When you think of big city parks, Central Park in New York City or Golden Gate Park in San Francisco may come to mind. However, nestled in the heart of the St. Louis metropolitan area is a hidden gem that gives those iconic parks a run for their money – Forest Park. Covering 1,300 acres, Forest Park is one of the largest urban parks in the United States and boasts over 180 acres of Nature Reserves filled with lush forests, wetlands, prairies, and savannas.
But Forest Park isn’t just a place to escape from the city. It’s a thriving cultural hub that houses some of St. Louis’ major institutions, including the Missouri History Museum, Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis Science Center, Saint Louis Zoo, and The Muny, the largest outdoor musical theater in the country. Not to mention the park is filled with iconic destinations and gathering spots, such as the World’s Fair Pavilion, the Jewel Box flower conservatory and venue space, the Emerson Grand Basin, and the Boathouse, which offers year-round dining and boating opportunities during the spring, summer, and fall.
Whether you’re a local or a visitor, there’s something for everyone in Forest Park. From recreational and sports offerings like golf courses, tennis courts, and the oldest and largest outdoor ice skating rink in the Midwest, to a 5.6-mile bike and pedestrian path that circles the park’s perimeter, and over 30 miles of trails for hikers and bikers to explore every corner of the park. Plus, the park hosts numerous annual events, such as the Great Forest Park Balloon Race and the free Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, that are sure to delight visitors of all ages.
In this article, we’ll dive into the best things to do in Forest Park, so you can make the most out of your visit to this natural oasis. So pack a picnic, put on your walking shoes, and let’s explore what Forest Park has to offer!
Forest Park is not only a place of natural beauty and recreation but also home to many of St. Louis’ cultural institutions. The park is a hub for history, science, art, and culture, with institutions that cater to both adults and children alike.
Missouri History Museum
The Missouri History Museum is a must-visit for history buffs and anyone interested in learning about the rich cultural history of Missouri. The museum features exhibits on the history of St. Louis, the state of Missouri, and beyond, showcasing the stories and struggles of the people who have lived and shaped the region over the centuries. Admission to the museum is free, and visitors can explore the permanent exhibits and rotating galleries that cover a wide range of topics, from the Civil War to the impact of immigration on Missouri.
Saint Louis Art Museum
The Saint Louis Art Museum is one of the city’s most treasured institutions, boasting a collection of over 34,000 works of art from around the world. The museum is known for its comprehensive collection of American art, as well as its significant holdings of European, Asian, and African art. Visitors can explore the museum’s many galleries, which feature paintings, sculptures, and decorative art from ancient times to the present day. Admission to the museum is free, but some special exhibitions may require an admission fee.
Saint Louis Science Center
The Saint Louis Science Center is a great place for kids and adults alike to explore the wonders of science and technology. The museum offers a range of interactive exhibits and hands-on activities, covering topics such as space exploration, energy, and sustainability, and even a massive OMNIMAX theater that offers an immersive movie-watching experience. The museum is also home to the James S. McDonnell Planetarium, where visitors can learn about astronomy and the cosmos in an immersive environment. Admission to the museum is free, but some exhibits and special events may require a fee.
Saint Louis Zoo
The Saint Louis Zoo is one of the city’s most popular attractions and a must-visit for animal lovers. The zoo is home to over 18,000 animals from more than 600 species, including bears, lions, tigers, giraffes, and penguins. The zoo is divided into several zones, each with its own unique theme and animals. Visitors can get up close and personal with the animals in a range of exhibits, from the Penguin & Puffin Coast to the Big Cat Country. Admission to the zoo is free, but some exhibits may require a fee.
The Muny is the country’s largest outdoor musical theater, located in the heart of Forest Park. The theater has been putting on Broadway-style shows for over 100 years and has welcomed some of the biggest names in entertainment to its stage. The Muny offers an immersive and unforgettable theater experience, with a seating capacity of 11,000 and a massive stage that can accommodate complex sets, special effects, and even fireworks. Whether you’re a theater buff or simply looking for a unique entertainment experience, a visit to The Muny is not to be missed.
Iconic Destinations and Gathering Spots
Forest Park is home to several iconic destinations and gathering spots that are a must-visit for anyone exploring the park. These places offer visitors unique and unforgettable experiences, from breathtaking views of the park to year-round dining and boat rental opportunities.
World’s Fair Pavilion
The World’s Fair Pavilion is a stunning, historic building that was originally built for the 1904 World’s Fair. Today, the pavilion is a popular gathering spot for weddings, parties, and other special events. The pavilion offers breathtaking views of the park, with a large open-air space that can accommodate up to 1,000 guests. It’s also home to the annual Chinese Culture Days festival, a celebration of Chinese arts, music, and culture.
The Jewel Box is a stunning greenhouse and event space that’s home to a collection of rare and exotic plants. The venue is perfect for weddings, parties, and other special events, with a stunning glass conservatory that offers a one-of-a-kind setting for any occasion. The Jewel Box also hosts seasonal flower shows, which are a must-visit for anyone interested in horticulture or simply looking for a beautiful and unique experience.
Emerson Grand Basin
The Emerson Grand Basin is a large, scenic body of water located in the heart of Forest Park. The basin is surrounded by a paved walking path, making it a popular spot for walkers, joggers, and bikers. During the summer months, the basin is home to a variety of free events, including concerts and festivals. It’s also a great place to relax and enjoy the scenery, with plenty of benches and picnic tables available for visitors.
The Boathouse is a year-round dining destination that offers stunning views of Post-Dispatch Lake. The restaurant serves up classic American fare, including burgers, sandwiches, and salads, and features a spacious outdoor patio that’s perfect for enjoying a meal al fresco. During the spring, summer, and fall months, the Boathouse also offers a variety of boat rentals, including paddle boats, canoes, and kayaks, making it a great spot for a fun and active day out.
These iconic destinations and gathering spots offer visitors a chance to experience the beauty and diversity of Forest Park while also enjoying some of the best food, entertainment, and scenery in the area.
Recreational and Sports Offerings
Forest Park is not only a beautiful place to enjoy nature and culture, but it also offers a wide range of recreational and sports offerings that cater to everyone’s interests and skill levels. From golf courses and tennis courts to ice skating rinks and playgrounds, there’s something for everyone in this expansive park.
Forest Park is home to two public golf courses, the Norman K. Probstein Golf Course and the Highlands Golf and Tennis Center. The Norman K. Probstein Golf Course is a beautiful 27-hole course that features rolling hills, lakes, and streams, making it a challenging and picturesque course to play on. The Highlands Golf and Tennis Center is a more laid-back 9-hole course that’s perfect for beginners or anyone looking for a quick round of golf.
The Dwight Davis Tennis Center is a state-of-the-art tennis facility that features 18 outdoor and 6 indoor courts. The center offers clinics, lessons, and leagues for players of all ages and skill levels, making it a great spot for anyone looking to improve their game or just hit some balls.
The Steinberg Skating Rink is the oldest and largest outdoor ice skating rink in the Midwest. The rink is open from mid-November to mid-March and offers a magical experience for skaters of all ages. The rink also hosts special events throughout the season, such as skate parties, live music, and more.
In addition to the golf courses, tennis courts, and skating rink, Forest Park offers a variety of other amenities, such as playgrounds, picnic sites, ball fields, handball courts, and racquetball courts. These amenities provide visitors with a wide range of recreational activities and opportunities for fun and play.
Dual Recreation Path
Visitors and locals alike enjoy the 5.6-mile bike and pedestrian Dual Recreation Path that circles the perimeter of the Park. This path is perfect for anyone looking to explore the park on foot or by bike, offering beautiful views and easy access to many of the park’s top destinations and gathering spots.
For those looking to explore deeper into the park, there are over 30 miles of trails throughout Forest Park. These trails wind through forests, wetlands, prairies, and savannas, providing visitors with a chance to experience the natural beauty and diversity of the park up close.
Whether you’re an avid golfer, tennis player, skater, or just looking to enjoy a day out in nature, Forest Park has something for everyone. With its wide range of recreational and sports offerings, this park truly offers a unique and diverse experience for visitors of all ages and interests.
In addition to its many recreational and cultural attractions, Forest Park is home to a number of exciting annual events that draw visitors from near and far. From the GO! St. Louis Marathon to the Great Forest Park Balloon Race, there’s always something exciting happening in this vibrant park.
GO! St. Louis Marathon
Held in late March or early April, the GO! St. Louis Marathon is a popular event that draws runners from all over the country. The course winds through the beautiful streets of St. Louis, including a stretch through Forest Park, offering runners a chance to experience the city’s natural beauty and cultural landmarks.
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis
Every year in late May or June, the Shakespeare Festival St. Louis takes over Forest Park’s Shakespeare Glen for a series of free outdoor performances of the Bard’s most beloved works. Visitors are invited to bring a picnic blanket and enjoy a night of live theater under the stars.
Great Forest Park Balloon Race
Held on the third weekend in September, the Great Forest Park Balloon Race is one of the most popular events in the city. The race features dozens of hot air balloons taking to the sky over Forest Park, creating a stunning and colorful spectacle that’s not to be missed. The event also includes a variety of food and drink vendors, live music, and other fun activities.
Charity Walks and Runs
Throughout the year, Forest Park hosts a number of charity walks and runs, providing visitors with a chance to give back to their community while enjoying a day out in the park. These events cover a wide range of causes and issues, from breast cancer awareness to support for veterans, and offer a fun and meaningful way to spend a day in the great outdoors.
Finally, Forest Park is also home to a number of community festivals throughout the year, celebrating the city’s diverse cultures and traditions. From the St. Louis Art Fair to the Festival of Nations, these events offer visitors a chance to experience the city’s vibrant energy and rich heritage.
No matter what time of year you visit Forest Park, there’s always something exciting happening. With its wide range of annual events, this park truly offers a unique and unforgettable experience for visitors of all ages and interests.
Fun for Everyone
Forest Park is one of the most exciting and diverse destinations in the United States. With over 1,300 acres of pristine natural beauty, a wide range of recreational and cultural offerings, and a variety of annual events that draw visitors from around the country, this park truly has something for everyone.
Whether you’re a local looking for a fun and engaging day out with your family, or a visitor to the city searching for a unique and memorable experience, Forest Park is the perfect destination. From the Saint Louis Art Museum to the Saint Louis Zoo, the Jewel Box to the Great Forest Park Balloon Race, this park offers a truly unique and unforgettable experience that you won’t find anywhere else.
So if you’re looking for a great way to spend a day, a weekend, or even a whole week, make sure to put Forest Park on your list. With so much to see and do, this park truly is a must-visit destination for anyone who loves nature, culture, and adventure.