Around St. Louis, autumn creeps in like a long, slow swig of sweet tea. You can theme a whole weekend around the idea of lazy strolls.
Once upon a time, Victorian belles walked through Lafayette Park under frilly parasols. At least it’s fun to imagine they did. The prim, perfectly symmetrical park anchors Lafayette Square, a near-downtown neighborhood of elegant homes, including the opulent Park Avenue Mansion inn. A couple miles southwest, in larger Tower Grove Park, pumpkins tempt families at an intimate Saturday farmers market, where music plays and a free yoga class spreads out under the trees. Across the street, the Missouri Botanical Garden sprawls over 79 acres. Come early, and your only company might be amateur photographers or, if you’re lucky, a fox drinking from the lily pond.
Drive a bit farther, and you hit Forest Park, about 15 minutes west of downtown. Home to several free attractions, including the zoo and art museum, it’s both a cultural hub and a sort of vast, communal backyard. If you visit during the Great Forest Park Balloon Race in September, rent a pedal boat and watch the balloons drift through a cloudless fall sky from your floating perch in the Grand Basin.
What to do
Boathouse Forest Park’s signature restaurant rents pedal boats and kayaks. (314) 367-2224; boathouseforestpark.com
Missouri Botanical Garden Most days the gardens are peaceful, but the bustling Best of Missouri Market (check website for dates) features food vendors, plant sales and music. Admission charged. (314) 577-5100; mobot.org
Saint Louis Art Museum Plan to bask on the lawn soaking in the magnificent view of Forest Park’s Grand Basin. Free. (314) 721-0072; slam.org
Saint Louis Zoo Lush landscaping makes this top-notch zoo good for wandering. Free. (314) 781-0900; stlzoo.org
Tower Grove Farmers Market Buy a croissant, then kick back and listen to the music. Saturdays May–October. (314) 772-3899; tgmarket.org
Where to eat
Atlas Restaurant Near Forest Park, Atlas serves upscale fare, such as grilled pork chops with apples and grain mustard spaetzle. (314) 367-6800; atlasrestaurantstl.com
Baileys’ Chocolate Bar Lafayette Square’s stylishly sexy dessert bar is perfect for a nightcap. Try chipotle-spiced hot chocolate. (314) 241-8100; baileyschocolatebar.com
Sqwires Feast on beef tenderloin with cheddar mashed potatoes, then settle in. The after-dinner mood at this brick-walled Lafayette Square spot is oh-so-mellow. (314) 865-3522; sqwires.com
Where to stay
Park Avenue Mansion This plush B&B facing Lafayette Park has a big courtyard—and three parrots. From $119. (314) 588-9004; parkavenuemansion.com
For more information: St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission (800) 916-0040; explorestlouis.com
(A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® September/October 2010. Prices, dates, and other details are subject to change, so please check specifics before making travel plans.)