For me, St Louis has always been the Mississippi River, a lot of road construction and maybe a stop to see the Gateway Arch. When I finally had the chance to actually spend some time in St Louis and not just pass through, I couldn’t believe all the activities there are to do. And the food! I ate way too much barbecue, which you can read about here and sampled more donuts than any person should. So while I’ll never get tired of seeing the Arch and driving across the mighty Mississippi, there’s a whole lot of other unique things to do in St Louis. Here’s a few of my favorites.
A Unique St Louis Hotel
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. That’s amazing to think about in the 1800’s.
Then, 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, 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
Besides all the barbecue 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 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 have steak and seafood. Since I was looking for authentic St Louis food, It was only fitting to order 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 wanted 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 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. They prepare all sauces and toppings 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. 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 perfect. 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: is 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 was required 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.
When most people think about Route 66, they think about where it passes through in the western United States. However since the “Mother Road” goes all the way from Chicago, IL to Santa Monica, CA, it passes right through St Louis. In addition to the Gateway Arch, there are a lot of St Louis landmarks on the original Route 66 in St Louis that you can visit.
One of the cutest areas that it passes through is the Maplewood neighborhood. About 10 minutes from downtown, Maplewood feels like a world away. Shops, all kinds of food, bars and breweries abound in this small town USA setting. It’s a great place to spend the day.
More St Louis Activities
Besides everything mentioned here, there’s even more to do in St Louis. The city is especially great for families because a lot of the things you can do 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.
The City Museum is another place I heard good things about but didn’t have a chance to go. It looks like a very unique place.
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.
Because of it’s central location on quite a few US interstates, St Louis is a great stop on a road trip. Even if it’s just for a meal or an overnight. There’s always time for barbecue or donuts. I liked the Maplewood neighborhood but I also really liked the Florissant area as well.
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. 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.