St. Louis, Missouri, is a city best known as the home to one of America’s most iconic structures: The Gateway Arch. But aside from this magnificent landmark and other attractions such as fantastic food tours or museums full of world-class art, St Louis offers so much more. Its location along the Mississippi River offers a beautiful backdrop to the second most populated city in Missouri.
With the exorbitant home prices in many US cities, I really believe that an increasing number of families are going to move to lower-cost cities like St. Louis, especially as remote work becomes more common.
Why pay a half-million dollars or more for a two-bedroom condo in a high-cost-of-living area when you can get a beautiful house in an awesome neighborhood for the same price in St. Louis? Here are several other reasons why I believe that St. Louis is up-and-coming and a great place to raise a family.
1) Awesome Family-Friendly FREE Attractions
St. Louis is a young frugal family’s dream. There are so many fun and exciting activities to do for free. While most of these places charge for parking, you can easily avoid those charges if you’re willing to take a longer walk. I know that a few free attractions don’t make or break a city, but these are places that would likely cost a family of four well over $100 in admission in other cities.
Since this is a travel and personal finance blog, low-cost activities will certainly be an area of focus. Below are five awesome activities that families can do for free.
Located within beautiful Forest Park, the St. Louis Zoo is always listed as one of the best in the country. We live only a few miles from the zoo and instead of going for a walk in a regular park, we often drive to the zoo to walk around and enjoy the sites. Our four-year-old has developed a love of animals as a result. We were in San Diego a couple of years ago, which has one of the other best zoos in the country, and their ticket prices were $55 per person. We get to enjoy a similar zoo in St. Louis for FREE.
As much as we love the zoo, Grant’s Farm may be our favorite spot. Grant’s Farm was named after Ulysses S. Grant who owned and lived on the property and is now owned by the Anheuser Busch family. Grant’s Farm is almost like a mini zoo. It’s located right in the middle of a residential area, so you’ll be casually driving down the street and look over only to see zebras, buffalo, and other animals you wouldn’t usually see within a densely populated area.
Kids have the chance to feed the goats, ride the carousel, pet a camel, and much more. Not only is admission free, but adults can enjoy two free beers in the beer garden once making it through the park. Grant’s Farm often has live music during the summer at night which makes for a great relaxing evening.
The Science Center may be our kids’ favorite place. It also comes in clutch during the cold winter months since it’s almost entirely indoors. There are more than 750 exhibits including everything from space travel, to physics, to archaeology. They constantly keep exhibits updated and it seems they try to completely change at least one area every year. The last time we were there they had remodeled an area with vintage video games. Frugal tip: there’s no charge for parking if you park in Forest Park and use the walkway.
Yet another Forest Park attraction along with the Science Center and the Zoo. If you haven’t figured it out by now, Forest Park is an amazing spot in St. Louis with so much to do. The History Museum is another free attraction that you can spend all day exploring.
This is a great place to learn more about the rich history of St. Louis, including the important part our city played in the civil war that still complicates race relations in the city today. Like many of the other attractions, they frequently have events for kids, so be sure to check their schedule before visiting.
The Citygarden is one of the newer attractions in downtown St. Louis. In fact, it’s less of an attraction and more of a park that takes up a couple of city blocks. This urban park is filled with splash pads, sculptures, wading pools, and food trucks usually aren’t far away either. On occasion, the garden hosts free concerts and has a really cool Christmas light display.
My kids are in love with splash pads, as this is a great place to cool down during the hot summer months. The newly revamped Keener Plaza is right around the corner, which also leads to the famous St. Louis Arch.
2) Emerging Startup Job Market and Leader in Female Entrepreneurship
St. Louis’s low cost of living is attractive to start-up companies. St. Louis seems to constantly show up in articles such as this one by Forbes that highlights the start-up culture in St. Louis. When you consider that business costs are 57 percent higher in a high-cost-of-living city like San Francisco compared to St. Louis, why not give St. Louis a chance?
St. Louis is host to several great universities, such as Washington University and St. Louis University, so the professional talent is in the area. Having more start-ups will help keep graduates from moving away.
In addition to the start-up market, St. Louis is also taking a leadership role in sustainability. The city has made a commitment to 100% renewable energy by 2035, so there has been an increase in jobs in the energy and environment industry.
The St. Louis area is also home to several Fortune 500 companies such as Express Scripts, Emerson Electric, Monsanto, Reinsurance Group of America, Centene, Peabody Energy, Ameren, Graybar Electric, and Edward Jones. Additionally, though Anheuser Busch is not locally owned any longer, the company remains firmly entrenched in the city’s culture.
Finally, a study in 2019 showed that St. Louis leads the nation in female entrepreneurship. Not only does St. Louis lead the pack, but from a percentage standpoint, it’s not even close. This study by Seek Capital shows that 45.2% of start-ups in the St. Louis area are female-owned. The next closest city is Austin, TX, with 32.7%. While it would be great to see all of these numbers closer to 50%, it’s impressive that St. Louis is leading the way.
3) Outstanding Existing Parks and Developing Greenways
One of the things I love most about living in St. Louis is that you can be right in the middle of a large urban area and then drive 20 miles and be out in the country. However, even within St. Louis city and county, there are so many great parks, trails, and greenways.
Forest Park has already been mentioned several times. Forest Park is one of the most beautiful urban public parks in the United States. In 2016 it was voted the #1 city park in the United States. Forest Park attracts 13 million visitors a year, making it the sixth most visited park in the United States.
In addition to the free attractions mentioned above, Forest Park also has an outdoor theatre (Muny), golf course, ice skating rink, baseball fields, greenhouse, art museum, and much more. You can spend all day just walking through this beautiful park that was home to the 1904 World’s Fair.
The Great Rivers Greenway is a particularly exciting initiative that is focused on connecting communities together to strengthen the social, economic, and environmental well-being of St. Louis. The St. Louis metro area has several bike and walking paths, but the problem is they are currently disconnected.
Part of the Great Rivers Greenway effort will connect many of these disjointed paths. This is especially exciting to my family recently built a connecting bike path right by our house which connects three current bike paths that were disjointed.
Our new favorite park is Francis Park in St. Louis Hills and we spent a lot of time here with our kids. They have a great playground and plenty of green space right in the middle of a beautiful neighborhood. The park also includes tennis and pickleball courts, softball fields, and handball courts. There are also regular activities such as 6 pm yoga sessions and more.
This article provides an overview of many of the other great parks in the St. Louis area.
4) Hot Real Estate Market Yet Affordable Housing Costs
The St. Louis real estate market doesn’t typically see huge price swings. During the great recession, the St. Louis market definitely felt the pain of the downturn, but it was nothing like what was seen in some coastal cities where prices dropped by half or even more. Coming out of the recession, St. Louis seemed to stumble, and it took a while for things to heat up. During the last few years, the market has definitely gotten hot in St. Louis. Like many placed in the country, inventory has remained low, which has caused prices to spike recently.
Even with the hot real estate market here in 2021, the median home price in the St. Louis metro remains very reasonable at $166,000. When you compare this to other major cities, St. Louis remains one of the most affordable cities in the country. I’ve mentioned multiple times the primary reason my family has achieved complete debt freedom is due to living in a low cost of living area. St. Louis provides all the amenities of a top 25 metro area, with prices that are reasonable and affordable.
5) Great Family-Friendly Sports Town
If your family is not into sports, this one may not appeal to you. If you are into sports, this is a great city to be in despite only having two major sports teams. The St. Louis Cardinals baseball team is one of the most successful franchises in Major League Baseball. Cardinal baseball is firmly ingrained in the culture of St. Louis.
Opening day is basically a holiday in this city, and when the Cardinals are in the playoffs, almost everyone gets involved, whether they are baseball fans or not. I am so excited to hopefully get back to full stadiums at some point in 2021.
St. Louis is also home to the St. Louis Blues of the National Hockey League (NHL). While hockey plays second fiddle for some, the city gets almost as excited for the Blues. The Blues have been part of the NHL for more than 50 years and have yet to win a championship (Stanley Cup). That all changed in 2019 when they won their first Stanley Cup! The city was energized by the Blues run, and the memories from their championship run will live on forever.
If you’d like an outsider’s view of St. Louis, check out this blog post from a Winnipeg Jets fan (the team the Blues played in round 1 of the 2019 playoffs). Not only is it a great review of his experience, but it’s also an outstanding review of St. Louis in general. I love how sports can bring families and even cities together.
St. Louis also used to be home to two National Football League (NFL) teams, the Cardinals and Rams. The Rams left St. Louis in 2016 to move to Los Angeles. On the way out, the ownership group trashed the city and made it look like St. Louis was the problem. The truth is that St. Louis made every effort to keep the team in our city, but moving the team to Los Angeles basically doubled the value of the franchise overnight. If you ever want to get me fired up, bring up this topic, and I’ll tell you all about it.
Last but not least, St. Louis will be getting a Major League Soccer (MLS) expansion team in 2022. They are also currently building a new stadium in downtown St. Louis. Most kids grow up playing soccer and at least know the game somewhat well. Having an MLS team will be a great addition to our city.
6) Excellent Public and Private Schools
Let’s get this out of the way, the public school system within the St. Louis city limits is not the best. However, there are several great public schools within St. Louis County. St. Louis also has strong Catholic roots, so many families who do not live within the best school districts will opt to send their kids to private school if they can afford it. Many of the private high schools in the area are either all-boy or all-girl schools, which I understand is different from many other cities.
St. Louis often shows up in rankings as having terrible schools. Similar to murder statistics, they are heavily skewed by the city and county divide. These statistics often do not take into consideration private schools as well. If you look at the schools within St. Louis county (which would be part of the “city” in most other areas), many are top-notch.
7) Lower than Average Childcare Expenses
Childcare is expensive in the United States, almost no matter where you live. We sent our oldest to a public school early childhood center, and it still costs us about $600 per month. While I wasn’t able to find rankings by metro area, Missouri is in the bottom half of states for childcare costs.
Childcare is increasingly becoming a bigger hit to the budgets of young families. With the average cost of childcare in America rising to nearly $10,000 per year, this is often the driver in deciding between one parent continuing to work or staying at home. And while that decision is going to vary by family, the cost shouldn’t be what drives the decision.
This becomes even more challenging for single-parent households who, in many cases, have to either pay high costs for childcare or rely on assistance from family or the government.
This is another one of those complicated issues that I could write an entire blog post about. For now, we can probably all agree that childcare costs are growing to unsustainable levels in this country, and a city like St. Louis, which remains on the lower end, could be more attractive to young families.
8) The City Museum, Botanical Garden, Arch, 9 Mile Garden, and Aquarium
I couldn’t really find another category to put these four attractions into, but they are too great not to mention. While they aren’t free attractions, they aren’t that expensive either.
If you’ve never been to the City Museum, it’s an experience unlike any other. From their website:
Expect the unexpected. City Museum is a hundred-year-old warehouse in downtown St. Louis in which artists have repurposed the pieces of old cities to build miles of tunnels, slides, climbers, bridges, and castles. There are secret passages and grand galleries. Playgrounds and ball pits. A circus and a train. A rooftop school bus and a Ferris wheel.
The City Museum is the one really unique place that visitors always seem to mention. Tickets are reasonable at about $15 for adults. This is a great place to take your family, whether you live in St. Louis or are visiting.
Today, the Garden is a National Historic Landmark and a center for science, conservation, education, and horticultural display – widely considered one of the top three botanical gardens in the world. It features 79 acres of horticultural displays, including indoor conservatories and demonstration, formal and international gardens.
This could have been included in the free attractions section as well since admission is free on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. Even when not free, tickets are only $6 for adults. This is a great place to take an early morning walk and they have lots of activities for kids. Such a great place to have in St. Louis!
You can’t mention St. Louis without the Gateway Arch. The arch grounds have recently gone through a full remodel including more green space, walking paths, and a new museum. We haven’t yet visited the new museum but this is on our list for this summer. And of course, you can get a great view of the entire city by taking the tram to the top of the arch.
Our new favorite place in St. Louis is the 9 Mile Garden. The 9 Mile Garden is a food truck park located in Affton (South County) and features lunch and dinner service seven days a week. There’s usually seven or eight food trucks available at the park during each service.
The Canteen is an indoor tap room offering a wide selection of draft beers right next to the garden. There are nightly activities for the family including movie nights, live music, trivia, comedy nights, and more. We are fortunate to live about a mile away from the 9 Mile Garden so we visit frequently with family and friends.
Last but not least, in 2019 St. Louis opened a new 120,000 square foot Aquarium in the heart of downtown in Union Station. The aquarium is surrounded by new restaurants, Ferris Wheel, and mini golf course, among other activities. Having a top notch aquarium is great for the city and you should definitely check it out!
9) Music and Theater Scene
Music and theater really aren’t my thing, but like sports, they can be appealing to many families. St. Louis has a diverse music and theater scene. There are several venues, both indoor and outdoor, where you can see some of the most popular performers in the country, or the next up-and-coming band or theater performance.
This could mean seeing the latest underground band at the Pageant in the trendy Loop area only a few miles outside of downtown. The Old Rock House is another smaller venue in the heart of downtown where you can see your favorite performers. More popular performers will often be at the Hollywood Casino Amphitheater in St. Charles, which is an outdoor venue with a capacity of 20,000 people.
If theater is more of your interest, you could take the family to America’s oldest and largest outdoor musical theater at the Muny in Forest Park. This is a truly outstanding place to watch a musical, especially on a nice weather day. Even when hot and humid, there are large fans that keep the temperature bearable. For indoor venues, the Fabulous Fox theater is one of the most beautiful buildings in the area. The newly remodeled Stiefel theatre is also one of the best.
Last but certainly not least, the St. Louis Symphony will hopefully reopen at some point in 2021. Powell Hall is another beautiful older building that your family will love.
10) Reasonable Commutes and Moderate Traffic
Spending time in other big cities such as Los Angeles has me appreciating the relatively moderate traffic levels in the St. Louis area. Having a reasonable commute to work is an important factor in our family. Where we live is less than 10 miles from where I work, and was less than 10 miles in the other direction from where my wife taught.
Even though I work downtown, I can usually make it from home to work in about 20 minutes. This has been less of an issue during the past year of the pandemic but I’m sure at some point we’ll return to more normal activities.
For the past several years, highways in the St. Louis metro area have been under construction. This has made traffic worse in several areas, though overall, it’s still reasonable compared to other cities. I used to work with several people in the Washington DC area and was amazed at all the people who had 60 to 90 minute commutes to work every day. I can’t fathom spending an extra two hours commuting every day.
Public transportation in the St. Louis area isn’t the best, partially because there are more people who live in St. Louis county and St. Charles county that commute downtown than people who actually live in the city. With people so spread out over the metro area, it makes it challenging to offer great public transportation. St. Louis does have a light rail system (Metrolink) that is convenient if you live near one of the stops.
In Summary: St. Louis is a Great Place Visit and to Raise a Family
I made it through an entire blog post about St. Louis without mentioning toasted ravioli or any of the other great food and drink in the area. While our love for beer, pork steaks, pizza, and toasted ravioli certainly is an important part of the city, it may not be in the top 10 reasons to raise a family in St. Louis.
St. Louis is a great place to raise a family with its affordable housing market, thriving economy especially for female entrepreneurs and start-ups, excellent schools, tons of free and low-cost activities, and thriving music, theater, and sports scene. What more could you ask for in a great city, besides maybe mountains or an ocean?
Maybe I’m biased but in general, the people in this city are incredible. The review linked earlier from the Winnipeg Jets fan hit on the kindness of the people in St. Louis. Try going to a sporting event with an opposing jersey in a different city. You’ll get chewed up and spit out. Here in St. Louis you are welcomed and treated with respect (mostly). We take a little too much pride in giving standing ovations during Cardinals games, but those are just the kind of people who live here. While all the reasons above are great, it’s really the people that make this city great above all else.
This post originally appeared on Financial Pilgrimage.
Mark is the founder of Financial Pilgrimage, a blog dedicated to helping young families pay down debt and live financially free. Mark has a Bachelor’s degree in financial management and a Master’s degree in economics and finance. He is a husband of one and father of two and calls St. Louis, MO, home. He also loves playing in old man baseball leagues, working out, and being anywhere near the water. Mark has been featured in Yahoo! Finance, NerdWallet, and the Plutus Awards Showcase.