The St. Louis Zoo is a great place to take the kids or out-of-town visitors during summer vacation. It was ranked #3 in the nation by Parents Magazine in list of best zoos for kids. The zoo can be easy on your budget too, since it’s basically free. There’s no admission fee and you can find plenty of free street parking if you get there early or are willing to walk.
But St. Louis summers can also get blistering hot and wandering the zoo’s 90 acres looking at thousands of animals for several hours can zap even the most rambunctious child’s reserves.
Here are a few tips for how to beat the St. Louis heat while still having fun at the zoo.
Arrive early: The St. Louis Zoo is open an hour earlier in the summer, at 8 a.m. Not only does this allow you an extra hour of cool morning air, you can also enjoy a few exhibits for free during the first hour the zoo is open. The Children’s Zoo, carousel, and stingrays are all free from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.
Pack a cooler: The St. Louis Zoo allows visitors to bring in their own coolers or picnic baskets, and even provides picnic tables in the center areas of the zoo. Of course you’ll have to lug it around, but if you’re already pushing a stroller or wagon, you may have room for a cooler of icy beverages from home.
Get a Souvenir Sipper: Concession stands around the zoo are admittedly over-priced, but you have to admit that since the zoo doesn’t charge admission, they need to raise funds somewhere. The Souvenir Sipper is a 32-ounce reusable cup that costs $8, but icy cold soda refills are only a buck. You can also refill it with an Icee for $2.50. If you’re a zoo regular, save your cup, hand wash it and bring it back for the next visit.
Visit the penguins: The indoor penguins are kept at a constant 45 degrees, which feels surprisingly pleasant when the mercy goes through the roof. Stay as long as you like. Because the Penguin and Puffin Cove is no longer the newest attraction, lines are short even during the busiest summer day. The penguin exhibit is free.
Ride the 4D motion simulator: The motion simulator ride tucked between the Bird Cage and the Great Apes is air-conditioned. In 2012 the ride is showing a “Happy Feet” spin-off and the chilly atmosphere combined with occasional spritzes of water (for the “fourth” dimension) is a cool break from the summer heat. The motion ride is $3 per person.
Visit the snakes, birds and monkeys: Not all of the zoo animals are housed outdoors. There are three older air-conditioned buildings showcasing smaller animals in the historic Red Rocks area of the zoo. Take a break from the heat and visit all three!
Visit the stingrays: The stingrays live in a giant shallow pool under a shady pavilion. The pavilion is comfortably cooled by fans, plus you get to dip your hands into the water as you try to pet the stingrays. Its $3 to visit the stingrays and free during the first hour the zoo is open. Regular members get half-off their ticket price and it’s free for higher level members with Anywhere Plus Passes.
Get misty: The zoo places misting fans and sprayers throughout the park to keep guests cool. Make sure you pause in the cool mist whenever you wander by one of these.
Splash time: Little ones can take a moment to get wet in the Children’s Zoo splash pad, an area with several fountains they can run through. Veteran moms dress their kids in swimsuits and bring towels. The Children’s Zoo is $4 per person and free the first hour. Members can use their Anywhere Passes for free admission.