Times have changed since the 1944 release of the musical “Meet Me In St. Louis,” but the city is well preserved, full of fascinating buildings and neighborhoods of architectural interest.
Founded by French fur traders in 1764 above the banks of the Mississippi River, St. Louis was named after the French King Louis IX. The United States acquired it as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803; Lewis and Clark set out from here in 1804 on their expedition westward. A major port for shipping and commerce, St. Louis was the fourth largest city in the country by 1870, a “gateway” for travelers seeking their fortunes in the American West. The Union Train Station, built in 1888, was the largest and busiest train station in the world at the time.
In fact, I recommend staying right at the Union Train Station, which is now a wonderful hotel that retains intricately tiled mosaics, stained glass, and decorative plasterwork arches and columns. (And a good restaurant.) stlouisunionstation.com
Begin your expeditions with a tram ride up the Gateway Arch, the 630-foot monument designed by architect Eero Saarinen and built between 1963 and 1965 as an ode to westward expansion. Do plan ahead and buy tickets online, as the wait to ride up can be lengthy. gatewayarch.com/buy-tickets
Don’t miss the newly opened museum underground, which details the area’s history; and be sure to walk over to the historic, beautifully restored Old Courthouse, where the landmark Dred Scott v. Sandford case (denying citizenship to black people) was tried in 1857. nps.gov
DOWNTOWN BUILDINGS IN ST. LOUIS
Downtown St. Louis has many iconic buildings. The 1891 Wainwright Building (709 Chestnut St.), designed by Adler & Sullivan, is among the first “skyscrapers” and features terra-cotta details. City Hall (1200 Market St.), designed in 1892 and modeled after the Hotel de Ville in Paris, has a breathtaking central atrium and ceiling. The 1912 Central Library (13th and Olive) is a monumental, granite and marble edifice by Cass Gilbert, with a central pavilion and four courts. Be sure to view the ceiling in the Periodicals Room, which was inspired by Michelangelo’s ceiling in the Laurentian Library.
While you’re downtown, a visit to The Campbell House (1508 Locust St.) is highly recommended. A house-museum restored to 1851 elegance, it offers a glimpse into the mid-19th-century lifestyle of the city’s well-to-do residents. campbellhousemuseum.org
St. Louis is still a city of residential neighborhoods, each with a different character. Soulard, south of downtown, is an old one—and a lively spot for blues and jazz bands and pub crawls. Soulard Farmer’s Market is one of the oldest in the country.
Take a good half a day to explore the vibrant Central West End, bounded on the west by Forest Park, Delmar Blvd on the north, and I-64/US40 on the south. Visit shops and boutiques on Euclid Avenue.
Then see the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis on Lindell Boulevard at Newstead Ave. This breathtaking building covers the entire block and boasts the largest collection of mosaics in the world.
Do a driving tour through neighborhoods filled with grand homes. Streets are marked by towering gatehouses, once private but most now open to the public. Don’t miss Fullerton’s Westminster Place, Washington Terrace (guarded by a gatehouse that’s a miniature chateau), Westmoreland Place—and Portland Place, whose tree-lined boulevards, listed on the National Register, retain some of the largest and most beautiful houses in the city.
PARKS AND GARDENS
Forest Park in western St. Louis, site of the 1904 World’s Fair, is today a 1300-acre park and arts center hosting the St. Louis Art Museum, the History Museum, and the St. Louis Zoo. Don’t miss the Jewel Box, a stunning, Art Deco-style greenhouse. The Boathouse is a perfect spot for lunch or dinner. forestparkmap.com
The 79-acre Missouri Botanical Garden opened in 1859. (Great salads are served at Sassafras, the lunchroom.) Victorian gardens surround Tower Grove House, the restored, 1849 Italianate mansion of Garden Founder Henry Shaw, which has public tours throughout most of the year. missouribotanicalgarden.org
DINING OUT WITH LOCALS
- THE FOUNTAIN ON LOCUST, Midtown. Art Deco-themed casual-fare restaurant for lunch and dinner.
- ELEVEN ELEVEN MISSISSIPPI, Lafayette Square. Eclectic Tuscan cuisine by way of California, in a converted old shoe factory.
- TRATTORIA MARCELLA, The Hill. Elevated Italian from pizza and pasta to risotto and traditional meat entrees.
- SIDNEY STREET CAFÉ, Benton Park. New American with Spanish, French, Southwest influences, in a century-old storefront with an antique bar.
- BAR ITALIA, Central West End. Fine Italian for dinner.
- VICIA, Central West End. Seasonal, vegetable-forward fine dining.
- TED DREWES, St. Louis Hills. Since 1929, ice cream and concretes: shakes so thick they’re served upside-down.