Picnicking at the Magnificent Forest Park
“I present to you, the people of St. Louis, this large and beautiful Forest Park for enjoyment of yourselves, your children and your children’s children forever...The rich and poor, the merchant and mechanic, the professional man and day laborer, can come here...all without stint or hindrance...and there will be no notice put up, Keep Off the Grass.” – Judge Chauncey F. Shultz at the dedication of Forest Park, June 24, 1876
Great cities such as New York, London, Sydney and Paris – regardless of how much they differ – all have a few things in common: instantly recognizable buildings and landmarks, fascinating history, cultural diversity, unique neighborhoods, and cuisine that is inextricably tied to the city itself. And one more thing – they all have a particular plot of green space, a park that is as much a part of the metropolis as the streets and sidewalks trod upon by countless generations of people.
By those criteria, the city of St. Louis qualifies on all counts. It has the Gateway Arch, toasted ravioli, and history that stretches back over two-and-a-half centuries. And Forest Park, established just 20 years after New York’s famous Central Park, is a true American treasure. An impressive 1,357 acres – 500 acres larger than its east coast counterpart – it is the seventh largest urban park in the entire nation and as much a part of St. Louis as the Mississippi River itself.
“Forest Park is, first of all, an escape from the din and bustle of the urban landscape. A bike and pedestrian path circles the park while several lakes provide tranquil places for strolling and relaxing.”
A Park for Everyone
Forest Park is, first of all, an escape from the din and bustle of the urban landscape. A bike and pedestrian path circles the park while several lakes provide tranquil places for strolling and relaxing. Visitors can rent a paddle boat at Post-Dispatch Lake or fish at Jefferson Lake. A favorite place for picnics and pictures is The Cascades, a 75-foot man-made waterfall named after the original waterfall constructed for the 1904 World’s Fair. The park also features two wooded areas with hiking trails and walking paths. More than a dozen designated picnic areas are scattered throughout Forest Park; a favorite is Picnic Island, accessible by a charming suspension bridge.
If sports and fitness are more up your alley, you will find plenty to do at Forest Park. Several athletic fields, 19 lighted tennis courts, a sand volleyball court (used as a skating rink in winter), three nine-hole golf courses, a driving range, sledding, handball and lacrosse courts, a running track, and bicycle rental are all available.
The vast size and beautiful natural setting of Forest Park make it the ideal place for many of the city’s major cultural institutions.
• St. Louis Zoo is home to over 16,000 animals, several of which are rare and endangered. Primates, big cats, bears, kangaroos, rhinos, elephants, hippos, and many more are on view. Admission is free.
• St. Louis Science Center contains nearly 800 exhibits in 30,000 square feet of floor space. The museum frequently changes exhibits, so there is always something new to see. Past exhibitions include relics from the Titanic and a large display of Star Trek items and memorabilia.
• The Muny (short for “St. Louis Municipal Opera Theatre”), dating to 1919, is the largest and oldest outdoor theatre in the United States. The last nine rows of the 11,000-seat venue – 1,500 seats – are free and available on a first come, first served basis. Several Broadway-style musicals are produced and performed at the Muny each summer.
• The Jewel Box, a greenhouse and horticultural facility built in 1936, is a popular Forest Park attraction. A major renovation was completed in 2002 to restore the building to its original condition. This unique landmark features distinctive cantilevered glass walls rising more than 50 feet high. The Jewel Box is on the National Register of Historic Places.
• St. Louis Art Museum, opened in 1881, is one of the principal art museums in the United States. It houses more than 30,000 paintings, sculptures, and ancient masterpieces from around the world. Highlights include several European masters and two Egyptian mummies. Admission is free.
• Missouri History Museum contains items related to the history of St. Louis and Missouri such as objects from the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair and articles documenting Charles Lindbergh’s trans-Atlantic flight in The Spirit of St. Louis. Admission is free (some exhibits require an additional fee).
To be sure, the great American city of St. Louis has much to offer. After you snap all your photos and selfies at the Gateway Arch, sample toasted ravioli and barbecue, and catch a Cardinals or Blues game, explore the real city at magnificent Forest Park. Only then can you truly say you’ve been to St. Louis.