Believe it or not, the must-do St. Louis list includes a fair number of free attractions, the happy residue of a civic ethos that enjoys making cultural and educational opportunities available even to its least privileged citizens. Mind you, these are world-class institutions that are no less wonderful for being free and include the Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis Zoo, Saint Louis Science Center and Missouri History Museum, all denizens of our spectacular urban greenspace, Forest Park. But there's more—let the adventure begin.
A construction project is under way to better connect the 630-foot-high Arch with the rest of downtown St. Louis, but it's still open for business. All Arch visits, however, must begin at the nearby Old Courthouse.
A recent expansion project gave the museum a glorious new set of galleries for contemporary art and special exhibits, and allowed it to reimagine every other exhibition space. My current favorite work of art here is Adolphe Yvon's mid-19th century allegorical painting "Genius of America."
There is a definite disconnect between the pedestrian blandness of the name and the relentless, imaginative outlandishness of the place. You've never seen anything like it, and you will tell your friends they have to go there.
This exquisite public garden began as the private estate of Henry Shaw, which is why you'll hear some St. Louisans refer to it as "Shaw's Garden." Beautiful any time of year.
The zoo's walk-through Flight Cage, now housing waterfowl in an exhibit that gets you amazingly close to these beautiful birds, is one of very few surviving structures from the 1904 World's Fair. Plenty of indoor exhibits.
The sprawling complex, which appeals to every age level and scientific interest, actually straddles I-64, and you can clock highway traffic with radar guns. Psst...if you park by the Planetarium in Forest Park, parking is free.
Operated by the Missouri Historical Society, the museum is a great place to begin your St. Louis visit, offering a nice historic overview of the city and the region, including a terrific exhibit on the 1904 World's Fair.
If you plan to visit the Gateway Arch, you'll have to come here first, at least during the current construction project designed to better connect the Arch with the rest of downtown, but the Old Courthouse is a marvelous museum in its own right, the site of some momentous court cases.
This Catholic church welcomes visitors of all faiths to gaze in amazement at its remarkable collection of mosaics that decorates one of the world's great interior spaces. Words cannot do it justice.
Microbreweries, decimated by Prohibition, are coming back big time, but the beer behemoth, Anheuser-Busch, still rules here in St. Louis, where the brewery tours are hugely popular for visitors and residents alike. You can get a free tour, but I highly recommend the $25 Beermaster Tour.
The Cardinals are far and away St. Louis' favorite sports team, and let's face it, what's not to like? Beautiful stadium, perennially contending team, 11 World Series championships, uber-friendly fans. If you're here in the offseason, check out the Cardinals Hall of Fame in Ballpark Village.