At 1,300 acres, St. Louis’ Forest Park eclipses the size of New York’s Central Park, and it’s just as culturally significant. Five of the city’s major institutions make their home here, and the park is a hotbed of physical activity, thanks to hiking and biking paths, tennis courts, golf courses, waterways and playgrounds.
Start your park exploration with a stop at the Visitors Center (maps, cafe, free WiFi, access to the Forest Park Trolley) near the Missouri History Museum on the north side. Speaking of history, in 1904, the World’s Fair occupied Forest Park for seven months. A few of its magnificent structures still remain. You’ll spot them as you enjoy Forest Park’s splendid attractions.
The Missouri History Museum, replete with exhibits on St. Louis and regional history, including the World’s Fair, is the perfect place to begin your visit. Kids love the hands-on History Clubhouse, which received an Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History. Be sure to check out the museum shop.
The city’s premier cultural institution, the Saint Louis Art Museum, housed in a surviving World’s Fair structure designed by Cass Gilbert, commands a sweeping view of the park atop Art Hill. The museum exhibits work from nearly every culture and epoch, with extensive holdings in pre-Columbian, German and early American art. On view through June 9: the first comprehensive survey of the work of British sculptor Rachel Whiteread. The museum maintains an ongoing schedule of lectures, tours, gallery talks, family activities and other events. The museum’s Panorama restaurant offers fine dining with a view.
A wildly popular summertime tradition returns to Forest Park when Shakespeare Festival St. Louis presents “Love’s Labors Lost” in Shakespeare Glen, just east of the Saint Louis Art Museum, through June 23. Kids are welcome and you’re allowed to bring food to the free performances, which feature a pre-show condensed version for Shakespeare novices.
Visitors are often surprised and delighted to learn that admission to the acclaimed Saint Louis Zoo and other attractions in Forest Park is free. The 90-acre zoo was chosen as the Best Zoo in the nation by USA Today’s 10 Best Readers’ Choice, and rewards visitors with more than 600 species of animals, 16,000 in all, many of them rare or endangered. The Flight Cage at the zoo, home to aquatic fowl, is housed in another remaining World’s Fair structure. Top attractions here include the River’s Edge, Grizzly Ridge, Fragile Forest, Children’s Zoo, Stingrays at Caribbean Cove and Sea Lion Sound. Do take a spin on the Zooline Railroad, too.
Starting on June 10, The Muny, Forest Park’s grand, 11,500-seat outdoor musical theater, presents its 101st summer season of Broadway hits under the stars, showcasing “Guys and Dolls,” “Kinky Boots,” “1776,” “Cinderella,” “Footloose,” “Paint Your Wagon” and “Matilda.” The last rows of seats are free; first come, first served.
The Saint Louis Science Center’s 700-plus free exhibits on ecology, the environment, flight, energy, life sciences and more are enhanced by ticketed experiences: giant-screen Omnimax Theatre, Planetarium shows, Discovery Room and special exhibits. Plan to spend half a day.
Up for a two- to three-hour bike ride? How about a 10-mile, 18-stop, information-packed rolling tour of the park with City Cycling Tours. Bikes and helmets are provided.
If being on the water is more your style, you can cruise via paddle boat, canoe, kayak or stand-up paddle board from the Forest Park Boathouse to the Grand Basin at the foot of Art Hill, keeping an eye out for egrets and kingfishers along the way. Before or after the voyage, grab a bite at the Boathouse Restaurant operated by the good folks at Sugarfire Smoke House.