338 seats, providing a “bird’s eye” (would that bird be a Cardinal perhaps ;-)?) view of the game, buffet and admission to the museum for one all-inclusive price.

And, last, but certainly not least…

33. Enterprise Center to See the St. Louis Blues

It had been a long time coming, more than 50 years in fact, but the St. Louis Blues hockey team finally won the highly coveted Stanley Cup, and St. Louis loves its hockey team :).

If you want to check out the Blues while in town, head to Enterprise Center downtown. Their Stanley Cup win put this team on everyone’s radar in upcoming years, so if you’re planning on being in town during the season, be sure to get your tickets early. 

Conclusion

With so many fun, and a lot of FREE, things to do in St. Louis, I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface. When will you plan your trip to this Midwest gem?

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Author

  • Cami Sauder

    Cami Sauder, a member of the Families Travel Free team, is a longtime traveler who aims to be away from home at least 1/3 of the year. She's mastered the art of using miles and points to save on flights and hotels and saved more than $16,000 on travel using points in the last year. She and her husband have a goal to see as many National Parks as possible.

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