by Anne Braly
Though beer and baseball may be the first two things that come to mind, there’s so much more to the city of St. Louis. Consider its history and culture, as well as a deliciously expanding food scene, and it’s easy to see why the Gateway to the West makes for a fun family vacation or a much-needed adults-only getaway.
“When you come to St. Louis, families can enjoy an incredible array of unique kid-friendly attractions,” says Catherine Neville, vice president of communications for Explore St. Louis. But there’s something for everyone, she adds.
Sports lovers flock to see the Cardinals play at Busch Stadium and catch a Blues game at Enterprise, and next spring they’ll have even more to root for when the XFL returns to The Dome and the St. Louis City Soccer Club begins playing at the new CITYPARK stadium. The arts abound in St. Louis, as well. And from Forest Park to the Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis offers a multitude of greenways and gardens to connect visitors with nature.
Here’s a look at some of the experiences that await as you enter The Gateway City.
The food scene in St. Louis and its surrounding communities, such as Webster Groves and Clayton, continues to broaden the palate of locals and visitors alike.
Of course, there’s the cake that St. Louis made famous — yummy gooey butter cake, a confection you’ll find in many a bakery. Another food made famous here: the ice cream cone. No, the city cannot lay claim to ice cream, but it was first served in a cone at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, and one of the most-popular ice cream parlors is Clementine’s, where ice cream comes in dozens of flavors, both boozy and teetotaler flavors. There are three locations, but it’s so well-loved, it can be shipped around the country.
For an experience that takes you into another dimension, make reservations for dinner at Cinder House, the primary restaurant at Four Seasons, a luxury hotel with dynamic views of the Gateway Arch and downtown St. Louis. As with most hotel restaurants, Cinder House is open for breakfast and lunch, but it’s at the dinner hour when diners can realize the breadth or talent displayed on every plate by James Beard Award-winning chef Gerard Crafts and his crew. The menu features a number of American favorites, many of which sparkle when Craft adds his magical touches from South America. Scallops come alive with sauce Huancaina; a New York strip gets a boost with a sauce of chimi-rojo bearnaise.
Looking for brunch? The Clover and the Bee in Webster Grove is a neighborhood eatery specializing in this mid-morning meal, offering a fresh take on traditional fare, such as a shaved Brussels sprouts salad with dried cherries and candied pecans or avocado toast drizzled with hot honey.
For a taste of France with a twist of the South, the Fried Chicken Cordon Bleu at Bistro La Floraison in Clayton will bring you to your knees. It’s a newly opened bistro with the charm of a Parisian café and a wine list to match. “This jewel box is a must-stop when you’re in town,” Neville says.
The Music Scene
It’s hard to think about music in St. Louis without paying tribute to Tina Turner, a Tennessee-turned-Missouri girl who made it big in St. Louis and then the world. Or Josephine Baker, entertainer, singer and World War II spy. Chuck Berry, Fontella Bass, Nelly, Scott Joplin. They all got their start in St. Louis before hitting the international stage. The music scene in St. Louis is a celebration of sound. The Missouri History Museum, a free museum located on the grounds of the World’s Fair, recently premiered Saint Louis Sound, an exhibit featuring many of the city’s famous artists. Likewise, Zack, an intimate community theater, celebrated the town’s female musicians with a one-woman show that was both educational and entertaining. It’s experiences such as these that put a stamp on the importance of St. Louis in the nation’s history.
The Gateway Arch
It would be amiss in any story not to include the Gateway Arch, our nation’s newest addition to the National Park System. At 91 acres along the Mississippi River, it’s the smallest of all the parks, but it packs a wallop of fun and an eye-opening education of the opening of the West.
A trip to the top of the arch in an enclosed capsule just big enough for five adults offers a birds-eye view — literally at 630 feet high — of the city and the river. At its base is a museum that traces the story of Native Americans, explorers, the first St. Louisians, and other pioneers through a series of six exhibits, most with interactive elements.
The park also includes the campus of the old federal courthouse where the enslaved Dred Scott sued the government for his freedom, a quest that was denied. It’s a walk through the civil rights era beginning in 1847.
The courthouse, currently undergoing renovations, is a prime example of 19th-century architecture. If you’re interested in learning more about the architecture of St. Louis, visit the Missouri History Museum’s current exhibit, “Coloring STL,” an interactive exhibit showcasing the architects and buildings that left their mark on the town.
For the Kids … And Big People, Too
City Museum takes everything you ever thought about a stuffy old museum and throws it out the window. It’s a museum of leftovers that have been unassembled, reimagined, reinterpreted and reassembled into a giant, 10-story playground for kid and adults.
A decommissioned airplane poised high above ground is now a place for kids to play; an old school bus sits precariously on the side of the museum and makes a fun place for kids, as well. Getting down from high above can be done the conventional way — by stairs and elevator. Or, dare to take the 10-story slide down to terra firma.
It’s a chance to spend an entire day in Neverland. On the waterfront, Big Muddy Adventures offers a paddling tour along the Mississippi to see St. Louis from a different perspective. The company can style most any paddling adventure you want, from canoeing and kayaking the river to a beach picnic or private island dinner.
“There’s an authenticity to experience” says paddling guide Matt Green. “It’s the real kind of thing vacationers are looking for. Our mission is to get people to reconnect with the river.”
The Spirits of St. Louis
Just as the craft beer craze has exploded across the nation, craft spirits, too, are gaining traction. And at its helm is StilL 630, a boutique distillery. Don’t let the double burners — left over from its life as a Burger King — fool you. Distiller Dave Weglarz, a founding member of the Missouri Craft Distillers Guild, knows his business, crafting beautiful spirits from local ingredients, such as his line of bourbons made with Missouri-grown corn and aged in barrels made in Missouri.
“It’s my little American dream that I hope to turn into a big company,” Weglarz says. “We take our booze very seriously.” StilL 630 has an open house every Friday from 5-9 p.m. and offers tours on Saturdays for groups of 10 or more. Looking for a good house of craft beer? Just so happens, Schlafly was the first tap room of craft beer to open in St. Louis. It was back in 1991, well before the craft beer craze took off around the country, that Thomas Schlafly opened his pub in a former print shop. Now, the brewhouse offers year-round and seasonal beers brewed in-house, as well as cider and a menu of pub-style fare. Fish and chips and the Reuben are some good choices.
On the Farm
Granted, Auguste Busch may be better known for his beer, but his house at Grant’s Farm is impressive on a different level. The handsome brick mansion has been home to five generations of Busches, and continues to be visited by family members, so its interior is not open to tours. But when the family is not in residence, you can walk around it and wonder at its architecture and what it would be like to live in such opulence.
Grant’s Farm is so named because it was the home to President Ulysses S. Grant. His cabin is still situated on the property, surrounded by fields stocked with native and non-native animals, leftovers from a time when Auguste Busch planned to make his land into a hunting preserve. Now, zebras, emus, many species of deer, longhorn cattle, bison and others roam over acres and acres of pastureland.
A visit to Grant’s Farm is an educational experience. Spend a day driving through this well-preserved oasis of Mother Nature, just minutes outside the city in Grantwood Village.