Origianlly published August 26, 2008
The St. Louis Zoo is usually ranked as one of the top five zoos in the nation. The St. Louis Zoo is the only one of these zoo's that does not charge admission. This does not necessarily mean a trip to the zoo is free. You could spend the day at the Zoo and never spend a dime. Thousands of St. Louisans do it every day. Most visitors end up spending about $50.00 on a day at the Zoo. It is possible to have a totally free day at the Zoo.
If possible, plan ahead. If you are reading this, you are already halfway there. Parking and food are the two biggest exspences at the Zoo (other than the gift shops.) You can go by Metro Bus to the zoo. (2011 update: The zoo is crowded enough in the summer to require off site parking after 10:00 am. Check the Zoo's website for information for the day you visit.) If you are going by bus, check the schedule and fees with Metro. If you are packing a lunch, well you will need to pack it and plan on carrying it around with you. The zoo does not have lockers or other places to store you lunch. I have seen several families put the children's wagon or the stroller to this task. The Zoo site is more than 70 acres. Seeing "everything" is a very full day, but can be done. You may feel like you have walked ten miles before the day is done. This is one of the advantages of living in University City. The Zoo is about ten minutes away. We can go for an hour or two, see a few things and come back next week to see something else. Check out the map under "Things to See and Do" at www.stlzoo.org. you can plan your trip before getting to the Zoo.
Parking is $10.00 (summer 2008) per car. (Summer 2011, $11.00) There is free street parking around the zoo, although not as much as there once was. Most of the street parking is gone by 9:00 am. Some people think the new no parking zones near the zoo are to force people to pay to park in the lot. They may have something. The street parking fills up fast. Most of these cars belong to zoo or art museum employees. A few of those people are just like you, going to the zoo and going to be there all day. There is also free parking across Tamm Avenue near Turtle Park. Bonus trivia question! "What is the correct name for Turtle Park?" Answer: Forest Park. When US 40 was built, a tip of Forest Park was cut off from the rest of the park. The Turtle Playground sits on that tip. Depending where on Oakland Ave. you park, you may have less of a walk than someone in the parking lot. And now for a little secret. Zoo parking is free before 9:30 am. Combine free parking and an almost empty parking lot and you have a winner! It is possible to take the bus to the Zoo. Check with Metro for details.
How many times a year are you going to go to the zoo? Zoo Members get a set number of free parking passes. The basic membership is $65 and includes six parking passes. If you will use them, pays for its self. If you are a member of your local zoo, check the reciprocity benefits. We are St. Louis Zoo members. This saved us 50% at the Kansas City Zoo.
Inside the zoo, there are a several areas/attractions that require a fee to enter. The Children’s’ Zoo is one of them. The Children’s Zoo is free before either 9:30 or 10:00. So, if you arrived early enough to park free head straight for the Children’s’ Zoo and get in free as well. The Children’s Zoo is regularly $4.00 per person. The children's Zoo has animals that can be petted, a small bird cage, and weather permitting, a play ground with fountains. If you do not have children, and don't want to pet goats, you may not want to pay for entry.
The food at the zoo is pretty good and the service is friendly for the most part. The only thing is that the Zoo is supported by three things; taxes (not a lot), endowments, and concessions. Now you know why a hot dog and a Coke will cost you $8.00. I at least feel better supporting the zebras and chimps with my $3.00 soda than supporting a shortstop. Be prepared to spend about $8.00 per person on a meal. The Children's meals at the Zoo are one of the better deals.
Picnicking in the zoo is perfectly ok.
Yael would scream if I did not mention the Conservation Carousel. The girls ride the carousel almost every time they go to the Zoo. It is only $2.00 per person per ride. If you want to show your children what an old time real life carousel is like, this is it.
Take a break from the heat. St. Louis in the summer time can mean 95 to 100 degree days and we are the originators of "It's not the heat, it's the humidity." The penguin and puffin coast at the zoo is 40-45 degrees year round. So, when you are good and sweaty and about to pass out, go see the penguins. It is funny to see the Zoo employees heading in to work wearing a polar fleece jacket and ear warmers when most of the people in line are sweating to death in shorts and skimpy T-s. And no one will look at you funny if you decide you need a second look an hour later.
Some of my favorites are:
The zoo pushes River’s Edge. It is the home of the elephants and hippos. It is a long (more than a mile) walk with very few animals to see. The animals are hard to see much of the time. Quite literally, you will walk along a twisting path for ten minutes and come to an opening about 20 feet across and there will be 25 people all looking at one sleeping rhinoceros. Then it is back to the hike. Rivers Edge does hold a lot of people maybe that is what it really was designed for.
I love the Bird House. There is the Flight Cage and the Bird House. They are close to each other, but not the same. The flight cage is really neat. It was build for the 1904 World’s Fair. It has gone through several renovations over the years. When I was little, you could only walk around the outside of the cage. A walkway was installed in the 1970’s. The walkway was about 15 feet off of the ground. You walked through the cage and the birds flew around you. Today you walk in on ground level. You are in the cage with the birds. It is like walking in a forest.
But I like the Bird House on historic hill. The cages in the Bird House are made of stainless steel wires. It is almost like there are no barriers between you and the birds. The Bird House does not get the huge crowds like some of the other parts of the Zoo. It does not have the human sounds like other parts of the Zoo. It is air conditioned. The birds are beautiful. You can relax and take a minute with a display. It is almost meditative. And, just for the quirkiness of it all there is a display of ceramic birds in a lower level room.