St. Louis is turning 250 this year, and visitors who want to join in the celebration can find plenty to do without spending a dime.
The Gateway City was founded by Pierre Laclede and Auguste Chouteau on Feb. 15, 1764. A series of anniversary events are planned throughout the year, including a reenactment of the founding on Feb. 15 at the Laclede’s Landing area on the Mississippi Riverfront downtown.
Amid the hoopla, there’s plenty to do for free, including visits to one of the world’s biggest breweries, two popular animal attractions, a science center and a towering monument that has come to define St. Louis.
• Gateway Arch: The Arch, built as a monument to westward expansion, stands 630 feet tall along the banks of the Mississippi River. For a fee, visitors can ride a tram to the top of the Arch and gaze over downtown St. Louis to the west or the cornfields of Illinois to the east.
But many attractions at and around the Arch are free. That includes the Museum of Westward Expansion in the basement of the Arch, focusing on life in the West in the 1800s. Visitors can also wander the expansive Arch grounds, where a multi-million dollar upgrade project is under way and expected to be completed by 2016.
Also free are visits to the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis, site of the famous Dred Scott case that played a role in eventually freeing the slaves.
• Anheuser-Busch Brewery Tour: The Busch family sold Anheuser-Busch to the Belgian brewer InBev in 2008, but the massive brewery remains an integral part of St. Louis, making some of the nation’s best-selling brews, including Budweiser and Bud Light.
Visitors not only get a glimpse of how the beer is made but see the Budweiser Clydesdales, kept at stables on the brewery site.
The complimentary tours are open to visitors of all ages — but only those 21 and older can taste the finished product after the tour. Younger visitors get soft drinks. Reservations are required.
• Grant’s Farm: The 281-acre Grant’s Farm is owned by the Busch family. It got its name because the property was founded as a farm by Ulysses S. Grant, the Civil War general who later became the nation’s 18th president.
The farm, in St. Louis County just south of the city, is home to more than 900 animals. Among them: Another group of Budweiser Clydesdales.
Reservations are required.
• St. Louis Zoo: The St. Louis Zoo in sprawling Forest Park is considered one of the best in the nation, and one of the few that with no admission fee. Funding comes from a cultural tax district, though fees are charged for some special attractions.
The zoo is home to more than 18,000 animals, including some rare and endangered species. A “Zooline Railroad” takes visitors to various locations.
The zoo’s origins date to the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, when the city purchased the Flight Cage from the Smithsonian Institution.
• St. Louis Science Center: The Science Center, also part of Forest Park and funded through the same cultural subsidy as the zoo, is among the few free science centers in the United States. It was founded as a planetarium in 1963. Today, the center includes more than 750 exhibits in 300,000-plus square feet of space, making it one of the nation’s largest science centers.
The center features an enclosed walkway over Interstate 64 in which visitors can monitor the speeds of cars traveling below.
The center itself is free, but fees are charged for admission to some special exhibits and planetarium shows. An Omnimax Theater also charges for admission.