As someone who likes to road trip, St Louis literally has, at times, been the Gateway to the West for me. From my home in Georgia, many of my road trips have taken me across the Mississippi and through the city on Interstate 70 heading west. Not realizing what I was missing, I drove right through. When I finally decided to slow down and properly explore the city, I was amazed at all the things to do in St Louis.
Things to do in St Louis
St Louis has a little bit of everything for everybody. Outdoor spaces, fun and educational museums, history, gorgeous architecture, beer and the food. The food! Seriously, it’s become one of my favorite food towns of all the places I’ve ever been. From delicious comfort food, BBQ and decadent desserts – St Louis made my southern heart happy.
Here’s just a few things to do in St Louis for your travel list and linked on a Google Maps below.
1. Gateway Arch National Park
Of course, now that I’ve already talked about it, I couldn’t not mention the Gateway Arch. There’s something so comforting about seeing it as you approach St Louis from the east. It’s so impressive, every time I see it looming on the horizon, I wonder what it feels like to live in St Louis and see it all the time.
Gateway Arch National Park should be the first thing on everyone’s list of things to do in St Louis. Named as a national park in 2018, Gateway Arch is right on the Mississippi River, not too far from where Louis and Clark took off for their first expedition on the Missouri River in St Charles.
The Arch was established to commemorate the Louisiana Purchase and the expansion west, the first civil government west of the Mississippi and important civil rights cases that took place at the old courthouse.
Many people are surprised to find out the Arch also has a tram that goes to the top. From that vantage point, you get the best views of the city and the Mississippi River. Purchase tickets online here.
Southerner Says: if you really want a good view of the Arch, cross the bridge into East St Louis and visit Malcolm W Martin Memorial Park and the Mississippi River overlook for a photo op.
2. Wander Around Union Station
in 1894, the largest and the busiest train station in the world opened in St Louis. At its busiest, over 100,000 passengers a day passed through Union Station. Can you imagine? In 1894? In fact, just the roofed trainshed alone, covered 42 tracks. That’s huge.
Sadly, once airplanes became a more popular mode of transportation, train travel decreased. The station became too expensive to maintain and sat empty for a long time. Fortunately, in the 80’s the station was remodeled and now serves as an event and entertainment venue worthy of a visit.
With just the right balance of old and new, Union Station has something for whole family in the ideal location downtown and close to everything. Visit the Aquarium, the St Louis Wheel or the refurbished trainshed. With special events and holiday activities, this is definitely one of the unique things to do in St Louis.
3. Stay at a Unique St Louis Hotel
Part of the Union Station remodel included refurbishing the station into a hotel. Now, the Union Station Hotel is a member of the Historic Hotels of America and a National Historic Landmark. It one of the most impressive places I’ve stayed.
Located right downtown, near practically everything, the hotel has train-themed rooms with classic memorabilia and photos everywhere. St Louis has plenty of other hotels downtown but you can’t go wrong with this unique place. You’ll feel you’ve stepped back in time but with the right amount of modern.
4. Be Wowed in the Grand Hall
The Grand Hall located inside Union Station Hotel was the main entrance to Union Station. And grand is really an understatement.
For starters, the arched ceiling is jaw-dropping gorgeous with painted frescoes, gold leaf details and stained – hand cut – Tiffany glass. The hall has a really long bar 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 by to see it or have a drink.
If you time it just right, you can sit back with your train-themed cocktail and watch the nightly 3D light show while you have a cocktail or one of their really tasty burgers.
5. Visit a Fun 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 the days I had free. This fun museum has been described as a playground for all ages with fun one of kind art, tunnels and slides and basically anything you could play on. Plus they offer the occasional special events including slumber parties.
In addition to 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: traveling with family? Then check out the Family Attractions Card for discounts for popular activities around the city.
6. Ride the St Louis Wheel
It seems a lot of these new age Ferris wheels have popped up all over. When Union Station was remodeled, St Louis added their own version.
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 to best views of the Arch and downtown. The wheel is definitely a don’t miss thing to do in St Louis.
7. Indulge in Savory BBQ
I came to St Louis without knowing anything about the BBQ here and left the biggest fan. Places like Pappy’s and Salt & Smoke wooed me over from my usual southern BBQ to St Louis BBQ.
It quickly became apparent that some of the best BBQ in the country is in St Louis. Unfortunately, I only had the opportunity to try four BBQ restaurants but now, thanks to all the suggestions from readers of my Delicious St Louis BBQ You Have to Try article, I have a whole big list.
You would really be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t add eat BBQ on your best things to do in St Louis list.
8. Hang Out in the Grove
Located in the Forest Park neighborhood of St Louis, The Grove, used to be called Adam’s Grove In the 50’s. Back then, it was a busy shopping district. After experiencing a decline, the area underwent a revitalization and is once again one of St Louis’s busiest entertainment areas.
The Grove has more than fifty shops along this mile stretch of road. You can eat, drink, dance, buy clothes, get a haircut – or even a tattoo. It’s also one of the best places in the city to view street art and murals.
9. Dine in an Old Auto Showroom
If you ever wanted to have a meal in an old Stutz Motors 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.
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.
Even though the food and drinks were on point, it’s maybe the ice cream and boozy desserts that makes this restaurant one of the most unique things to do in St Louis. Sourced from a dairy in Wisconsin, the ice cream with homemade sauces and toppings were out of this world.
10. 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 hip spot in the Historic Thaxton building, you enter street side into an event space and then head down some steps into the cozy basement turned bar. The whole vibe IS prohibition.
11. Dive in at the Aquarium
Also at Union Station is the St Louis Aquarium that of six galleries that feature different types of environments. The aquarium is home to several thousand marine animals, including sharks, sting rays and sea lions.
The aquarium is also interactive – with several opportunities to get unclose to snakes, crabs and jellyfish. There’s even a touch pool where visitors you can also touch a jellyfish and learn more about them in their special exhibit that showcases different species and their stinging mechanisms.
12. Take a Brewery tour
Move over BBQ, because St Louis is also a beer lover’s dream. The greater St Louis area boasts over 35 breweries. Not to mention St Louis is the world headquarters of Anheuser-Busch and you can tour the oldest and largest brewery in the country.
Founded in 1852 by German immigrant Adolphus Busch, Anheuser-Busch is the largest brewer in the United States 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.
The Clydesdale tour is definitely worth a trip – you can even see them up close at nearby Busch Family Farm – Grant’s Farm.
13. Discover Art at the St Louis Public Library
I love finding quirky stuff when I road trip and travel 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 this 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. So keep your eyes open for even more public art in St Louis.
14. Devour a Gooey Butter Cake
Besides the BBQ and donuts I ate when I visited St Louis, my other favorite thing I found out about while I was there 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.
15. Get Your Kicks on Route 66
Did you even know that Route 66 goes right through St Louis? I know. When most people think about Route 66, they think about lonely stretches of abandoned highway in the western United States.
However, the “Mother Road” passes directly through St Louis and in addition to 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 that it passes through is the charming Maplewood. Located only about ten minutes from downtown, Maplewood feels like its own little world of shopping, restaurants, cool bars.
With a quaint, small town USA setting, Maplewood is the perfect place to spend the day.
16. 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.
17. Search for Street Art
Possibly one of the things that surprised me 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.
Not sure why I was so surprised because 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 some of my favorite St Louis themed ones from when I visited.
18. Smell the Flowers Botanical Gardens
Visiting the Missouri Botanical Garden is a great way to spend the day outdoors and enjoy some of the beautiful Midwest weather. With over 45 acres, the Gardens feature 17 unique gardens, each one with its own lovely setting. There’s a greenhouse, a Japanese garden, a rose garden and much more.
From the colors and scents of the seasonal gardens to the soothing sounds of water lilies in the pond, you’ll find an abundance of beauty waiting for you at St. Louis’ garden oasis. There’s even an adventure playground for children.
19. Sip Coffee in a Flying Saucer
At some point during your St Louis visit, you’ll probably find yourself wanting a coffee. And while I always recommend local places and coffee shops, there’s an unusual Starbucks in St Louis that’s worthy of an exception this time.
This particular Starbucks, located near St Louis University in the “flying saucer building”, was once a service station in the 1960’s. A few years ago, the site was slated for demolition but after outcry from the public and preservation groups, Starbucks and Chipotle finally settled in.
It’s conveniently located near the freeway so it’s a easy stop as you are passing through.
20. Root for the Home Team
You absolutely cannot write about St Louis without mentioning the awesome sports teams that call the city home. 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.
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 that plays right next door to the dome called the Blues. They haven’t been too successful – yet – but hockey is always fun to watch. Who doesn’t enjoy a few fights?
21. Devour Donuts
I’m including this last thing to do in St Louis because besides BBQ – and all the other delectable St Louis food I consumed while I was there – I had to most fun searching for donuts. And I loved them all.
World Fair Donuts is definitely a classic must try but I think it’s Old Town Donuts in Florissant that was my favorite. Their chocolate iced is what I would want for my last meal. Plus I just really like Florissant.
22. Play in the Park
Last but not least, be sure to include some outdoor time at St Louis’ green oasis right outside the city, when you visit Forest Park – one of the largest urban parks in North America. There’s over 1,300 acres of open space to explore.
With paths, gardens, a lake and boathouse on the lake, it’s a refreshing retreat from the concrete of the city and it’s close to 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.
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St Louis Travel Guide
Getting to St Louis by Air
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 with plenty of gas stations nearby for fuel fill ups when you return your rental. Check car rentals on Expedia.com. or RentalCars.com.
Getting Around in 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 has plenty of other hotels and even a casino. For unrivaled river and arch views, the Hyatt Regency is right there. Live! by Loews hotel 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 . Hilton’s Double Tree Hotel is a great place to stay in this neighborhood.
Add this map to your own Google Maps account by clicking the star at the end of the title. Click the icon in the left hand top corner for the places on the list. You can also click the individual places for more info about them.
Final Thoughts on Things to Do in St Louis
St Louis is such 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 friendly city with plenty of things to do for couples or families. I was visited St Louis solo 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!
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!
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!
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.
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.