– Whether you are new to the area or haven’t explored the region much, a look around town is a rewarding experience.
PHOTO: The Big Muddy Blues Festival is one of several annual outdoor events in St. Louis. Photo: Yeseul Park for The Current ©

By Cate Marquis, A&E editor for The Current

Whether you are new to the area or haven’t explored the region much, a look around town is a rewarding experience. St. Louis area offers a wide variety of entertainment and arts; many options are free and often surprisingly easy-to-reach from the University of Missouri – St. Louis campus.

St. Louis is a city of neighborhoods that have differing styles and offer restaurants, theater, galleries, movies, shopping and more. UMSL’s location gives students close access to areas like the University City Loop, Forest Park, neighborhoods like Ferguson, Old St. Charles, Dogtown, Maplewood and Clayton, as well as downtown St. Louis and Soulard. Areas like the Missouri Botanical Garden, Tower Grove, South Grand, Webster Groves, and Kirkwood are also easily within reach with a short drive.

A must-see in St. Louis is the City Museum downtown. Sculptor and rehabber Bob Cassily created this unique, nearly-indescribable, multi-story playground out of recycled objects, including architectural gems from demolished St. Louis buildings. You can get a workout climbing, sliding and squirming though the structures in the City Museum. After that, chill out with a beverage at Beatnik Bob’s (a recreated Gaslight Square cafe) and then peruse the architectural museum nearby. City Museum also houses St. Louis’ Aquarium, a shoelace factory and school for learning circus arts.

City Museum is located just off Washington Avenue, which is home to some of the city’s hottest clubs and its loft district. Downtown is also home to the Arch (and the museum under it), historic sights such as the Old Courthouse, The Old Cathedral, the riverfront and Laclede’s Landing, as well as Busch Stadium and the St. Louis Cardinals. St. Louis is a great baseball town and a trip to a Cardinals game is a must. Other sports teams, the St. Louis Rams football team and St. Louis Blues hockey team, are also located downtown, at the Edward Jones Dome and the Savvis Center respectively.

One of the most fascinating aspects of St. Louis is how many of the attractions are free. St. Louis offers many world-class cultural attractions to the public free of charge, many of which are located in Forest Park.

The St. Louis Zoo is the largest free zoo in the nation and offers extensive wildlife exhibits in an attractive setting while working on conservation. The Zoo is one of the university’s partners, along with the Missouri Botanical Garden, in the Harris World Ecology Center, which trains graduate students in conservation and research, especially in tropical ecology. Be sure to check out the new seal and sea lion exhibit.

The St. Louis Art Museum boasts free admission to its world-class galleries. SLAM just opened a new wing, a modern architecture addition to the classical Cass Gilbert-designed building. The new wing houses the modern art collection. The Art Museum also has special exhibits for which it charges a reasonable fee but even those are free on Fridays.

Other cultural institutions in or near Forest Park are the St. Louis Science Center and the Missouri History Museum, both also free. In warm weather months, the park is home to the free St. Louis Shakespeare Festival and the Muny, the latter of which stages multiple productions of a variety of Broadway musical classics every year.

Another great cultural institution, but not in the park, is the Missouri Botanical Garden. The Garden is a great place for a walk, showcasing flowers and garden styles from around the world, ranging from a formal English garden to the large Japanese garden.

St. Louis is also home to a number of unique movie theaters. The Tivoli in the Delmar Loop is one of the best the city has to offer but just down the road from the Tivoli is the Hi-Pointe, another renovated 1920s movie house. The Hi-Pointe screens a mix of blockbusters and Oscar-bait films, with a few retrospectives and has great plush, comfy seats. The Moolah, housed in a restored former Shriner’s temple, is an entire entertainment center that includes a unique movie theater.

For music fans, venues like The Pageant in the Loop, The Firebird near Grand Center and the Peabody Opera House downtown welcome an impressive assortment of first-rate touring performers throughout the year. Humble indie “dungeons” like The Plush and Off Broadway are places for local rising musical acts. Scottrade Center and Verizon Wireless Amphitheater are home to pop idols and big tours. The world-class St. Louis Symphony makes its home at Powell Symphony Hall on Grand.

Theater is big in St. Louis. The Fabulous Fox hosts touring Broadway shows in Grand Center. The Repertory Theater of St. Louis stages some of the best dramas at the Loretto Hilton theater in Webster Groves. The same theater is home to the acclaimed Opera Theater of St. Louis, which present first-class opera in English. Dance fans can look forward to the Dance St. Louis season, which brings international famous dance troupes here, often to UMSL’s Touhill Performing Arts Center.

© The Current