5 of the Coolest Things to Do in St. Louis, According to a Local

 Kiener Plaza, featuring the famous Gateway Arch in the background (Image:  Pixabay )

Kiener Plaza, featuring the famous Gateway Arch in the background (Image: Pixabay)

St. Louis probably isn't one of the first cities you think of when deciding where you might go on vacation in the U.S. It's close enough to Chicago and Nashville that you might just head to one of those places instead and think nothing of it. That would be fine, of course — those are great places to visit, too — but St. Louis can hold its own just as well.

How would I know, you ask? Well, I wouldn't. I've never been to St. Louis, but I just happen to know someone who grew up there, and I recently sat down with her to get her take on some of the coolest things the city has to offer. From night clubs to museums and pizza places to trolley rides, she threw multiple suggestions on the table. Setting aside the Gateway Arch, which is an obvious sight to see, in the end, we whittled it down to these five:

1. Take a Stroll through Forest Park

Akin to New York City's Central Park, St. Louis' Forest Park is a large green space in the heart of the city. Opened nearly 150 years ago, the park spans 1,371 acres and plays host to numerous athletic complexes; a pair of museums in the Missouri History Museum and the Saint Louis Art Museum; the St. Louis Zoo and Forest Park Golf Course, among other attractions. My informant tells me the park is a good place to be because of the wide range of attractions, free and otherwise, on offer.

"My family and I always used to go to different attractions in Forest Park, so it just brings childhood memories back," she said. "We would go to the zoo all the time (and) they have a lot of free things to do, like The Muny" — the St. Louis Municipal Opera Theatre — "where you can go to see musicals performed. They've done well-known things like 'Annie' and 'Beauty and the Beast.' You can pay for the front row if you want, but you can actually go for free.

"They have the trolley that will take you all around Forest Park to see the attractions, too. There's just lots of things to do and you don't necessarily have to spend money."

 An aerial shot of The Muny in St. Louis' Forest Park (Image:  Wikimedia Commons )

An aerial shot of The Muny in St. Louis' Forest Park (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

2. Dig Into Some Frozen Custard at Ted Drewe's

Famous in Missouri and beyond thanks to episodes of Feasting on Asphalt and Man v. Food Nation — as well as the accolades its garnered over the years, including raking in the title of "Best Ice Cream Shop in the World" in 2017 — Ted Drewe's Frozen Custard is a popular place in St. Louis. The family-owned business has been around since 1929 and maintains two locations in the city, one along Route 66 which is open for most of the year and another on Grand Boulevard in the Dutchtown neighborhood that's open during the summer season.

My informant tells me that Ted Drewe's frozen custard really is that good. "It doesn't matter which location you go to, the line is always going to be crazy long when you get there," she said. "But it's going to be worth the wait and it moves pretty quick."

Besides selling frozen custard and other treats, Ted Drewe's has become well-known for selling Christmas trees around the holidays. Their site says they venture to a tree farm in Nova Scotia each October to personally select the trees they will sell at their St. Louis locations.

3. Be a Kid All Over Again at the City Museum

A more recent addition to the city's attractions, the City Museum opened its doors in 1997. Located in the Washington Avenue Historic District, the museum's exhibits consist largely of repurposed architectural and industrial objects that make for a kind of industrial playground. Less museum, more architectural marvel, the 600,000-square-foot space has many wonders to behold, all of them unique objects found within St. Louis' city limits.

"You can walk across bridges ... you can climb through tunnels that are above ground; inside there's a big slide that's built into the actual building — it's really fun," my informant said. "They have shops inside, they have food, restaurants, the Shoelace Factory." Tickets hover between $13 and $21 for the most part and can be purchased online in advance of your visit.

4. Stop and Smell the Roses at Missouri Botanical Garden

For the history buffs out there: the Missouri Botanical Garden, opened in 1859, is the U.S.'s oldest botanical garden in continuous operation, as well as a National Historic Landmark. Comprising 79 acres southeast of Forest Park and just north of Tower Grove Park, the botanical garden houses a 14-acre Japanese strolling garden, Henry Shaw's original 1850 estate home, and one of the world's largest collections of rare and endangered orchids.

Though there are many things to do at the gardens, my informant tells me the Butterfly House is not to be missed. "So much fun: the butterflies fly all around, they land on you," she said. "If you like nature, that's definitely something you should go check out. It's just really calming, really relaxing; it feels like nothing can hurt you when you go into the botanical garden."

Other top attractions at the gardens include the Climatron, a conservatory housed in a geodesic dome; the Doris I. Schnuck Children's Garden; and the Doris Waters Harris Lichtenstein Victorian District, home to several gardens and structures, including Shaw's restored Tower Grove House and a labyrinthine hedge maze.

5. Guzzle Down a Brew at Ballpark Village

Lastly, whether you're in town for a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game or not, you could never go wrong with a stop in Ballpark Village. Occupying the site of the Cardinals' previous stadium, which was also called Busch Stadium as the current one is, Ballpark Village is a dining and entertainment district in downtown St. Louis that first opened to the public in time for Opening Day in 2014. The Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum, the Budweiser Brew House, and FOX Sports Midwest Live!, a large entertainment plaza, represent just a few of the places worth visiting within the village.

Ballpark Village is a great place for nightlife in general, my informant tells me, and one of the bars — PBR St. Louis — even has a mechanical bull for those looking to test their skills. Another place to grab a drink and hear some tunes while you're at it, she said, is Howl at the Moon Dueling Piano Bar, a 5,000-square-foot venue which features a modern saloon-style atmosphere, high top tables, and a center bar with TVs and eight drafts on tap.

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Ever been to St. Louis? I'd love to hear your suggestions for things to see and places to be down below.

-LTH