First thing to do when you arrive in St. Louis, Mo., is to take the 635-foot ride up to the top of the magnificent, all-steel Gateway Arch for a bird’s-eye view of this diverse city, this melting pot of cultures at the crossroads of America. You’ll have to take my word on the view. Never been up there. Acrophobia, you know.
On a clear day you can see the kaleidoscope of options awaiting you on the ground. While down on the riverfront, hop on a replica of a 19th-century paddlewheel boat and cruise the mighty Mississippi River. Cheer on the 11-time World Champion St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium and revel in all things baseball at the fabulous new Ballpark Village.
Explore the Old Cathedral, the first cathedral west of the Mississippi, built in 1834. Head south for samples and a tour of the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, where you’ll get to meet the iconic Clydesdales.
Farther west, but still within the city, is Forest Park, where you’ll be transported back in time to the 1904 World’s Fair Grand Basin and Promenade. Standing guard over the lake and promenade is the St. Louis Art Museum, built as a "palace" for the “Meet Me in St. Louis” World’s Fair, free admission here.
Situated in the center of Forest Park is the St. Louis Zoo, acclaimed for its Big Cat Country, Penguin and Puffin Coast, Zooline Railroad and many other attractions, also free. Also in the park is the enormous, oak-tree-lined outdoor musical amphitheater, The Muny, seating more than 11,000 people with 1,500 free seats available.
A bit south of Forest Park resides the Missouri Botanical Garden, 79 acres of gorgeous gardens and the oldest botanical garden in the United States. Nearby is the 289-acre gem Tower Grove Park, the finest example of a Victorian park in the world. City Museum, made entirely from recycled pieces and anything but staid, is a playground for all ages.
For St. Louis history from its founding in 1764 to present day, there’s the fascinating and manageable Missouri History Museum, also free admission. Not to be missed is the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, an impressive Byzantine-Romanesque structure, dazzling on the inside with one of the largest, most beautiful examples of mosaic art in the world. Also worthwhile is the St. Louis Science Center, with its four-story Omnimax theater.
Cultural options run the gamut from lovely Powell Hall, home of the renowned St. Louis Symphony, the newly renovated Peabody Opera House and the art deco beauty of the Fabulous Fox Theature to The Pageant concert nightclub and live jazz at Blueberry Hill, both located in the eclectic, six-block Delmar Loop.
Be sure to head west to the county for the Magic House, a sprawling Victorian mansion packed with fun and learning; Laumeier Sculpture Park, for open air art; and St. Louis Abbey, an architectural wonder designed by Gyo Obata of the famous architectural firm HOK. As viewed from heaven, it resembles the crown of thorns placed on the head of Christ during his Passion.
If you have time for only one other activity outside the riverfront/city tourist area, you must head to Grant’s Farm. For more than 60 years, families have been enjoying the time of their lives getting up close and personal with buffaloes, goats and Clydesdales, taking in the charming elephant and bird shows. Meet Bud the elephant and largest mammal in North America. Admission to the farm, tram rides and all shows is free.
Places to Stay Downtown
» Four Seasons St. Louis — Luxurious and steps away from all riverfront and downtown attractions.
» St. Louis Union Station Hotel by DoubleTree — Wonderful history in this train station converted into a hotel. Glorious lobby.
Places to Stay in Clayton (St. Louis’ Second Downtown)
» Ritz-Carlton — What can I say ... it’s the Ritz!
» Seven-Gables Inn — Charming boutique hotel in the heart of Clayton, with an Irish pub and delightful outdoor terrace.
» The Cheshire — Near Forest Park, you’ll love the cozy Fox & Hounds and its sleek, trendy basement pub, Basso.
» Moonrise Hotel — In the Delmar Loop, a whimsical hotel with fun rooftop.
Places to Eat Downtown
» Bogart’s Smokehouse — Memphis-style BBQ, par excellence.
» Sidney Street Café — Fabulous food in a century-old storefront building.
» The Fountain on Locust — Nostalgia food and awesome ice cream in an awesome setting.
» Tony’s — Italian perfection.
» McGurk’s Irish Pub — Backyard patio, Irish fare.
» Crown Candy Kitchen — Just plain yummy.
» O’Connell’s Pub — Hands down, the best hamburger I’ve ever eaten.
Places to Eat on The Hill (Italian Section)
» Giovanni’s — The whole package for Italian. Even Oprah Winfrey agrees.
» Charlie Gitto’s — Charming décor and home of toasted ravioli.
» Dominic’s — Upscale, romantic, just plain wonderful.
Places to Eat in Clayton and West and South County Areas
» Annie Gunn’s — Robust dining and a long drive, but worth it. Book well in advance.
» Pomme — Intimate setting with creative fresh cuisine.
» Dewey’s Pizza — Create your own pizza or go for the Bronx Bomber.
» Cardwell’s at the Plaza — Always good food and camaraderie.
» The Crossing — A St. Louis favorite for formal dining.
» Schneithorst’s — German cuisine and a marvelous bier keller and outdoor loft area.
» Yellowstone Café — Neighborhood gathering spot akin to a Northwoods lodge. Order the walleye.
» Napoli 2 — I have to confess, this is my favorite place in all of St. Louis for Italian food and service at its best.
» Ted Drewe’s — To top it all off, visit this St. Louis institution for frozen custard. Get a concrete, guaranteed not to fall out of the cup when turned upside down.
Places to Shop
There are charming specialty stores all over the St. Louis area — too many to name — but for serious shopping go straight to Plaza Frontenac. It’s a mall, anchored by Neiman-Marcus and Saks, but don’t let the word mall fool you. After all, how many malls have beautiful hardwood floors, comfy European furniture in seating areas, elaborate restrooms, a grand piano with live music, a six-screen theater screening independent films, outstanding restaurants and lush landscaping featuring springtime dogwoods, crabapple trees and azaleas?
And that, my friends, is my hometown. Meet me in St. Louis for a grand time.