Disclosure: Explore St. Louis hosted my visit. However, all opinions and photos are mine.
Are you ready to explore the top things to do in St. Louis?
Whether planning a first-time trip to St. Louis or returning for a visit, you will want to use this essential guide to the city to plan your vacation around the city’s must-see attractions and restaurants. In The Lou, its rave-worthy, award-winning destinations are not to be missed.
WHERE TO STAY
St. Louis Union Station Hotel
If you’re going to plan an overnight stay in St. Louis, the only place to reserve accommodation is at Union Station Hotel (1820 Market St.), part of the Curio Collection by Hilton. The luxurious experience is beyond measure.
A train station designed by architect Theodore Link and opened in 1894, it served as the gateway to the West for passengers traveling by rail across the country. Beyond the opulent Grand Hall was a 75-room hotel for travelers or businessmen. On a typical day, 100,000 people stopped at the station, including celebrities like President Harry S. Truman, Joan Crawford, and Joe DiMaggio.
I was wonderstruck by Union Station Hotel’s detailed finishes, which included mosaic tile, stained glass, archways, and wrought-iron railings. I traveled via a gold elevator to my room above the Grand Hall, where the elegant decor and plush furnishings welcomed me. Artwork depicting historic railroad photos hung on the wall.
The room exceeded my expectations, from the full-length leaded glass mirror to the rain shower head and bathroom amenities.
My room stay included access to self-serve complimentary full breakfast in the Executive Lounge. The on-site Starbucks, on-site restaurants, and free Wi-Fi were added bonuses. I found the front desk staff accommodating, especially after learning that I neglected to pack a few essentials.
You’ll find your stay at St. Louis Union Station well worth the expense as it is within walking distance of popular downtown attractions and access the street for the city’s new soccer stadium, CITYPARK. If you visit St. Louis for the first time, you might as well do it in style and comfort. You look forward to returning to your room to relax after a fun-filled day exploring The Lou.
PRO TIP: Prepare to use valet service when arriving at the hotel with your car. Otherwise, schedule a Lyft and Uber to pick you up and drop you off at the main entrance.
SIP & SAVOR
The Pitch Athletic Club & Tavern
One step inside The Pitch Athletic Club & Tavern (2 South 20th St.), and you’ll feel like you’ve entered a European pub made especially for soccer fans. The sports bar is an extended part of the Union Station Hotel and is directly across the street from CITYPARK. If you don’t have tickets to the game or want to celebrate the team’s win, The Pitch is the ideal place to gather with soccer enthusiasts.
The food menu features pub fare raining from nachos to sandwiches, and if arriving for breakfast on the weekend, you can count on the Irish Slinger or Biscuits & Gravy to curb your cravings. The Pitch’s drink menu features local, regional, and imported beer and a long list of wines and hard ciders.
PRO TIP: If you want to watch the CITYPARK soccer game at The Pitch, arrive before game time, or you can count on a long line of people at the door to welcome you.
Budweiser Brewhouse at Ballpark Village
On a Cardinals game day at home, Budweiser Brewhouse (601 Clark Ave.) is the place to be. Since 2014, the multi-story complex has served ecstatic baseball fans St. Louis-style classic fare and classic beer. The brewhouse opens three hours before the first pitch on Monday and Tuesday home games.
Why miss a chance to experience a Cardinals game celebration unlike any other place in the city? The kitchen serves sports bar fare 11 am-9 pm, and the drinks are always cold. Cheering on the Cardinals or celebrating a win is more fun from the Bud Deck Rooftop. I enjoyed the view of the Ballpark Village with access to a private bar and catered appetizers.
PRO TIP: If you’re hanging with a group of 8 or more people, reserve a table or lounge area. Otherwise, seating is first-come, first-served.
Food Hall at City Foundry
To dine at City Foundry’s Food Hall (3730 Foundry Way) is like dying and going to culinary heaven. Imagine 17 local-only restaurants under one roof. As they say, “Your stomach will thank you.”
The city’s first food hall is where you dine on authentic, local menus ranging from creole entreés and street-style tacos to cheesecake and popsicles. During my visit, I couldn’t resist trying “t-ravs,” aka toasted ravioli, a food staple for St. Louis residents. STL Toasted‘s buffalo chicken version with blue cheese dipping sauce lives up to the hype.
Don’t leave without enjoying a Berry Lemon Waffle at Press Waffle Company topped with a mountain of whipped cream. I also recommend a Key Lime Cheesecake popsicle at Poptimism STL. I promise you will want to make the Food Hall at City Foundry a stop on your visit to the city for its variety of original, thoughtfully-prepared food options.
PRO TIP: Go with friends – you’ll want to share one another’s lunch or dinner choices.
Olive + Oak
For restaurant-goers searching for an elevated dining experience where the wine and the food compete to be the star, Olive + Oak (216 W. Lockwood Ave.) in Webster Groves is the best choice. The James Beard award-winning restaurant serves sought-after favorites like baked clams, beef tenderloin, and goat ragu. High-end shareable plates like the 32 oz. Prime Cowboy Ribeye takes dining to another level.
During our visit, we enjoyed a six-course meal with wine selected by Napa Valley winemaker Julien Fayard of Purlieu Wines. By far, the Dungeness Crab Rangoon paired with 2021 Le Pich Sauvignon Blanc was my favorite meal moment, plus Fayard’s personal visit to our table made it that much better.
PRO TIP: There are multiple seating areas, including a more casual atmosphere near the bar.
Katie’s Pizza & Pasta Osteria
In the mood for artisan Italian food? The place to dine is Katie’s Pizza & Pasta Osteria (2 Locations), a restaurant and bar operated by a husband and wife team. After living in Italy, chef and owner Katie Collier were inspired to open the award-winning restaurant’s first location, which earned “Best Pizza” and “Best Pasta” from Feast Magazine.
We dined on Roasted Chicken Pizza with arugula, an adequate size for two people to share at lunchtime.
PRO TIP: The patio was nearly full during the lunch hour at the Rock Hill location (9568 Manchester Rd.), so arrive at 11 am to grab a table outdoors.
Billy G’s Kirkwood
A mainstay on the St. Louis foodie scene since 1918, Gioia’s Deli (4 Locations) evolved from a market to a deli. The original restaurant is in The Hill, a St. Louis neighborhood known for its Italian markets, restaurants, and boutiques.
Gioia’s Deli is famous for its Homemade Hot Salami Sandwich made with fresh sausage and sliced fresh to order, which helped make them a James Beard award winner in 2017.
During our visit, I asked the employee behind the counter how she preferred to order it. I ordered the Hot Salami and Roast Beef sandwich on garlic cheese bread with melted provolone, mayonnaise, and pepperoncini peppers. I added Old Vienna Red Hot Riplets bbq flavored potato chips on the side to complete the local foodie experience. You will not regret eating at Gioia’s Deli.
PRO TIP: Remember their slogan, “We make our sandwiches your way.” Don’t hesitate to customize the sandwich; you should order it on garlic cheese bread.
Also located in The Hill, Shaw’s Coffee (5147 Shaw Ave.) is a corner café specializing in sourced coffee from the Americas, Africa, and the Pacific Rim. The dark-roasted beans are uniquely strong in flavor. Although I love coffee, I craved hot tea on a rainy day.
My London Fog, made with Earl Grey Tea, was perfectly prepared with just the right amount of frothy foam. If you prefer a mid-day non-coffee drink like me, consider ordering an Italian Soda, Granita, or a fresh fruit smoothie.
PRO TIP: Save room for a pastry made by a local bakery, Breadsmith.
4 Hands Brewery Co.
If given a chance to try craft beers at a new brewery, I always say, “Yes!”4 Hands Brewery Co. (1220 S. 8th St.) has a welcoming taproom, event space, and production facility on one site. The brewery, founded in 2011, has expertly mastered craft beer and a line of spirits. They are methodical about how they’ve grown over the years and recently announced they are opening a taproom in a St. Louis suburb, Kirkwood, and a brewpub in Chesterfield.
I was fortunate to sit in on a group tasting and tour led by brewery president and co-owner Kevin Lemp. I suggest reserving a similar experience.
We were ushered upstairs to an event space featuring a massive bar flanked by retro arcade games. Our group learned about the flagship, limited-release, and seasonal beers. We toasted one another with sample glasses of gin, vodka, and infused spirits from their line of crafts spirits.
Afterward, we toured the 20,000-foot production space and listened to Lemp’s business story while employees operated the canning line. We learned that 4 Hands Brewing Co. also produces a non-alcoholic beverage, Hallogram Blonde Ale.
I’ve toured several breweries, but 4 Hands Brewing Co. exceeded my expectations for what a team can produce at the highest quality.
I promise you’ve never experienced a distillery like StilL 630 (1000 S. 4th St.). The distillery and tasting room is in a renovated Hardee’s fast-food restaurant. Although the space is modest, owner/founder Dave Weglarz’s produces best-in-class whiskey, bourbon, fin, and rum from grain to glass. Each one starts with a handcrafted recipe that is distilled, bottled, and packaged by hand.
One-hour Grain to Glass Distillery Tours is scheduled on Saturdays, offering visitors a chance to sample spirits of their choice. I appreciated a whiskey/rum hybrid sample. Aside from the production, you’ll be impressed with the Botanical Library, consisting of over 400 distilled samples of individual ingredients.
PRO TIP: Stop by for classic cocktails specials starting at $10/glass every Friday 5 pm – 9 pm.
Ted Drewes Frozen Custard
For decades, St. Louis residents have happily stood in lines at Ted Drewes Frozen Custard (6726 Chippewa St.) to enjoy thick, creamy “concrete” custard with flavor mix-ins for over 80 years. It’s customary to order at the window and then wait for it to be called by name. On any typical day, the parking lot is filled with people sitting in their cars eating frozen custard.
I ordered the iconic must-have dessert savoring it down to the last bite. My micro cup of Twisted Caramel was plenty of custard for one person.
PRO TIP: Don’t worry. The line moves quickly. Preview the menu before getting in line, and look for seasonal specials posted near the window.
St. Louis Blues
Sports are king in The Lou. St. Louis Blues takes to the ice from October through March to defend its hometown pride. The team competes against other NHL teams in a race for the Stanley Cup, an honor they won in 2019.
The atmosphere on game day was electric when we entered Enterprise Arena. A brass band welcomed fans as they entered the arena. We danced in place before navigating upstairs to suits to watch the game. Arena fans went bonkers as each player took to the ice. Lights strobed, cheerleaders danced, and the place was abuzz with energy.
PRO TIP: If you don’t watch a game from a suite, consider reserving sections 101-106, 113-119, and 126 for the best game views, according to RateYourSeats.com.
St. Louis Cardinals
You can’t come to St. Louis without attending a Cardinals baseball game at Busch Stadium (700 Clark Ave.). Recognized as 11-time World Champions, fans converge on the ballpark to cheer on the hometown team with chants and roars of applause.
Fortunate to watch the Cardinals take on the Pittsburgh Pirates from a suite, the panoramic view was breathtaking. The energy from the crowd was off the charts between announcements of the game. Want to tour the stadium? One-hour guided tour tickets are available to purchase at Gate 3 – you’ll also want to the public art.
St. Louis CITY
Soccer fans will feel at home watching St. Louis CITY take on MLS rivals inside CITYPARK (35 Hunter Ave. St). Fans jump to their feet from 22,500 seats inside the newly built stadium, where every seat in the house gets you closer to the action. The open-air stadium hosts about 20 MLS season games yearly, collegiate sporting events, and summer camps.
Pre-game and post-game parties are the norms outside the stadium’s gates, where a DJ or live band is known to play. Grab a bite from one of the multiple local food vendors or purchase grab-n-go bites at CityScan. James Beard award-winning Chef Craft designed the food experience.
PRO TIP: The Pitch Club provides a VIP experience, and attendees meet players as they enter and exit the stadium. Twenty-eight premium suites and 32 pitch boxes offer an elevated experience.
TAKE A TOUR
St. Louis Aquarium
Saltwater fish. Sharks. Turtles. Stingrays. The St. Louis Aquarium (201 S. 18th St.), within walking distance of the Union Station Hotel, is home to over 13,000 sea creatures. Hands-on activity areas teach visitors of all ages about the native habitats of the animals. The rope bridge over Shark Canyon and Stingray Touch Tank are must-experience features, and the animal encounters led by aquarium ambassadors are worth the visit.
I recommend experiencing the interactive train raid that departs every 15 minutes. The virtual experience is like taking a Union Station train under the sea!
PRO TIP: Purchase aquarium tickets in advance or be disappointed when they sell out. Other family-friendly attractions nearby include a carousel, mini golf park, outdoor Ferris wheel, and ropes course.
Riverboats at the Gateway Arch
If touring the famous Gateway Arch, the most entertaining way to get there is by boat. The Riverboats at the Gateway Arch offer one-hour daily cruises to the monument and back on the Mississippi River. Since the days of the Gateway Arch’s construction, onlookers have enjoyed the leisurely ride to admire the skyline and monument for photo-worthy views.
After a catered lunch in the dining room, our group climbed the stairs to the upper deck for the best view. The waters were calm, and the boat crew’s hospitality was top-notch.
PRO TIP: Check the website for thematic river cruise excursions like PJs, Pancakes, Skyline Dinner Cruise, or the Blues Cruise.
Gateway Arch Museum & The St. Louis Arch
You can’t visit The Lou without a trip to the Gateway Arch Museum and a ride on the tram to the top of The Arch, America’s tallest monument spanning an awe-inspiring 630 feet. It’s a National Park (the smallest!) with 91 acres completed in 1965, which Thomas Jefferson envisioned as the Gateway to the West.
Take it from me, someone who is incredibly afraid of heights and small spaces, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience you’ll regret not doing at least once. Plus, the 30-mile east and west view from the top of The Arch is worth the effort.
Opened in 2018, the Gateway Arch Museum features highly interactive and engaging displays that explain how the city was founded, the people who settled there, and how it evolved into a city noted for its innovative spirit.
PRO TIP: Buy your tickets online in advance, especially during peak travel seasons, as tickets can sell out quickly.
How do you describe a place that defies one’s imagination? City Museum (750 N 16th St.) describes itself as “weirdly wonderful,” but I’d call the multi-story building/outdoor attraction Whoville meets Willy Wonka meets a surrealist dream on steroids.
People of all ages love exploring its tunnels, slides, and thematic rooms. The entire complex includes adventure spaces except for a bar, gift shop, restaurant, and art gallery. Is it right for you and your kiddos? Review the website’s information page before purchasing tickets and paying for nearby parking.
PRO TIP: Visit on a cool day or dress in lightweight clothing with comfortable shoes. The museum heats up during summer due to a lack of air conditioning and indoor/outdoor tunnels.
When I learned that Forest Park is twice the size of New York’s Central Park, my mouth dropped open in shock. After a tour of part of it, it is worth experiencing first-hand. Consisting of 1,300 acres, every kind of outdoor activity you can imagine exists, from paddle boating and canoeing to court sports and cycling.
Several historic buildings, including the Jewel Box (pictured below) and the Saint Louis Art Museum, are in the park. A trip to the park is not complete without a picnic on scenic Art Hill adjacent to the art museum with views of the basin.
PRO TIP: Plan to spend at least a few hours exploring the park to maximize the experience. View an interactive map.
Great Rivers Greenway
St. Louis is a community that appreciates its people and wants them to stay healthy and get outdoors. Great Rivers Greenway connects communities with 120-plus miles of paved trails for walking, cycling, and green recreational spaces. Designed with each community in mind, each trail offers views you wouldn’t see from a car.
The greenways allow people to traverse adjacent to water via forested city areas and stop at locally-owned businesses. The Brickline Greenway will connect The Foundry and The Amory (see below), making it possible for users to stop at each one for a bite to eat, to view a concert, or to do a little shopping.
Armory at STL
Imagine an indoor playground designed for adults. Armory at STL is the biggest bar in the city, with endless entertainment opportunities, from playing games to watching a live concert. The 250,000-square-foot complex features interactive games, a two-story slide, TVs to watch the games, over 92 taps behind the bar, and VIP spaces.
At Happy Hour, our group enjoyed a nacho bar with cocktails and beer before playing immersive foosball, mega ping pong, and arcade games. We jumped at the chance to ride an adult-sized tricycle and paired up to teeter-totter.
PRO TIP: Watch the website for upcoming news and event details. The owner plans on adding a second-story outdoor bar space as well.
Another new addition, Puttshack (3730 Foundry Way), is a must-stop during your St. Louis vacation for its high-tech 18-hole mini golf course.
The indoor course tracks your score for you while you play. Unlike a typical mini golf course, Puttshack’s holes are designed with a Carnival-like aesthetic. Depending on the hole’s design, your ball may need to travel through moving parts, bounce down a trail of snare drums, or pass through spiral paths.
It’s also a place that would be ideal for hosting a party. The restaurant serves globally-inspired dishes, and you can expect sophisticated cocktails as the main attraction at the bar. Remember, it’s best to reserve your gameplay online before arriving, especially on the weekends.
PRO TIP: Keep track of your assigned player number. It corresponds to your score on the TV monitors.
BONUS PLACES TO EXPERIENCE
You’ll have a blast in St. Louis, and I hope this comprehensive city guide provides helpful resources to plan your vacation to St. Louis. As they say, there is always something new in The Lou.
Keep the road trip going! If you’re in the Kansas City area, I suggest checking out my blog post, 7 Ways to Explore Culture in Kansas City, for more urban adventures.