Welcome to the wild world of the St. Louis Zoo – an animal enthusiast’s paradise! Get ready to embark on an unforgettable adventure as we let you in on the best tips to make your visit a truly memorable one.
With over 16,000 animals representing more than 500 species, this world-class zoo offers a captivating experience for visitors of all ages. From big cats and bears to birds and reptiles, the St. Louis Zoo showcases the diversity and wonder of the animal kingdom.
However, for newbies to this zoo, roaming this vast space can be overwhelming if you don’t have a plan. That’s why we’re here to guide you through the must-see exhibits and share insider tips for getting the most out of your visit.
Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned zoo-goer, our expert tips will ensure you make the most of your time at the St. Louis Zoo. Get ready to embark on an unforgettable journey through the wild wonders of this incredible zoo.
Planning your visit to the St. Louis Zoo
Planning is key to having a successful and enjoyable visit to the St. Louis Zoo. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your time:
1. Check the zoo’s website: Before your visit, it’s a good idea to check the zoo’s website for any updates on opening hours, special events, or temporary closures. This will ensure that you have the most up-to-date information and can plan your visit accordingly.
2. Map out your route: The St. Louis Zoo is a large and sprawling zoo, so it’s a good idea to plan your route in advance. Take a look at the zoo map and decide which exhibits you want to visit first. This will help you maximize your time and ensure that you don’t miss any of the must-see attractions.
3. Time your visit: The St. Louis Zoo can get busy, especially during weekends and holidays. To avoid the crowds, consider visiting during weekdays or arriving as soon as they open. This will allow you to have a more relaxed and enjoyable experience. Also, keep in mind that fall and spring seasons are much less crowded than the summer months and offer more comfortable weather as well! The zoo is also open during winter, although some attractions closed.
4. What to bring and wear: Remember to wear comfortable clothes and shoes, as you’ll be doing a lot of walking. Don’t forget to bring sunscreen and a water bottle to stay hydrated throughout the day. If you have small children, bringing a stroller or wagon is a good idea! If you forgot or couldn’t bring one along, there are single, double, or infant strollers that can be rented at the zoo entrance for a fee.
St. Louis Zoo tips on parking
First things first, when you get to the zoo, you will notice that there is a fee to get in the parking lots. As of summer 2023, cars park for $15/day, and oversized vehicles park for $30/day (Buses over 24 feet are not permitted to park at the zoo!) But we rarely ever park in the paid parking lots. There is a lot of parking along the street, where you can park for free!
Our favorite place to park is right past the south parking lot. From the Hampton exit, follow the signs to Forest Park. At the roundabout, turn onto Wells Drive and pass the parking lot entrance. Look for parking spots right here along this road!
Another free place to park is on Oakland or Berthold Avenue. This is across Highway 40 from the zoo, but there is a bridge with a nice sidewalk that you can cross.
Must-see exhibits and attractions at the St. Louis Zoo
The St. Louis Zoo is home to a wide range of exhibits and attractions. Here are some of our personal favorite animal exhibits:
1. Penguin and Puffin Coast: Step into the chilly world of penguins and puffins. Watch these adorable creatures as they dive, swim, and play in their specially-designed habitat. Prepare to wait in a line to get into this area, but it’s worth it, especially on a hot day!
2. McDonnell Polar Bear Point: Get up close with Kali, the orphaned polar bear, in her 40,000-square-foot habitat!
3. Primate Canopy Trails: This relatively new (opened in 2021) attraction is probably my kids’ favorite. The climbing structure allows you to explore right alongside the monkeys and lemurs. It’s usually extremely crowded in this area, but know that if your kids disappear into the play structure, the exits all come out in the same area.
4. Sea Lion Sound: This area features a 35-foot-long underwater viewing tunnel, as well as a large viewing window outside, and lots of space around the Sea Lion Sound to watch the daily feedings above water! Insider tip: The sea lions will sometimes follow an object, making for a fun interaction!
And here are some of the attractions that we love:
1. Zooline Railroad: The Zooline Railroad has 4 boarding stations around the zoo. An all-day ticket is $7.95/person (2 and under are free.) Get on and take the 1.5-mile round trip to see and hear about the sights, and take a break from walking! Strollers are not allowed on the train, so if you have one, park it in a designated spot and make sure you get off at the same station where you boarded!
2. Stingrays at Caribbean Cove: This is another really popular attraction. Prepare to wait in line! Tickets are $4.95 per person. When you make it through the line, you can purchase a cup of food for $1, or just skip it and pet the stingrays (and sharks!) instead. This attraction is seasonal.
3. Dinoroarus: For $5.95/person, enter the world of dinosaurs! This area is filled with giant animatronic dinosaurs that roar or spit water! There is also a play area with fossil digging and slides. If you have very young kids that aren’t huge dino fans, I would advise skipping this attraction. It can be a scary one!
Other available attractions are the Conservation Carousel, the sea lion show, a bird show, and the 4D theater.
If you plan on doing several of the paid attractions, you can save money by purchasing an Adventure Pass.
Although the zoo is advertised as free, many of the attractions come with a cost. Some of these include the train, the sea lion show, the carousel, feeding the stingrays, and Dinoroarus. You can save yourself some money by purchasing the Adventure Pass for about $15 per person (under 2 years old is free). This pass includes all the above-mentioned attractions, plus the 4D Theater.
Insider tips for navigating the St. Louis Zoo
Navigating a large zoo like the St. Louis Zoo can be a bit overwhelming, but with these tips, you’ll be able to make the most of your visit:
1. Take advantage of the train: The Emerson Zooline Railroad has several stations throughout the zoo. If you don’t have a stroller or other large personal item, hop on the train at one of the stops, explore the area, then hop on again to head to the next area.
2. Plan your visit around the animal feedings and shows: The zoo has scheduled feeding times for many of the animals, as well as a couple of different shows. Witnessing these feedings and shows can be a highlight of your visit. Check the daily schedule and plan your route accordingly to catch these sessions.
3. Visit during off-peak hours: If you prefer a quieter and more relaxed experience, consider visiting the zoo during off-peak hours. Weekdays and early mornings are usually less crowded, as well as fall and winter seasons, allowing you to enjoy the exhibits at your own pace.
I also like to plan to be at the exhibits where I can get the best photos (such as the polar bear or sea lions) right before the zoo closes, to ensure I can get a photo without other kids crowding us out!
Feeding and interacting with animals at the St. Louis Zoo
One of the unique experiences at the St. Louis Zoo is the opportunity to feed and interact with some of the animals. Here are some of the ways you can get up close and personal with the zoo’s residents:
1. Giraffe feeding: Get a close-up view of these gentle giants as you feed them their favorite lettuce leaves! Feedings take place twice daily, with tickets available about 20 minutes ahead of the feeding time. As of summer 2023, tickets are $5. Check the website for feeding times!
2. Stingray Cove: Here, you can touch and feed the friendly stingrays as they glide past you. There are also a couple of friendly bamboo sharks in the waters! Stingray Cove is $4.95/person (ages 2 and under are free) and a cup of feed is an additional $1.
Dining options and snacks at the St. Louis Zoo
Exploring the zoo can work up an appetite, but don’t worry – there are plenty of dining options available to satisfy your hunger. Here are some of the dining choices you’ll find:
1. Lakeside Cafe: Located near the Penguin and Puffin Coast, the Lakeside Cafe offers a variety of dining options, including sandwiches, salads, and kid-friendly meals. Enjoy your meal while overlooking the beautiful lake.
2. River Camp Cafe: Situated in the heart of the zoo, the River Camp Cafe serves up delicious meals with a view. Indulge in a burger, pizza, or a healthy salad while taking in the sights and sounds of the zoo.
3. Casual kiosks: Throughout the zoo, you’ll find several kiosks offering quick bites like hot dogs, pretzels, popcorn, and ice cream. These are perfect for a quick snack or a refreshing treat on a hot day. Scoops is our favorite – we almost always stop for an ice cream here.
Spending on Food
As with most attractions, food can be expensive, especially if you have a big family! The St. Louis Zoo does allow you to bring in outside food and drinks (no glass containers). If you have a wagon, it wouldn’t be too difficult to bring a small cooler in with you. The zoo even has picnic areas provided.
One of the ways we love to save money is to bring a picnic to eat at Forest Park before we even enter the zoo. If you parked along the street, there are several picnic tables right there. Eat your lunch and then pack your cooler back into your car!
I do like to keep a water bottle (because who wants to pay $4 for a bottle of water?!) and a few small snacks in my backpack, such as fruit snacks or Goldfish crackers.
Another way to save on drinks at the zoo is to purchase the Zoovenir Sipper. It is a $7 purchase, which is relatively cheap, but also, this cup never expires (some places only let you use a specific cup for one season) and it’s big enough to share. With this cup, your refills are only $1.
Souvenirs and shopping at the St. Louis Zoo
No visit to the St. Louis Zoo is complete without taking home a souvenir to remember your trip. Here are some of the shopping options available at the zoo:
1. Safari Gift Shop: Located at the south entrance, the Safari Gift Shop offers a wide range of animal-themed souvenirs, including plush toys, t-shirts, and jewelry. It’s the perfect place to find a memento of your visit or pick up a gift for a loved one.
2. Treetop Shop: This is the largest shop in the zoo. It’s located inside The Living World at the north entrance. It offers apparel, toys, books, and handcrafted items from around the world.
3. Other shops: There are several souvenir pavilions throughout the zoo, as well as shops that you will pass through as you exit certain attractions. A penguin-themed shop will be on your way out of Penguin and Puffin Coast, and an ocean-themed shop is where you will exit the stingray exhibit.
Souvenirs and gifts can really add to the cost of spending a day at the zoo. My strategy is to always let the kids know ahead of time if we will or will not be getting anything from a gift shop. Sometimes, they have their own money to spend, and whatever that amount is, they can use however they like.
One souvenir that we always allow, not only at the zoo, but pretty much everywhere, are pressed pennies! It usually costs $.50 to a dollar, plus the penny (although some machines provide the penny for you). My son had these all collected in a shadow box frame for a long time. Just recently we found a really cute pressed penny collecting book! It has slots for each penny and a space to write down where it came from and when. We love it!
Special events at the St. Louis Zoo
The St. Louis Zoo hosts a variety of special events throughout the year. Here are some of the events you might want to look out for:
1. Boo at the Zoo: During Halloween season, the zoo transforms into a spooktacular wonderland. Kids can dress up in costumes, go trick-or-treating, and enjoy festive activities and entertainment.
2. Zootoberfest: During some weekends in October, the zoo has their family-friendly version of Oktoberfest. They offer German-inspired food as well as beer tents. For the kids, there are special arts and crafts.
3. Wild Lights: Experience the magic of the holiday season as the zoo lights up with thousands of twinkling lights. This enchanting event features animated displays, live performances, and seasonal treats.
These are just a few examples of the special events that take place at the St. Louis Zoo. Check the zoo’s website or social media pages for the latest information on upcoming events during your visit.
St. Louis Zoo Ticket Prices
The St. Louis Zoo is proud to offer free admission to all visitors. Thanks to the generous support of the community, the zoo is able to provide a world-class experience without charging an entrance fee.
However, there may be additional charges for certain attractions or experiences within the zoo, such as the Children’s Zoo, the Stingray Cove, or the giraffe feeding, in addition to parking fees. These fees help support the care and conservation efforts of the animals.
Donations to the zoo are always welcome and greatly appreciated. By contributing, you can help ensure the well-being of the animals and support the zoo’s educational programs and conservation initiatives.
If you are planning to spend an entire day at the zoo, I would recommend the Adventure Pass. If not, maybe choose one or two activities to allow your kids to do. Otherwise, it is possible to avoid all these extra attractions and still have a great time (and I know, because we have done it!)
A visit to the St. Louis Zoo is always a good day. With its vast array of exhibits and interactive experiences, this world-class zoo offers something for everyone.
By planning out your visit, figuring out your must-see attractions, and taking advantage of our St. Louis Zoo tips, you can make the most of your time and create memories that will last a lifetime. So, embark on an unforgettable journey through the animal kingdom!
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