36 Hours in St. Louis
Let that famous Gateway Arch be your portal to a city of proud neighborhoods, where all the amenities of a big metropolitan area—museums, restaurants, concerts, parks and sports—are incredibly easy to access.
The red brick city by the river built its national profile on baseball, beer and the Arch – all of which still occupy prominent positions in the hearts of locals. Get beyond the stadium and into the neighborhoods, though, and you'll discover a range of the city's subcultures, where entrepreneurs, civic activists, immigrants, college kids and risk-taking residents are creating cool wherever they land. The city itself covers a whopping 66 square miles, with 79 distinct neighborhoods in that space. And then there are the suburbs! You'll still feel the influence of German, Italian and French heritage, but today's St. Louis aims to be a biotech innovator, an artistic hub and a liveable city with world-class (and many free-of-charge!) attractions.
See the stars @ 3 p.m.
Take in the breadth of St. Louis' contributions to culture by strolling the St. Louis Walk of Fame, where 147 sidewalk-embedded stars tell the stories of luminaries from Miles Davis to Tennessee Williams, and include artists, musicians, educators, scientists, athletes and politicians. Don't forget to look up occasionally, too, to enjoy the shops, bars and restaurants of Delmar Boulevard, a.k.a. The Loop, named one of America's "10 Great Streets." You'll find the latest chart-topper in the bins at Vintage Vinyl and an afternoon energy bump at Blueprint Coffee.
Check into the Moonrise Hotel @ 5:30 p.m.
Stylish from lobby to open-air rooftop bar (complete with gigantic, rotating moon replica), this ultra-green boutique hotel caters to guests – and even their canine companions – who have a sense of fun. Space-age decor includes lunar-themed memorabilia and toys, plus some genuine space artifacts: Imagine the Jetsons came into some money. Need to charge up the electric car? The station's just out front.
Get your ‘cue on @ 6:30 p.m.
This town is in the saucy grip of a Golden Age of Barbecue, and Salt + Smoke is one of its newer temples. St. Louis-style ribs and pulled pork sandwiches get a lot of attention, but the menu is perfection right down to the details (the bacon-cheddar popover that accompanies plates, or the burnt end toasted ravioli, a tweak on a local fave). Like bourbon? They do, too.
Roll thunder (and savor cannoli) @ 9 p.m.
Assuming you're not holding tickets for a concert at The Pageant or Delmar Hall, the night is yours to explore! Slip on some stylin' saddle shoes for a few frames at Pin-Up Bowl, a retro-fancy bowling alley and martini bar (meaning it's 21+ up after 9). When it's not your roll, sneak out the door to Piccione Pastry, an authentic Italian bakery/gelato shop open till 11 on weekends, for a sweet treat to end the day.
Sunny slinger @ 9 a.m.
The morning's adventures on vibrant Cherokee Street begin at The Mud House, a handsome coffee shop/café where the mocha (made with local Kakao chocolate) and a hometown delicacy known as the slinger (roasted potatoes, veggie chili, cheese, onion and sunny-side eggs served over grainy toast) will set you right. If it's temperate enough to enjoy your food on the brick back patio, so much the better.
Antique paradise @ 10 a.m.
Fortified for some treasure-hunting, you'll walk out the door and discover a vintage and antique-lover's dream, with shops such as Elder's, The Heirloom Room, Riverside Architectural Antiques, Purple Cow, and Retro 101/Cherry Bomb Vintage.
Explore your way @ 11 a.m.
Variety! It's what St. Louis is all about.
Option #1: Stay on Cherokee Street to shop, stroll, and take in life's rich pageant. You'll find a culturally diverse mash-up like nowhere else in the city. Longtime African-American residents, a thriving Hispanic immigrant community, and a cadre of artists/DIYers and civic-minded entrepreneurs create a thriving and edgy mix. So whether you're in the market for some charcoal pencils to capture your surroundings in sketches (South City Art Supply), the freshest snapback to add to your hat collection (Swedlife) or just some beautiful jewelry (Mesa Home), this stretch will keep you entertained. Once you're feeling the love, make a point to hit up Firecracker Press and STL Stylehouse for handmade letterpress goods, handscreened tees/totes/undies and more celebrating the neighborhoods, attractions and quirks of life in the Lou. Stop for a bite at Kalbi Taco Shack (Korean with a Mexican accent, or is it the other way around?) or one of the many taquerias or panaderias.
By late afternoon, make your way to one of the beer scene's up-and-comers, Earthbound Brewing. Besides brewing up some innovative beers (Pecan Chicory Stout being but one delicious example, plus a range of IPAs), the citizens of Earthbound have opened one of the most visually appealing tasting rooms in town. How'd they do it? By renovating a 150-year-old vacant property that was once the home of the pre-Prohibition Cherokee Street Brewing Co., including the massive basement vaults, just one part of an extensive cave network that connects the entire neighborhood. Caves, it turns out, were the secret ingredient in making beer production such a success during the city's first wave, back in the days of the original Anheuser and Busch.
Option #2: First-time visitors to St. Louis will definitely want to head to the riverfront to explore the newly renovated Gateway Arch National Park, where a reimagined green space underneath and around the famous stainless steel span provides plenty to see at ground level, plus you'll find attractions both below ground and above (the new interactive visitor center and museum opens in July 2018; visitors can also take a tram ride to the top of the arch, 630 feet up.) For lunch nearby, hit up one of the food trucks parked along Market Street at 8th, just south of the Citygarden sculpture park.
Option #3: A jewel in the civic crown, Forest Park is the living, breathing, green heart of the city (and residents are happy to point out that it's 500 acres larger than New York's Central Park). The park is home to many of the city's most important institutions, including the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Missouri History Museum, the St. Louis Science Center and the Saint Louis Zoo. General admission to all of these is free, thanks to special taxes city residents pay to keep them accessible. A great bet for lunch for the whole family is the Pat Connolly Tavern, across the highway from the park: fried chicken, patty melts and a popular weekend brunch.
Catch an early set @ 5 p.m.
Blues music weaves throughout the city's history: BB's Jazz, Blues, & Soups is one of a stable of local clubs dedicated both to honoring the heritage and promoting the current scene. With local musicians on stage 7 days a week, Saturday frequently brings late-afternoon and early-evening shows that are worth a stop. Look for St. Louis favorites like Eric McSpadden, Bob Case & The Wild Accusations and Tom Hall.
Dine and sip cider @ 7 p.m.
New to downtown, Brick River Cider Company is St. Louis' first dedicated cidery, and it comes with a great family backstory of Civil War military service and Midwestern apple orchards. You can ponder it all over a glass of Homestead unfiltered hard cider, perfect to wash down delectable edibles from roasted beet hummus and chicken and biscuit sliders to sautéed trout with sage and pecans.
Time to play @ 9 p.m.
If you haven't visited City Museum, you might be imagining murals and exhibits about our history. But this is an enormous, freewheeling, repurposed shoe factory that, thanks to the vision of its founder (artist Bob Cassilly), has evolved into an imaginative indoor/outdoor playground for adults and kids alike, with a resident circus, multistory slides and tunnels, and human-scale Habitrail-like climbing structures…and a Ferris Wheel on the roof. (It's not far from the school bus perched over the side of the building, looking down to the street below.) A museum of architectural elements, a Beatnik-themed poetry café and treehouses round out the experience. Open late on weekend nights when the 18+ crowd is more prevalent. The gift shop sells kneepads for all the crawling: that's probably about the best summation of all.
Wander the garden @ 9 a.m.
Nearly 80 acres of diverse and meticulously maintained outdoor space, in the heart of the city, make the Missouri Botanical Garden an internationally renowned attraction. Spring and summer are showstoppers, of course, but it has a quiet beauty in all seasons and weather, making it a destination for locals and visitors alike. Take a guided tram tour or just strike out on foot and explore English woodland gardens, a geodesic dome housing a tropical rainforest, rose gardens, a formal Japanese garden and pond, and even a wildly fun Children's Garden, where kids can play on wooden structures, in fountains and in fabricated caves. Worth a stop for an hour or a day.
Brunch bunch @ 11 a.m.
Along the cosmopolitan South Grand business district stretch, shops and restaurants represent a variety of the world's countries and cultures. For a hearty meal minus any guilt, stop into Tree House for seitan sausage/Brussels sprouts/sweet potato hash or biscuits and gravy: the vegetarian/vegan restaurant also draws crowds for their crave-worthy vegan donuts. (It's not about self-denial, though: their brunch cocktail menu is serious business.)
Take-home goodies @ 1 p.m.
It's about time to head out of town, but you'll need some new reading material for the trip, right? Luckily, Apotheosis Comics is right across the street, and if you're not a comics fan going in, you very well might be after the enthusiastic staffers take care of you. They can recommend titles in every genre, interest and age range, and the inventory includes graphic novels, interesting games and fun pop-culture merch. (If you pop back across to Zee Bee Market for a few bite-size fair-trade chocolates for your trip home, we promise not to tell.)