Home is where the arch is: The best things to eat, see and do in St. Louis
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They say home is where the arch is, and as a St. Louis native, I’ll take any opportunity to brag about my city. It’s full of fantastic food, whimsical attractions and places for families to explore and enjoy time together.
I have the best memories of baking in the summer heat at Cardinals games, digging into sticky snow cones at the local shaved ice stand and exploring Forest Park at the site of the 1904 World’s Fair.
There’s something for everyone in St. Louis, especially for enthusiastic sports fans and history buffs. Because this city is always underestimated, I’m here to reveal all the local favorites in the best city west of the Mississippi.
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What to do in St. Louis
One of the most beautiful parts of St. Louis is Forest Park, a sprawling 1,300 acres of pristine lawns and trails perfect for an afternoon retreat. With 13 million visitors each year, Forest Park claims to be the sixth-most visited urban park in the United States. Located in the heart of Forest Park is the St. Louis Art Museum, an elegant building that overlooks Art Hill (where I used to sled when I was little) and the surrounding park. With paintings by van Gogh, Dalí and Monet, you can never go wrong with a stop at the Art Museum.
The City Museum is an immersive attraction in a repurposed 100-year-old warehouse with everything from a rooftop school bus to miles of tunnels and an indoor aquarium. It’s the perfect place for kids, teens and adventurous adults. Just be prepared to get a workout: The space is full of tight squeezes, sharp corners and energy-draining climbs.
The Gateway Arch
The Gateway to the West, the Arch, is a must-see monument in St. Louis. Its newly renovated grounds are beautiful, and the view from the top may be the best way to get your bearings if you’re visiting St. Louis for the first time. I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re claustrophobic, however, because the elevators are quite small.
Fun fact? The Arch is technically considered a national park, so it’s under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. The grounds are also located near the Old Courthouse where Dred Scott twice sued for his and his wife’s freedom. Tragically, there were denied when the Supreme Court ruled against him in 1857. There’s a monument in front commemorating his courageous fight.
The Delmar Loop
The Delmar Loop, or “the Loop” for short, is one of the trendier spots in the city. It’s an entertainment district full of interesting murals, clothing shops and restaurants. It’s a youthful and vibrant destination perfect for a night out on the town. Stop by the famous Blueberry Hill or the Pageant for eclectic music experiences.
Another great place to take kids, Grant’s Farm is a 281-acre historical farm filled with relics from St. Louis families. The Busch family, the former owners of Anheuser-Busch Brewery and Budweiser products (now owned by InBev), own the property but named it after the Civil War general who used to work a portion of the land.
See Grant’s Cabin, a four-room, two-story structure he built in 1855 and named “Hardscrabble.” The famous Budweiser Clydesdales live there, and you can also feed little goats with milk for sale at the Tiergarten. Adults can also tour The Budweiser Brewery.
Of course, I’m going to plug the Cardinals here, because what kind of STL native would I be if I didn’t? As someone who grew up with season tickets to baseball games at Busch Stadium, there’s nothing I love more than eating a hot dog and drinking an ice-cold Bud Light in the stands, even in the blazing, St. Louis heat and humidity.
Stop by Ballpark Village afterward, or watch the game from there if you’d rather be in air conditioning (I don’t blame you). There are plenty of places to eat and drink in Ballpark Village, and it’s great for all sports fans, regardless of who you root for. But let’s be honest, go Cardinals!
The Magic House
Located in my hometown, Kirkwood, The Magic House is the perfect place to keep kids entertained for hours. The original museum was located in a 5,500-square-foot Victorian Mansion (now with a beautiful extension), and it was opened to the public in 1979. Now 55,000 square feet, The Magic House is less a museum and more a giant wonderland for kids.
I grew up visiting The Magic House, and it’s now nationally regarded as one of the best museums designed with kids in mind. Climb up a giant beanstalk, pretend to be a cashier in a grocery store in the Children’s Village or touch a giant electrically charged ball that makes your hair stand on end. Some of my fondest memories from childhood are from The Magic House.
National Museum of Transportation
Call me a nerd, but I am a travel writer, and the National Museum of Transportation has great exhibits for people who love locomotives of all shapes and sizes. It’s the largest collection of transportation vehicles in the world, according to the museum’s website. From turn-of-the-20th-century subway cars to Cadillacs and Mustangs, any transportation whiz will love this museum.
The St. Louis Zoo
The St. Louis Zoo can trace its roots all the way back to the 1904 World’s Fair. St. Louisans wanted to keep it, and it became the first municipally supported zoo in the world. For budget-conscious travelers, the St. Louis Zoo is an always-free attraction filled with cheetahs, zebras, kangaroos, penguins, polar bears and more.
Missouri Botanical Garden
Upon entrance to the Missouri Botanical Garden, you’re greeted by a 928-piece blue Dale Chihuly masterpiece hanging in the visitor atrium. It’s almost as breathtaking as the surrounding gardens. The nation’s oldest botanical garden in continuous operation is a great place for a casual stroll on a balmy afternoon in St. Louis.
National Blues Museum
Located on Washington Avenue in the heart of Downtown St. Louis, the National Blues Museum — which “explores and preserves the historic significance of the Blues” — is a great stop for any music lover or history buff alike. Come here for live music and powerful exhibits, like a collection of more than 50 homemade instruments.
Where to stay
Hotel St. Louis
Hotel St. Louis is a Category 5 Autograph Collection property by Marriott, and it’s located in a great spot in downtown St. Louis. It has more of a boutique vibe than other hotels nearby, and guests should grab a drink at the Form Skybar, which affords great views of the city. Rooms are available for between 30,000 and 40,000 points per night. Use your Marriott Bonvoy points to book a room.
Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark
The Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark arguably has the best location, simply because it’s right next door to Busch Stadium, and it has insane views of the city. It also has a rooftop bar, Three Sixty, that gives you — you guessed it — 360-degree views of St. Louis. You can book with Hilton Honors points, but cash rates (from under $100) may be a better value.
The Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis
The Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis, is located in Clayton, and more removed from the bustling city (especially on Cardinals game nights), so if you’re seeking a more relaxed stay, The Ritz-Carlton is the way to go. It’s a beautiful property, fresh off a $12 million renovation, and a stay will set you back between 40,00 and 60,000 points per night.
St. Louis Union Station Hotel
The St. Louis Union Station Hotel by Hilton is a lovely Curio Collection property, especially in the winter when it’s trimmed in holiday decorations. Occupying a former railway terminal, the hotel is filled with original details: frescoes and gold leaf details, mosaics and Tiffany stained glass windows. Rooms are available from 32,000 Hilton Honors points per night.
Hyatt Regency St. Louis at the Arch
I stayed at the Hyatt Regency St. Louis in the winter of 2017 after an event, and woke to a full view of the Arch while it snowed. It’s close to the Old Courthouse and the Arch, and rooms at the Category 2 Hyatt property can be booked from 8,000 points per night.
Where to eat
My parents had their first date at Dressel’s Pub 35 years ago, so it’s been our family’s restaurant of choice for years. I highly recommend the truffled grilled cheese and homemade pretzel with rarebit on the side. Guy Fieri visited Dressel’s on his famous hit Food Network show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” and, if that doesn’t sell it, the pub has an amazing atmosphere. It’s especially cozy in the dead of winter when the fire is roaring.
The best place to get breakfast food in St. Louis is at Spencer’s Grill in Kirkwood. It’s furnished to look like an old-fashioned diner, and the food is diner-style as well. Sit at the counter or slide into a booth and order the pancakes with crispy edges (seriously, trust me). My dad loves the burger (but especially the fries), the hashbrowns are delicious and the coffee is always flowing.
I dined at Vicia in 2017 and had a phenomenal experience. Two years later, co-owner and executive chef Michael Gallina was nominated for the title of best chef in the Midwest by the James Beard Foundation. What makes Vicia stand out is the freshness of the cuisine. The menu always features local ingredients, and only what’s in season.
A small white shack on Manchester Road, Carl’s Drive-In is a fabulous choice if you’re craving a burger, fries and a cold root beer. It’s the least pretentious place you could imagine, with two counters on either side of the tiny restaurant, and dishes served on paper plates with paper napkins. The burgers are thin and crispy, and their famous homemade root beer is sold in frosted mugs. I recommend ordering carry out since you’ll probably wait a long time if your party is larger than two.
You can’t miss the bright turquoise shack at the Farmer’s Market in downtown Kirkwood. From Georgia Sunshine to Wedding Cake (I get it with whipped cream and sprinkles), there’s every type of flavor and color shaved ice you can imagine. Sprinkle on some nerds or pop rocks for an added candy crunch.
Charlie Gitto’s on The Hill
The Hill is an established Italian-American neighborhood in St. Louis, and it’s home to some of the best restaurants in the entire city. Charlie Gitto’s is a great start if you’re in the mood for traditional Italian fare. While in the neighborhood, I also recommend making a stop at Missouri Baking Company for insanely tasty pastries, from Napoleons to mind-blowing cannoli.
Indo is one of the most delicious new restaurants in St. Louis. Located in Botanical Heights, Indo is Southeast-Asian cuisine with a modern twist. You can share most of the plates, and the atmosphere is perfect for a first date or a small, intimate group of friends. It’s pricey but impeccable. Order the salmon sashimi, and thank me later.
Union Loafers Cafe and Bread Bakery
Union Loafers is known for its bread, making it one of the best places in town for a slice of pizza or a sandwich. The fixings are great, but you’re really here for the bread.
Peacemaker Lobster & Crab
Since my mom is from the East Coast, I grew up doing lobster races in the kitchen of my grandma’s home. So trust me when I say the seafood at Peacemaker is amazing, and it feels like being transported to the salty coast of New England. With lobster rolls, both Connecticut- and Maine-style, and oysters freshly shucked, it’s a great taste of what we’re usually missing in the Midwest. Don’t cash out before trying the Bourbon Punch slushie.
Imo’s Pizza is famous in St. Louis for serving some of the best pizza around. It’s made with melty, Provel goodness (a type of cheese combining Cheddar, Swiss and Provolone developed in 1947, according to Imo’s) but it’s square-cut, making it easily stackable. This is also the place to try the iconic St. Louis toasted ravioli.
Salt & Smoke
Salt & Smoke is one of the best places to get barbecue in the city. With it’s unmistakable yellow awning, it’s the perfect place for tender ribs or pulled pork. Get the white cheddar macaroni and cheese on the side.
Don’t argue with me when I say the best frozen custard in the world is sold at Ted Drewes. The only thing I’ve ever ordered here is a hot fudge sundae, and I’ll never choose anything else. The shack on Chippewa is iconic, with its fake icicles and yellow, red and blue neon lights, and is the perfect place to end a humid St. Louis evening
A Korean barbecue-fusion restaurant, Seoul Taco is a stand-out restaurant in The Loop. After a day spent touring through the shops in The Loop, order the saucy chicken-and-cheese quesadilla.
Despite living in St. Louis my entire life, I’m always discovering new activities, restaurants and attractions to keep me entertained and satisfied. Sure, there are other cities in the Midwest that claim to be the best (looking at you, Chicago), but St. Louis is where it’s at.
Featured photo by JByard/Getty Images.
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