When I visited St Louis, I ate way too much BBQ and sampled more donuts than I should have but I was also surprised at all the great things there are to do in the city. While visiting the Gateway Arch National Park and seeing the mighty Mississippi River never gets old, there’s a whole slew of other unique things to do in St Louis. Here’s my favorites.
Unique St Louis Hotels
in 1894, St Louis literally became the Gateway to the West when Union Station opened. When it was built, it was the world’s largest and the busiest train station. Just the roofed trainshed covered forty two train tracks. At one point 100,000 passengers a day passed through the station.
In the 50’s and 60’s, with airplane travel becoming more easily available, train travel decreased. The station became too expensive to maintain so, in 1985, after an extensive renovation, what was the train station, reopened as a hotel.
The entire hotel is amazing but the star is the stunning Grand Hall. Even if you aren’t staying at the hotel, it’s worth stopping by to see it. The arched ceiling is jaw-dropping with frescoes, mosaics, gold leaf details and stained, hand cut, Tiffany glass. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the US.
You can sit back and watch the 3D light show they have nightly while sipping a classic cocktail at the huge bar. If you are hungry, they have a really great burger too.
SouthernerSays: Since I visited St Louis, the city has opened a brand new aquarium and the Wheel at St Louis Union Station in this space under the trainshed. Construction was just starting the day I left Union Station. I can’t wait to get back and see both new additions.
Unique St Louis Food & Drink
Besides all the BBQ and donuts I ate, St Louis has some other really good unique food too. Gooey butter cakes are exactly how they sound. Gooey and buttery. They can be found at bakeries around town. Ted Drewes Frozen Custard is a St Louis institution. I didn’t get a chance to go but everyone raves about it. Next time St Louis. Here’s a couple of other unique restaurants in St Louis that I did get to try.
Lombardos has been in business since 1934. This restaurant IS old school, unique St Louis. Family owned and operated, they serve authentic Italian food featuring pasta of course, but they also have steak and seafood. Since I was looking for authentic St Louis food, I tried the fried ravioli, which St. Louis is known for and some of the best garlic cheese bread I’ve ever had. Even though the restaurant is in a touristy area, the bar was full of locals.
The Fountain on Locust: If you ever wanted to have a meal in an old Stutz auto showroom, and who wouldn’t, put this place on your wish list. Unique, hip and decorated with hand painted art deco murals, they serve delicious made from scratch food and cocktails.
Everything I ate was delicious but it’s their ice cream and boozy desserts that makes it one of the most unique things to do in St Louis. Generally, I’m not a huge ice cream fan but theirs, sourced from a dairy in Wisconsin, is so good, I would eat it every chance I got. All the sauces and toppings are made in house too. If you’ve only ever had chocolate sauce out of a bottle, you don’t know what you’ve been missing.
I also loved the fact that a lot of the cocktails were named after famous St. Louisans. I had a gin based, T. S. Eliot, after the poet born on Locust Street.
A Unique Speakeasy
The perfect speakeasy should be secret, hidden and dark with unforgettable cocktails. Thaxton Speakeasy checks all those boxes. They are the only password protected bar, or underground lounge as their website states, in St. Louis. Located in the Historic Thaxton building downtown, you enter street side and go into a room they use for events and down the steps into the cozy basement turned bar. The whole experience IS prohibition.
Thaxton has friendly, knowledgeable bartenders who specialize in classic cocktails. One of my favorites, an Aviation, was perfectly mixed. On Thursdays they have live music, other special events and industry nights from time to time. You can sign up to receive the weekly password on their website by providing your cell or an email.
Unique St Louis Places
The Grove: located in Forest Park neighborhood of St Louis, this area was once called Adam’s Grove in the 1950’s. Back then, it was a busy commercial district. After experiencing a decline, the area has now undergone a revitalization and has been brought back to life. Over fifty businesses and restaurants are in The Grove and business is booming again. There’s also a brewery, plenty of bars and street art galore.
St Louis Public Library: Ever since I had to learn the Dewey Decimal system in elementary school, I’ve had a thing for libraries. So when I was driving around and happened upon the Manolo Valdes’ sculpture ‘Butterflies’ on the outside terrace of this beautiful building, I was immediately drawn to it. Unfortunately, it was my last day and I didn’t have time to check it out.
Little did I know until I got home that it was the public library! After doing some research, I learned the library, built in 1912, had closed for a renovation a few years ago. The city, wanting to add more access to the public while preserving the beautiful building, increased space by 45%, added a three story atrium and removed some of the book stacks to show off the space. The Manolo Valdes’ sculpture was just the first step of real butterfly garden they are hoping to add. I’m definitely making time to go inside when I’m there next time.
More St Louis Activities
St Louis offers even more fun stuff to do. It’s especially great for families because a lot of activities are free. The St Louis Zoo, The St Louis Science Center, and the Missouri Botanical Gardens all have free admission for kids and only charge a fee for special exhibits.
I also heard a lot of good things about the City Museum. Still kicking myself that I didn’t have a chance to go. It looks like a very unique place.
Getting to St Louis
Getting to St Louis is very convenient. Because of it’s central Midwestern location, flights into Lambert International Airport (STL) are no more than a couple of hours from most major US cities. TSA Pre-check is available at the airport, but at the time of writing, Clear is not available yet.
Car rentals are a quick shuttle ride away with plenty of gas stations nearby for fill ups when you return your rental.
Getting around St Louis
Getting around St Louis is super easy for a big city. Traffic was never congested. Although I heard others complaining about it, coming from Atlanta, it was a breeze. I didn’t use any public transportation while I was there but I did use Uber a couple of times.
Street parking is metered but very affordable. It’s $.25 for every fifteen minutes. Free on Sundays and after 7pm Monday through Saturday. Some areas have paid parking lots. They do cost a little more than street parking but still affordable. And the machines accept credit card to pay. The City has a website to help find downtown parking.