In the heart of St. Louis, you will find Forest Park. Forest Park brings the St. Louis community together via a variety of cultural and historical venues. Over 100 years ago, Forest Park actually brought the world to St. Louis. That is, the 1904 World’s Fair in the Gateway Arch City was held in the close to 1,300 acre Forest Park, bringing in some 20 million visits. A century later, and without a World’s Fair, this venue 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 good day or two:
Lead off by Heading to the St. Louis Zoo
The St. Louis Zoo is one of Forest Park’s year round destinations for exploration, and the vast majority of it is free to visit! The Zoo was recently voted the #1 zoo/animal park in the United States by a Zagat/Parenting Magazine Survey for a USA family travel guide. This is one those places that a whole day can be spent quite easily. The 90-acre zoo in Forest Park of St. Louis is made up of five major animal areas to explore the thousands upon thousands of Mother Nature’s most fascinating creatures.
Take some time after you arrive at this Forest Park zoo 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 exhibit 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 45 or so degree habitat for the King Penguins and puffins (which are known as “sea parrots”) for them to really cool off in. It is especially refreshing for humans, too, when it’s over 95 degrees outside! Expect to wait for several minutes to get in because this is one of the most popular exhibits in the whole zoo (especially when it’s hot and muggy outside), along with the Bear Pits nearby, where polar bears and grizzlies can be studied at a safe distance, especially 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), where kids and adults alike can view a Matschie Tree Kangaroo of Papua New Guinea. It’s definitely hands on here in this area as visitors can pet some goats and feel the skin of snakes! And if your children complain about being hot in Forest Park, several water geysers are onsite at this part of the zoo for them to run through to cool off! These are just a few of the activities that will keep the kids occupied and cooler in this area of Forest Park.
“River’s Edge” houses some of the bigger animals of the St. Louis Zoo, 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” contains a building called Primate House, which is located in this section of the zoo. It will entertain the 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 in St. Louis! Historic Hill’s grounds also contain refuges for sea lions as well as a bird garden. Alligators and other reptiles are found in the Herpetarium section. I got to see 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 in Forest Park need to venture over to the “Red Rocks” section of the St. Louis Zoo. Species of antelope, camels, lions, and tigers reside in this section. 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 this Forest Park zoo was the ten-minute 3D film called “Dino Island II: Escape from Dino Island”, shown in the zoo’s north entrance area. It cost 4 dollars to see this film, and it’s really short on eye-catching 3D animation for the ten minutes that it runs. Spend more time with the penguins or elephants rather than on watching this film because it’s pretty safe to say that it isn’t going to win over any special effects-loving kids or adults.
An onsite cafeteria is available for satisfying one’s hunger and thirst pangs while at Forest Park. 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 cups were quite fresh and excellent!
Saint Louis Zoo: One Government Dr. 314-781-0900 or 800-966-8877. www.stlzoo.org 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 art 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 museum family guides are available to the public which are free. They will 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 that are located in Forest Park are around half a century old.
My favorite things at this Forest Park museum in St. Louis were the fact that they have rooms from the late 1700’s to the early 1800’s that are furnished with the appropriate time period pieces, including a circa 1780 room from a home in Alexandria, Virginia. This room in the museum displayed a pole screen, which was used to shield the face from a brightly-lit fireplace in use. As I walked through these rooms, 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 circa 1910 “The Plaza After Rain”, and American Impressionist Willard Leroy Metcalf’s circa 1914 “Old Homestead Connecticut”.
A really big art exhibition is scheduled to be at the St. Louis Art Museum in mid-October 2006 through early January of next year. It’s called “New Ireland: Art of the South Pacific”, and will feature an array of masks and sculpture from this Papua New Guinea province. This art has been traveling around Europe, and many people are eagerly awaiting this exhibit to come to Forest Park of St. Louis.
St. Louis Art Museum: One Fine Arts Drive in Forest Park. 314.721.0072. www.slam.org Mostly free admission (including for lectures), but various fees do apply to certain museum exhibitions as well as films. Check above website for more details.
The History of St. Louis 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 exhibit covers the city’s history from 1764-1904, and is called “Currents”. I learned that the city had to rely on volunteer firefighters until 1857 via an exhibit which also showcased some fire hats used by the various volunteer fire companies that helped to prevent St. Louis from totally going up in flames. A display about the why’s for people coming to St. Louis during the 19th century to reinvent themselves is a very insightful one indeed. 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, and even coffee.
The second major gallery exhibit in this St. Louis museum at Forest Park covers the years 1904-2000, and is called “Reflections”. Visitors will see the history of the city come alive over the last century as it discusses labor movements, St. Louis music, the pursuit for equality by minority groups (including gays, the disabled, and for 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 in this gallery, 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 the 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 at Forest Park is free.
This particular Forest Park museum, via the Missouri Historical Society, also offers a number of theatrical and musical performances throughout the year. Check below website for details.
Missouri History Museum: At Lindell and DeBaliviere in Forest Park. 314-454-3150.
www.mohistory.org Free admission, except for certain exhibitions.