Downtown St Louis, Missouri

23 Best Things To Do in St Louis

Looking for the best things to do in St Louis? Well you’ll have no problem finding plenty of activities in the Gateway to the West. Travelers to the city will discover a thriving riverfront downtown, amazing lush parks and green spaces, educational museums, unexpected architecture and beer and food choices that are unrivaled, including, in my opinion, some of the best BBQ in the United States!

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Things to do in St Louis

Some of my cross-country road trips from Georgia out west have taken me through Missouri from time to time but it wasn’t until I spent a couple of weeks working in St Louis with a former job that I was finally able to get to spend a bit of time getting to know it better.

mural that looks like a postcard in St Louis

I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised at all the things to do in St Louis and consider it an underrated destination in the U.S.

Situated in the middle of the United States, St Louis is just a couple of hours by plane from most large cities in the states. The location also makes it a good stop on a road trip or a convenient base for exploring more of the Midwest. Plus, it’s laid out well and easy to get around in. Here’s just a few of the many things to do in St. Louis.

1. Visit Gateway Arch National Park

You can’t make a list of things to do in St Louis without including Gateway Arch National Park. Built on the banks of the Mississippi River to commemorate the Louisiana Purchase and the expansion west, the Arch is one of the first things you see as you approach the city from the east.

Named as a national park in 2018, the Arch not only highlights the country’s spirit of exploration, it also honors and commemorates the first civil government west of the Mississippi and the crucial civil rights cases that took place at the old courthouse located on the same site.

Currently, the old courthouse is closed for renovations but you can still walk the grounds and visit the Arch and museum. For the adventurous, take the tram to the to top of the structure for some of the best views of the city and the Mississippi River. To secure your spot, the Park Service recommends purchasing tickets online ahead of time.

2. Wander Around Union Station

In 1894, the largest and busiest train station in the world opened in downtown St Louis. At its peak, over 100,000 passengers a day passed through Union Station. It’s hard to imagine that many people way back then. Just the train shed built to cover the train cars covered 42 tracks!

Sadly, when airplane travel became a more popular mode of transportation and train use decreased, the station became too expensive to maintain. It sat unused until the 80’s, when it was totally reinvented as a an event and mixed use entertainment venue.

Union Station offers activities for whole family in the ideal downtown location. With restaurants, shops and special events, including a Fire & Light show nightly, this is definitely one of the best things to do in St Louis.

3. Stay at a Unique St Louis Hotel

Part of Union Station’s upgrade included remodeling the station into a hotel. Union Station Hotel is now a member of the Historic Hotels of America and a National Historic Landmark. It one of the best uses of a repurposed space I’ve ever seen.

The hotel offers train-themed rooms with classic memorabilia and photos of a bygone era and you’ll feel like you stepped back in time. There are plenty more modern hotels but if you want to capture a sense of the history of St. Louis, then you can’t go wrong with this unique place.

4. See the Grand Hall

The Grand Hall, located inside Union Station Hotel, was once used as the main entrance to the station. It’s now a bar and event space. And grand is an understatement. One step inside and you’ll see what I mean.

With a stunning tall, arched ceiling with painted frescoes, gold leaf details and stained, hand cut, Tiffany glass. There’s also one of the longest bars I’ve wrapped around the room that’s the perfect spot to relax after a long day. Even if you aren’t staying at the hotel, it’s worth a stop to have a railroad-themed cocktail.

If you time it just right, you can sit back with your drink of choice and watch the nightly 3D light show while you have a really tasty burger too.

Grand Hall Union Station Hotel
The Grand Hall

5. Ride the St Louis Wheel

Located a Union Station, the St Louis Wheel Union Station is a 200-foot high observation wheel with 42 fully enclosed, climate controlled gondolas that seat up to six adults each. From its location at Union Station, you’ll have great views of the Arch and downtown. The wheel is definitely one of the best things to do in St Louis.

6. The St. Louis Aquarium

Adults and kids will love visiting the St Louis Aquarium. Home to several thousand marine animals, including sharks, sting rays and sea lions and featuring six galleries of different environments, you could easily spend an entire day there.

The aquarium is also interactive, with opportunities to get up-close to snakes, crabs and jellyfish. There’s even a touch pool where you can also touch a jellyfish and learn more about them in their special exhibit that showcases different species and their stinging mechanisms.

7. Enjoy a Museum

City Museum was at the top of my things to do in St Louis list however, the weather was not in my favor on my free days. This museum is described as a playground for all ages with fun one- of-a-kind art, tunnels and slides and. Plus they offer the occasional special events including slumber parties.

Besides the City Museum, the St Louis Science Center, the St Louis Art Museum and the Missouri History Museum are fun, educational things to do in St Louis. Many of the museums even have free admission for kids.

Southerner Says tip: For family travel to St. Louis, check out the popular Family Attractions Card offering discounts and savings on various activities in the city.

8. Try St. Louis BBQ

I came to St Louis without knowing much about the food but left the biggest fan of its BBQ. It’s clear to me that St. Louis serves some of the finest BBQ in the United States. And I’ve eaten BBQ in plenty of BBQ cities across the country.

Since I was only in town briefly, I didn’t get to try as much as I would have liked to but thanks to restaurants like Bogart’s, Pappy’s and Salt & Smoke, I loved what I did have a chance to sample. Now, I have plenty of suggestions from readers of my Delicious St Louis BBQ You Have to Try article, about where I should eat next time I’m in town.

pulled pork on a bun from Salt + Smoke in St Louis, MO
Pulled pork from Salt + Smoke

9. Go Play in the Park

When planning things to do in St. Louis, make sure to include some outdoor time in one of the largest urban parks in North America. Forest Park provides 1,300 acres of open space to wander around in.

With paths, gardens, a lake and even a boathouse, the park a peaceful retreat from the concrete of the city. It’s close to other activities like the St Louis Zoo, the Science Center and the Art Museum. You can even get to Forest Park without a car on the metro.

10. Hang Out in The Grove

Located near Forest Park, The Grove or Adam’s Grove, was a busy shopping district in the 50’s. After experiencing a decline, the area underwent a revitalization and is now one of St Louis’s busiest entertainment areas.

The Grove has more than fifty shops along its mile long stretch of road. You can eat, drink, dance, buy clothes, get a haircut and even a tattoo. Plus, it’s one of the best places in the city to see murals and public art.

11. Have Dinner in an Old Auto Showroom

If you ever wanted to have a meal in an old Stutz Motors showroom, and who wouldn’t, then put The Fountain on Locust on your wish list. This unique, hip restaurant, decorated with hand painted art deco murals, serves mouthwatering, made from scratch, food and cocktails.

My dinner was outstanding but it’s the ice cream and boozy desserts that makes this restaurant one of the best things to do in St Louis. Sourced from a dairy in Wisconsin, the ice cream comes with homemade sauces and toppings that were out of this world.

I also loved the fact that many of their cocktails are named after famous St. Louisans. I had a gin based, T. S. Eliot drink, named after the famous poet born right on Locust Street.

12. Sneak Into a Speakeasy

The perfect speakeasy should be secret, hidden and dark with unforgettable cocktails. Thaxton Speakeasy checks all of those boxes. According to their website, Thaxton is a “downtown underground lounge”.

Located downtown in a trendy spot in the Historic Thaxton building, you enter from the street into an event space and then head down some steps into the cozy basement turned bar. The whole vibe screams prohibition.

13. Take a Brewery Tour

St Louis is a beer lover’s dream and boasts over 35 breweries. And if you didn’t know, St Louis is the world headquarters of Anheuser-Busch which means you can tour the oldest and largest brewery in the United States.

Founded in 1852 by German immigrant Adolphus Busch, Anheuser-Busch is the largest brewer in the country with over 100 beers and brands. Take your time strolling around the grounds and learn about its fascinating history, from the origins of Budweiser itself to the Prohibition era and beyond.

You can also visit the famous Clydesdales houses at the nearby Busch Family Farm called Grant’s Farm.

14. Discover Art and Books at the St. Louis Public Library

I love finding quirky stuff when I road trip so imagine my surprise when, on my last day in St Louis, I just happened to spot this amazing sculpture. At the time I had no idea that the building was the St Louis Public Library.

It wasn’t till I got home and did some research that I found out that the library added this gorgeous Manolo Valdes sculpture “Butterflies in preparation of a real butterfly garden they’ll add sometime in the future.

The sculpture was a gift of The Gateway Foundation that also has 55 other pieces of art scattered around downtown St Louis.

Manolo Valdes “Butterflies” at the public library

15. Devour a Gooey Butter Cake

Besides the BBQ and donuts I ate when I visited St Louis, my other favorite thing I was introduced to was gooey butter cakes. And yes, they are exactly how they sound, gooey and buttery.

I had never heard of them before and they are fairly easy to find at bakeries around town. I can’t even remember where I got mine but trying one is definitely one of the best things to do in St Louis.

16. Get Your Kicks on Route 66

When most people think about Route 66, they think about lonely stretches of abandoned highway in the western United States. However, did you know that Route 66 goes right through St Louis?

That’s right. The “Mother Road” passes directly through St Louis and in addition to the sites like the Gateway Arch, there are quite a few other famous landmarks and neighborhoods that can be found on the original route.

One of the those neighborhoods is the charming Maplewood. Located only about ten minutes from downtown, Maplewood feels like its own little world, full of shopping, restaurants and cool bars. It’s quaint, small town USA setting, makes it the perfect place to spend the day.

Maplewood’s Route 66

17. Have an Authentic Italian Meal

St Louis is made up of so many interesting neighborhoods and The Hill is the city’s Italian enclave. Full of traditional restaurants, authentic bakeries, markets and local owned trattorias, visiting the Hill is a must when in St Louis. Even the fire hydrants are painted red, white and green!

If you can’t make it to The Hill then Lombardo’s Trattoria downtown near Union Station will do just fine. This family owned restaurant has been in business since 1934 and has three restaurants in the city serving classic Italian food.

The menu is full of pasta and other Italian dishes but they also serve steak and seafood but you have to try the toasted ravioli, anther St. Louis specialty.

18. Search for Murals

Possibly one of the things that I loved most about St Louis was the street art and murals. I accidentally stumbled upon the Mural Mile as I was driving around the riverfront. Mural Mile is one mile of graffiti and street art on the floodwall along the Mississippi River, south of the Gateway Arch.

This project was started way back in 1997 by the Paint Louis organization. Since then, over 250 artists have participated in the project. After a while, it’s common for murals to be painted over but here’s one of my favorite St Louis themed ones from when I visited.

mural featuring the Mississippi River in St Louis

19. Stroll Through the Botanical Gardens

Visiting the Missouri Botanical Garden is a another great way to take advantage of the outdoors and enjoy some of the beautiful Midwest weather. With over 45 acres, there are 17 unique gardens to choose from. Each one has its own lovely setting and theme. There’s a greenhouse, a Japanese garden, a rose garden and even an adventure playground for children.

20. Get Coffee From a Flying Saucer

I’m a big supporter of locally owned coffee shops. Especially in St. Louis where you can find plenty of small shops but there’s an unusual Starbucks in St Louis that’s worthy of an exception this time. This particular store, located near St. Louis University, in what was called “the flying saucer building“, served as a gas station in the 1960’s.

When the site was slated for demolition a few years ago the public and preservation groups got involved to save it and Starbucks and Chipotle stepped up and moved in. The building is conveniently located near the freeway so it’s a easy stop as you are passing through.

Starbucks in a building that looks like a flying saucer
The Starbucks in the Flying Saucer building, St. Louis

21. Cheer For Your Team

When it comes to sports, St Louis tops the list. With so many teams playing year round, it’s easy to add a game to your things to do in St Louis list just about anytime you visit.

For baseball fans – the St Louis Cardinals are one of the oldest teams in the league. They’ve won 11 World Series titles and play in Busch Stadium located right downtown.

St. Louis’ football team, the Rams, have made it to the Super Bowl once and even won a championship in 1999. They play at the Edward Jones Dome.

The city also has a hockey team called the Blues that play right next door to the dome. Even though they’ve had a slow start, hockey is always fun to watch. Who doesn’t enjoy a few fights?

22. Devour Donuts

Searching for old school donut shops tops my list of things to do in St Louis because besides BBQ and all the other drool-worthy St. Louis food I consumed while I was there, I had the most fun visiting all the shops. And I loved every place I tried.

World Fair Donuts is definitely a classic (even though they have been sold now) but I think it’s Old Town Donuts in Florissant was my favorite. Their chocolate covered donut is what I would want for my last meal.

23. Visit Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park

For one of the coolest things to do in St Louis, travel to the other side of the river in East St Louis, and check out Malcolm W Martin Memorial Park for some of the best views of Gateway Arch.

The park is named after Malcolm W. Martin, a businessman and philanthropist, who played a significant role in the development of the St. Louis area. It’s fitting that the park sits on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River and has stunning views of the St. Louis skyline.

The park features a number of amenities including a pavilion, walking trails, a playground, and a water play area. One of the main attractions of the park is the Gateway Geyser, which is a massive fountain that shoots water up to 630 feet into the air, making it one of the tallest fountains in the world.

Because the Gateway Geyser is a symbol of the park’s connection to the Gateway Arch, it’s programmed to perform a choreographed water show with music and lights.

Gateway Arch from East St Louis

St. Louis Tips

How to Get 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. It’s also good to note that TSA Pre-check is available at the airport.

Car rentals are a quick shuttle ride away from the airport with a suitable amount of gas stations nearby for fuel fill ups when you return your rental. For the best prices on rentals, use or to compare a few companies.

Getting Around St Louis

With several interstates passing through the area, St Louis is really easy to get around in by car. Street parking is metered but very affordable. Much better than many cities I’ve been to. Parking is free on Sundays and after 7pm Monday through Saturday.

If you prefer a lot to street parking, many areas have paid parking lots and structures. They do cost a little more but still affordable. The city even has a website to help you find downtown parking. Plus, you can pay with a credit card.

Public transportation is also available. Check out the Metro St Louis routes. Even if you are staying downtown, many of the activities in Forest Park are just a short metro ride away. St Louis also has a STL Adventure Pass for hop on/hop off transportation to some popular sites.

Where to Stay in St Louis

Besides Union Station Hotel, St Louis offers plenty of other hotels and even a casino or two. For unrivaled river and arch views, the Hyatt Regency is right there by the Mississippi. Live! by Loews downtown, looks super interesting, as does The Last Hotel in the Unbound Collection by Hyatt.

For overnight stays outside of downtown, Forest Park is convenient to downtown Hilton Double Tree Hotel is a great place to stay in this neighborhood.

Things to Do in St Louis Round-Up

St Louis really is a fun destination to visit in the U.S. It’s unique, it’s affordable, many of the attractions are even free. It’s also a super friendly city with plenty of things to do for couples or families. And if you are solo, I visited St Louis alone and felt very welcome and safe.

I know there’s tons of stuff I missed on this list- Ted Drewes and the Soulard Farmer’s Market come to mind. What’s on your St Louis to-do list? Tell me what I need to add to mine.

See you on the road!

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  1. I’ve only visited St Louis as a kid and would love to return as an adult. I love those dinosaurs and looks like quite a bit of art scene. Also, that food is making me hungry just looking at it!

    1. The art is great! I couldn’t post all of the photos I had of the art. There’s actually an entire wall that runs along the river that’s all murals. You should definitely go back as an adult. It’s a great city!

  2. Love St Louis and he University district as well! the Grove looks like a fabulous place to explore and the speakeasy looks great. I would love to visit and stay in the Union Station hotel, too.

    The Art Museum near the zoo is one of my favorite places and also free and therefore made it quite worth it, but is another remnant from the 1893 World’s Fair and even features lots of impressionism art and Egyptian mummies. It is worth a visit if you haven’t been! The City Museum is definitely fun but every time I have been its been terribly crowded.

    1. No I haven’t been to the Art Museum or the the City Museum. I tried to go to the City Museum but it was raining the only day I had to go and since a lot of it is outside I was afraid to. Hope to check it out next time. Thanks for the suggestions.

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