Situated unassumingly in the heart of the country on the western bank of the Mississippi River is the city of St. Louis. Acquired in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase, St. Louis soon became a major port along the Mississippi, and by the 1900 census, it was the fourth-largest city in the country. Today, its population is just under 320,000, and many people overlook it in favor of visiting other, larger U.S. destinations. But with its history and culture, and its wide variety of entertainment, you can be sure that St. Louis stacks up well against any other city in the country.
One of the jewels is Forest Park, located in the western part of the city. Opened in 1876, the park covers more than 1,370 acres and has been the location of numerous historical events, including both the World’s Fair and the Summer Olympics in 1904. Today, Forest Park offers a beautiful backdrop for outdoor recreation, including biking and paddle boating in summer and ice skating in the winter.
Forest Park is also home to many significant cultural attractions, among them the Saint Louis Art Museum, which houses more than 30,000 works of art. The museum recently completed construction on a $160 million addition featuring new galleries and expanded public amenities. If you’re visiting St. Louis during the summer, you can catch a show at The Muny (the Municipal Theatre Association of St. Louis), America’s oldest and largest outdoor musical theater. The 2015 lineup includes My Fair Lady, Hairspray, Beauty and the Beast, and Oklahoma! No tickets? No problem! The Muny offers 1,500 free seats in the last nine rows for every performance.
Dining options in the St. Louis metropolitan area are bountiful. For an upscale experience, there’s Niche, located in Clayton, just outside the city. This popular restaurant specializes in new American cuisine with a midwestern flair. The Crossing, another premier restaurant in Clayton, has tasting menus that get high marks, as does the extensive wine selection. St. Louis has a widespread reputation for its special take on barbecue. St. Louis–style barbecue is actually grilled first, then is heavily sauced. In fact, St. Louis consumes more barbecue sauce per capita than any other city in the nation. Popular among the locals is Pappy’s Smokehouse, recently featured on Yelp’s Top 100 places to eat in the country. But if you ask a local what’s good to eat, there’s a decent chance you’ll hear “frozen custard.” Perhaps the best and most popular custard is served at Ted Drewes, where the lines can be long, but the wait is worthwhile.
After a long day, unwind with a cocktail while taking in St. Louis blues at Jazz at the Bistro. The recently renovated club has a main listening room where you can watch the acts on stage and a separate lounge where you can chat with friends while viewing the show on a screen in the background. For a unique experience, visit Three Sixty, located at the top of the Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark. The 360-degree view from the rooftop lounge takes in everything from Busch Stadium to the Gateway Arch.
Visitors may come expecting a quiet midwestern town, but with the breadth of things to do and see and places to eat, St. Louis has a special charm not replicated anywhere else. DW