BootsnAll Travel Network editor and writer, Adam Seper, shares the scoop on where to eat, sleep, shop and get tipsy in St. Louis — local style.
On your first day here, seeing this is a must: Though it’s probably the most touristy site in St. Louis, the Gateway Arch, also known as the Gateway to the West, is a must-see. Set right on the riverfront of the Mississippi and overlooking downtown St. Louis, the Arch, at 630 feet, is the tallest man-made monument in the United States. An original and unique site to see, it’s a must to take the egg-shaped “elevator” to the top for a great view. If you’re claustrophobic, beware.
For a glimpse of daily life, I recommend this form of transportation: Unfortunately this is one of the negatives of St. Louis – the pubic transport options leave much to be desired. Sure, there are lots of buses, and two lines on the Metro Link to take you to plenty of areas in St. Louis, but to really see what the city has to offer, you need a car. Rent one to be able to explore the city neighborhoods of St. Louis, which is what makes this city unique.
I had my best night’s sleep at: The Moonrise Hotel. It’s a super cool, unique, chic hotel located in a diverse area of St. Louis called the Loop (which you’ll hear more about later). It’s modern, it’s quirky, it’s sophisticated, and best of all, it’s located in a great area of the city with tons of dining, drinking, music, art, and entertainment options. There is also a Metro Link station right behind it, making it convenient for those who don’t have a car. Don’t forget to head up to Eclipse, the restaurant and bar located in the Moonrise, and the rooftop bar for a drink with great views.
The meal at this local eatery had me salivating for days: Farmhaus. Located in the middle of a south St. Louis city neighborhood (Lindenwood Park), Farmhaus is dedicated to putting locally grown, organic food on the table. With the use of seasonal ingredients, the menu is always changing, and the menu of small plates and tasting menus makes this an incredible place to spend an evening trying many different dishes. It is a pretty small place, so you may want to make reservations, especially for dinner.
Best place to find artisan handicrafts: Only a few minutes drive from downtown St. Louis is an area of south city that has undergone a massive renovation over the past ten to 15 years. Cherokee Street’s Antique Row has a plethora of independently owned and operated shops offering antiques, collectibles, specialty shops, art galleries, and the best, most authentic Mexican food in the city. Bonus if you happen to find yourself here around Cinco de Mayo for one of the most unique parade’s I’ve ever seen.
Local celebration not to be missed:
We eat, drink, sleep, and breathe baseball here in St. Louis, so Opening Day of the Cardinal’s baseball season is like Christmas in the spring. It’s a holiday like no other, and no matter what day of the week it’s on, most of the city takes a vacation day, calls in sick, or somehow weasels their way out of the office for a half-day. The area downtown around Busch Stadium is teeming with not only St. Louisans, but also Cardinals fans from all over the Midwest. There are plenty of bars and restaurants around the stadium, but for a true St. Louis Opening Day experience, you need to bring the barbecue pit, a cooler of your favorite beverages and meat to grill, a set of washers, and set up shop in the parking lot of your choice. And feel free to bring your beer right up to the gates of Busch Stadium as open container laws don’t really exist, particularly when walking to the ballgame.
Wednesday night summer concerts at the Missouri Botanical Gardens. It all started 19 years ago, and while these free concerts have grown bigger and bigger over the years, it is still an amazing summer time activity. Set in the beautiful Botanical Gardens, the Whitaker Music Festival takes place every Wednesday evening in June and July, every summer. The free admission and great music is reason enough to come, but they also allow patrons to bring whatever food and drink they want (including alcohol), chairs, blankets, and tables for a picnic in a great setting with great music. A must if you’re in St. Louis during the summer.
For a more bucolic/green setting I escape here:
It doesn’t get much better than Forest Park. This massive, 1370-acre public park (compared to New York’s 840-acre Central Park) is an oasis in the middle of the city. There’s an abundance of green space throughout the park, with biking, running, and walking paths around and throughout. This host of the 1904 World’s Fair also houses one of the top zoos in the country (which is free to get in), an art museum, a history museum, an outdoor theater, the Science Center, a giant, art deco greenhouse, tennis courts, a boathouse, a golf course, several pavilions, an outdoor ice skating rink (that doubles as beach volleyball courts during the warmer months) and many small lakes and ponds. If you happen to be here during a snowstorm in the winter, bring the sled to “Art Hill” (the massive hill in front of the Art Museum) with hundreds of other St. Louisans.
The art/music scene is alive and well here:
You won’t get art in the traditional sense (for that, head to Cherokee Street- see the artisan handicrafts section – or the free St. Louis Art Museum in Forest Park), but if you’re looking for a unique experience that blends art, architecture, and loads of fun for both children and adults, the City Museum located downtown is a must. The music scene is alive and well in St. Louis, with a plethora of options depending on what you’re into. Go downtown near Busch Stadium for some live blues and jazz at the Broadway Oyster Bar and BB’s. Head to the Loop for a variety of music, including jambands at a smaller place like Cicero’s, larger acts at the 2000 seat Pageant, or you can see local living legend Chuck Berry at Blueberry Hill. If you’re into more indie-type music, Off Broadway is the place to be.
Where the locals get tipsy:
There’s no getting around it – St. Louis is a drinking town. For decade’s Anheuser Busch ruled the local bars, but the takeover by foreign owners have opened up a massive variety of local microbreweries, led by Schlafly, which has restaurants and breweries both downtown and in Maplewood, a suburb just outside of the city limits. If you really want to rub elbows with the locals, though, go to Morganford Street in south city, located near Tower Grove Park, and hit up the Tin Can (they also have a location downtown), a bar and restaurant that serves over 100 cans of beer, ranging in price from $2 to $7. They have some awesome comfort food as well.
Most people don’t know this, but to get a true taste of the local culture”…
You really need to get invited to a barbecue, preferably on the city’s south side. We don’t have many barbecue restaurants in St. Louis, especially compared to nearby Kansas City and Memphis. I have always claimed that the reason for this is that when we want barbecue, we cook it ourselves. There is nothing like an ice cold can of Busch beer and some barbecue pork steaks (pork steaks are a pork butt sliced into “steaks” then grilled — also unique to St. Louis) in the back yard of a south St. Louis City house – sleeves optional. If you don’t know any locals, look me up, I’m always happy to host!
Most ludicrous stereotype about the people here:
The stereotype that really gets my blood boiling is that St. Louis is a dangerous city. Often billed as one of the most dangerous cities in America based on statistics, people have a horrible misconception about this skewed information. Does it have its problems? Yes, of course, what large city doesn’t? But reports would have you believe that it’s a warzone. There’s no getting around that there are some very dangerous and rough areas of St. Louis, particularly parts of north city and East St. Louis. But as long as you do your homework and avoid the troublesome areas, as you should before visiting any city, from New York to Chicago to Buenos Aires to London to Bangkok, you will most likely leave St. Louis completely unscathed, except for that killer hangover you’ll be sporting.
If I had only 24 hours to explore St. Louis I would:
Start with breakfast and a bloody mary at Rooster, a very cool little restaurant downtown near the Edward Jones Dome (home of the Rams) that serves some amazing crepes and has a bounty of bloody mary options. If it’s summertime, you have to hit up a ball game and see Busch Stadium and the 11-time World Champions in person. After your afternoon ballgame, head to the Broadway Oyster Bar or BB’s for some drinks and live music. It will be crowded after the game, but it’s a lively and fun atmosphere. Dinner options are endless. You could head to The Hill, the local Italian neighborhood that houses an endless supply of great restaurants, but since you’ll be downtown, it probably makes more sense to head to nearby Soulard, a neighborhood compared to the French Quarter in New Orleans. You can spend the rest of your night eating, drinking, listening to music, and wandering from bar to bar in Soulard. If you’re up for some late night eats after a night of boozing, it doesn’t get any more St. Louis than a slinger from Courtesy Diner (I’ll let you figure out what a slinger is).
About Adam Seper
Adam Seper works for the BootsnAll Travel Network, your one-stop Indie Travel Guide. After going on a year-long round the world trip with his wife in 2008-2009, he settled back down in his hometown of St. Louis, where he works remotely as editor and writer at BootsnAll, hoping to inspire others to travel long term. His travels have provided him with a newfound respect and admiration for St. Louis, and he hopes he can inspire others to see all this underrated city has to offer. Follow Adam on Twitter @rtwticket
Can’t get enough culture? Check out last week’s Get Cultured: Johannesburg and be on the lookout for the next installment in the series.
Feature Photo by: flickr/nan palmero
Busch Stadium Photo by: flickr/deliriant
Forest Park Photo by: flickr/Philip Leara