Updated: Feb 3
I was born and raised in the St. Louis area. Large parts of my family still live there. I recently returned for a travel photography seminar, giving me the opportunity to look at the city through the eyes of a traveler not a resident. I went on a "date night" with my nephew and his fiancée, getting a youthful perspective on the city. I visited attractions and neighborhoods with my fellow photographers seeing the city through their lens. At the end of my visit I had a renewed pleasure in the city of my youth. I would recommend St. Louis as a long weekend or multi day road trip stopover to anyone. St. Louis is a true "melting pot" city that offers something for every traveler.
My favorite adults only itinerary would be Friday Night at the Delmar Loop exploring the St. Louis Walk of Fame, eating dinner at Pi Pizza or Salt+Smoke BBQ and listening to music with a night cap at Blueberry Hill. Saturday would start with The Gateway Arch , Old Courthouse and Old Cathedral, lunch at Ballpark Village next to Busch Stadium, afternoon at the Anheuser Busch Brewery dinner at Charlie Gitto's or Zia's on the Hill. Sunday Brunch at Russells on Mackland, then wander through the Missouri Botanical Gardens or the Art Museum in Forest Park. Below are lots of ideas for changing up this itinerary with activities that are more Kid Friendly or more suited for History Lovers or Art Lovers.
St. Louis was founded in 1764, by French fur traders Gilbert Antoine de St. Maxent, Pierre Laclede and Auguste Chouteau. With the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers just to the north, they had a water route from deep into the western territories to the port of New Orleans and ships to transport furs to Europe. In 1803, St. Louis as part of the Louisiana Purchase, becoming part of the United States. St. Louis quickly became the gateway to the western territories. In 1804, under the commission of Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out the explore and map this area. The 19th century saw huge growth in St. Louis, with immigrants from Ireland, Germany and Italy flocking to the Gateway to the West. In 1904, the World's Fair and Summer Olympics were held in St. Louis. Construction of the Art Museum, Zoo, History Museum, Tower Grove Park and the Botanical Gardens all happened ahead of these events. In more recent years, St. Louis has welcomed immigrants from Mexico, the Balkans, and Vietnam. All of this rich history and diverse backgrounds of its citizens makes St. Louis a vibrant and interesting place for travelers to experience.
Where to Stay:
At I-64 and Kingshighway Blvd, The Chase Park Plaza makes a prefect basecamp for your explorations of St.Louis. The original hotel opened in 1922. It merged in 1961 with the art deco style Park Plaza Tower, forming the 398 room Chase Park Plaza. It has been the St. Louis hotel of choice for celebrities from Count Basie to Mick Jagger and US Presidents from Franklin Roosevelt to George W. Bush. It is a walk through history just to stay here. Today they offer newly renovated rooms, 3 onsite restaurants, a historic movie theatre, fitness center and iconic outdoor swimming pool with a stone colonnade, all across the street from Forest Park. The Chase Park Plaza is often referred to as a city within in a city.
The Chase Park Plaza is on the western edge of the neighborhood referred to as the Central West End. It is a vibrant area with restaurants, shops and art galleries. For a more budget friendly experience, stay at the Holiday Inn Express or the Hampton Inn and walk over to the Chase Park Plaza for cocktail at the Tenderloin Room bar with its stained glass ceiling.
What to Do:
Second only to Washington DC, St Louis has the most free attractions than any other city in the United States. In Forest Park, the Art Museum (pictured above) is free on Friday. The award winning St Louis Zoo is free everyday, as is the History Museum, and the St Louis Science Center and Planetarium (parking is free on the Planetarium side).
Downtown, a walk around the The Gateway Arch for picture taking is free. It is $14.00 weekends and holidays, $12.00 weekdays to visit the newly renovated museum at the base and ride the tram to the top. It is $3.00 to visit the museum only. On the grounds of the Gateway Arch is The Basilica of St. Louis built in 1764, commonly referred to as the "Old Cathedral." Admission to this beautiful church is free. Over the walkway to the west are fountains of City Gardens, Kiener Plaza and the Old Courthouse. Admission is free to the Courthouse, which is listed in the National Park Service's National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, because the pivotal 1850 Dred Scott lower court decision was issued here. It is also where the Virginia Minor's 1870 case for a woman's right to vote was heard.
On the lower side of the Riverfront Flood Gates is an intriguing display of outdoor contemporary art (graffiti). After a walk along the gates, stop by Arch View Cafe for great views of the Arch and the Mississippi River. You can grab a cup of coffee or a bite to eat as well. Other food options are available in the area include Ball Park Village across the highway on the South Side of Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals. To the north of the Gateway Arch Park is Laclede's Landing. It is the only remaining section of the 19th century commercial riverfront. As you wander through today, you will find shops and restaurants.
Union Station served as the main train station for St. Louis from 1884 to 1978. It has been reinvented as a mixed use entertainment complex with an aquarium, ferris wheel and rock climbing wall as well as a hotel and many restaurants. It has retained much of its historic charm with Tiffany stained glass windows, a soaring Grand Hall and original terrazzo floors. Every evening at 5pm you can enjoy a 3D light show set to music in the lobby of the Grand Hall.
Further to the south is the Anheuser Busch Brewery in the historic Soulard neighborhood, which offers free tours including tastings. They have a biergarten that offers food and drink as well beer school. Beer lovers could spend a whole day here.
The attractions don't stop at free. There are lots more things to do and see in St. Louis. One of my favorites is the Missouri Botanical Gardens with its year around Climatron and serene Japanese Gardens. Admission is $14.00. Also Downtown and fun for all ages is the City Museum. Housed in a 100 year old warehouse, artists have repurposed pieces of the city into tunnels, slides, and bridges. Tickets are $16.00 and offer an afternoon of fun. On Washington Ave music lovers will enjoy the National Blues Museum. Admission is $15.00 to this interact and informative place.
Further out of the city is the Missouri Civil War Museum and the Jefferson Barracks Telephone Museum, located on the Jefferson Barracks Historic Site which includes the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. The Civil War Museum is one of the largest in the United States, the entrance fee is $6.00. Housed in a building on the list of National Historical of Places, the Jefferson Barracks Telephone Museum is dedicated to all things telephones, admission is $5.00. It is a fun place to explore what life was like before cell phones.
Looking for some outdoor activity, Forest Park is an excellent place to start. Named #1 City Park in the United States by readers of USA Today in 2016, Forest Park truly has something for everyone. It is 1,300 acres of wooded and grassy spaces with a large lake system, There is plenty of space to hike, bike and kayak.
For bike rentals contact City Cycling Tours
For boat rentals contact the Boathouse at Forest Park
For a map of the walking trails go to Forest Park Forever.
To the south and close to the Missouri Botanical gardens is Tower Grove Park. It offers a 3.2 mile walking loop around the perimeter of the park. It is a wonderful place to get some fresh air in a park enjoyed mostly by locals.
St. Louis is made up of several unique neighborhoods. Exploring one or two of these neighborhoods gives you a perspective on the people and culture that makes up St. Louis. From the Hill, with its Italian markets and restaurants, to the Delmar Loop, home to the 8 block St. Louis Walk of fame and the original Blueberry Hill, to Soluard with the oldest Famers Market in the United States. All have enough great shops and restaurants to keep you busy for an afternoon.
St. Louis is an easy drivable city with lots of parking. During my recent weekend visit, I used Uber to get around. I found I could easily travel throughout the city on Uber for less than the cost of a rental car. Traditional taxis are also available at major hotels and the airport. The Metrolink Light Rail System connects the airport to downtown and downtown to the western and southern Missouri suburbs as well as the Illinois suburbs. Also, St. Louis has a Bike and Scooter Share program for traveling shorter distances in good weather.
Things to Eat:
St. Louisans are particular about their food. They like their ravioli fried, their pizza cut in squares, their ice cream so thick a spoon stand up straight in it and their pork sliced into steaks. There are four things I would not miss eating when in St. Louis:
Toasted Ravioli is available on the menu at most Italian restaurants. It is meat ravioli deep fried, sprinkled with Parmesan Cheese and dipped in Marinara Sauce. I could make a meal on just this although it is list under the appetizers. Charlie Gitto's and Zia's on the hill have especially good versions.
Gooey Butter Cake is a powder sugar covered breakfast treat. A delicious version is available at grocery stores throughout the city. If you are interested in just one piece head over to Russells on Mackland. You can get it simply with a cup of coffee or as dessert after enjoying one of their delicious breakfasts.
St Louis style pizza has a thin crispy crust, it is cut in squares and it is topped with provel cheese. Provel is a hybrid cheese that is a combination of mozzarella and provolone cheeses. My go-to pizza place is Farrotto's at the corner of Manchester and Rock Hill Rd in Rock Hill. Another great option is Imo's Pizza a local chain.
For 80 years Ted Drewes has been serving frozen custard at 6726 Chippewa. In 1959, they invented the Concrete, a milk shake that is so thick when you turn the cup upside down it does not move. You can enjoy a frozen custard or a concrete with your choice of toppings and add ons. My favorite is the Cardinal Sin with Tart Cherries and Hot Fudge.
St. Louis is a city rich in history, culture and culinary delights. I hope you are inspired to plan a weekend enjoying all she has to offer.