Jeramey Jannene
Urban Tour Guide

St. Louis

By - Jun 25th, 2010 02:18 pm
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In an attempt to broaden our horizons, we reached out to other city-focused blogs across the Midwest. Our goal is to provide a quality tour guide for city-lovers in each large Midwestern city. We asked each of our writers recommend around 10 things that can be done in their city and to orientate the guide around someone staying at a downtown hotel without a car (including transit options if anything was outside of walking distance). Each guide author took things in a slightly different direction, and the resulting collection of articles has something for everyone.

Our fifth profile is of St. Louis, and is written by Alex Ihnen who runs UrbanSTL and Matt Mourning of Dotage St. Louis. Alex is a member of the City to River effort and also runs Staying in STL.

St. Louis

City Garden in St. Louis

City Garden in St. Louis (photo by Nick Schnelle)

Where you’re staying:

Drury Inn
711 North Broadway
St Louis, MO 63102-2106
(314) 231-8100
druryhotels.com

You’ll be staying in the historic Union Market building, the site of a public market beginning in 1866. The current building dates from 1924 and was built by the City of St. Louis as a public market. The top floor was added during renovation for use as a hotel. The Drury Hotel chain is a St. Louis local, affordable, well-rated and well-known for their free breakfast and drinks.

How to get around:

St. Louis is served by MetroLink and bus service. The light rail line has several stops downtown, connects directly with the airport and will get you to The Loop, Forest Park, the Central West End and near The Grove. The buses are cheap and reliable and can get you everywhere else. Visit the Metro website and find transit directions on Google Maps.

City Museum/Washington Avenue

City Museum in St. Louis

City Museum in St. Louis (photo by UrbanSTL)

You may want to save City Museum for your last day in St. Louis. If you go there first you may never leave. And that would be a shame as the City has a lot to see. City Museum is the place you would have built if you could turn your dreams into a playground. There’s a ferris wheel on the roof, seven-story slide, aquarium, the outdoor MonstroCity and much, much more. Stroll Washington Avenue from your hotel to 20th Street and you’ll see the heart of downtown revitalization and loft development in St. Louis. Loft District highlights include the Flamingo Bowl, the Washington Avenue Post (everyone’s favorite coffee shop-office supply store), and the London Tea Room (if you’re seeking tea leaves rather than coffee beans).

Soulard/Lafayette Square

Soulard in St. Louis

Soulard in St. Louis

Soulard displays St. Louis’s French heritage. Home to corner pubs, jazz, and Creole/Cajun food, Soulard is true to its New Orleans/Louisiana roots. (In French, “Soulard” roughly translates to drunkard, fittingly). The Soulard Market, among the oldest public markets in the country, is located at 9th and Lafayette Streets. Try great “Jersey-style” pizza at Ferraro’s; Nawlins-style food at Molly’s; or grab some coffee and brunch at Soulard Coffee Garden. Seafood at 1860s Hardshell Cafe should be followed with cocktails.

Lafayette Square hosts the oldest public park west of the Mississippi, ringed with “Painted Ladies” and a picturesque wrought iron fence. Park Avenue is a small business district that’s host to Park Avenue Coffee, boasting more than 70 flavors of a local-only morsel, gooey-butter cake – don’t ask, just eat! Nearby you’ll find the 33 Wine Bar, and Bailey’s Chocolate Bar as well as Arcelia’s Mexican restaurant. For diner, explore 1111 Mississippi or the rooftop experience of Vin de Set.

Lafayette Square in St. Louis

Lafayette Square in St. Louis (photo by Jane Linders)

St. Louis Arch/City Garden/Broadway Blues District

Sure they’re on all tourist agendas, but they’re worth it. Eero Saarinen’s iconic monument to westward expansion is just blocks from your hotel. Visit the underground museum and ride a tram to the top, 630 feet above the city. The museum and Arch grounds may not be the most vibrant part of downtown, but that’s why you need to see it now. A design competition is underway to transform the grounds, its connections to the city and the east side of the river. Vast changes will be announced later this year and implemented in time for the park’s 50th anniversary in 2015.

Look west into the city from the Arch and you will see the Old Courthouse, site of the Dred Scott decision, now a free museum. Four blocks beyond that is City Garden. Two dozen remarkable sculptures and $40M have transformed two square blocks of the Gateway Mall. Water features, limestone bluffs, prairie grass and a serpentine wall mimic the Mississippi River landscape in what has already become one of St. Louis’s favorite picnic spots.

The Broadway Blues District has a lot to be blue about: all but a handful of historic building were torn down and became surface parking to serve nearby Busch Stadium. However, what remains is nothing less than stellar. The Eugene Field House Museum honors its namesake toymaker and poet (think “Winkin, Blinkin, and Nod”), while three blues bars (BB’s, Beale on Broadway, and the Broadway Oyster Bar) beckon St. Louisans from across the region to sample the city’s best food and music. Make sure to seek out Kim Massie, a soul singer if there ever was one, at Beale on Tuesday and Thursday nights.

Forest Park

Forest Park in St. Louis

Forest Park in St. Louis (photo by Phil Kamp)

At 1,293 acres, Forest Park is big. However, it’s not the size, but what you can do in the park that brings millions of visitors each year. You can visit the Missouri History Museum, St. Louis Art Museum, Science Center and Zoo for free. There is also 27 holes of golf, a professional tennis center, boat rentals (at the Boat House restaurant), bike rentals (visitor’s center), an 11,000-seat outdoor Municipal Opera Theatre (AKA the Muny) and a one-lap 6-mile trail if you’re looking for more.

The Loop

Delmar Avenue has been named one of America’s 10 best streets by the American Planning Association. Named for the streetcar that once looped around the west end of the street, the Loop has a bit of everything. You can see Chuck Berry perform monthly at Blueberry Hill, grab a locally brewed root-beer at Fitz’s, shop for records at Vintage Vinyl, catch a movie at the historic Tivoli Theatre and peruse the St. Louis Walk of Fame at your feet. Pi, President Obama’s favorite pizza, is here too. You can rent bicycles at Big Shark. If downtown doesn’t seem to cut it for you, you could try out St. Louis’s newest boutique hotel, the Moonrise, opened by Loop proprietor Joe Edwards. If you regret your decision, you can always hop to the rooftop bar and watch the moon rise over the Arch, 7 miles to the east.

The Hill

True Italy, the Hill is where baseball greats Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola called home between seasons, and it’s still home to a flourishing Italian-American community. Visit the Missouri Baking Company for Italian dolce, Volpi for market fare and then visit Milo’s for a round of bocce. The homes are modest, but well-kept and you’ll see more Madonna statues in front yards than you can count. Markets and restaurants are scattered throughout the neighborhood while Marconi, Edwards, and Shaw are the primary commercial streets.

Cherokee/Benton Park

Cherokee Street is a little bit of everything – a progressive arts district, printmaker’s paradise, a Hispanic business district, a thrift store jackpot, an antique district, a microbrewery and coffee hotspot – in its one and a half mile run from Gravois Avenue to Broadway. Must sees are Firecracker Press, Cranky Yellow, and Apop Records, while must-eats are La Vallesana, Shangri-La Diner, and The Stable, one of the aforementioned microbreweries, is also a distillery.

Benton Park, just north of Cherokee Street, is one of St. Louis’s most revived neighborhoods and is nothing short of a foodie destination these days. Sidney Street Cafe, Niche, and Taste are among the best reviewed restaurants in St. Louis, while Frazer’s and Venice Cafe raise the quirkiness bar to new heights. For a brick version of New Orleans, stroll the residential streets, named for Midwestern states.

Crown Candy/Old North St. Louis

Old North Saint Louis

Old North Saint Louis (photo by Mark Groth)

No visit to St. Louis is complete without a stop at the city’s oldest soda fountain, Crown Candy Kitchen, est. 1913. Here, your willpower and stomach will be put to the test: consume five malts in a half hour, and not only does the house pick up the tab, they commemorate the experience with your name on a plaque! Old North is serious business, though. The neighborhood is the most astounding case of urban revitalization in a city that’s known for it. While there’s clearly an incredible amount of work remaining, dozens of once ruined mid-1800s row houses have been restored to their former grandeur. So too has the neighborhood’s centerpiece commercial street, North 14th, which has been re-opened to traffic after an ill-fated turn in the 1970s as a pedestrian mall.

CWE/The Grove

The Central West End is glitz of the St. Louis style. Multi-million dollar mansions line the residential streets (make sure to walk Lenox, Pershing and Hortense) while Euclid is filled with restaurants and boutique retail. Maryland Avenue marks the commercial center of the neighborhood. Coffee Cartel is a 24-hour hub of activity, while the Cupcakery is the go-to spot for its namesake. Upscale diners will enjoy Wildflower, Brasserie by Niche, and Herbie’s Vintage 72, while those on a budget will crave the Mediterranean St. Louis Coffee and Tea Oasis, The Majestic, and the Tortillaria. If you can find it, Maryland House is your hub of see-and-be-seen St. Louis. It’s part of Brennan’s Wine Shop, which also features a basement speakeasy. You don’t have to pious, or Catholic, to enjoy the outright splendor of St. Louis’s Cathedral Basilica on Lindell Boulevard – it has the largest collection of mosaics in the Western Hemisphere. Terrene and the Scottish Arms are further east, but worth a visit.

The Grove is south of the Medical Center and may be the city’s fastest-changing neighborhood. Storefronts vacant for decades are springing back to life and restaurants and other stores are starting to fill in. It may also be the city’s premier neighborhood for alternative lifestyles, but most places cater to everyone. Try the Nepalese-Korean-Indian fare at Everest Café and grab a drink at the Atomic Cowboy. The Grove is also home to the live music venue the Gramophone and White Flag Projects, an independent art gallery.

South Grand/Tower Grove/MOBOT

South Grand is the epicenter of ethnic cuisine in St. Louis, whether Thai, Ahfgan, Ethiopian or Bedouin, you’ll find it here. Try Black Thorn for pizza or Pho Grand for fast – and cheap – Vietnamese. You will also find some of the best gelato in St. Louis at the Gelateria. Then you can walk it off in 289-acre Tower Grove Park, a Victorian oasis featuring ornate pavilions dating to the 1870’s, and one of just four American parks deemed National Historic Landmarks. Adjacent to the Park is the Missouri Botanical Garden. Both were gifted to the city by Henry Shaw. The Botanical Garden, called Shaw’s Garden by locals, does charge a fee – one of the only major St. Louis attractions to do so. If you’re in town on a Wednesday from June 2 to August 4, pack a picnic and join a thousand others for live music at the Garden (Whittaker Music Series). Admission is free after 5pm and live music begins at 7:30pm.

The neighborhoods that surround Tower Grove are some of St. Louis’s most thriving, so make sure to explore by foot and you may just stumble upon the elegance of Flora Place or the funkiness of the Morgan Ford business district.

Washington Avenue in St. Louis

Washington Avenue in St. Louis (photo by UrbanSTL)

Thanks again to Alex Ihnen from UrbanSTL and Matt Mourning of Dotage St. Louis for putting this together.

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12 thoughts on “Urban Tour Guide: St. Louis”

  1. Maria says:

    St. Louis looks great – they must have left out all the bad stuff. Why do people tell me not to visit there? Does MegaBus go there?

  2. Jeramey Jannene says:

    @Maria

    I’ve had a good time every time I’ve gone, be it winter or summer. Megabus does go to St. Louis.

  3. Jeffrey says:

    Big thumbs up for Bailey’s Chocolate Bar and The City Museum. Seriously. The City Museum is something that should be on your list of things to do before you die.

    Bailey’s Chocolate Bar? Fills up quick but has late hours. Martini’s and desert at 1am is a VERY cool thing to do.

  4. SS says:

    I was there for a Brewer game a couple weeks ago. We were staying downtown, just a few blocks from Busch Stadium.

    I wish I would’ve read this first, because I had a real hard time finding anything to do in the immediate downtown area. Used TripAdvisor and Urbanspoon apps to try and find places to eat. All the downtown restaurants were closed on the weekends. No street vendors selling food anywhere. Wandered up and down blocks looking for a place for Saturday breakfast, ended up at a upscale grocery store. Even after the baseball game, downtown was abandoned, just empty office buildings. I really expected more sports bars and stuff going on given the downtown stadium. It seems like all the locals come to the game on the train and leave right away. Finally found a sports bar (closer to Ed Jones Dome), and it was full of Brewer fans (again, where do the Card fans go after a game?). Place had a decent rating, but we had some pizzas (frozen) and it had that weird St Louis cheese that tastes awful. At least they had Miller beer there.

    Arch is definitely worth visiting. I assumed it was going to be a lame tourist trap, but it really is a striking piece of art. Old Courthouse is also great and totally overlooked by tourists. Great free museum inside and a real piece of history.

    Riverfront is basically non-existent. Kind of surprising.

    I’ll probably be visiting again next year, looking forward to finding some of these interesting things.

  5. Jeramey Jannene says:

    @SS – Did you hit up the Laclede’s Landing area at all just north of the Arch? That’s where we found the post-game party to be at. It’s Water Street on steroids, with historic character thrown in.

    I’ve yet to have Urbanspoon lead me to somewhere worthwhile.

  6. Jeffrey says:

    @SS

    I can give a tip of the hat to Sen Thai Bistro in St. Louis for dinning – been there multiple times. It does come up via Urbanspoon: http://www.senthaibistro.com

  7. SS says:

    Can’t say I remember seeing Sen Thai, but I would not have gone anyway as I wasn’t interested in Thai food in St Louis, nor after a baseball game. I was expecting to see lots of southern barbecue everywhere. I guess we’re just spoiled here with a bar on every corner. Also we’re spoiled with our stadium food, as I had the worst brat I’ve ever had at Busch Stadium and some bad nachos too, and neither was cheap. I strongly advise against eating at the stadium.

    I’ll be sure to check out that Laclede area next time, maybe if I had walked the Eads Bridge (wanted to, but didn’t have time) I would’ve stumbled upon it. Also next time I’ll probably be staying with local friends for a longer period, so they ought to know some places to go.

  8. Yance says:

    Of course there’s bad areas and the area on the near west side is a little intimidating. I’ve stayed at the old Union Station and walked downtown. There are a lot of homeless along the route in the parks but they are friendly. The projects are also nearby but I always had a good experience the few times I’ve visited. I’d say the downtown area is where Milwaukee was about 25 years ago. Some areas have a good feel to them and I would not hesitate going back.

  9. Dave Reid says:

    @Yance So often I hear that Milwaukee is X years behind another city, and interestingly enough when I visited St Louis I had the same feeling as you. That our downtown is simply ahead of downtown St. Louis, though the potential is definitely there, and I believe will return.

    That said this article really makes me want to visit St Louis again and try out more of the neighborhoods.

  10. Randy V. says:

    I strongly encourage any urban traveler to venture beyond just downtown– that goes for any city. St. Louis is a city of neighborhoods, with some of richest urban fabric in the United States. There are plenty of neighborhoods in the city proper in which you could spend an entire day just wandering in and out of unique shops, galleries and outstanding restaurants & bars. Anyone who doesn’t venture beyond downtown St. Louis is wasting their time in one of the country’s most interesting historic cities. Downtown is what it is, and it is getting better, but the neighborhoods are where STL really shines.

  11. Dave Reid says:

    @Randy V Oh I couldn’t agree more, when visiting any city really one must get out an explore!

  12. Steven Schrab says:

    The St. Louis City Museum is one of the greatest places on Earth.

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