St. Louis city guide
If not for sports, you might know St. Louis for only one thing (and it’s a pretty safe bet that one thing is pictured at the top of this page). But St. Louis is a great many things depending on your viewpoint — “baseball heaven,” Chicago’s bitter rival (in more than just sports), a rich spot for food lovers, and so on.
There is much more to see and do in the Gateway to the West than just attend sporting events, and most of it is accessible and ready to enjoy when you’re not watching sports. And in many of those spots — certainly the ones listed in this guide — you’ll find plenty of your fellow sports fans enjoying the same thing.
So no matter what you do during your free time in St. Louis, you won’t have to check your sports fandom at the door.
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Both of St. Louis’ pro sports venues are downtown. Busch Stadium is a few blocks to the south of the Gateway Arch (partially occupying the footprint of the old, cookie-cutter-era Busch) and the Enterprise Center about a mile west of that. In between, there are plenty of hotels and restaurants to frequent.
Downtown was also home to the NFL — the Rams played at the Edward Jones Dome before pulling up stakes in 2016 and relocating to Los Angeles, and the football Cardinals played at the old Busch Stadium prior to moving to Phoenix in 1988.
If you’re looking for a taste of St. Louis’ sporting history, the old St. Louis Arena stood a few miles west of downtown, near St. Louis Community College at Forest Park. Sportsman’s Park, one-time home of the Cardinals and the old Browns (before that franchise moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles), was north of downtown at the corner of Grand Boulevard and Dodier Street. That site is now a public athletic field.
Lambert St. Louis International Airport (STL) is about 15 miles northwest of downtown via Interstate 70, and is an American Airlines hub. It’s a fairly run-of-the-mill airport, and really your only option for flying into town, with no secondary passenger airport anywhere around. Light rail serves the airport (be prepared, though, for a surprisingly long walk from either of the terminals to the stations that serve each one), and by car, cab or shuttle is your only other option for getting from the airport to anywhere of significance.
If you’re coming from a few hundred miles away — say, from Chicago or Kansas City — there are several viable rail and bus options, such as Amtrak and Greyhound. Better yet, the terminal at which both services stop is in downtown, steps from the Enterprise Center and a short cab ride (or walk, in some cases) from most hotels and points of interest downtown.
Yes, it’s the Gateway to the West, and St. Louis’ central location make it accessible by car from many locales in the Midwest. Four interstates — I-44, I-55, I-64 and I-70 — run through the heart of the city, making downtown pretty hard to miss.
Where to stay
Downtown is full of hotel options, ranging from swanky to budget. Depending on what you’re in town to do, though, don’t think you have to stay within a stone’s throw of the Arch — light rail and a fairly walkable downtown street grid make options outside the immediate vicinity quite viable. Consider the area around Union Station, a few blocks west of the Enterprise Center, which is home to several hotels and restaurants that typically offer cheaper rates than what can be found downtown.
If you’re still looking for a good deal, you can also search in Brentwood, home to several midrange hotels surrounding a rather large shopping district, and by the airport (though for the latter you’ll probably need a car, as walking from airport hotels to the light rail stations on the other side of I-70 is a dicey proposition at best).
If your plans center around the downtown area, just hoof it. As previously mentioned, downtown is very walkable, with the weather (either oppressive humidity in the summer or snowstorms in the winter) the only real deterrent to enjoying a nice stroll through downtown streets.
The city’s MetroLink (light rail) and MetroBus services cover most parts of the city outside downtown, and MetroLink in particular is a viable option if you’re trying to get to one of the downtown venues from outside the city center. Get off at the Civic Center station for the Enterprise Center, Stadium for Busch Stadium, and Convention Center for the Edward Jones Dome. All three stations are accessible off both rail lines.
Each venue has its share of nearby parking lots and structures, and many private lots and structures are open for games at Busch Stadium. Traffic can get snarled rather easily, and well before the start times of many games, so arriving early, of course, is advisable. Parking at a light rail station and riding into the city is a popular alternative among St. Louis sports fans.
The Gateway Arch is truly unique among American tourist attractions, and it’s worth a visit if for nothing else than the chance to walk underneath it and get a true sense of how big the darn thing is. It’s located along the Mississippi River in what’s known as the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, and at its base is a museum dedicated to its construction and the country’s westward expansion, which the Arch was built to symbolize. For an admission fee, visitors can travel to the top of the arch via special elevator trams — buy your ticket online to reserve a spot on busy summer days.
St. Louis eats
St. Louis has its share of restaurants and food items that help define it — some of them are accessible from downtown, while others lie outside the central area but are well worth the trip. Here are a few spots to consider:
• Mike Shannon’s Steaks & Seafood (620 Market St.): Owned by the former Cardinals player and current broadcaster, it’s not far from Busch Stadium and popular with sports fans and non-sports enthusiasts alike. As befitting a steakhouse, it’s one of the pricier options in the immediate area, though.
• Pappy’s Smokehouse (3106 Olive St.): St. Louis usually takes a backseat to Kansas City in the barbecue world, but this Midtown spot, next to the campus of Harris-Stowe State University, has become ever-popular. Expect long lines most evenings and weekends, but particularly before Cardinals and Blues games.
• Ted Drewes Frozen Custard (4224 S. Grand Blvd. and 6726 Chippewa St.): If you’re not from the Midwest, you might not understand what a big deal frozen custard is there. Most major Midwestern cities have a favorite frozen custard spot or two; in St. Louis, it’s Ted Drewes, which serves its custards and concretes in signature yellow cups. It’s a favorite of Cardinals fans following summer afternoon games.
• Crown Candy Kitchen (1401 St. Louis Ave.): Known for its ice cream and milkshakes, this diner also serves sandwiches and hot dogs.
• Other items worth sampling, available at select locations throughout the city: roast beef sandwiches with Provel cheese, St. Louis-style pizza (also using Provel cheese on a thin crust) and toasted ravioli.
St. Louis has a large, perhaps surprising number of museums worth visiting. To name just a few: The City Museum (701 N. 15th St.), the Contemporary Art Museum (3750 Washington Blvd.), the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts (next door to the Contemporary Art Museum at 3716 Washington Blvd.), the Kemper Art Museum (1 Brookings Drive on the campus of Washington University), and the Saint Louis Science Center (5050 Oakland Ave.). And don’t forget the Old Courthouse (across the highway from the Arch at 11 N. 4th St.), part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and where the historic Dred Scott case had its origins in 1847.
Saint Louis University athletic teams compete in Division I and has a prominent men’s basketball team in the Atlantic-10 Conference. The campus is in Midtown, just a few miles west of downtown. If you’re looking for major college football, head west two hours to the University of Missouri, or three hours northeast for the University of Illinois.