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Gateway arch under Eads Bridge
Gateway Arch framed by the Eads Bridge in St. Louis.

9 Reasons St. Louis is Gonna Get You

Located at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, St. Louis has been a strategic crossroads for centuries. With seemingly endless sights, activities and tastes, I could go on forever about why everyone should leave a bit of their heart here!

1. Get Mesmerized by the City Museum

Part playground, part art installation, part museum, the City Museum is hands down the coolest place we’ve ever taken our kids. Constructed with salvaged items from historical buildings around St. Louis, this labyrinth has something new around every corner. Originally a multi-story shoe factory, the coolest attraction was the shoe slides used to transport the finished products from production lines above to shipping at ground level. With a bar and restaurant on site, this place is a must for any age at $18 when visiting St. Louis!

entry to city museum
The entry to the City Museum is so wild we couldn’t wait to start exploring.

2. Dive into St. Louis’ history at the Gateway Arch

Designed as a monument to westward expansion, the Gateway Arch National Park makes the iconic skyline of St. Louis. Towering over the mighty Mississippi and surrounded by beautiful landscaping, the World’s Tallest Arch completely revitalized the riverfront of St. Louis. The arch itself can’t seem to take a bad picture, but the real treat, in our opinion, was the fabulous museum beneath it that tells story of St. Louis’ many epochs. At $3, a visit to this breathtaking monument should be on everyone’s bucket list. With a little more time and cost, rides to the top and a riverboat cruise can make the trip even more authentic.

baby dino at gateway arch st. louis
Baby Dino found an arch his size at the Gateway Arch National Park Museum.

3. Don’t shy away from the Historic District

With original settlements by Native Americans and French traders located across the river in Cahokia, Illinois, it was only a matter of time before someone claimed a plot along the opposite shore. Named for King Louis IX in 1764, St. Louis was founded as a hub for Pierre Laclede’s fur trading business. Ownership of territory west of the Mississippi was heavily disputed between France, Britian and Spain until the completion of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. St. Louis was declared the capital of the territory, securing its role in the future of the country.

Gateway arch from Lacledes Landing
Gateway Arch viewed from Laclede’s Landing Historic District, one of oldest areas in town that wasn’t leveled for the Arch.

Originally accessed by ferry or flatboat, the arrival of steamboats in 1817 then the railroad in 1874 provided trade and manufacturing opportunities to the ballooning population. Cementing its prominence in 1904, St. Louis hosted both the World’s Fair and the Olympics, with many surviving structures becoming icons for the city. After reaching its apex after WWII, the city was slowly abandoned as people and businesses opted for more suburban lifestyles.

1904 World's Fair Pavillion in St. Louis
1904 World’s Fair Pavillion near the St. Louis Zoo in Forest Park.

While any quick search can reveal concerning crime statistics, we felt safe and welcome during our entire visit. The streets downtown are full of marvelous buildings like the Missouri Athletic Club, Federal Reserve and Hilton with its original 1888 bank vault and kid approved spinning doors. Obviously, we’re always super aware of our surroundings and walk around during the day in busy areas, but we’ve been twice and can’t wait to return!

hilton st. louis bank vault
Kids were jazzed to find a super cool old bank vault inside of the Hilton!

4. World class sights at the St. Louis Zoo

Carved out of the 1904 World’s Fairgrounds, the St. Louis Zoo is both massive AND free! With ample towering shade trees, visiting on a 95oF summer day was more pleasant than we expected. Initially drawn to the zoo by the polar bear and capybaras, we were more impressed by the entertaining birds in the ponds, the swamp filled Bird Cage from the World’s Fair and the hilarious hippos with their numerous fishy friends. More sights from the world’s fair are still accessible in the surrounding Forest Park area like the 1904 Pavillion we took our new zoo stuffies to visit.

st. louis zoo polar bear
Checking out the massive polar bear at the St. Louis Zoo.

5. Get thrilled by the transformed Union Station

As a keystone city along the Mississippi River, it only made sense that the expansion of the railroad would connect St. Louis to the rest of the country. Opened in 1894, the extravagant Union Station welcomed up to 100,000 passengers a day. With the decline of rail travel, the station was reimagined into a sprawling event space. From mini golf and mirror maze to fire shows and a Ferris wheel, this place has something for everyone.

An amazing example of repurposed classic architecture, Union Station is a true treat.

6. Meet the Clydesdales at Grants Farm

About 20 minutes southwest of town, the Grant’s Farm estate was home to President Ulysses S. Grant before the Civil War. The National Historic Site, adjacent to the farm, details his time in St. Louis before becoming President in 1858. Purchased by August Anheuser Busch in 1903, the majority of Grant’s property became a lavish estate and Clydesdale Farm for the Busch family of beer brewing fame. Opened to the public in 1954, guests over 21 are treated to complementary beer while the whole family enjoys over 900 animals and amazing architecture. Entry to the grounds is free but parking is $15 dollars. Discounts, special tours and event details are available on the Grant’s Farm website.

grants farm st. louis
Animals, architecture and alcohol are definitely 3 great reasons to visit Grant’s Farm in St. Louis

7. Visit the original Metropolis at Cahokia Mounds

Long before Europeans staked claims and named the towns like St. Louis, the Mississippian cultures lived in expansive villages throughout central North America. The telltale sign of their civilization was the development of communities of mounds near the large rivers. Archeological evidence shows the mounds were built and enlarged over successive generations as burial sites and for ceremonial purposes. It’s estimated that the Cahokia Mounds site across the river from St. Louis had a greater population than London between 1000 and 1350CE. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site and National Historic Landmark, this piece of history is not to be missed.

mississippian mound
Cahokia Mounds State Park is home to the largest mounds from the Mississippian cultures.

8. Marvel at the groundbreaking Eads Bridge

Before the skyline was associated with the Gateway Arch, the Eads Bridge was the icon of St. Louis. The mile wide and ever flooding Mississippi River proved a daunting boundary for centuries, until Andrew Carnegie needed a win to show that his new steel and bridge companies were legit in 1874. While other bridges spanned the narrower river upstream, Eads was the first to cross the Mississippi River below the convergence with the Missouri. Due to its incredible engineering, it is the oldest bridge spanning the Mississippi River as well.

Eads Bridge
Eads Bridge as seen from Gateway Arch National Park on the Missouri bank of the Mississippi River.

So, here’s a breakdown of all the reasons to stop and admire this amazing achievement. It was the first large structure built from steel and opened the door for iconic skyscrapers and bridges to come. To battle heavy current and winter ice flows, the first and largest use of pneumatic caissons in the US secured the bridge 100ft below water. In order to satiate the steamboat industry, the first use of cantilever in bridge constructure produced the longest arch span at the time. The railroad deck now hosts the Metrolink across the river and both cars and pedestrians can cross above.

louis & clark camp under Eads Bridge
We found the site of a Louis & Clark camp on the Illinois side of the river under the Eads Bridge… so much history!

9. Catch a sunset across the river

On the eastern banks of the Mississippi, Malcom W. Martin Memorial Park provides the most stunning sunset views of St. Louis. The Mississippi Overlook was a quick bike ride from our RV park, worth every pedal for the view. While there we learned that the largest fountain in North America only erupts at noon daily from May – September, so we’ll make sure we’ll get there at noon next trip!

Gateway Arch from Mississippi River Overlook
Best view in the city from the Mississippi River Overlook in East St. Louis.

Favorite Restaurant: Sugarfire Smokehouse

We traveled over 7,000 miles in the south looking for BBQ and boy did we hit the jackpot at Sugarfire Smokehouse! Served buffet style, our family collectively snagged almost every meat and side available. We had a fun time trying each of the 6 sauces with the stupendous brisket, pork, turkey and salmon. The baked beans and coleslaw added a perfect balance to the proteins. Local sodas and beers accented the flavors in the food. But the thing we drove across the country a second time for, was the Mississippi Mud Pie.

Favorite RV Park: Casino Queen

On two different trips, we enjoyed the most stunning views of the St. Louis Skyline from the Casino Queen RV Park. Surrounded by razor wire with a coded gate, the first impression is a little less than inviting. But nice flat spaces, a playground and green space are just enough to stretch out after a day of city adventuring. We weren’t bothered by the regular trains rolling through, but if you’re a light sleeper, this might not be the park for you. There’s a metro stop at the base of the Eads Bridge in the parking lot, and Lyft rides pick up regularly since it’s a casino:) Also, spots on the north are nicely shaded compared to the barren landscape of the south.

What did we miss?

What are your favorite things to do in St. Louis? Tell us about them in the comments!


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