St. Louis attracts the curious. From a replica of Charles Lindbergh’s trans-Atlantic plane to a flight simulator that illustrates the science behind aerial experiences, the Gateway to the West keeps educates and fascinates visitors at museums, art galleries and gardens.
Groups can explore top-rated attractions on a budget, since the Missouri city boasts more free attractions than anyplace outside of Washington, D.C. The city’s educational opportunities are seemingly endless with the St. Louis Zoo, the St. Louis Art Museum and the Anheuser-Busch St. Louis Brewery among some of the favorites.
Adult groups rave about the fascinating history, science, art and biology experiences at these four St. Louis attractions.
History: Missouri History Museum
A slight plane that barely fits one passenger hangs above the entrance of the Missouri History Museum. Though it may seem insignificant, the Spirit of St. Louis replicates the unlikely aircraft that Charles Lindbergh flew on the first solo, nonstop trans-Atlantic flight.
Groups can discover the city’s connection with the plane as well as its broader history from its founding in 1764 to the present day. Exhibits on the city’s baseball history follow the Browns and the Cardinals through the years. Other exhibits give insight into life on the Mississippi River, the Lewis and Clark expedition and the civil rights movement.
Opened in 1913, the museum originally served as the first national monument to Thomas Jefferson. The building sits on the site of the main entrance to the 1904 World’s Fair, a significant event covered in depth in the museum.
The museum offers free admission and rotates several traveling exhibits a year. Groups can also book step-on guides or city walking tours through the museum.
“They offer a gallery talk where they have people come in and portray characters from St. Louis’ history,” said Renee Eichelberger, director of leisure travel sales for Explore St. Louis. “That is something you can do at any age that enhances the experience. The museum will tailor tours to each group. They have curators that can talk about various topics, such as the Civil War or Route 66.”
Cafe St. Louis, on the second floor of the museum, serves dishes tied to the city’s history.
Science: St. Louis Science Center
See the stars, solve a crime or uncover dinosaur bones at the St. Louis Science Center. The museum enthralls student and adult groups with more than 700 interactive exhibits that explore atoms, oceans, stardust, dinosaurs and dark matter.
Groups can try to solve a fake crime at the Life Science Lab before riding on the Segway Human Transporter. New simulators provide a five-minute flight with 3D technology that creates a sensory experience. The Take the Controls Simulator allows participants to take off full throttle toward downtown St. Louis and attempt to fly through the Gateway Arch.
The newest exhibit, the Energy Stage, will host live, interactive science shows. For an immersive experience, guests can buy tickets to a film at the museum’s four-story Omnimax Theater.
“‘Pompeii: The Exhibition’ is their special exhibit going on right now,” said Eichelberger. “You can learn about the city before the destruction and how they excavated it. Pompeii has a limited run, but there are also many incredible permanent exhibits.”
The James S. McDonnell Planetarium opened in 1963 and continues to host groups with night-sky presentations.
Art: Third-Degree Glass Factory
Molten glass fascinates groups of all ages and interests during glassblowing demonstrations at the Third-Degree Glass Factory. The narrated experience explains glassblowing step by step while visitors see a work of art created before their eyes.
The art gallery offers dramatic flameworking demonstrations in which artists shape miniature sculptures using a torch. For groups seeking to learn glassmaking skills, artists from the venue will help participants create their own pieces of glass art. Glass crafts include paperweights, ornaments, jewelry and several other projects.
Groups can also book tours of the site and browse two art galleries with local art of various media. The Hotshop Gallery showcases glass artwork from over 35 different glassblowing, flameworking and fused-glass artists made on-site.
The Third-Degree Glass Factory hosts private catered events at its 7,000-square-foot rental space. The factory plans to open an expansion to the site in July.
Jim McKelvey and Doug Auer opened the factory as the only publicly accessible glass-art studio and education center in St. Louis. They transformed a dilapidated 1930s car dealership into the state-of-the-art glass facility.
“It is close to the Delmar neighborhood, which was voted one of the top streets in the nation,” said Eichelberger. “It is full of little shops and restaurants. It is great for groups when people want a dinner on their own. There is a trolley that runs from one end of the loop and back. It also runs to Forest Park.”
Horticulture: Missouri Botanical Garden
Groups can craft a mosaic steppingstone, a floral embroidery or a whimsical garden sculpture at a hands-on class at the Missouri Botanical Garden. The garden offers workshops and guided tours, both walking and accessible.
“It is a perfect place for groups,” said Eichelberger. “They have a narrated tram you can reserve for groups to tour the gardens. Because it is 79 acres, a tram is a great option for tours.”
Founded in 1859, the Missouri Botanical Garden is one of the country’s oldest botanical gardens in continuous operation. Display gardens with sculptures woven in fit various themes, among them the Chinese Garden, the English Woodland Garden, the Japanese Garden and the Victorian District.
The newly opened Stephen and Peter Sachs Museum features traveling displays in an 1859 building. Other displays contain musical instruments, baskets and natural kitchen tools to illustrate various ways people use plants.
Standing above the garden is the Climatron, the first geodesic dome used as a conservatory. The dome holds more than 2,800 plants in a simulated rain-forest atmosphere filled with waterfalls.
In 2006, the garden featured numerous Dale Chihuly sculptures displayed throughout its grounds. The exhibition proved so popular that the garden purchased four of the pieces to keep. Groups can see the sculptures among the water lilies in front of the Climatron.