Exploring the "Gateway to the West:" A Guide to St. Louis, MO
Updated: Aug 12, 2020
St. Louis, Missouri has been on my domestic travel bucket list for a couple of years. However, I am not sure where that interest sparked. Maybe it was while watching Nelly's brief reality show as a St. Louey native? Maybe it was seeing images of the #GatewayArch scrolling online? Whatever it was, I finally made it happen on Columbus Day weekend - 2018. After my #longweekend trip, St. Louis definitely has a special place in my heart!
Why you should go to St. Louis, Missouri?
St. Louis has lots of things to do. Whether you spend a long weekend or a week, you will be able to fill up your time.
St. Louis has managed to remain a low key city, which means it still has an authentic feel and is not overrun by tourists.
St. Louis has more free major tourist attractions than any other city in the United States, aside from DC.
St. Louis was part of the midwest jazz movement. This means you can find great live music and delicious food to eat.
Fun Facts about St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis is named after a French king that was born 550 years before the city was founded: King Louis IX, who is the only French king to become a saint
The city was first founded as a French fur-trading village in 1764.
St. Louis has the second largest Mardi Gras celebration after New Orleans, keeping with its French roots.
A lot of things are dedicated to Thomas Jefferson, but he never actually stepped foot in St. Louis!
Check out my guide to exploring this city nicknamed the "Gateway to the West:"
PLACES TO VISIT:
1. Gateway Arch
You cannot go to St. Louis without checking out the Gateway Arch, which is literally the "Gateway to the West." There are many things to explore around the Gateway Arch, so you can easily be here for a whole day.
There is a tram ride that allows you to ride up one of the sides of the arch to the top of this structure. A four minute ride in a tiny capsule will give you epic views from atop the world's largest arch. WARNING: Do not this do if you are claustrophobic!
In addition to riding up the tram, you can also watch a detailed 35-minute documentary titled "Monument to the Dream", which discusses the creation of this architectural accomplishment. There is also an epic museum that gives you a comprehensive overview of the history of #StLouis & the Gateway Arch.
To add on, you can also take a 1 hour #riverboat ride that allows you to catch some of the best views of the Gateway Arch and downtown St. Louis. Sadly, I dealt with periods of gray skies and downpour rain during my one hour ride. However, the views were like no other!
You will gain a much greater understanding and appreciation of St. Louis if you take advantage of all these activities. Therefore, it is best if you book the "See Everything Combo" package online.
2. Old Courthouse
Besides the Gateway Arch, the #OldCourthouse is St. Louis’ second most recognizable structure, considered to be a part of the Gateway Arch National Park. It is best known for two important moments in history: the first two trials of the #DredScott case in 1847 and 1850 and where Virginia Minor's case for a woman's right to vote came to trial in the 1870s.
The Old Courthouse is FREE.99 to visit and open daily. There are galleries set up in the lobby that you can check out that will give you the history of the building and important trials that took place in this courthouse. You can also walk around in some of the courtrooms.
3. Missouri History Museum
The #historymuseum is one of many FREE tourist attractions that St. Louis has to offer. Near the museum are other free attractions such as the zoo and science museum. The Missouri History museum was originally a memorial for Thomas Jefferson because of his responsibility for the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled the country's land westward.
You need at least a couple of hours in the museum to truly checkout all of the exhibits. The museum is open daily from 10 AM - 5 PM, except Tuesdays where it is open until 8 PM.
4. National Blues Museum
The National Blues Museum is one of the few things that is not free in St. Louis. However, it is well worth paying for. I would recommend visiting on a Sunday where you can pay extra to listen to live music. The museum is dedicated to exploring the musical history and impact of the blues. It gives you a comprehensive history on how blues evolved overtime in various US cities. Although it is a fairly small space (as it only takes up one floor), there is a lot of information about each of the artists and time periods. The #NationalBluesMuseum even goes into how the blues impacted rock & roll!
THINGS TO DO:
1. Listen to live blues music
One thing that I learned very quickly when searching St. Louis was that it is a prime spot for live blues music. There is a spot to check out just about every single night of the week. On Saturday night, I checked out #BroadwayOysterBar. and it was a good vibe listening to local born artist Marquise Knox while eating some delicious chargrilled oysters.
On Sunday afternoon, I checked out #livemusic at the National Blues Museum.
2. Attend Grove Fest
I happened to be around the weekend of #GroveFest. I would not travel to St. Louis specifically for the festival. However, if you are around for it, it is worth checking out. This helped me see a different side of St. Louis. Located in the neighborhood called the Grove, I felt like I was in hipster central. For a few blocks, you could buy crafts, fashion and art from local artists and vendors. I mainly appreciated the live local music that was played.
3. Have a drink at the 360 Bar
If you are looking for a GREAT 360-degree rooftop view of the city, this is the go-to spot! From here, you can see the Old Courthouse and Gateway Arch from new angles. You can also see into the Busch stadium. The vibes were great and the space has a good ambiance. Whether you are looking for indoor or outdoor vibes, they have it! The #360bar is located atop the Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark.
THINGS TO EAT:
1. Gooey butter cake
While doing my normal Google research of what are signature foods for my travel destination, this is one of the first things I discovered. Of course, I needed to make sure to have it. Apparently, the cake was made by accident in the 1930s by a St. Louis-area German American baker who was trying to make regular cake batter, but reversed the proportions of butter and flour. Instead of throwing it out, it was cut into squares to be sold. It became a big hit!
#OoeyGooeybuttercake, another name for this cake, is a flat and dense cake made with wheat cake flour, butter, sugar, and eggs that is then dusted with powdered sugar. It looks like a brownie and is super sweet. There are many places that serve it. I learned afterwards that if you visit the Gateway Arch, there is a free coupon provided in the booklets to get a piece. I had paid for it earlier that day in Park Ave Coffee. It is worth a try because why not!
2. St. Louis BBQ
I have heard of #StLouisBBQ before, so it only made sense to have it here. St. Louis surely does have some great spots to try. For specific places to eat, check out my blog post "Best Food Spots: St. Louis Edition"
My mind was blown away when I discovered that St. Louis BBQ does not refer to the type of BBQ sauce, but rather on how it is cooked. St. Louis BBQ is often grilled, then sauced instead of dry-rubbed and slow-smoked. More specifically, St. Louis BBQ ribs are pork spare ribs used where the ends of the ribs are trimmed so they’re all the same length.
This is a St. Louis speciality that I had not heard of until I arrived in St. Louis at a BBQ restaurant. I heard some locals get really excited over it, so I was curious to try it. Snoot is apparently what has made this restaurant famous, winning acclaimed competitions such as the Big Apple BBQ in New York City. It is believed to originate in St. Louis! Snoot is from the nose and cheek of the pig (tougher part of the pig that is meaty and fatty) that is grilled for hours and hours until they are crispy. It pretty much tasted like bacon or pork rinds as it is salty, crackly, and crispy. #Snoot is very flavorful and tastes really good with their special BBQ sauce, which is sweet and tomato-based. You must try this in St. Louis considering that it is the originator AND not many places serve it.
Know before you go…
Many things close on Mondays. So, plan your way around that!
Uber and Lyft are not cheap!
If you are visiting inside the Gateway Arch, make sure to buy your tickets early as they often sell out. Also, make sure to get there at least 45 min early as you have to go through airport-type security.
Bring (or buy) your National Park Passport Book so you can get some stamps!