By Michelle Gonzales
Like so many, I am on a quest to make cherished memories as I watch my one and only son, Sam, grow up as fast as the speed of light – and I seek out adventures around every corner within reach. That said, I especially enjoy finding ways to travel to destinations that I can afford. For our last summer hurrah, I decided to take a day trip to St. Louis along with his half-sister on a shoestring budget.
I filled up my gas tank and we were on our way. Sam’s sister’s mom and I packed sandwiches, snacks and bottles of water — enough for a picnic lunch, snacks throughout the day and dinner in the car during the drive home.
First stop, Turtle Playground. After an easy 2 ½ hour drive, (click here for directions) we parked for free on the street (lot was full, but no biggie), set up our picnic and had our lunch. Now mind you, it is right next to the highway, so don’t imagine a pristine park surrounded by nature and turtle sculptures. But it was unusual and something new to see, so we enjoyed it. We ate, climbed around for a bit, I packed a few water bottles and snacks in my backpack, and we walked ten minutes over to the zoo. The Turtle Playground is on the other side of the highway, but there’s a nice bridge that goes directly to the parking lot adjacent to the zoo (which would have cost $15 had we parked in that lot).
St. Louis Zoo is free admission with a handful of other attractions for a reasonable fee (i.e. zooline railroad, sea lion show, children’s zoo, and safari tours, just to name a few). The collection of endangered species is extremely vast and the layout of the zoo is easy to navigate. Not too big, not too small. We spent the most time hanging with the hippos and orangutans. I’d like to say the animals throughout the zoo were happy and active, but we happened to choose one of the hottest days of the summer, so everyone was pretty mellow. However, you could still see the animals were well cared for and there must be a reason this zoo is ranked #3 by TripAdvisor behind the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska and the world renowned San Diego Zoo in California. Now that’s impressive.
Since the kids were hot and we had a 2 ½ hour drive ahead of us, I decided to spend some time at the St. Louis Science Center (FREE ADMISSION!) only 1.2 miles down the street on the same side of the highway as Turtle Playground, so it’s a straight shot. (click here for directions) Again, we avoided the $10 parking fee by parking on the street. Sam and I had been there earlier this summer, so we knew what we wanted to see again. I bought a refreshing Coke ($2.99) and we checked out a couple of our favorite exhibits. It was brief, but fun, and just enough time for us to soak in the A/C and feel internally cool and comfortable.
Total cash spent on my caffeine fixes after filling up the gas tank? $4.26. Thank you St. Louis. We know there’s more to explore, so we’ll see you again soon!
*Note: I realize many of these wonderful “free admission” destinations make their profits on parking, concessions, gift shops, etc. I have nothing against providing funds for the entertainment they provide, but this is merely an example of a personal decision at this time in my life. I definitely hope I will spend more money and support them in the future.