Beautiful Things to Do in Saint Louis, Missouri

November 17, 2021
Things to do in St. Louis, Gateway Arch

Saint Louis, Missouri is a beautiful city in a beautiful region. It boasts a large downtown area with uncrowded streets, interesting museums, and a phenomenal MLB complex. It also hosts the famous Gateway Arch monument, one of the most recent adoptions into the US National Park system. If you find yourself near this historic city, there are many beautiful things to do in Saint Louis.

Named after King Louis IX, Saint Louis was founded in 1764 by Frenchman Pierre Laclede. In the early years, St. Louis functioned mostly as a fur-trading village, but by the time Thomas Jefferson brokered the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 — for an astonishing four cents per acre! — Saint Louis was a burgeoning port town on the edge of the young United States. When Lewis and Clark left St. Louis to began their westward explorations in 1804, St. Louis’s status was cemented as “The Gateway to the West”.

Fun Facts About St. Louis

The population of Saint Louis is a reasonable 354,000. The greater metropolitan area is 2.8 million.

Saint Louis was the first U.S. city to host the modern Olympics.

Anheuser Busch (Budweiser) has called Saint Louis home since 1852.

Saint Louis is the birthplace of toasted ravioli.

The Saint Louis Cardinals have won more World Series than any team, sans the Yankees.

A Saint Louis radio station was the first in the nation to play Sugar Hill Gang’s, “Rapper’s Delight.”

Some famous Saint Louisans include: T.S. Eliot; Maya Angelou; Joseph Pulitzer; Chuck Berry; Tina Turner; Cornell “Nelly” Haynes, Jr.; Vincent Price; Redd Foxx; Betty Grable; Tennessee Williams; and Kevin Kline.

Things to do in Saint Louis:

Beautiful things to do in Saint Louis are easy to find. Packed with history and teeming with parks, this underrated city makes for a surprising and affordable weeklong getaway. In fact, you may run around so much you’ll need a vacation from your vacation when your visit is over.

Our family spent five days here and each day we kept a packed itinerary. Below are six things we found to be especially noteworthy during our stay in Saint Louis. We hope you enjoy!

1. City Museum

Things to do in St. Louis, City Museum

As you approach the City Museum, it looks like an an antiquated department store met an oversized junkyard and built a life together. Which, with the help of artist Bob Cassilly, is basically what happened.

Created in 1997 and housed in the former International Shoe Company building, this inimitable museum is a one-of-a-kind experience for the whole family. There is nothing like it on earth. It might just be the coolest thing you’ve ever done.

The building is five floors of industrial relics organized into the world’s most interesting playground. Hidy-holes, ladders, and slides enter and exit rooms through the walls, ceilings, and floors. Dragons, whales, and dinosaurs mingle with skateboard ramps, pianos, and pinball machines to form a demented wonderland that invites every man, woman, and child to get on their knees and crawl into some dark opening leading to who-knows-where.

The tiniest crack or doorway leads somewhere — you will rarely find a dead end. If you see a swimming pool you can probably find a pathway under it. If two railings are spaced far enough apart to fit your body between, you might just find a birdcage atop a series of tree branches ten feet off the ground. Have a seat — you might be the first person to sit there in days. This secret passage parlor will blow your mind and knees alike.

We were told there are over 50 slides in the building. Some slides are short and silly. Some are over a hundred-feet long. In the back of the building is a slide ten-stories high! No joke. It takes for-ev-er.

Have you ever crawled through a tube of iron fencing suspended 70′ off the ground? Would you like to? It is one of the best things to do in St. Louis. You really haven’t lived otherwise.

Things to do in St. Louis, City Museum

Children clearly have the advantage here. Many spaces are simply too tight for an adult of average size to maneuver. Just let those kiddos crawl into the center of the tree trunk and disappear out of sight — they’ll come sliding out of the wall in the next room in a few minutes.

Be sure to go down the stairs by the giant squid. It leads to the caves in the basement, which are super cool. And it goes without saying that you have to explore the outdoor area. The front yard is free, but there is an additional fee to go up on the roof. The rooftop has hours of operation dependent on staffing — it was closed by the time we arrived.

If there was one thing that you absolutely shouldn’t miss, assuming you have children or are child-like, the City Museum in St. Louis is an adventure unlike any other. It is not only one of the best things to do in Saint Louis, it is one of the most far-out things to do in the United States of America.

Things to do in St. Louis, City Museum

2. Gateway Arch

Formerly known as the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, Gateway Arch National Park is one of the most prominent features of any US city, akin to the Statue of Liberty, Space Needle, or Golden Gate Bridge. That alone makes it one of the best things to do in Saint Louis.

A design contest for the memorial was held in 1947 and over 150 architects rendered their impressions. A lesser-known, Finnish-American architect named Eero Saarinen submitted the winning entry, a massive stainless-steel arch symbolizing the city’s reputation as “Gateway to the West.”

It took about two years to complete the project (1965) and cost about $15,000,000. The Arch is exactly as tall as it is wide at 630′. It is comprised of 5,200 tons of steel and 38,000 tons of concrete, and it can sway as much as 18″ in winds of 150 mph.

It houses two elevator-type devices, one on each side of the arch. It takes about four minutes to get to the top. Eight barrel-like compartments hold as many as six people (see above right). The viewing area at the top can hold over 100 visitors at a time (above left).

Gateway Arch is our nation’s smallest National Park at 192 acres. It was given the designation on February 22, 2018, becoming our 60th N.P. Three more National Parks have been since added.

Beneath the Arch is a 1st rate museum. Plan to spend over an hour reading about the Gateway Arch project, as well as St. Louis history, the chronicles of westward expansion, and the conflicts with Native Americans at these developing times. It is equal parts impressive, interesting, and saddening. The tribute to the Native Americans is excellent.

Things to do in St. Louis, Gateway Arch
This classic photo is taken from a viewing platform near the Queen Casino in East STL.

3. Missouri Botanical Garden

Things to do in St. Louis, Missouri Botanical Garden

The Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis was founded in 1859 by Henry Shaw. Today, the Garden is a National Historic Landmark and a center for science, conservation, education and horticultural display. It features 79 acres of horticultural displays, including indoor conservatories and demonstration, formal and international gardens.

Things to do in St. Louis, Missouri Botanical Garden
The Beautiful Boxwood Garden at the Missouri Botanical Gardens

The Climatron at the Missouri Botanical Garden (last photo) was built in 1960 as the world’s first climate-controlled geodesic dome designed as a greenhouse. The Climatron houses tropical plants and fruits, cascading waterfalls, as well as several Chihuly glass sculptures.

Missouri Botanical Garden also is also home to the largest traditional Japanese Garden outside of Japan.

Things to do in St. Louis, Missouri Botanical Garden
Things to do in St. Louis, Missouri Botanical Garden

Other than the Climatron and Japanese Garden, we found the most interesting and beautiful gardens to be the Boxwood Garden, Lehmann Rose Garden, Butterfly Garden (because Monica loves butterflies), and English Woodland Garden.

One of the most interesting features at the Missouri Botanical Garden was The Stumpery. A garden built of and around extirpated stumps, these oddly shaped tree remains are arranged in ornamental fashion, their cavities packed with ferns and ground cover. It was a squirrel village of epic renown. The undergrowth rattled with the movement of the little critters, trails shaking in the direction they moved.

Some consider this to be one of the top three botanical gardens in the world. While we can’t vouch for that level of accolade, we can say with certainty that this is absolutely, without question, one of the most beautiful things to do in Saint Louis.

Things to do in St. Louis, Missouri Botanical Garden Climatron
The Climatron is central to the botanical garden. Its hard to miss.

4. Forest Park

Things to do in St. Louis, Jewel Box at Forest Park

Just minutes from downtown reside 1,300 acres of sculpted landscape, creeks and trails, lakes and fields, and beautifully designed buildings, all backdropped by the city skyline.

St. Louis boasts more free major visitor attractions than anywhere in the U.S. outside of the nation’s capital. Four of the major ones, The Saint Louis Art Museum, Science Center, Zoo, and History Museum, reside in the civic treasure of Forrest Park. Each of these are one of the best things to do in Saint Louis.

Dedicated on June 24th, 1876, Forest Park was made for “the rich and the poor, the merchant and mechanic, the professional man and the day laborer, each with his family and lunch basket, can come and enjoy his own … all without stint or hindrance … and there will be no notice put up to ‘keep off the grass.”

Forest Park is considered one of the best city parks in the USA, and is more visited than all but five city parks across the country. It is, in fact, larger than Central Park in NYC. It was also chosen as the host site of the 1904 World’s Fair.

There is something for everyone in Forest Park. Some of the highlights include (besides the before mentioned free venues): the Muny (an outdoor music theatre with free shows); the photogenic Jewel Box (pictured at the top of this section); the Dennis and Judith Jones Education Center; the beautiful World’s Fair Pavilion (photo below); the Albrecht Nature Playscape; and the Pagoda Circle (below, below right). Here’s an awesome map!

Forest Park also has golf courses, athletic fields, a tennis center, miles of paths for biking and jogging, and a vast assortment of festivals and concerts.

Things to do in St. Louis, Forest Park

This might be the greatest of all the best things to do in St. Louis because of the sheer volume of high-quality activities. One could spend three days or longer perusing all the free museums and beautiful components of the park. We’ve barely scratched the surface of Forest Park, and on our next trip to St. Louis will make it a focal point of the adventure.

5. Busch Stadium Tour

The Cardinals are arguably the best overall franchise in US professional sports. We’re serious. The history is undeniable, the fans are second to none, and the dedication this city has given to a single sports team is rivaled by only the San Antonio Spurs, Utah Jazz, and Green Bay Packers. As great as the Yankees are, they own tremendous advantages that teams like the Cardinals do not possess.

To date, the team has won 11 World Series championships, 19 National League pennants, and 12 division titles.  Their Hall of Fame includes some of the greatest players to ever grace the game: Musial, Hornsby, Pujols, Slaughter, Smith, Gibson.

As a Seattle Mariner fan — the most wretched of all sports fans — it hurts more than a little bit to bask in the glory of a titan franchise. Envy is not typically a weaknesses of mine, but I endured a distinct covetousness during the tour. It is just so-dang-easy to like the St. Louis Cardinals, and my team of choice is basically the opposite. While the Mariner shame involved with this tour isn’t one of the best things to do in St. Louis, the reality backhand slap was worth the price of admission. I’m a sad fool.

Things to do in St. Louis, Busch Field

In 1953, the Cardinals were for sale, and the owners considered selling the team to investors from Milwaukee. Adolphus Busch, of Budweiser fame, was approached twice about purchasing the team. They told him it was one of the best things to do in St. Louis! He wasn’t interested in the game of baseball, but when it dawned on him the team could be the biggest Budweiser advertisement ever, his mind began to brew and the rest is history.

The league wouldn’t allow A-B to name the stadium Budweiser Stadium, to his chagrin, so he used the family name. Two years later Busch Beer debuted, and he mostly got his way. The current stadium is actually the third Busch Stadium, and like most newer stadiums, it is spectacular.

Things to do in St. Louis, Busch Stadium

But Busch Stadium is more than just a ballpark. The St. Louis Cardinals appear to own a few blocks of downtown real estate. There is a fantastic museum that is included with the price of the tour ($20), and a bar/restaurant/shopping complex called Ballpark Village, as well. The Ballpark Village is another one of the best things to do in Saint Louis, at least on game day. The museum is full of fantastic items. You can swing Stan Musial’s bat, and be the play-by-play announcer for famous Cardinal moments.

The tour guides were incredible at Busch Stadium. Clearly fans of the team and the game as well, they gave the A-Z rundown on most everything you could want to know. Some of the highlights were: The clubhouse and dugout; the owners’ suite; the Cardinals Club buffet (all the WS trophies are on display); and of course, the ball field.

We have found baseball stadiums to be a really great way to kill an hour or two. Baseball fans shouldn’t miss this historical opportunity to learn about one of the great franchises in sporting history.

Things to do in St. Louis, Cardinals Museum

6. Saint Louis Barbecue

Things to do in St. Louis, Pappy's Smokehouse

Saint Louis does ribs better than everyone else. Or so they say.

We went on a little BBQ crawl around town to see if this was true and who does it best. We figure you can’t go wrong chasing the perfect BBQ plate, so this must be one of the best things to do in St. Louis.

A brief search on the internet will bring up two names as the consensus top spots: Bogart’s Smokehouse and Pappy’s Smokehouse. We also found a third called Sugarfire, with strong reviews and a perfect location in downtown Saint Louis.

On a side note: We also hit the top two BBQ places in Kansas City, and are working on article titled, Battle of the BBQ — KC vs STL. Coming soon!

So, which restaurant was best? Pappy’s was the best. Bogarts was also very good. Sugarfire had some delicious elements to their menu, but they came in third here.

Why was Pappy’s the best? First of all, we ordered ribs, burnt ends, and brisket, with sweet potato fries, corn, and beans. Every single thing was divine. They had the best ribs (by far) and brisket, the second best burnt ends, the best beans and the best sauce. We didn’t order the fries or corn at the other restaurants, and they were amazing.

Things to do in St. Louis, Bogart's BBQ

Bogart’s Smokehouse is owned by the same group that owns Pappy’s, so it is no wonder they are both amazing. They had the best burnt ends — Pappy’s were amazing, but Bogart’s does them different and better. Their ribs were stocky little things, meaty beyond belief. They were a step down from Pappy’s, but very good. The beans were sweeter than anywhere else we dined in Missouri.

*It is worth noting that Pappy’s Smokehouse was packed within 30 minutes of opening for lunch, and Bogart’s was at 20% capacity.

Sugarfire is on Washington Avenue in downtown STL, which makes it easy to find (close to City Museum). There was a surprising amount of parking in the area, something we aren’t used to.

Where Sugarfire shined was in their sides. We had the french fries, chili, and cheesy potatoes. Each were heavenly and we finished them all despite being stuffed to capacity. When I visit Sugarfire again in the future, I will order the Brisket Dip with fries and cheesy potatoes, and I will consider myself a winner for the day.

And Don’t Forget to…

Things to do in St. Louis, Ted Drewes

Stop by Ted Drewes! A local institution since 1929, Ted Drewes is known for its frozen custard. If you’ve ever had a Dairy Queen Blizzard, well, Ted Drewes invented the treat decades earlier. It’s called a concrete and it is delicious. The flavors are so plentiful you might want to review the menu ahead of time. Everyone in our family ordered something different and every one of us happily devoured it.

Ted Drewes is definitely one of the best things to do in Saint Louis.

Conclusion:

Saint Louis is a mid-western town that doesn’t get enough credit. We’ve never heard anyone say they were vacationing in St. Louis. Have you? The town gets it’s due credit for it’s St. Louis-style ribs, and most folks recognize the Gateway Arch and the Cardinals. That’s about where the curiosity ends. It doesn’t help that the city also carries a reputation of having crime problems.

After a fair amount of research we decided it was worth spending five days here as we traveled from the Black Hills of South Dakota to Charleston, SC. The parks alone made it worth the stay. St. Louis lived up to those expectations with the added bonus of far less traffic and commotion than we imagined a large, well-known city would have. And we never felt unsafe, quite the opposite.

You might not want to cancel your trip to Hawaii to go to Saint Louis, but if you’re in the area, or are looking for an affordable place to explore that has a handful of incredible attractions, St. Louis would be a good addition to the list of considerations.

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