Close your eyes and for a single moment, let the rhythm of your favourite classical song wash over you. Mozart. Chopin. Bach. You pick (if you don’t have a favourite, I’d suggest Arrival of the Birds and Transformation by the Cinematic Orchestra – not classical in the traditional sense, but the flavour of the piece is right). Like every truly noteworthy (see what I did there? Alright, I’ll stop) song, it’ll have a soft lull and perhaps, even large dramatic drops – fluctuation masked in pattern.
Forest Park in St. Louis is that dreamy classical song amplified. Every other bit of St. Louis is the rest of the playlist – the top hits. Songs that don’t evoke negative emotions but rather are more familiar to our ears. Forest Park is the elegant haven, set in its own quiet reserve. When you enter, you forget you are in the city. You don’t see the tall buildings or old homes. Like in a classical song, free from lyrics, it’s just you and the melody, one-on-one. So come along with me and explore the instruments that comprise this tune in this complete guide to Forest Park.
St. Louis Zoo
Our first stop in this tour is the St. Louis Zoo, a unique 90-acre zoo with a special focus on conservation of endangered species. We enter through the South Entrance and are greeted by life-size sea lion statues embedded into a water feature.
We continue walking along the path to the right, hitting Historic Hill. As we drink in every exhibit in the oldest (and prettiest, in my opinion) part of the St. Louis Zoo, we are struck by the mildly Spanish-influenced architecture of the Bird House, Primate House, and Herpetarium (Reptiles and Amphibians) as well as the impeccable attention to detail inside.
We segue into the second plain (as the zoo is split into six characteristic regions intended to mimic real geographic areas): the Red Rocks. Here, we view a variety of typical Savannah animals stretching their legs and grazing idly, from zebras to antelopes. Big cats also roam in the “Big Cat Country”, just a little way from here.
We continue back to Historic Hill, entering a seasonal exhibition in Peabody Hill. Intense works of art that capture the raw energy and reserved beauty of the animals on canvas line the walls in this small but meaningful exhibition. As we scurry out of Peabody Hill, we find ourselves in The Wild, the best place to see all-too-active primates and creatures from the Arctic.
By now, we’ve been walking for quite awhile (we’ve almost covered half the zoo), so it is time for a snack. The best place for food is in the Lakeside Crossing at the Lakeside Cafe (I will admit, it is very overpriced, but I’d suggest just ordering a medium-ish popcorn bag for $4.00 and munching as we continue marching through.)
If you have young children, I can guarantee they will delight in the Discovery Center, but I’m, personally, a little more interested in visiting the River’s Edge, the last major section in our loop, The Elephants, here, are so cute, we’re hardly able to control are “oohs” and “awwws”! We glance at the clock and realise it’s time for the next stop. We say our goodbyes to Raja, a particularly energetic local sweetheart, and Priya, the youngest Asian Elephant at only a few years old, before heading back out.
Address: 1 Government Dr, St. Louis, MO 63110, 9AM – 5PM, General Admission: FREE
St. Louis Science Center
The St. Louis Science Center is a short drive from the zoo (or a really long walk if you are feeling particularly industrious, but roadside parking is free so I’m taking full advantage of it). The Science Center is a very hands-on museum that focuses on making stimulating educational exhibits for a primary and secondary school demographic. It’s nice if you have kids, but I’ll be honest, the real reason I’m taking you is a large hyperboloid shaped building – the planetarium. We look at a gorgeous, intense projection of the St. Louis night sky, free from pollution or any others hinderance to a clear visual, and marvel at the Texas-sky-level-pretty image.
Address: 5050 Oakland Ave, St. Louis, MO 63110, 9:30 AM – 4:30 PM; General Admission: FREE
The Jewel Box (how beautiful is that name?) is just a five minute drive from the Space Center. We enter armed with a DSLR camera or two and a few tripods. The unique architecture is a feast for the eyes. When we first see the cantilevered glass and interplay of colours waltzing in the front of the structure, we can’t help but squeal (that might just be me though). “Really, this is a greenhouse?” you mumble before charging inside, beckoned by fueled curiosity. Within the Jewel Box, lush green plants provide a steady border to box the interior. Palms tower above, reaching up past even the balcony landing. We climb up the flight of stairs to enjoy the view from the top and sigh at the elegance of the landscape. Wouldn’t this be the perfect wedding venue?
Address: 1 Wells and McKinley Drives, St. Louis, MO 63110, 9AM – 4PM, General Admission: $1 (FREE Weekday Mornings 9AM – 12PM)
A short fifteen minute walk from the Jewel Box is the Muny, a large, vibrant outdoor theater featuring live musical performances. We check the online schedule for the show dates and arrive early to the performance, right when the gates for the free seats open (7PM). Yes, the last nine rows of the Muny are free, so you can be enraptured by the riveting actors (though, I will admit, you can’t see them too well from up here) and the lively vocals.
Address: 1 Theatre Dr, St. Louis, MO 63112
Our last stop today is a marble, copper-capped bandstand. The deep green and white are reflected upon the clear lake. We sit down on a bench right outside and people watch for the rest of the afternoon. Joggers keep a steady pace as they curve around the loop. Dogs swagger off the path and leap through the grass. Small children clutch onto their parents. Suddenly, the true purpose of Forest Park becomes clear. It isn’t a tourist attraction. It was never meant to be. Forest Park is a place built for the locals to relax and enjoy their mornings and afternoons. The sights housed here are free for a reason – they are meant to be enjoyed repeatedly. Day after day, month after month, Forest Park is a local sanctuary from a hectic workday.
Missouri History Museum
I hope you took rest last night because we’re officially on the second day of our tour! Our first destination today is the Missouri History Museum, a mid-sized collection of artifacts and placards that detail Missouri’s (and in particular, St.Louis’) history. The exhibits do seem a little dry at first, but as we take the time to read through the detailed information, we find ourselves fascinated by the rich and interesting history of the city and are taken on a journey from the past to the present. As it nears lunch, we head over to Bixby’s for some tasteful American fare (it’s a little full, but luckily I made reservations for us a week in advance). We sit by the wide-paned window and take in the gorgeous scenery. Bixby features the best views of Forest Park, making this a must-see gastro-experience.
Address: 5700 Lindell Blvd, St. Louis, MO 63112, 10AM – 5PM, General Admission: FREE
St.Louis Art Museum
The last museum we will be visiting is the St.Louis Art Museum, home to an eclectic variety of art from varied eras around the world. I’m in love with their European Art collection so I will drag you there first. Unlike most other art museums, the rooms in which the exhibits are held take on the persona of the art itself. The contemporary art is held in a sparsely decorated minimalistic space while the European art is more densely populated on the walls. It’s a physical manifestation of how the Renaissance paintings are more involved works. It is these details – the small ones that are often overlooked, that greatly impress us.
Address: 1 Fine Arts Dr, St. Louis, MO 63110, 10AM – 5PM, General Admission: FREE
Emerson Grand Basin
The Emerson Grand Basin (across from the Art Museum) is the ideal place to bask in tranquility. If we look up towards the sky, we can see a wee bit of the city. The tops of buildings seem to poke up from above the trees, but when we glance back down, we’re brought back to serenity. The eight water fountains and quiet expanse are mesmerizing.
Shakespeare Glen is empty now, but during showtimes, it becomes a lively hub of free performances. The Glen is on Arts Hill and during the day (when no one is around) offers the best view of the St. Louis Art Museum and the landmark Forest Park statue – the Apotheosis of St. Louis.
World’s Fair Pavilion
But we’re looking for a slightly more historic knoll to set our picnic blanket – the World’s Fair Pavilion. Built in 1909, the Pavilion has a Mediterranean flavour rooted by the dramatic water feature to the front. It’s the perfect place to snack and watch the sunset.
Address: 1904 Concourse Dr, St. Louis, MO 63146
Forest Park is home to an impressive, carefully clipped, 27-hole golf course. Now my golfing abilities are limited to mini-golf, so I’m escorting you so we can simply see Flegel Falls, a dramatic cascade with a slight resemblance to the original one at the World’s Fair.
Address: 6141 Lagoon Dr, St. Louis, MO 63112
The last thing we are going to do today is go boating on a beautiful lake (paddleboat rental is only $17). We see flocks of birds, ducks waddling, and shadows of fish beneath the water.
“Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily. Forest Park is but a dream.” Okay, I’ll stop singing now. I feel a little bad making you walk so much in the past two days, but I’ll make it up to you though with a hot soup from the Boathouse (absolutely delicious)!
Address: 6101 Government Dr, St. Louis, MO 63110, 11AM – 9PM
As we head out, we notice our classical song has ended. We’ve listened to almost every note. We’ve definitely enjoyed every note. And tomorrow, we’ll play our song on repeat.