When kids are home for summer vacation, the cost of summertime fun can add up quickly. Fortunately for parents, St. Louis is an amazing city with much to offer – and more free events and activities than you probably realize. If you want to enjoy some extra time with your family without spending a small fortune, consider the following budget-friendly options:
1. The Saint Louis Zoo. It’s easy to take this one for granted, but keep in mind that St. Louis is one of the few U.S. cities to be home to a free world-class zoo. The Zoo even waives admission to the Children’s Zoo and the Conservation Carousel during the first hour of operation (between 8 and 9 a.m. during the summer months). Take advantage of free street parking in Forest Park to save even more on your visit.
2. The Saint Louis Science Center. While certain attractions – like special exhibits and OMNIMAX films – cost extra, general admission to the Saint Louis Science Center is always free, and there’s plenty to do without ever spending a dime. If you park in the lot by the Planetarium, parking is free as well.
3. Free Family Nights at the Magic House. The Magic House typically charges an admission fee, but did you know that there are times when they don’t? Take advantage of Emerson Free Family nights every third Friday of the month from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Your whole family can explore over 100 hands-on exhibits at this always popular Museum – at no cost!
4. Saturday mornings at The Children’s Garden. St. Louis City and County residents receive free admission to the Missouri Botanical Gardens on Wednesday and Saturday mornings before noon, and on Saturday mornings, Children’s Garden admission is free too. Kids of all ages love to run, climb, play and explore on this giant outdoor playground.
5. Tuesday mornings at The Butterfly House. St. Louis City and County residents also enjoy free admission to The Butterfly House on Tuesday mornings from 9 to 11 a.m. Stroll through the Tropical Conservatory and observe some amazing plants and insects, then stay and play on the Faust Park playground.
6. Muckerman Fountain at Tower Grove Park. Skip the expensive pool passes and cool off at one of our area’s many (free) spraygrounds instead. With a wading pool, large fountain, pop jets and plenty of trees for shade, Muckerman Fountain in historic Tower Grove Park is one of the neatest spraygrounds you can find. The fenced-in and gated spray features at Millennium Park in Creve Coeur are also a free favorite for many local families.
7. Amazing Animal Encounters at the World Bird Sanctuary. Join naturalists at the World Bird Sanctuary to learn about snakes, parrots, birds and mammals on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the summer. Both admission and parking for Amazing Animal Encounters are free.
8. Free Story Times. Take your preschoolers to a free, 45-minute themed story telling event at the Missouri History Museum on select mornings throughout the summer. Storytelling at the Museum themes include: Sweet Treats, The Great Outdoors, Eat Your Vegetables and more. For more free story time events, check out Tuesday Tails at the Animal Protective Association, or your local library branch.
9. 2nd Thursdays at the Foundry Art Centre. This family-friendly community arts series at the Foundry Art Centre near Historic Main Street in St. Charles is one-of-a-kind – and it’s free. Visit on the second Thursday evening of every month from 5:30 to 8 p.m. to enjoy art activities and get creative together as a family.
10. Powder Valley Nature Center. From You and Me Under the Canopy to Reptiles Rock, Powder Valley Nature Center offers a wide variety of fun and educational programs designed to engage kids with the natural world. While you’re there, be sure to hike the paved trails, which are perfect for little legs that tire easily. And if you have older kids with more stamina, summer is the perfect time to hike a St. Louis County Hiking Trail.
11. Citygarden. This urban oasis in downtown St. Louis is home to the free Citygarden Summer Concert Series, as well as pools and water features that open daily at 10 a.m. If your kids love bubbles (and what kid doesn’t) don’t miss the special visits from the Bubble Bus on select summer days.
12. Movies under the stars. The Chesterfield Amphitheater and Movie Mondays in Ballpark Village both feature family-friendly favorites, while the more eclectic Art Hill Film Series ranges from The Sound of Music to Clueless to Jaws. Or you can even show outdoor movies in your own backyard.
13. Area playgrounds. Unstructured outdoor playtime is essential for kids of all ages, so don’t underestimate the value of a simple summer trip to the playground. Visit the Play St. Louis blog for pictures and reviews of playgrounds throughout Missouri and Illinois.
14. Free seats at The Muny. Approximately 1500 free seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis for every show that runs at The Muny during the summer season.
15. Summer Reading Clubs. Don’t forget that area kids can join summer reading clubs and earn prizes (which include free tickets to area attractions) through the St. Louis County, St. Louis City and St. Charles County library systems.
16. Family Summer Film Series. The Family Summer Series isn’t free, but at $1 a ticket, it is cheap. See family favorites like Annie and Penguins of Madagascar on Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10 a.m. at select Wehrenberg theaters throughout St. Louis.
17. Happiness is in your own backyard. Sometimes, the greatest summer fun can be found in your own backyard. After all, a bottle of bubbles, a few balls, a garden hose and a glass of lemonade are all you really need to have a fun, relaxing and inexpensive summer day.
Photo of the Children's Garden courtesy of the Missouri Botanical Garden. The Children's Garden is free for city and county residents on Saturday mornings.
Alyssa Chirco is a freelance writer, mother and margarita lover, not necessarily in that order. In addition to writing for STL Parent, she is Contributing Editor at Parenting Squad, and covers parenting, health and lifestyle topics for publications across the country. She recently moved from the suburbs of St. Louis to a small town in rural Jefferson County, where she is learning to survive with no Target or Starbucks in sight. Follow her on Twitter @AlyssaChirco
Enjoy the beautiful sights at the Missouri Botanical Garden at this autism-friendly family night. Your whole family can explore, discover and experience hands-on activities, including fun in the Children's Garden, in a secure environment.
Engage your young scientist in science-related learning at the Saint Louis Science Center's Preschool Science Series. Through interactive stories and hands-on exploration, children learn about science, as well as language, problem-solving and social skills.