St Louis is often called a fly-over city. People fly over it on their way to one coast or another. For us, it was more of a drive through state. For years we have driven past it on our way to other places with no time to stop and explore. Sadly, we had no idea what to see beyond the arch which stands in front of the city as you cross the Mississippi. To our credit, we did try, but our first attempt to explore the city was cut short by an emergency back in Nashville. But, that trip gave us our first tantalizing glimpse of what St. Louis has to offer and we knew we wanted to see more. Finally, we have had the opportunity to explore this wonderful city full of beautiful architecture, incredible history, great food and welcoming people.
What drew us to St. Louis this time was Van City’s 48th Anniversary celebration which was an opportunity for us to talk to a representative from the Leisure Travel Van factory and ask them the questions we’ve been writing down since the Florida RV Super Show which was our only opportunity to see the entire line of RV’s in person. It was also a chance to ask the dealer specific questions about the order process. Once we were done there, it was time to explore.
Where we Stayed
Our AirBnB was located in a neighborhood called Tower Park South, named for Tower Grove Park a huge green space that forms its northern boundary. The park and the adjacent Missouri Botanical Gardens were originally part of a much larger estate. The owner gave these two tracts of land to the city specifying that they remain parks and to this day Tower Grove Park remains the only park in the city with an independent board. The neighborhood south of the park is full of brick homes that were mostly constructed after the street car lines were expanded from downtown in the mid-19th century. The main thoroughfare, Grand Avenue, is a broad street lined with an enticing, multicultural mix of restaurants and shops. We absolutely LOVE this neighborhood. the architecture of the homes on the tree lined streets made for an interesting driving conundrum, as all we wanted to do was look at the houses and not the street. Pro tip – walk the neighborhood, don’t drive. Also, pack your parallel parking skills.
Where We Ate
You cannot go wrong eating on Grand Avenue. Since it was dinnertime Friday when we arrived, we made our way to a vegetarian restaurant on the corner of Grand Avenue and Connecticut Street, called The Treehouse, where we had what I can only describe as vegetarian comfort food. This was not rabbit food. I had a very rich mushroom risotto finished with olive oil and goat cheese (vegetarian doesn’t mean light) along with a glass of Rosé and Carolyn had a mushroom ravioli also finished with goat cheese. Dessert was olive oil cake with a rosewater glaze that was like pound cake with the texture of cornbread with hints of olive oil and roses. It was a perfect late spring dinner, though we both needed an after-dinner walk!
Ikea – Don’t judge. Swedish Meatballs are a requirement. Vegetarian ones, not so much. The salmon, however, is always a good choice.
Mango on Washington Avenue – Mango is a Peruvian restaurant a few blocks away from the City Museum. And, while the City Museum has a restaurant on the roof, once we learned their specialty was nachos we decided to look for something different. A decision that paid off in spades.
Because we didn’t have a reservation we sat at the bar where our server was incredibly friendly and helpful. She guided us through the menus and answered our questions along the way. In fact, everyone we talked to was wonderful and the restaurant is in a beautiful space.
After a Grapefruit Crush, a couple of Pisco Sours and plantain chips with fresh bright green salsa we ordered Anticuchos; a trio of skewers, one chicken, one beef, and one beef heart. They were delicious and the tangy sauce with them was an amazing accompaniment. We followed that by splitting the main course, Pescado a lo Macho, a hearty dish of roasted fish with mussels, calamari, octopus and shrimp in a rich and spicy red aji rocoto (a type of pepper) sauce served over rice and potatoes. It was amazingly flavorful with just the right amount of spicy heat. We were really glad we had split the entrée because it would have been too much for one.
Sunday Brunch at Rooster. Also located on Grand Avenue, they specialize in crepes, sandwiches, and breakfast/brunch items. I guess we should have thought about it being Father’s Day. We waited close to an hour for a table and once we were seated service was incredibly slow. Overall, it felt like the restaurant should have had half the number of tables it did. Coffee arrived lukewarm, the food took a very long time and the restroom facilities were totally inadequate to the number of guests. The food, however, was absolutely delicious. Carolyn had an egg white scramble with marinated chicken served over roasted potatoes and I had a spiced black bean crepe filled with egg whites, a little white cheddar and salsa. Basically, a quesadilla in a crepe instead of a tortilla. We finished by having a crepe filled with Nutella and topped with bananas because we cannot go to a crepe place without getting a Nutella crepe. I don’t make the rules, just sayin… We were both very happy with the food and we didn’t mind the leisurely experience because we didn’t have a deadline to meet. But, it’s something to keep in mind if you go.
What We Did
Ikea – After we spent Saturday morning at Van City, we made our requisite pilgrimage to IKEA, something we always do if we are in a city that has one. Ikea broke our hearts recently by first announcing they were coming to Nashville and then announcing they weren’t, but it is simply impossible to stay mad at moderately priced home furnishings with that dash of Swedish awesomeness. Having just climbed around the insides of our dream RVs with a tape measure, I really wanted to see what kinds of storage container options I could find. There is no such thing as a quick trip to Ikea. Park in the garage to keep your car cool.
Photo Safari – After dinner at Mango on Saturday, the sun was just beginning to set and I wanted to get a photo of the arch before the light was gone so we walked to Keiner Plaza Park for the view of the Old Courthouse with the arch directly behind it. There was a festival going on in the park which made getting photos a bit of a challenge as I had to shoot in between groups of people taking selfies with the arch behind them. After getting a few photos and listening to music we made our way back up Washington utterly in love with the architecture.
The City Museum!!!!! – We learned that the City Museum is open until midnight on Saturdays. This seemed odd for what we were told was a children’s museum. Let me state for the record, the City museum is great for children, but it is even better for adults.
Arriving at the City Museum we paid the admission and went straight to the 10th floor so we could be on the roof for sunset. It was our first taste of the magical wonderland (on acid) that is the City museum. The roof is a garden with water tanks, strings of lights, a school bus perched precariously over the corner of the building, a pond and lots of places for children (and some adults) to climb and explore built from recycled materials. The center of the roof is dominated by the ten story slide that starts on top of the building’s cupola then disappears through the roof into the building. There is a long spiral walkway around the cupola dome that takes you to the entrance of the slide and also gives you a phenomenal view of downtown and the roof-top ferris wheel! After the sun set we made our way back to the first floor to begin exploring the museum.
I honestly have no words that can do the City Museum justice. You HAVE to see it and spend time exploring everything it has to offer. It’s a post-apocalyptic Willie Wonka landscape built with the same glee I used to have as a kid building forts in the backyard out of my family’s discarded items. We explored caves, visited an aquarium that you exit through the mouth of a whale and even went to the circus at nine o’clock at night! Every place you look there is something magical to see. Even the floors are covered in colorful and imaginative mosaics and the occasional sculpture.
The entire museum makes extensive use of recycled materials including buses, airplanes, construction equipment, metal printing plates, building materials and even whole buildings! All put together in imaginative ways. There are restaurants and bars for the adults, and there are galleries displaying monumental salvaged architectural details some of which are rented out for events like the wedding reception that was going on during our visit. The gallery graphic panels celebrate architects like Louis Sullivan, who designed the first skyscraper and mentored a young Frank Lloyd Wright, while the labels remind you that the magical surroundings come at the cost of beautiful old buildings that have been demolished.
In addition to the roof there is also an outdoor area on the 3rd floor featuring a jet and elevated walkways that kids of any age can climb around in. There is also an art space where anyone can do craft projects. After several hours, we lifted our jaws off the floor, where they’d been since we entered, and hobbled out to the car, happy and exhausted. My advice is, when you go, be prepared to be there for hours and wear comfortable shoes! You will not believe the amount of things to see and do! Pro Tip: After 5PM on Friday and Saturday, the price of admission goes down to $12 per person. Since it is open to Midnight, you will get plenty of value for your money.
We have just barely scratched the surface of St Louis. There are loads of public art, festivals, the Budweiser factory (with the Clydesdales!) a stellar botanical garden and, of course, a zoo. They also have a wonderful farmer’s market and good food is all around.
Leaving a place after having so much fun is always a bit difficult and we were simply blown away by our visit. If we were looking for a city to settle down in, St. Louis would be high on our list. It has a long and interesting history and friendly people. Our list of things to see on our next trip is incredibly long, now. We will definitely go again. And, you should, too.