St. Louis, home of the freebies

A travel guide to the best of everything that's free in St. Louis

These days you can cross the country in six hours by plane, but back when it took months to get to the promised land of California, St. Louis, Missouri, marked the last bastion of civilization before the wilds of the West.

Next time you find yourself crossing the United States on Route 70 rather than aboard a 747, stop by the Gateway Arch to pay homage to generations of westward-ho travelers who crossed the mighty Mississippi at St. Louis, from Lewis and Clark through those 19th-century wagon trains to the Route 66 generation.

Then stop paying, because, though it costs $10 to ride to the top of the arch, more than 60 other major attractions and activities in St. Louis are free... including the beer.

Sculptures, Safaris, and Slavery

The St. Louis Art Museum (314-721-0072, is packed with everything from pre-Colombian artifacts to German Expressionists.

Indulge in hands-on fun at the St. Louis Science Center (800-456-7572, with interactive exhibits on dinosaurs and virtual reality, the constellations and gene splicing.

You can see 6,000 species at the St. Louis Zoo (800-966-8877,, wander the 98-acre open-air Laumeier Sculpture Park (314-821-1209,, and cross the Mississippi River on foot or by bike along the mile-long Old Chain of Rocks Bridge (314-416-9930,, a now-pedestrianized section of the old Route 66.

To get a handle on local history, head to the foot of the arch for the Museum of Westward Expansion, part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial National Park (314-655-1700,

Also administered by the Park Service is the 1839 Old Courthouse, where in 1846 a slave named Dred Scott launched the lawsuit to free himself. He won at first, but after eleven years of appeals the Supreme Court ruled against Scott, defining slaves as property. This only fueled the anti-abolitionist movement; two years later, a local landowner named Ulysses S. Grant stopped by the courthouse to sign papers freeing his only slave.

The Missouri land old Ulysses once tilled is now owned by a local brewery and, under the name Grant's Farm (314-843-1700,, is run as a kind of mini drive-thru safari park of 1,000 animals from six continents, including buffalo and zebra. There's also a petting zoo, Grant's original cabin, and a 19th-century Bavarian-style farmhouse where you can tipple the brewery's products for free.

This isn't just any old brewery. Here's a hint: the farm also has a stable of rather famous Clydesdales.

This Bud's for Free

In 1857, German immigrant Adolphus Busch--the 21st of 22 children--formed a brewery supply company in St. Louis. After he married Lilly Anheuser, he inherited her father's brewery, where in 1867, he created a variant on the Czech lager Budvar, called it Budweiser, and became a legend.

Great-great grandson August Busch III still runs the joint (though it's now under foreign ownership), and the factory offers free tours that end with a frosty mug of Bud, on the house (314-577-2626,

Anheuser-Busch hasn't cornered the local beer market, however. Microbewery Schlafly Bottleworks (314-241-2337, also offers free tours and tipples.

Let Them Entertain You

A well-regarded choir sings the 10am Sunday mass surrounded by ornate Byzantine-style mosaics in the neo-Romanesque Cathedral Basilica (314-373-8200,; rehearsals are Wednesdays at 7:30pm. The church also frequently hosts concerts for modest suggested donations of $5 to $10.

Though June 18, you can attend free outdoor performances of Julius Caesar in Forest Park (8pm Wednesday to Monday), courtesy of the Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis (314-531-9800,

Prefer Broadway to the Bard? The Muny, America's oldest and largest outdoor musical theater space, gives away 1,500 seats in the last nine rows on a first-come, first-serve basis nightly, starting at 7pm (314-361-1900, The summer season starts on June 19 with The King and I, and the show changes weekly (Aida, The Wizard of Oz, Gypsy, White Christmas, Oliver, and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers) through Aug 13.

When You Go...

To find out more about the Gateway to the West—and to book hotel rooms and B&Bs from $59—contact the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission (800-916-8938, At its Web site, click on the "Tickets and Deals" piggybank for coupon programs and other savings on vacation packages and hotels.

For dinner, head to the neighborhood called The Hill, something of a Midwest Little Italy, or hit the fashionable (but cheap) eateries of Laclede Landing.

The bricks and cobblestones of this 19th-century waterfront warehouse district wedged between I-70 and the Mississippi have been converted into one of the town's most happening neighborhoods.

I had one of the best burgers of my life—and an excellent beer sampler—here at the laid-back Morgan Street Brewery, 721 North Second Street (314-231-9970,

Tours Under $995 G Adventures

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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in June 2012.
All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.