Sticking close to home this summer? We’ve got you covered with our favorite picks in our local areas. These tips translate if you’re traveling from far away, too! Check out the rest of our Staycation Summer series.
Forest Park in St. Louis boasts a number of free or inexpensive entertainment options ranging from the zoo to the history museum to the St. Louis Science Center. When the summer heats up and you need an air-conditioned indoor place to take the family, you can’t beat the Science Center.
Admission is free, with some exhibits requiring a fee, but the free portions of the Science Center have plenty to see and do and will keep your family busy for most of the day. My family has never spent any money at the St. Louis Science Center, other than occasional treats from the gift shops.
Ecology and Environment – The focal point of this exhibit is a life-sized, realistic dinosaur display. Kids can pretend to dig for dinosaur bones. An interactive lab features fossils to look at, and you can chat with staff as they prepare real fossils for display. Nearby, learn about earthquakes or how tornados form. My daughters liked an interactive topography map featuring sand and colored lights. As kids dug and moved the sand, the lights changed color so the lower places were blue to give the impression of bodies of water, while the mounds and hills were green or tan to represent land masses.
Grow – Stroll around an outdoor urban garden, complete with a coop that is home to several chickens. Visitors can sit in the driver’s seat of a large farm vehicle, and inside a building that is separate from the rest of the Science Center are exhibits about how food is produced and transported.
Structures – Learn how bridges, monuments, skyscrapers, and more are built. Learn the effects of strong winds on different roof designs. The highlight of this exhibit is foam blocks that you can use to build replicas of the Gateway Arch. Nearby, visitors can cross an enclosed bridge over the interstate. Windows in the floor allow for a unique glimpse onto the road below, and visitors can use radar guns to determine how fast traffic is driving.
Experience Energy – This part of the Science Center shows how energy works, ranging from wind to coal to solar power, and why energy efficiency is important. My daughters enjoyed an exhibit that illustrates how roller coasters work, complete with a large screen that offered a rider’s perspective.
Amazing Science Demonstrations at CenterStage – This area offers live, educational science demonstrations at specific times throughout the day. On the day my family was at the Science Center, we watched a presentation called Boiling Hot … Boiling Cold about liquid nitrogen, a liquid that boils at a very low temperature (320 degrees Fahrenheit). We got to see what happens when liquid nitrogen is poured on an inflated balloon and what happens when liquid nitrogen is mixed with boiling water.
Mission: Mars – This exhibit is all about space travel and is a favorite with my husband, who is a science fiction author.
Other sections of the Science Center have admission fees, including the Planetarium, the Omnimax Theater, and the Discovery Room (an educational play area for kids ages 1-8 that features a water table, aquarium, musical play, a shadow theater, puzzles, and various toys). As I mentioned earlier, my family has never bought admission to any of these extra options, and there are so many free things to see and do that we never feel deprived.
If you purchase an annual membership to the Science Center, perks include free parking in the main lot and a specified number of free admissions to the Planetarium, Omnimax Theater, and Discovery Room.
There is a fee to park in the main parking lot that is close to all of the major exhibits, but there is a smaller free parking lot outside the planetarium, which is a little removed from the rest of the exhibits. If you arrive close to opening time, you won’t have a problem scoring free parking, but the lot does fill up as the day goes on.
Where to Eat
A café area sells sandwiches, salads, pizza, and snacks, and prices are comparable to what you might pay at a ball park or amusement park. The café is near a favorite attraction, a large human hamster wheel that powers small balls through a large Rube Goldberg-style machine. Be sure to check it out!
If you want to save money, bring your own food and enjoy a picnic lunch in Forest Park, and then return to the Science Center to spend the rest of the day exploring. This is how our frugal family always rolls when we visit the Science Center.
The St. Louis Science Center is just one of several attractions in St. Louis’ Forest Park. It offers entertainment for families regardless of budget, and it’s an ideal place to spend a hot summer day.
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