36 Hours in St. Louis
St. Louis surprised us! We were excited to immerse ourselves in a new city, but we weren't expecting to have that much fun! Here's what we did with our 36 hours in Middle America:
Our flight from NYC left at 7am. With the one hour time difference, we sped through the airport and the MetroLink and arrived in downtown St. Louis a little after 9am.
Our first stop? The arch, of course! Downtown was empty. We walked through the quiet streets, surrounded by construction and empty retail space, until we reached the arch. A small tour group was gathered in front of the Courthouse, but otherwise we had the site to ourself and took our time snapping selfies. We crossed the street to wander through the Courthouse, struck up a conversation with the sweet lady who worked at the information center, then called it a day with the 'tourist hot spots.'
Our stomachs were growling by 11am, so Yelp helped direct us to Rooster. One thing St. Louis definitely has going for it? We experienced quite a few phenomenal local restaurants. During brunch hours, Rooster serves a variety of savory and sweet crepes. The crowd around us (we had found all of the people in St. Louis, it seemed!) sipped colorful mimosas, their silverware clinking in harmony with their laughter. Bold finger-paintings of roosters adorned the wall that also boasted the details of their locally-sourced ingredients.
Daniel and I split a savory and a sweet crepe. For savory, we opted for the 'marinated spicy chicken,' topped with fontina and arugula. For sweet, we stuck with our classic Nutella and strawberry. They were absolutely delicious! We finished in seconds, laughed with our waitress about how quickly we inhaled our food, and then were raring to continue with the day! (Rooster was delicious. But our favorite crepes in America are still at Red Bicycle in Nashville.)
Our next stop? The City Museum. Sounds incredibly boring, right? Well let me tell you - its the furthest thing from a museum full of plaques to read and history to understand. A pleasant 20 minute walk from downtown brought us to the entrance of The City Museum and instantly I could hear laughter, delighted screams, and so much movement. The City Museum is a giant, 10-story playground. For $12 (and an additional $5 if you'd like access to the roof, which I recommend) you have all-day play at The City Museum. Wear comfortable clothes you don't mind climbing and crawling in, and perhaps entertain the idea of bringing knee pads.
Built from what would otherwise be considered scraps and trash, The City Museum is endless. Find the hidden tunnels and slides, explode the pitch black caves and climb through the mazes of plastic tubing. Outside, there are old buses and airplanes suspended in mid-air that you can get to by army crawling through metal caging. And don't forget to go for a spin on the 10-story slide, or jump into the ball pit!
The City Museum will most likely be crowded when you go, but I'd say that adds to the experience. It was so fun to see 60-year-olds playing alongside 8-year-olds. Plus, it's really something to be seemingly alone in a tunnel then, all of a sudden, be startled by a group of children walk on the mesh wiring above you that you didn't even realize was a floor. But if you aren't loving the crowd, your wrist band gives you all day access; just leave to see more of St Louis, then go back at night. On Fridays and Saturdays, they're open until midnight!
Afterward, although physically exhausted, we took an Uber to the Soulard Famers Market (the oldest farmers market west of the Mississippi!) We wandered around, grabbed some apples to snack on, stumbled across a Purina adoption event, then hailed yet another Uber to take us to a late lunch. For lunch, we visited the Blues City Deli. This was a unique experience - it was typical deli food (and I'm a sucker for deli food) but with a live Blues music performance! In fact, neighbors had grabbed a beer at the deli and then set up folding chairs outside the deli to listen to the performance! I opted for the 'Benton Park' (ham, roast beef, turkey & provel, lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion, pepperoncini & sweet red pepper sauce on a baguette.) Daniel got a no-fuss pulled pork sandwich. We grabbed our food, found a free table, and took in the unique 'dinner and a show' experience.
Nearby was a street called Cherokee. We visited because we had heard of a few interesting shops in the neighborhood, but we got a kick out of the culture we found instead. You might as well call the neighborhood 'Stoner Central.' The entire block smelled like weed, people in their pajamas meandered down the street, graffiti littered the walls and there were even signs stapled to advertising a group for American Socialists.
By this time, we were exhausted. We stopped by our hotel to check in, ditch our stuff, and take a nap. After recharging, our next stop was Delmar Loop - a neighborhood that was highly recommended by other travel blogs we frequented before visiting St. Louis.
St. Louis seems to be a 'hit or miss' kind of town. Often during our visit, we would be walking down an absolutely desolate street. We'd make one turn, and suddenly we were in the middle of the hustle and bustle. Delmar is a hustle and bustle neighborhood. We aren't quite as drawn to night-life, so after seeing that the countless rows of art galleries and niche shops had already closed for the night, we decided to get dinner and then return to the Loop to visit these shops the following day.
For dinner, we stopped by Pi Pizzeria. This deep dish pizza joint - famous for its corn bread crust - has a really significant claim to fame: it serves President Obama's favorite deep dish pizza! We ordered the meatball appetizer, then a small deep dish pizza with green peppers and sausage. It was delicious! Its corn bread crust was thin and flaky. Daniel considers it his second favorite deep dish pizza (second to Lou Malnati's in Chicago.) I, however, found the sauce more acidic than most and would rank it as my fourth favorite deep dish pizza joint. (1. Giordano's, 2. Lou Malnati's, 3. Emmet's in NYC) Our fight about the best deep dish pizza continues! Nevertheless, we enjoyed the outdoor seating area, wolfed down our food and made a return trip to The City Museum. We went to bed around 1am that morning - our first fourteen hours in St. Louis having been a success.
The next day, we woke up late. By the time we checked out of the hotel and travelled back to Delmar Loop, it was already lunch time. The night before (after eating at Pi) we had walked the streets and noticed a seemingly-excellent BBQ restaurant. Then, our Uber driver who drove us to the hotel that night had recommended the same restaurant: Salt + Smoke. We hopped off the train and made our way straight to Salt + Smoke. The dining room was large and open, full of over-exposed wood and waiters in plaid. I opted for a 1/2 rack of ribs with 'white cheddar crack mac,' creamed corn and a cheddar-bacon pop-over. Daniel got the 'Bestie Combo' of pulled pork and brisket, with their mac & cheese (crack mac), and 'garlic and herb french fries.'
Let me tell you ... it was to die for. It was incredible. The best BBQ we'd ever had (and we were not expecting to find that in St. Louis!) And the best part? My giant platter of food was only $12! Daniel's 'Bestie Combo' was only $14. Our New Yorker brains couldn't handle that quality paired with that price! If we weren't planning on spending the rest of the day out, we could have boxed up our left overs and had another meal without spending much money at all!
With our tummies full of meat and mac & cheese, we were ready to throw our bags back onto our shoulders and see more of the city! Our plane would be leaving in seven hours, after all. We walked through Delmar Loop, popping into a few local shops and galleries (we enjoyed it much more in the daytime than we did at night.)
We then began a 30 minute walk from Delmar to the totally free St. Louis Zoo. I'll admit that, at this point in the day the weather was much hotter than I was anticipating and I was feeling the exhaustion from the long day before. So, when we got to the zoo, we found a comfortable, shaded plot of grass to lay down in between the 'Cat Palace' and the zebras and took a quick snooze. The zoo is big and full of interesting animals we had never seen before (including, our favorite, the 'Bush Dog!') It was a pleasant zoo to walk through, full of families and people enjoying their sunny Sunday afternoon.
Just a 15 minute walk from the zoo is the SLAM (St. Louis Art Museum.) After we'd had our fill of hippos and panthers, we walked across the field of kite-flyers and ball-throwers, and arrived at the large, stately building. The SLAM is completely free as well! Though it seems like they have a lot of wonderful art to browse through, Daniel and I spent our entire visit with the Contemporary Art. (But no surprise there.) They had famous pieces like Gerhard Richter's 'Betty,' and some fantastic works from artists I hadn't yet discovered, like Glenn Ligon.
It was after our visit to the SLAM that we finally called it a wrap on our super-quick weekend in St. Louis. All in all, St. Louis surprised us with delicious food, unique experiences, and an interesting local culture. We'd actually go back! Even if it's simply to visit The City Museum and eat at Salt + Smoke again.