In the heart of St. Louis, you will find a park that brings the community together via a variety of cultural and historical venues. It's called Forest Park. Over 100 years ago, it actually brought the world together, as the 1904 World's Fair was held in this close to 1,300 acre plot of land which witnessed some 20 million visits. A century later, and without a World's Fair, Forest Park still attracts 12 million-plus visits per year. I would like to focus on three must-visit venues in Forest Park that will keep travelers more than occupied for a day or two.
Lead off by Heading to the St. Louis Zoo
The St. Louis Zoo is a year round destination for exploration, and the vast majority of it is free! The Zoo was recently voted the number one zoo/animal park in the United States by a Zagat/Parenting Magazine Survey for a U.S.A. family travel guide. This is one those places where a whole day can be spent quite easily. The 90-acre zoo is made up of five major animal areas to explore the thousands upon thousands most fascinating creatures.
Take some time after you arrive to visit two introductory exhibit areas via the northern entrance of the zoo, where you can get a ton of information regarding the goings on of the place. The first is called "Introduction to Animals". I found the Upside Down Jellyfish to be the most interesting creature in this section. Across the foyer of this area is another area called Introduction to Ecology, where an Ozark stream has been replicated. Other ecological issues are also showcased using lively creatures.
Concerning the main sections of the St. Louis Zoo, one of the most visited areas is the section called The Wild. This area houses Penguin and Puffin Coast. Here, you can see many Humboldt Penguins cooling off outside, and some will even pose for cameras in this ruggedly coastal setting. Part of this complex contains a cool habitat (around 45 degrees Fahrenheit) for the King penguins and puffins, which are known as "sea parrots". It is especially refreshing for humans, too, when it's over 95 degrees outside! Expect to wait several minutes to get in because this is one of the most popular exhibits, especially when it's hot and muggy. Nearby, the Bear Pits reside, where polar bears and grizzlies can be studied at a safe distance, particularly during feeding time!
Discovery Corner includes a very populated Insectarium, full of nature's smaller creatures, including many species of beetles, centipedes, and spiders. The Children's Zoo is also housed here. A small admission price is required for this after the first hour of the zoo's operation, but is well worth it. Kids and adults alike can view a Matschie Tree Kangaroo of Papua New Guinea. It's hands on here as visitors can pet some goats and feel the skin of snakes. And if your children complain about being hot, several water geysers are onsite for them to run through. These are just a few of the activities that will keep the kids occupied and content.
River's Edge houses some of the bigger animals, including elephants, hippos and rhinos. I got the impression I was in Africa as I walked around the open-air exhibits, which featured waterfalls and savannah-like grounds. This is another popular area of the zoo, so expect to be surrounded by crowds as they anticipate seeing hyenas or cheetahs. The Mississippi River exhibit is quite interesting as its lively recreated habitat showcases different kinds of catfish, paddlefish, and shads, to name just a few of the fish that are behind the aquarium-like atmosphere.
Historic Hill is a place that I will long remember. A building called Primate House is located in this section. It will entertain children for sure, as all kinds of monkeys, lemurs, and apes are on display, acting ever so unpredictable and even brattier than some of the human kids! Historic Hill's grounds also contain refuge for sea lions as well as a bird garden. Alligators and other reptiles are found in the Herpetarium section. I saw three very large Aldabra Tortoises of the Indian Ocean. They were about a third of the size of a Volkswagen Beetle!
Those wanting to see more of Africa's wildlife need to venture over to Red Rocks. Species of antelope, camels, lions, and tigers reside here. Did you know that lions may roll around in elephant manure to disguise their scent so they can more easily sneak up on some unfortunate victim? It's a good thing they are separated from the elephants!
The only really disappointing thing about the zoo was the ten-minute three dimensional film called Dino Island II: Escape from Dino Island, shown in the zoo's north entrance area. It costs $4.00, and it's really short on eye-catching three-dimensional animation for the ten minutes that it runs.
An onsite cafeteria is available for satisfying one's hunger and thirst pangs. A good selection of sandwiches and wraps are available as well as hamburgers and chicken strips (which were large and quite tasty). The pineapple, grape and melon bits in my fruit cup were fresh and excellent.
Saint Louis Zoo
One Government Dr 314-781-0900 or 800-966-8877
Free admission to most venues.
The Saint Louis Art Museum: Gathering Spot for Art Extraordinaire!
Housed in the only remaining building from the 1904 World's Fair, this museum is really loaded with all kinds of art and artifacts. It includes an extensive collection of Islamic art, ancient Chinese bronzes, Oceanic art, and American art from the late 1800's to the modern stuff. Three family guides are available to the public for free who help orientate visitors to the museum's fine collection of African art, Egyptian mummies, and arms/armor. This St. Louis mecca of culture brings in new exhibits on a regular basis like an array of recent landscape photography and a Shiko Munakata exhibit that showcases the artist's prints, which are made of woodblock. Munakata's ink drawings are on display, too. Some of these creations are around half a century old.
This museum has rooms from the late 1700's to the early 1800's, furnished with the appropriate time period pieces, including a circa 1780 room from a home in Alexandria, Virginia. This particular room displayed a pole screen, which was used to shield the face from a brightly-lit fireplace in use. As I walked through, I felt as if I was in a time machine during the early years of our country. I enjoyed looking at the 30-piece Tiffany collection that included some really sharp looking glass objects. Two of my favorite paintings on display were American Impressionist Paul Cornoyer's, The Plaza After Rain, and American Impressionist Willard Leroy Metcalf's, Old Homestead Connecticut.
A really big exhibition is scheduled to be at the venue in mid-October 2006 through early January of next year. It's called New Ireland: Art of the South Pacific, and it will feature an array of masks and sculpture from this Papua New Guinea province. It has been traveling around Europe, and many people are eagerly awaiting this exhibit to come to St. Louis.
St. Louis Art Museum
One Fine Arts Drive in Forest Park
Mostly free admission (including lectures), but various fees do apply to certain exhibitions as well as films. Check above website for more details. Think Fridays, as the museum stays open until 9:00 p.m. and offers more free admission to normally admission-priced attractions!
St. Louis History Comes Alive at the Missouri History Museum
Located at the north-central edge of Forest Park, this venue really goes into the history of St. Louis via two major galleries. The first one covers St. Louis from 1764-1904, and is called Currents. I learned that the city had to rely on volunteer firefighters until 1857 via the exhibit, which also showcased some fire hats from the various volunteer fire companies that helped to prevent the city from totally going up in flames. A display about the reasons for people coming to St. Louis during the 19th century to reinvent themselves is a very insightful one. In this gallery, an interactive exhibit for kids lets them frame and name (replica) antiquated pictures. One exhibit shows some of the various wares that were made in St. Louis from Pilsener Excelsior Beer to various guns, even coffee.
The second major gallery covers 1904-2000, and is called Reflections. Visitors see the history of the city come alive over the last century through the labor movements, St. Louis music, as well as the pursuit for equality by minority groups, including gays, the disabled, and women's suffrage. My favorite display was a post World War II kitchen that was virtually all pink. The history of St. Louis sports teams is given a decent amount of floor space, including that of the hockey Blues, the baseball Cardinals and the now-departed baseball Browns. The picture that caught my fancy was a nice B & W photo of the St. Louis Arena. An interactive exhibit dealing with the clearing of the St. Louis Riverfront to make way for the Gateway Arch will entertain as well as inform visitors.
One of the current exhibitions celebrates the 1904 World's Fair with artifacts that include ruby glass fair souvenirs and some Lakota Sioux clothing. The stories of those who were a part of this great extravaganza are chronicled here. This particular exhibition is free.
The museum, via the Missouri Historical Society, also offers a number of theatrical and musical performances throughout the year. Check the website below for details.
Missouri History Museum At Lindell and DeBaliviere in Forest Park
Free admission, except for certain exhibitions.
For a really great website on all that Forest Park has to offer, go to
And to make the most of your trip to St. Louis,
go to www.explorestlouis.com
If you haven't read Roy Barnes' first Bootsnall article on St. Louis, it can be found here.
Roy A. Barnes writes from the plains of southeastern Wyoming and has contributed numerous articles to BootsnAll.com. You can read his other travel-related works at Transitions Abroad, GoNOMAD.com, Horizon Magazine, Live Life Travel, and The American Australian Travel Magazine.