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10 things to do for next to nothing
One of the finest zoos in the country, the Saint Louis is free. Located in Forest Park, it is easy to find. Pack your own lunch, and find free ample parking right outside the gates...if you're willing to walk just a bit. Low-cost attractions within the zoo include a ride on the train, a visit to the Children's Zoo, or seeing a sea lion or elephant show.
"Dedicated to art and free to all" is the Saint Louis Art Museum mission statement. The building and its impressive collection lie just north of the Zoo in Forest Park, atop Art Hill which is a famous sled run in the winter. From the museum steps you can also overlook the new Grand Basin lake, then take a photo with the Saint Louis statue (yes, the city was actually named for someone). Ample free parking is available. Make it a full day by visiting the Zoo in the morning, then cooling off in the afternoon with a visit to the Museum.
Staying within Forest Park, make your way to the largest open-air theater in the country...The Muny Opera. Approximately 1,500 free seats are available for every performance on a first come, first served basis. The free-seat entrance is at the top of the theater seating area. Gates open at 7:00 pm each evening, but plan on arriving early with your picnic dinner.
Flower lovers will delight in the Art Deco greenhouse, also located in Forest Park. On the National Historic Register, the Jewel Box houses both permanent and seasonal flora displays. Even though recently renovated, it's still a bargain...$1 admission (free 9 a.m.-noon on Monday and Tuesday).
Rent a rowboat or paddleboat for $15/hour at the Post-Disptach Lake in Forest Park. The Boathouse, just east of the Zoo, is a favorite among generations of St. Louisans. Boats will accommodate four adults and one child, and come with lifejackets. Open til sunset.
The Saint Louis Science Center, located to the southeast of the Jewel Box Greenhouse in Forest Park, is guaranteed to be a hit with the kids. General admission is free but there are exhibits and special "sessions" which require a few of the family dollars. For example, the Science Center has an IMAX theater, a "Discovery Room" providing hands-on experiences for young children, and "The Space Show" in the Center's Planetarium. Free parking is available, but you need to be willing to walk a bit.
The Central West End is a funky and upscale neighborhood of St. Louis, just northeast of Forest Park. Tree-lined streets of boutiques, galleries, homes and restaurants make it the perfect window-browsing stroll. Splurge for a drink at one of the outdoor cafes, and spend an hour just people watching.
Another charming area of Saint Louis is northwest of Forest Park and Washington University. University City is an eclectic neighborhood chock-full of restaurants, art-house movie theaters, galleries and boutiques. Take a stroll through this National Historic Register area to look at the stars on the Saint Louis Walk of Fame. At night, be sure to hear some live music in -- or outside -- one of the many clubs, or pick up some cheap tunes to take home at Vintage Vinyl...a college crowd staple.
As you head east from Forest Park and its attractions toward the Gateway Arch, don't miss the renovated Soulard district, home to numerous restaurants, clubs and the The Soulard Farmers Market. The market is open all year Wednesday-Friday 8:00-5:30 and Saturdays 6:00-5:30, but Saturdays are a special treat. It's easy to spend an entire morning wandering the long corridors crammed with produce, meats and flowers and scented with exotic spices while dining on a fresh pumpernickel bagel.
Once you've worked up a lunchtime appetite, head to 2100 Gravois Avenue in Soulard for Hodak's fried chicken. I've been eating here since I was a little girl, and the food never disappoints. I know of no other hometown charmer where you can still get a four-piece fried chicken dinner with fries and cole slaw for around $6.00 and chat up the local cop sitting next to you.
Go see the new Busch Stadium and the baseball Cardinals, just west of the Gateway Arch and north of the Soulard district. Every gameday in 2006, the first 125 people to visit the ticket window near Gate 3 on Eighth Street (opens 9:00 a.m.) can get a voucher to purchase two tickets for that day's game at just $5.50 each! Redeem your voucher 10 minutes before the game at Gate 4. Though tickets may be anywhere in the stadium, you can't beat the price. And seeing a Cardinal game is a perfect way to end your visit to Saint Louis.