The Gateway to the West is a great place to get your group together.
Most first think of St. Louis as home to the iconic Gateway Arch and baseball’s Cardinals, 11-time World Series champs. But the Mississippi River city is also home to enough museums, music, activities and amenities to satisfy the most ravenous of culture vultures.
A dozen Native American tribes lived in the region when French fur trappers arrived in 1764, and archaeology buffs must visit Cahokia Mounds, in nearby Collinsville, Illinois. St. Louis gained prominence as the jumping-off point for the 1803 Lewis and Clark expedition. By 1900 it was the nation’s fourth-largest city, with wealthy residents vying to endow their home with the sophisticated cultural trappings of the East Coast.
“We have such a depth of culture here it’s unbelievable,” said Catherine Nevill, vice president of communications at Explore St. Louis. “People are incredibly friendly and proud of the city. It really leaves a lasting impression.”
Here are some things your group can enjoy in St. Louis.
Five of the city’s best cultural attractions are part of the Zoo Museum District. Three of them, the city’s art and history museums and its zoo, are in Forest Park. It became the city’s cultural epicenter when, in 1904, both the World’s Fair and the Summer Olympics were held there. “Dedicated to Art and Free to All” is carved on the facade of the grand Beaux-Arts palace of the St. Louis Art Museum. One of the most comprehensive art collections in the country, the museum contains Egyptian mummies and works of European masters including Van Gogh, Monet, Matisse and Picasso.
“Our space is so accessible,” said Meredith Wilson, who coordinates group sales for the museum. “Not only our location and the facilities, but also our entire staff from the gallery attendants to the information desk, we are very approachable and eager to welcome everyone.”
Also free and in Forest Park, the St. Louis Zoo is at the forefront of animal conservation and was among the first to display animals in enclosures that resemble their natural environments. Today the zoo is home to more than 16,000 animals from 500 species, and many of them are endangered. Don’t miss a peaceful stroll through the Bird Garden, located between the Bird House and the 1904 World’s Fair Flight Cage.
History lovers will want to make a stop at the Missouri History Museum. Originally built as the first national monument to Thomas Jefferson, the free museum explores the story of the city from its founding to the present day. And take a moment to admire the Art Deco Jewel Box, a graceful iron and glass greenhouse with floral displays and a reflecting pool.
Fifteen minutes from Forest Park, the Missouri Botanical Garden, also part of the ZMD, spreads across 79 acres and is considered one of the world’s top botanical gardens.
“Every day is different,” said Catherine Martin, senior public information officer for the garden. “Cherry blossoms and bulbs in the spring, water lilies and vibrant blooms all summer. Spectacular fall foliage and in winter, the snow truly transforms the garden. And it’s always 85 degrees in the Climatron!”
Adjacent to the gardens, Tower Grove Park is also worth a visit.
The area between Forest Park and the botanical gardens, called “the Hill,” is a place to relax after touring, home to classic St. Louis culture. Italian immigrants began to arrive in the 1880s, joining the Irish, German and African-American enclave that had sprung up near the city’s highest point. Home to baseball great Yogi Berra, the Hill was also the birthplace of St. Louis-style pizza. Square-cut and graced with gooey Provel cheese, the savory pie originated in 1964 at the first Imo’s Pizza, still family-owned and now a successful regional chain.
The city’s signature appetizer, toasted ravioli, is said to have been invented at Charlie Gitto’s. It’s available there as well as at the neighborhood’s other Italian eateries. For dessert, try gooey butter cake, a favorite found all over the city.
Old and new St. Louis converge at Grand Center. Lauded by Forbes magazine as “America’s most exciting emerging arts district,” the neighborhood is halfway between the Gateway Arch and Forest Park, and its half-mile radius is filled with music, arts, food and fun. The ornate vaudeville palace Powell Hall — now home to the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra — is wrapping up a $100 million renovation, while Compton Avenue is aiming to make itself the Music Row of the Midwest. Scott Joplin, Chuck Berry, Josephine Baker, Nelly and Tina Turner all hail from St. Louis, and the city enjoys a rich musical legacy.
Grand Center is also putting itself on the culinary map. Two-time James Beard Award nominee Rob Connoley — whose family has been in the region since the 1830s — updates traditional Ozark cuisine at Bulrush. And although St. Louis is synonymous with beverage behemoth Anheuser-Busch, Urban Chestnut Brewing serves up carefully crafted small-batch brews in its Grand Center biergarten.
Downtown Sports Scene
The Cardinals aren’t the only winning team in town: the St. Louis Blues finally brought home the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup in 2019. The Blues play at the Enterprise Center; fans of the other kind of blues will want to visit the National Blues Museum and perhaps enjoy a show at Broadway Oyster Bar. The newest game in town is St. Louis City SC, a Major League Soccer team that’s playing their inaugural season in 2023. The newly constructed 22,423-seat CityPark stadium and its adjacent mixed-use campus adds further appeal to the bustling downtown, which is anchored by historic Union Station. Admire it all from 200 feet in the air by taking a spin on the St. Louis Wheel, where 42 climate-controlled, six-person gondolas offer 360-degree views of the city’s skyline.