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St. Louis Overview
St. Louis sells itself to visitors as the Gateway to the West. From French fur-trading village to starting gate for Lewis and Clark's famous 1804 westward exploration, St. Louis has long served as the border between the east and the west.
But this city of some 350,000 people is so much more than the starting point for westward expansion. It's a friendly city full of historical significance and modern culture that begs more than a few days from you. Whether you want to visit the Old Courthouse, site of the Dred Scott slavery trial, take a slow-moving tram to the top of the Gateway Arch, attend a Cardinals baseball game or check out an exhibit at the Saint Louis Art Museum, you'll find St. Louis offers too much to see and do in just one day.
And don't forget the city's many neighborhoods, such as Central West End, with its 19th-century grand homes and antique shops, or the 10-block art district of Grand Center, which is chock full of galleries, museums and performance venues. The Loop, the city's most happening neighborhood, is also a must-visit destination. Its St. Louis Walk of Fame features more than 100 stars honoring famous St. Louisans including Josephine Baker, Maya Angelou, Chuck Berry, Miles Davis, William Burroughs, Robert Duvall, T.S. Eliot, Scott Joplin and Tina Turner.
St. Louis also has a storied steamboat history with the first paddle wheeler arriving on the Mississippi in 1817. By the 1850's, the city would regularly see 5,000 steamboats dock a year. Today, both the Queen of the Mississippi and American Queen regularly call on St. Louis throughout the summer months.
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Other River Cruising Cruise Ports:
Chicago • Moscow • Porto (Leixoes) • St. Louis
St. Louis is famous for three things: the Gateway Arch, the Cardinals baseball team and Anheuser-Busch. If art is your passion, pick up a stylized replica of the Arch, or if you're a baseball fan, there's an endless supply of Cardinals baseball caps, shirts and other paraphernalia. Take the Anheuser-Busch Brewery tour and grab a specialty beer or a stuffed Clydesdale to bring home.
English is the primary language spoken in St. Louis, though, as with all U.S. cities, many people also speak Spanish.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The U.S. dollar is the only currency accepted in St. Louis. Credit cards are widely accepted at all shops, restaurants and museums. The best way to get money is via ATM's at banks and convenience stores.
Where You're Docked
Riverboats dock on South Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard in downtown St. Louis. It's located at one end of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, just a few steps away from the Gateway Arch. There are no port facilities and no parking lot. You just walk from the street right onto your boat. Your best option for getting to your boat is by taxi, though both American Cruise Lines and American Queen Steamboat offer shuttles from select downtown hotels. The nearest MetroBus stop is at least a 10-minute walk, and the MetroLink light-rail train is even farther.
There is no port facility in St. Louis. The ship docks at the bottom of the hill on which the Gateway Arch is situated. The nearest facilities are in the Arch, where you'll find gift shops, vending machines and restrooms. Downtown St. Louis is about a 10-minute walk from the pier.
St. Louis has a small international airport with service from several major airlines. To get from the airport into the city, you can take a Go Best Airport Shuttle; grab a taxi; or rent a car from Avis, Budget, Alamo or Enterprise.
St. Louis is not really a walking city; but there is ample public transportation. Considering how spread out the city is, renting a car might not be a bad idea if you're planning to stay more than two or three days.
By Train: MetroLink, the city's light-rail system, connects several popular tourist attractions like the Gateway Arch, Delmar Loop, Busch Stadium and Forest Park.
By Bus: The bus system, MetroBus, is another option connecting all neighborhoods.
By Car: If you are driving, keep your eyes peeled for signs pointing the way to must-see sights like the Gateway Arch, Busch Stadium, Saint Louis Zoo and Missouri History Museum.
Watch Out For
It can get pretty hot during the height of summer, so make sure you've got a bottle of water with you or schedule some air-conditioned indoor time.
The iconic Gateway Arch is St. Louis' most recognizable landmark. The Arch, built between 1963 and 1965, honors Thomas Jefferson's vision of westward expansion and the thousands of pioneers who began their journey to the west in St. Louis. From the top of the 630-foot monument, visitors get a spectacular 360-degree view of the city including the Old Courthouse, Busch Stadium and the Mississippi River. To get to the top of the arch, visitors ride a small tram car that fits five people. Space is tight and some find it a bit claustrophobic. It takes four minutes to get to the top and three to get back down. On busy days the wait for the tram to the top can be an hour or longer. Get there early to reserve your time slot. The Arch facility also offers a documentary on the Arch's construction, the Museum of Westward Expansion and a film entitled "Lewis and Clark: Great Journey West." (Open daily 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.)
Right across the street from Gateway Arch is the Old Courthouse where the Dred Scott case began its long journey through the American court system and where Virginia Minor's case for women's right to vote came to trial in the 1870's. Rangers conduct tours of the Old Courthouse every day on varying schedules. Check at the information desk upon arrival for the day's times. Free showings of a 17-minute film about the Dred Scott case are on offer throughout the day. (4th Street.)
Larger than New York City's Central Park, the 1,300-acre Forest Park is one of the country's largest municipal parks and is home to many of St. Louis' major visitor attractions, including the zoo and art museum. A visitor's center offers lockers, food, self-guided iPod tours and bike rentals.
Located inside Forest Park, the Saint Louis Zoo is home to more than 19,000 animals and 656 species. Its newest exhibition, opened in 2013, is the Sea Lion Sound, a 1.5-acre habitat that includes a 35-foot-long underwater viewing tunnel and features 11 California sea lions and four harbor seals. Admission to the zoo and most exhibits is free. (Open Monday to Thursday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday to Sunday 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.)
Opened in 1881, the Saint Louis Art Museum houses more than 33,000 art pieces, including a large collection of postwar German art, as well as work by Rembrandt, Degas and Picasso. In June 2013, a new wing opened, adding more than 200,000 square feet of space, allowing for new galleries, more parking and two eateries. Admission to the museum is free; admission to featured exhibits is free on Friday. (Forest Park; open Tuesday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.)
Been There, Done That
Meet the famous Clydesdales of the Anheuser-Busch Brewery and try a variety of locally made brews. Brewery tours include the historic brew house, the stable, the cellar and packaging plant. A gift shop offers tons of branded items. Admission is free. (Open Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
After you've sampled a couple Anheuser-Busch brews, head over to Busch Stadium, the city's main baseball stadium named for the brewery and home to the St. Louis Cardinals. Go behind the scenes on a stadium tour and see the radio broadcast booth, the World Series trophies and the dugout. From April through September, public tours are offered at 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. unless a home game is scheduled for that day.
Looking for more art? Check out the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art, located on the campus of Saint Louis University. The museum houses an impressive collection of interfaith spiritual art, including works by Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali and Georges Rouault. Free admission. (Open Tuesday to Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
Just 15 to 20 minutes east of St. Louis is one of the United States' oldest prehistoric sites, the Cahokia Mounds. The 2,200-acre site preserves the remains of the largest pre-Columbian city north of Mexico. More than 100 mounds still exist, including the 100-foot Monk's Mound, the largest earthwork in North America. Visitors can view the orientation program, take a self-guided or professionally led tour and purchase a souvenir at the museum shops. There is little shade, so bring a hat and sunscreen. Insect repellent also is recommended. (Open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
You'll find lots of downhome cooking and southern barbecue in St. Louis, as well as high-end dining establishments.
Ask a local where to go for the best barbecue in town, and you'll be directed to Pappy's Smokehouse, where it's all about the dry-rubbed ribs and pulled pork. This super casual eatery serves up heaping helpings for lunch and dinner. (3106 Olive St.; 314-535-4340; open Monday to Saturday 11 a.m. until the food sells out, typically around 7 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. until food runs out, usually around 4 p.m.)
A St. Louis landmark, Blueberry Hill is a restaurant-cum-music club filled with pop culture memorabilia, including a life-sized statue of Chuck Berry. Berry, a St. Louis native, was the first person inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Located in The Loop, right next to the St. Louis Walk of Fame, Blueberry Hill offers Americana fare with a southern twist, including hamburgers, trout almondine, jerk chicken and more. Check out their online calendar for a schedule of concerts. (6504 Delmar Blvd.; 314-727-4444; open daily for lunch and dinner)
An eatery with its own reality TV show on Oprah's OWN network, Sweetie Pie's serves up traditional southern soul food. Run by Robbie Montgomery, a former backup singer for Ike and Tina Turner, the menu includes items Montgomery learned from her mother growing up in Mississippi, including Salisbury steak, fried pork chops, boneless catfish, short ribs, collard greens and candied yams. (4270 Manchester Ave.; 314-371-0304; open Tuesday to Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.)
For more upscale fare, head to The Hill (near Forest Park) and LoRusso's Cucina, voted among the top Italian restaurants in the country by Zagat. LoRusso's menu includes risotto, veal saltimbocca, chicken spiedini and cioppino, among other options. (3121 Watson Road; 314-647-6222; open for dinner Tuesday to Sunday, as well as Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.)
Another upscale venue is Top of the Riverfront, a rooftop revolving restaurant located in the Millennium Hotel that offers 360-degree views of St. Louis. The eclectic cuisine is pricey, but keep in mind you're paying as much for the scenery as the food. Menu items include seared scallops, Missouri chicken, pork shank, St. Louis pepper steak, blackened grouper, eggplant Napoleon and cowboy ribeye. (200 South 4th St.; 314-241-9500; open for lunch Monday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., brunch Sunday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and dinner Wednesday to Saturday from 5 p.m.)
Bet you didn't know that the first ice cream cone was introduced to the world by St. Louis at the 1904 World's Fair. So when you're ready for dessert, head on over to Ted Drewes Frozen Custard on Route 66 for a taste of the thick vanilla custard the shop has been serving since 1930. (6726 Chippewa St.; 314-481-2652; open daily Valentine's Day to December from 11 a.m.)
Closest to Port: Hotels in downtown St. Louis are your best bet if you want to be close to the port. They also offer the best views of the Gateway Arch. Among the downtown hotels are the Renaissance St. Louis Grand, Hilton, Crowne Plaza and Hyatt Regency.
Best Value: Also located downtown, about 10 minutes from the Arch, is the Drury Plaza Hotel. Rooms are reasonably priced, and rates include a free hot breakfast, complimentary Wi-Fi, free long distance and local calls (60 minutes a day), as well as free freshly popped popcorn and soft drinks in the lobby between 3 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. (2 South 4th St.; 314-231-3003)
Staying in Touch
You can access Internet, both wireless and wired, at local branches of the St. Louis Public Library.
Free Wi-Fi also is available at the London Tea Room, a sandwich shop in downtown St. Louis (1520 Washington Ave.; take the 94 or 97 MetroBus).
Best Sampler: The half-day tour (usually two to three hours) takes visitors through downtown St. Louis, the riverfront, historic neighborhoods and Forest Park. Tour-goers also get to meet one of the famous Clydesdale horses during a stop at the Anheuser-Busch Brewery stables.
Best Iconic Experience: Nothing says St. Louis like the Gateway Arch, the country's tallest man-made monument. Tours of the Arch begin with a screening of the film, "Monument to the Dream," which details how the structure was built. A tram ride to the top of the arch is next for unrivaled views of downtown St. Louis and the Mississippi River.
For More Information
On the Web: St. Louis Tourist Board or 1-800-325-7962
Cruise Critic Message Boards: North American Homeports
IndependentTraveler.com: Midwest Travel Guide
--by Dori Saltzman, News Editor
Stadium photo courtesy of Ffooter / Shutterstock.com
Ted Drewes photo courtesy of the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission