For years, people have been writing about the rebirth of St. Louis as a destination city. I visited recently to see what’s new, and I think you need to add St. Louis to the top of your spring break destinations. It may not be a tropical island, but it’s affordable, gorgeous and there is a ton of shit going on.
First, it’s springtime, usually light jacket weather for Missouri, and liable to be downright hot on a sunny day. But did you know that St. Louis is one of the best places in the country to see cherry blossoms in spring? D.C. gets all the attention, yet the Missouri Botanical Garden, which first opened its gates in 1859, has 40 specimens of Yoshino cherry alone. Furthermore, they have more than 250 flowering trees, so even if you miss one of the two cherry-blossom events, you will still see something blooming.
The grounds boast twelve gardens, a creepy but gorgeous Victorian district, and the 70 ft tall Climatron: the world’s first geodesic dome used as a conservatory. In April, the Garden hosts Chinese Culture Days in collaboration with the Chinese Culture Education and Services Foundation. Two days of parades, cuisine and celebrations are in store.
If you can’t get enough flora, then head northeast to Forest Park. On your way, stop off in the historic Hill neighborhood, famous for its Italian American fare. Try Toasted Ravioli: It’s a classic St. Louis appetizer, plus you will need the energy. Forest Park is nearly 1.5 times the size of central park, covering 1300 acres.
Parks and Recreation
Days could be spent strolling through several forest restoration areas, picnicking in idyllic fields and reflecting in reflecting pools, yet that doesn’t even scratch the surface. The architecture of the park is seriously stunning. Much of it was built between the 1880s and the 1940s, and much has been recently restored. The Jewel Box is my favorite piece. Built in 1936, it’s an intricate Art-Deco building made constructed from 4,000 panes of glass. It serves as the conservancy center to Forest Park and is a favorite spot for weddings.
Nearby is the St. Louis Zoo, voted the best zoo in the country by Zagat, is a family favorite. Also, admission is free. The Emerson Children’s Zoo has an acrylic slide through an otter pool, a Tasmanian Devil Den, and a chance for kids to get a close look at the animals. If you’re like me, and weary of zoo practices, rest assured that STLZ is legit. They’ve put a lot of time, research, and funding into conservation practices for animals and their habitats, both locally and abroad having founded the WildCare Institute in 2004. And they have Puffins!
Just outside the zoo sits the St. Louis Art Museum, also free and also one of the best in the country. Plus, it has an awesome sculpture garden — St. Louis actually has five amazing sculpture gardens in the city, including a one where viewers are encouraged to touch the art and one that’s a sculpture garden/dog park combo.
If you’re going full museum nerd, you can visit the Missouri History Museum, the Planetarium, and the Science Center also located in the park! (See what I mean about days spent here?) But honestly, while these museums are classically cool, there are two I haven’t mention that you absolutely can’t miss.
The first is the City Museum. Often described as Alice and Wonderland, it’s essentially a kickass mega-playground for adults. No, really. It’s full of mind-warping installations, slides (you thought they were just for kids?!), ladders, and art. The food court is jammed with pinball machines and arcade games. There’s a ginormous slinky you can crawl through. How did this happen? It was the vision of the late artist Bob Cassilly, who founded the museum after purchasing an abandoned shoelace factory in 1993.
After letting your inner child run amuck, head over to the National Blues Museum. Its exhibits feature recordings and photographs with circulating exhibits that showcase the history of blues and southern music in America. They regularly host live music, and if blues is what you want, you can visit more than a dozen solid blues bars in the city. St. Louis is a music capital if you hadn’t guessed by now.
With several large venues, three dozen small venues, and a surprising number of breweries that host regular live music, you can see live music in a new place every night of your stay. In the month of March, you can grab tickets to see Garth Brooks, Mariah Carey, Citizen Cope, Michael Bublé, Weezer and the Pixies in the same show, and several dozen smaller acts. I recommend checking out the often quirky, dancing vibes showcased at The Bootleg at Atomic Cowboy.
And if you can manage to get yourself out of the city for an afternoon, then you should absolutely take a trip to the nearby Cahokia Mounds, one of the most overlooked St. Louis attractions that I can think of. Just a fifteen-minute drive from the city center, it’s part of the largest archaeological site in North America — just take a second to let that sink in, the largest archaeological site in North America. It’s also one of only 23 UNESCO World Heritage Sites within the United States. In Southern Illinois of all places.
Located outside the town of Collinsville, a quaint museum of artifacts and extensive wax figures awaits you at the entrance. There is a short documentary film that plays every half hour. While it’s a little outdated, there is a lot for a history buff to love here. They have drawers of tools, jewelry, and pottery to view. Outside the museum, over 75 mounds scatter a mostly flat site. A network of pathways, paved and unpaved, wind through the area, making most of it accessible to families with strollers and people with diverse mobility solutions.
Cahokia thrived between 1050 and 1300 A.D. and the site features a rare, reconstructed solar calendar made of timber — archaeologists dubbed it Woodhenge. The piece de resistance is Monk’s Mound, standing 100 ft tall and offering spectacular views of the Mississippi River Basin and St. Louis. Plan your trip for the late afternoon and watch the sun set behind the skyline.
Also, admission is by donation, so pay what you can.
If you’re interested in a visit to St. Louis now, then check your pulse. This place is literally overflowing with things to do, affordable hotel rooms are easy to find, and luxury rooms start at $140 a night. Not mention there are adorable bed and breakfasts in virtually every neighborhood and very comfortable spring weather. What are you waiting for?
Is there an attraction that I missed? Are there other overlooked cities that tourism hasn’t totally discovered yet? Let me know below. And don’t forget to clap this article if you enjoyed it!