St Louis Zoo

St Louis Zoo
Location: 1 Government Drive; St Louis, MO  63310
Price: Admission is free
Smashed Penny Machine: Yes, several located throughout the park

The St Louis Zoo is a very large zoo.  It is located in St Louis’s historic Forest Park just off of I-64 a little West of downtown.  Admission to the zoo is completely free.  There are several attractions in the zoo that cost an additional fee: Railroad ($7.95/all-day pass), Sea Lion Show ($4), Children’s Zoo ($4), Stingray Petting ($4/person, $1/food cup), Carousel ($3/ride; adults must pay to accompany child), 4D Theater ($5) – if you are planning on doing more than one get an Adventure Pass ($12.95/person) at the front gate that gives you access to each of these.  There is also a $15 fee for parking at either zoo parking lot.  The zoo is part of Forest Park so you can park your car anywhere parking is legal in the park for free.  However, parking near the zoo fills up very quickly on weekends and in the summer.

We entered the zoo at the South Entrance.  If you are wanting to purchase the Adventure Pass, you’ll do that at the windows before you enter the zoo.  There are bathrooms just to the left of the gift shop (also to your left).  A map kiosk and an information booth is just to your right.  We headed to the right to the historic area of the zoo.  The hill is a pretty steep climb so I always choose to tour this part of the zoo either first thing or later in the afternoon to avoid hiking it in the heat of the day.   There are two indoor exhibits here: the reptile house and the monkey house.  Both are good ways to spend time if the weather isn’t cooperating with you.

We worked our way counter-clockwise through the zoo.  Because we had arrived a little later than we had originally planned (traffic coming into the zoo – this was the first day in weeks where the Midwest wasn’t melt your face hot with 900% humidity so the zoo was VERY busy), we stopped at East Refreshments on the top of Historic Hill for a lite lunch.  We split a cheese burger basket and a chicken strip basket between the four of us.  Both came with a side of fries and a small drink.  It was plenty of food to share and was reasonably priced (for a zoo) costing us just under $20.   The seating here is all outdoors and partially shaded at noon.

One thing I would highly suggest is investing in a Zoo sipper cup.  Currently they are $10.99 per cup with $1.00 refills.  If you park in the parking lot, you will get a $1 off coupon to use.  Also these cups NEVER expire.  So if you are like us and live semi close (we visit about once a year), you can bring the cup back and still get $1.00 refills.  We buy just one cup and share it but there are discounts if you buy multiple cups at a time.

Our favorite exhibits when the weather gets warm are the penguin/puffins coast and the polar bear.  Both have indoor viewing.  Penguin and Puffin Coast is kept at a temperature that the penguins like so it’s always nice and chilly inside (just a warning exiting this exhibit you are dropped right into the middle of a gift shop theme park style).   Sea Lion Sound also has indoor viewing (a tunnel under the enclosure).  Check your times on your map, if you are within 10 minutes of the next Sea Lion feeding don’t go into the tunnels.  The Sea Lions go to where they’ll be fed waiting on the keeper and you can’t see them from within the tunnel.  Both of these attractions can see lines during busy visit days.  Waits typically aren’t more than 10-15 minutes.

We ended our day with a ride on the Zoo Train.  The train makes a full loop of the zoo (including 3 well-lit tunnels).  There are stops in all the major areas of the zoo (Historic Hill, Red Rocks, Lakeside Crossing, River’s Edge, The Wild, Discover Corner) and tickets are good for all day riding so you could use the train to travel around the zoo.  On busy days the waits to board can be fairly long (we waited about 30 minutes).

Overall: There is a lot to see and do at the St Louis Zoo.  Its 100% worth the stop if you are in the area or can make a day trip of it.  Plan to spend a minimum of 3 hours here to see everything.  We love this zoo and make a tradition of coming over every year.

Miss A with the gorilla statue
Miss A and Miss L

Marengo Cave National Landmark

Marengo Cave National Landmark
Location: 400 E State Road 64, Marengo, IN
Price: Tours start at 18/adult and 10/kid 3-12
Smashed Penny Machine: Yes, located in the gift shop

Marengo is about an hour and half East of Evansville and about 45 minutes West of Louisville, KY.  Marengo Caves is just outside of town and is part of the larger Indiana Caverns system.  The park has two guided cave tours, a nature trail, a crawl maze (it’s supposed to simulate cave exploring minus the dirt), a gift shop/snack bar, camp grounds and picnic areas.  The surrounding area also offers several state parks, two additional caves and other outdoor recreation such as canoeing.

They offer two tours of the cave one is about 40 minutes long and the other is about 60 minutes long.  The caves are not accessible to wheelchairs or strollers and you cannot bring a backpack carrier (I would think you could probably do a front pack) so if you are bringing a little one in you’ll have to carry them or they have to walk.

We opted for the 60-minute tour.  Tours depart the gift shop about every 30 minutes during the summer season so we had about a 20-minute wait.  We used the time to get a bathroom break, look around the gift shop and relax in the rocking chairs on the covered porch.  There is a short 5-minute hike on a paved path from the gift shop to the entrance of the cave.

The interior of the cave is damp (this was a very wet cave with several puddles that you needed to step over) and cool (about 52-degree year round).  I found the interior temp refreshing with how hot and humid it was outside but little ones might need a light jacket.  Most of the tour is very well-lit but there are two parts of this tour that little ones that have fears of the dark might have issues (there was one part that was lit by “lanterns” so you could see how the early cave explorers would have come through and then at another point they turn off the lights so you can see how dark the cave really is).  The actual walk is not hard but you are on your feet for the full hour there is nowhere to sit.  Some spots have fairly low ceilings so anyone over 5’7” may have to duck but these were not frequent.  Also to exit the cave you must walk up a flight of uneven stone stairs little ones may need help.

The tour guide was fairly informative about the history of the cave and a little bit about the geology of the cave.  He did say he had only been working at the cave a few months.  A more experienced tour guide probably would have added a little more to the experience but the tour was fine.   The tour ends on the back side of the gift shop.

Overall it was a good tour and a nice stop.  If you did both tours and explored the gift shop, I would say you would need to plan about 2.5 to 3 hours.  We were there about 2 hours (our tour ran a little longer than 60 minutes and we were about 20 minutes early for our tour).  There were dining options in Marengo (about 5 minutes from the cave) or Leavenworth (about 15 minutes from the cave).  If you are driving through the area or are looking for an easy day trip.  We spent about 3 hours in the area (not counting a 5K race we had run that morning) including a late lunch at the Overlook Restaurant in Leavenworth (it’s a small sit down restaurant that overlooks the Ohio River, mid-priced, home-cooking style food).

Adam and Miss L

Day Trips

Day trips are a great way to see some really cool things near your home town.  Since they are close to home they normally won’t cost as much because you don’t have to worry about hotels.  I live in Evansville, IN which is in the Southwest Corner of the state.  Because of our location many great day trips for us might also make a good day trip if you are coming from Indianapolis, IN (3 hours Northeast), St Louis, MO (2.5 hours West), Louisville, KY (2 hours East), Cincinnati, OH (3.5 hours Northeast) or Nashville, TN (2.5 hours South).

Marengo Caves – Marengo, IN

St Louis Zoo – St Louis, MO

Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial – Lincoln City, IN

O’Bannon Woods State Park – Corydon, IN

Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park – Hodgenville, KY

Mammoth Cave National Park – Cave City, KY

Dinosaur World – Cave City, KY

Alabama Welcome Center

Alabama Welcome Center
Location: I-65 (Southbound lanes only) near Huntsville, AL
Attraction: Saturn IB rocket
Cost: Free

As you are entering Alabama headed south via I-65, your first stop should be the Alabama Welcome Center.  This is cooler than other welcome centers.  Although it does offer all the same amenities as normal rest stop – bathrooms, vending machines, picnic tables, etc, this rest stop features a real life space ship.  At one end of the parking lot stands a Saturn IB rocket.  The Saturn IB rocket was used during the Apollo missions (https://www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/rocketry/imagegallery/rh_Saturn-1B.jpg.html#.Wylu3KdKgdU).  There is now a safety fence around the rocket so you can’t walk under it anymore but it’s still a pretty cool thing to walk over to see while you stretch your legs.  Inside the information building there are also a few pieces of NASA history (spacesuit, etc) and a cardboard cutout where your kid can get their picture as an astronaut.  This is a great spot for a short stop for a bathroom break and picture op with the rocket.

The family with the rocket

Roadside Attractions

There is just something fun about random roadside attractions.  They are never anything big enough to plan a whole trip around but sometimes that can be a real highlight of the trip.  These are great ways to spend a couple of minutes stretching your legs, using the restroom and getting a fun picture.

Alabama

I-65 Welcome Center  – Saturn IB Rocket

Arizona

Wigwam Motel – Holbrook, AZ

Standing on the Corner Park – Winslow, AZ

Missouri

Uranus Missouri – St Robert, MO

Oklahoma

World’s Largest Totem Pole – Foyil, OK

Pop’s Soda Ranch – Arcadia, OK

South Dakota

Corn Palace – Mitchell, SD