St. Louis is turning 250 this year, and visitors who want to join in the celebration can find plenty to do without spending a dime.
The Gateway City was founded by Pierre Laclede and Auguste Chouteau on Feb. 15, 1764. A series of anniversary events is planned throughout the year. But amid the hoopla, there's plenty to do for free.
The iconic Arch, built as a monument to westward expansion, stands 630 feet tall along the banks of the Mississippi River. For a fee, visitors can ride a tram to the top of the arch to enjoy the view. But many attractions at and around the arch are free. That includes the Museum of Westward Expansion in the basement of the arch, focusing on life in the West in the 1800s. The expansive arch grounds are undergoing a multimillion dollar upgrade that is expected to be completed by 2016.
Also free are visits to the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis, also operated by the National Park Service. The courthouse was the site of the famous Dred Scott case that played a role in eventually freeing slaves.
Anheuser-Busch Brewery Tour
The Busch family sold Anheuser-Busch to the Belgian brewer InBev in 2008, but the massive brewery remains an integral part of St. Louis, making some of the nation's bestselling brews.
The complimentary tours are open to all ages — but only those 21 and older can taste the finished product. Younger visitors get soft drinks.
Visitors also see the Budweiser Clydesdales at stables on the brewery site. Reservations are required. The brewery is in the eclectic Soulard area near downtown. Soulard Market offers produce, meats and other goods.
The 281-acre Grant's Farm is owned by the Busch family. The property was founded by Ulysses S. Grant, the Civil War general who later became the nation's 18th president.
The farm, in St. Louis County just south of the city, is home to more than 900 animals. Among them: another group of Budweiser Clydesdales.
Reservations are required.
St. Louis Zoo
The St. Louis Zoo in sprawling Forest Park is considered one of the best in the nation, and one of the few with no admission charge, though fees are charged for some special attractions.
The zoo is home to more than 18,000 animals, including some rare and endangered species. A "Zooline Railroad" takes visitors to various locations and is popular, especially among children.
The zoo is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. most days; 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve; and closed on Christmas and New Year's Day.
The Science Center, also in Forest Park, is funded through the same cultural subsidy as the zoo. It is among the few free science centers in the United States. It was founded as a planetarium in 1963. Today, the center includes more than 750 exhibits in 300,000-plus square feet of space, making it one of the nation's largest science centers.
There are fees for admission to some special exhibits and planetarium shows and an Omnimax Theater.
The center features an enclosed walkway over Interstate 64 that allows visitors to monitor the speeds of cars below.