Updated for 2021 – As someone who likes to road trip, St Louis, had always been the Mississippi River, a lot of road construction and an occasional stop to see the Gateway Arch. When I finally had the chance to visit for awhile and not just drive through, I couldn’t believe all the fun unique things there are to do. I had missed a lot! So while I’ll never get tired of just seeing the Arch looming in the distance and driving across the mighty Mississippi on one of St Louis’ many bridges, now I try to stop see some of the other many unique things to do in St Louis. Here’s just a few of my favorites.
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A Unique St Louis Hotel
in 1894, St Louis literally became the Gateway to the West when Union Station, the train station, opened. At the time, it was the world’s largest and the busiest train station. Just the roofed trainshed alone, covered forty two train tracks. At one point 100,000 passengers a day passed through the station. That’s amazing to think about for the 1800’s.
Then, in the 50’s and 60’s, with airplane travel becoming more easily available, sadly, train travel decreased. The station was too expensive to maintain. Finally in 1985, after an extensive renovation, the station reopened as a hotel.
Union Station Hotel
The entire hotel is historic and just beautiful but the highlight 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 gorgeous with frescoes, mosaics, gold leaf details and stained, hand cut, Tiffany glass.
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 the additions to the area.
Unique St Louis Food & Drink
I love trying regional specialties when I travel. So, besides all the barbecue and donuts I ate, I thoroughly enjoyed the other unique foods I tried in St Louis. Gooey butter cakes are exactly how they sound. Gooey and buttery. You can find them at bakeries around town. Ted Drewes Frozen Custard is another St Louis institution. I didn’t get a chance to try it 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 serve steak and seafood. Since I wanted to try authentic St Louis recipes, I ordered toasted 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. And that’s always a good sign.
The Fountain on Locust
If you ever want to have a meal in an old Stutz auto showroom, and who wouldn’t, put The Fountain on Locust on your wish list. Unique, hip and decorated with hand painted art deco murals, they serve mouthwatering, made from scratch food and cocktails.
Everything I ate was fresh 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. Aoo sauces are made fresh 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 have names after famous St. Louisans. I had a gin based, T. S. Eliot, after the poet born on Locust Street.
The perfect speakeasy should be secret, hidden and dark with unforgettable cocktails. Thaxton Speakeasy checks all those boxes. An underground lounge, Thaxton is the only password protected bar in St. Louis. Located in the Historic Thaxton building downtown, you enter street side into an event space 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 vintage favorites, an Aviation, was just right. Thaxton is open on Friday and Saturday unless they are privately booked. Due to space limitations, reservations are recommended. You can request the password to get in on their website.
Unique St Louis Places
St Louis has some unique neighborhoods and suburbs. I loved Forest Park, Soulard and Florissant. Here’s a few more unique St Louis places.
Located in the Forest Park neighborhood of St Louis, The Grove was called Adam’s Grove In the 50’s. Back then, it was a busy commercial district. After experiencing a decline, this area has undergone a revitalization and business is good again thanks to the more than fifty businesses and restaurants in the area. Don’t miss Urban Chestnut, a brewery and bierhall and The Casual Pint.
St Louis Public Library
One of the most unique things in St Louis that I saw, as I happened to be driving around was the beautiful sculpture below. At the time, I didn’t know it was a Manolo Valdes’ sculpture called “Butterflies”. Nor did I imagine something so grand would be found at the St Louis Public Library. But it is!
Since it was my last day in St Louis, I only stopped long enough to snap a photo. When I got home I did some research and found out that the library, built in 1912, had closed for a major renovation to add more space, a few years ago. The Manolo Valdes sculpture was added at that time in preparation of a real butterfly garden in the future. I love that! Hopefully, I’ll have time to go inside the building next time I visit.
When most people think about Route 66, they think about the abandoned parts of it that passes through the western states. However, the “Mother Road” is still a vibrant part of many midwestern states like Missouri. It goes right through St Louis and in addition to the Gateway Arch, there are quite a few St Louis landmarks on the original Route 66 that you can visit.
One of the cutest areas that it passes through is the Maplewood neighborhood. About ten minutes from downtown, Maplewood feels like a world away. Quaint shops, a variety of food, cool bars and breweries can be found in this small town USA setting. It’s a great place to get out of the city and spend the day.
Street Art + Murals in St Louis
Possibly one of the things that surprised me most about St Louis was the murals. I accidentally stumbled upon the Mural Mile as I was driving around. Mural Mile is one mile of street art, graffiti and murals on the floodwall along the Mississippi River, south of the Gateway Arch.
This project was started in 1997 by the Paint Louis organization and over 250 artists have participated. In time, it’s common for the murals to be painted over but here’s some of the best ones from when I visited.
Other Things To Do in St Louis
Besides the things mentioned here, there’s even more to do in St Louis. The city is especially great for families because many activities are free. The St Louis Zoo, The St Louis Science Center, and the Missouri Botanical Gardens all have free admission for kids and there’s only a fee for special exhibits. Also check Family Attractions Card for coupons and savings at sites around the city.
The City Museum is another place I’ve seen good things about but I didn’t have a chance to go. It looks like a very unique place and I hope to visit my next time in St Louis.
If you are a beer lover, then St Louis is the place for you. The greater St Louis area has over 35 breweries. Not to mention, St Louis is the world headquarters of Anheuser-Busch. Wouldn’t you like to tour the oldest and largest brewery in the country?
Where to Stay in St Louis
Besides Union Station Hotel, St Louis has plenty of other hotels and even a casino. The Live! by Loews hotel downtown, looks super interesting, as does The Last Hotel in the Unbound Collection by Hyatt. In Forest Park check out the Hilton’s Double Tree Hotel.
Getting to St Louis
Traveling 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.
St Louis also has a STL Adventure Pass for hop on/hop off transportation to some popular sites.
Getting Around St Louis
For a big city, St Louis is easy to get around in. The only time traffic was congested was in construction areas or around 5 pm. Although I heard others complaining about it, coming from Atlanta, it was a breeze for me. I didn’t use any public transportation while I was there but I did use Uber a couple of times.
Street parking has meters but is 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.