Missouri was my 21st state.
I fell in love with St. Louis before I even stepped into it. I’ve read about the arch, I’ve seen it on TV and in movies, but seeing it driving in made me smile so big. It probably looked really weird if anyone driving by me saw that moment, given the fact that I was driving by myself. It’s fine.
My visit included driving the 4 1/2 hours from Nashville during Easter weekend to meet my Godmother and cousin, who were flying in from New York.
The drive into St. Louis from the southeast is not too bad. I drove through some beautiful patches of land in western Kentucky and southern Illinois, but the highways in TN are like somebody copy/pasted the same tree over and over again.
Like I said, though, seeing the arch for the first time when I was about 10 miles out of the city was breathtaking, and then I drove RIGHT BY IT while looking for parking near the Hilton (hotel parking prices? No thanks). I had absolutely no problem finding parking downtown. It was relatively deserted, but from what I heard, it tends to fill up during the baseball season because Busch Stadium is right there. We were a few weeks behind that.
So I found my Godmother and her son, my younger cousin, tried to make myself look less like I’d been in my car for five hours, and we walked through Citygarden park (I recommend you take a stroll through it, there are some cool sculptures and things to see).
Right around the corner from the park is Bailey’s Range. Bailey’s is famous for their burgers, but I also enjoyed the warm kale salad. Their fries are very good, and they offer a variety of sauces. The ketchup has a small kick to it and I loved that. They also supply homemade ice cream and shakes in all your favorite flavors. You can even spring for the spiked shakes to make your night a bit more interesting. I enjoyed the cinnamon shake.
My biggest concern when exploring a new city is safety. It’s hard to know from reading Trip Advisor comments from mothers and bachelorette parties how safe an area actually is. All in all, I never felt completely unsafe in the downtown area. We used our common sense and street smarts that probably comes from growing up in New York. There are a few sketchy things…we all laughed at this place called the “Crack Fox” and another called the “Boom Boom Room” which apparently is less sketchy than it sounds, but we did a lot of exploring during the day and not so much partying at night.
We walked from Bailey’s to the City Museum, which was something we were all very excited for. We were not disappointed. The entire museum is a jungle gym where it is acceptable for a grown adult to take a ride down a swirly slide or crawl through tight spaces that put together are like an upscale Chuck-E-Cheese jungle gym.
On Fridays, the museum is open until midnight and after 5pm admission is two dollars cheaper ($10 instead of $12). That’s when it becomes 18 + up and the sliding and climbing becomes about trying to do those things with alcohol in your system. I felt like a kid again, and I loved every second of it.
The next day, Saturday, was supposed to be the nicest weather day of the weekend, so we took advantage of that and I’m so glad we did. It was a typical mid-southern spring day – low 60’s and sunny. My Godmother had booked us a tour of the Annheiser-Busch brewery, which is their original brewery.
I remember being dragged on winery tours when I was younger and didn’t care about wine and thinking “I’ll never find these interesting” but the brewery tour was very well done and I think even my 11-year-old self would have loved the Clydesdales. I might have hated the fact that the factory REEKS of beer, but there were a few younger kids on the tour (my younger cousin included) who didn’t hate it too much. If you’re a fan of beer and/or history, you will enjoy this tour. Those over 21 get to sample beer (on select tours) and enjoy a 16 oz.
The favorite part was the clydesdales, my least favorite part was our over-excited tour guide, and the most interesting part was hearing about what the brewery did during prohibition. Instead of shutting down, that’s when they started developing other, non-alcoholic products. Fun fact.
After the tour, we drove over to a smaller, sketchier section of St. Louis to the “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” recommended Iron Barley. This was a difficult one for my vegetarian lent period, but I ended up really enjoying my Southwest Veggie Pasta. The spices in there made it taste almost cajun, more like something I could’ve found when I was in New Orleans. That said, my Godmother LOVED her Monte Cristo Dog (a really big hot dog with jam and cheese).
Also, though I was under 21 at the time of this visit and couldn’t partake, St. Louis is home to a LOT of craft beers. Every restaurant we went to seemed to offer something different. I think that has a lot to do with St. Louis being the original home of Budweiser.
After lunch, we drove about 20 minutes out of the city to Lone Elk Park, which is an absolute MUST when you go to St. Louis.
*Note* It is not 100% necessary to have a car in St. Louis, but public transportation will probably mean twice as long of a commute to get anywhere that’s not downtown, and the metro is just as sketchy as a NYC subway. You do need a car for Lone Elk Park. I suggest renting if you fly in.
We only drove 500 feet or so into the park before we spotted our first elk. It’s kind of like those drive-through Christmas light shows where you drive for about a mile going 2mph the whole time, “ooo”ing and “aahh”ing at the 12 Days of Christmas. The difference is, the “reindeer” are real here, and the park is 546 acres of free-range wildlife.
There is a section dedicated to bison as well, but none were out when we were there. We saw lots of deer and elk, though. There is a section where you can park and get out of your car near the elk, and the view of the lake is breathtaking. We were very surprised that there were no “stay in your car” and “stay 100 feet from the animals” signs. We stayed fairly far from them just in case. Note: several signs about staying in your car are posted in the bison section.
After the park, we weren’t ready for dinner yet so we killed an hour by Go-Karting for less than $25 at Pole Position Raceway. There’s nothing specifically St. Louis about it, but it’s a great way to kill an hour if you’re looking for something cheap and/or indoors.
For dinner that night, we headed over to “The Hill,” the Italian neighborhood of St. Louis (yes, that’s a thing) and ate at what is now officially one of my favorite restaurants, Anthoniono’s Taverna. Anthoniono’s combines my two favorite types of food: Italian and Greek. My yiayia would be proud of their greek options. They use Halumi cheese for their Saganaki (fried cheese, delicious), which is how you know it’s real greek food, and their Spanakopita (spinach pie) actually tastes fresh and homemade (and probably is). In the pictures below, you’ll also see fried ravioli – good, not great.
The following day was Easter Sunday for those who celebrated then (I follow the Greek Orthodox calendar), and I was worried about things being closed, given that St. Louis is in the south and it was Easter Sunday, but we were still able to do everything we wanted to. Unfortunately I had to head back to Nashville before my travel companions did, so they went on to go up the arch that afternoon without me, but I do have their accounts to vouch for it as a terrifying but awesome experience.
While I was still there, we went to the zoo, which is bigger and better than I expected. I didn’t exactly have low expectations, but I’ve been to a lot of zoos and this is one of my favorites. Most of their exhibits are bigger than what other zoos try to pass as “enough room for the animals.” The keepers were running an Easter Sunday treat festival of sorts, where at different times throughout the day they dropped snacks disguised as Easter eggs into different habitats, and we watched the animals play with them and try to uncover the treats inside. 10/10 for animal enrichment, 10/10 for guest entertainment/interaction.
I was especially impressed by the (Asian) elephant habitat. They have more elephants than zoos normally do, which is great because elephants in the wild live and travel in herds. It is evident that they have a good breeding program, because there were multiple baby elephants (ADORABLE, by the way). I was very happy with all of that. The Zoo’s website talks about their breeding efforts and the natural-ish, behind-the-scenes-ish forest area where the elephants can go if they don’t feel like hanging out in the public eye.
The penguin exhibit (my favorite animal) is phenomenal as well. I’ve never seen so many different species in one zoo. They have both warm and cold weather penguins, tall and short, and even a group of puffins.
As my final activity before heading back, we had brunch at the Schlafy Brewery. I expected brunch at a smaller brewery to be average, maybe slightly above that, but they know how to serve French Toast. I LOVED every part of it, though my opinion may be skewed because they kept the coffee coming, which always makes me happy.
I’m already thinking about my next trip to St. Louis – Hearing some good blues music, actually going up into the arch, a Cardinals game, maybe a Blues game, and maybe I’ll be 21 so I can try some of those craft beers.