A few US cities always come to mind for both international and domestic travelers when planning vacations. New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, and Chicago are among these cities. These cities are undeniably great destinations for travelers. However, travelers will also find these cities to be crowded, overpriced, overwhelming, and downright frustrating. Unfortunately, most major travel blogs and publications often focus on the most popular destinations as opposed to the dozens of other amazing US cities. That being said, The College Points wants to break with the norm and promote lesser-known US cities. First up is St. Louis, Missouri.
If you’re looking for a quick and affordable getaway, there’s really no better city than St. Louis. Located in the heart of the United States, St. Louis is easily accessible for millions of Americans. Additionally, while visitors will likely assume St. Louis is a uniform and boring rust-belt city, the region is incredibly diverse. St. Louis is not just the city but rather a bustling region that offers visitors a variety of things to do. One of the best parts of visiting St. Louis is that the region offers a number of inexpensive attractions, restaurants, bars, and accommodations. Here’s what travelers need to know about visiting St. Louis, Missouri.
St. Louis Travel Guide: Overview
St. Louis, Missouri, is best experienced in the context of the region as a whole. While St. Louis features a typical Downtown area, there is much more to St. Louis than its central business district. Outside of Downtown, there are hundreds of neighborhoods, each with a unique atmosphere. St. Louis is also unique in that the region is ideal for just about all types of travelers. Families, couples, and solo travelers will surely be able to find something of interest when visiting the St. Louis region. As for the suggested length of stay, the St. Louis region is best experienced over the course of 3 to 4 days. However, travelers that simply want to get away for a night or two can also enjoy much of what the St. Louis region has to offer while not feeling as if their getaway was rushed.
St. Louis, Missouri, boasts a lively and diverse restaurant scene, numerous cultural sites, world-class museums, one of the world’s top urban parks, outdoorsy activities, shopping, and a thriving craft beer scene. That being said, there’s plenty to do, see, and eat in the St. Louis area.
Getting to St. Louis: Airports & Ground Transportation
St. Louis, Missouri is located in the heart of the United States. By car, the city center is located just 4.5 hours from Chicago, 4 hours from Memphis, 4.5 hours from Nashville, 3.5 hours from Kansas City, and 3.5 hours from Indianapolis. This means that the St. Louis area is a quick road trip away for nearly 40 million Americans. With numerous major interstates and smaller regional highways passing through the St. Louis area, traveling by personal vehicle is extremely easy. The St. Louis area is not immune from the frustrations of traffic jams. However, except for the morning and afternoon rush hours, major thoroughfares throughout the region are usually free from bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Getting to St. Louis by air is also quite easy and relatively inexpensive. The region is served by two airports. The primary airport and largest airport in the state of Missouri is St. Louis-Lambert International Airport (STL). The airport is served by all major airlines as well as smaller airlines like Alaska Airlines, Cape Air, Frontier, and Sun Country. Flights to the airport are the least expensive between October and April. Upon arrival, the airport is a quick drive away from the area’s top neighborhoods and attractions. St. Louis-Lambert International is just 19 minutes from Downtown, 20 minutes from the Central West End, 15 minutes from Clayton, 25 minutes from Tower Grove, and 15 minutes from St. Charles. The airport is also served by Metrolink, St. Louis’ light-rail and bus service.
The second and significantly smaller airport serving the region is MidAmerica Airport (BLV). The airport is located in rural Illinois near Belleville. MidAmerica Airport is 30 minutes from Downtown St. Louis, 45 minutes from Clayton, and an hour from St. Charles. Allegiant is the only airport that serves the small airport. At the moment, bus transfer service to Metrolink light-rail is available with plans to extend light-rail service to the terminal in the near future.
The St. Louis region is served by all major rideshare companies including Uber and Lyft. Taxis are also available. However, unlike in cities like New York or Chicago, travelers will need to use mobile apps or call taxi services to hail a ride. Rideshare services are by far the most affordable and most efficient option for travelers that are not traveling by private vehicle or public transportation.
Despite being a medium-sized city in the Midwest, St. Louis is fairly accessible. With numerous flights to cities across North America, an extensive network of highways, and public transportation, getting to St. Louis and traveling about the city is a seamless experience.
Book Flights to St. Louis
Where to Stay in St. Louis
Over the past few years, the St. Louis area has welcomed a number of new hotels including mid-tier and luxury hotels. The St. Louis area goes well beyond St. Louis City limits. However, the majority of top St. Louis hotels are located in Downtown, the Central West End, and Clayton. Unlike other nearby cities like Nashville and Chicago, hotels in St. Louis are still relatively inexpensive. Even some of the area’s top luxury hotels can be booked at a reasonable price. With hundreds of options in St. Louis City and County, not to mention numerous other options in neighboring counties, The College Points has included some of the best hotels in St. Louis for any budget.
Best Hotels in St. Louis
The College Points Recommends: Live! by Loews St. Louis
One of St. Louis’ newest hotels is the Live! by Loews Hotel in Ballpark Village, a development in Downtown. Located just steps from the gates of Busch Stadium and the Ballpark Village baseball-themed entertainment development, the Live! by Loews Hotel offers guests luxury accommodations in a lively part of the city. The hotel features a full-service restaurant, a baseball-themed lobby bar, and a rooftop bar overlooking Ballpark Village. The hotel is ideal not just for travelers looking for a relaxing getaway but also business travelers and couples.
The College Points stayed at the Live! by Loews St. Louis Hotel in opening night. Read our full review of the Live! by Loews St. Louis here.
Other Top St. Louis Hotels
Best Luxury Hotel in St. Louis – Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis
Best Chain Hotel in St. Louis – Marriott Grand St. Louis
Best Boutique Hotel in St. Louis: The Last Hotel, part of the Unbound Collection by Hyatt
Recommended Hotel for College Students: Aloft Hotel Cortex
St. Louis’ two largest universities are located on the west and east ends of the Central West End neighborhood. For students visiting friends at either Washington University or St. Louis University, the Aloft Hotel in the Cortex Innovation District is modern, affordable, and conveniently located. Nightly rates start at just $85 but average around $105 a night.
The Aloft Hotel St. Louis in Cortex is offers amenities that any college student can appreciate. The hotel features an indoor pool, fitness center, restaurant, and a lively bar featuring outdoor seating. The College Points selected the Aloft Hotel Cortex as its top St. Louis hotel for college students as a result of the hotel’s location, price, amenities, and our own experience at the hotel as students. Click this link to read our full review of the Aloft Hotel Cortex and learn more about Marriott’s contemporary Aloft Hotels brand.
Where to Eat in St. Louis
St. Louis’ restaurant and culinary scene has been relatively unscathed by the on-going COVID-19 pandemic. While, sadly, some restaurants did not survive the effects of the COVID-19 and subsequent lockdowns, those that did are back open and better than ever. The St. Louis region is home to some of the best restaurants in the Midwest. St. Louis cuisine has been influenced by the influx of European immigrants in the early 20th century. Most notably, St. Louis is home to some of the top Italian restaurants in the Midwest if not the US. In addition to Italian cuisine, St. Louis is home to some of the best BBQ and comfort food in the region. There’s something for every palate whether you’re looking for an upscale steak dinner or cheap street tacos. Here are some of the best restaurants in St. Louis.
Best Restaurants in St. Louis
The College Points Recommends: Vicia
Award winning executive chef, Michael Gallina’s Vicia is frequently among one of the top St. Louis restaurants. Vicia’s menu features cuisine that is locally sourced and artfully prepared. According to the restaurant’s website, Vicia’s menu “is driven by the best of what’s available at the moment and sourced from relationships we have with farmers, fishermen, and artisans in the Midwest region and beyond.” In addition to offering a menu of locally sourced fare, Vicia also offers an extensive line-up of vegan and vegetarian options.
The College Points Recommends: Crown Candy Kitchen
Founded in 1913 by two Macedonian immigrants, Crown Candy Kitchen is the oldest soda fountain in the St. Louis Area and one of the oldest in the United States. The historic soda fountain features unique memorabilia and antiques. To this day, an antique cash registered is used to take orders. The restaurant not only offers a unique atmosphere but also amazing and inexpensive food. Crown Candy Kitchen is often associated with the restaurant’s famous BLT, ice cream malt challenge, and candy made with decades old molds imported from Europe. Crown Candy Kitchen is a St. Louis icon that is a must for anyone visiting the St. Louis region.
Other Top Restaurants in St. Louis
Best Upscale Restaurant in St. Louis – ELAIA
Best Inexpensive Restaurant in St. Louis – Hi Pointe Drive In
Restaurant with the Most Unique Atmosphere in St. Louis – St. Louis Boathouse
Best Sushi in St. Louis – Midtown Sushi
Best Mexican Food in St. Louis – Mission Taco Joint
Best Italian Food in St. Louis – Charlie Gitto’s on The Hill
Best Steakhouse in St. Louis – 801 Chophouse
Best Brunch Spot in St. Louis – Half & Half
Best Restaurant in St. Louis County – Olive + Oak (Webster Groves)
Top College Student-Friendly Restaurant in St. Louis: El Burro Loco (Central West End)
Located in the lively Central West End neighborhood, students from both Saint Louis University and Washington University flock to El Burro Loco (El Burro for short). Thanks to its central location in one of the most upbeat St. Louis neighborhoods, cheap food, and cheap margaritas (21+), El Burro has become a staple among students in the St. Louis Area.
El Burro Loco is located at 313 N Euclid Avenue in St. Louis, MO. El Burro is open for lunch, dinner, and late night drinks. While the restaurant is open on the weekends until 1 AM, alcoholic beverages sales end at 11 PM per city mandates as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the warmer months, patrons can enjoy their meal on the restaurant’s patio. Learn more about El Burro Loco and view their menu on their official website.
Where to Drink in St. Louis
Best Bars in St. Louis
The College Points Recommends: Three-Sixty
Sitting atop the Hilton St. Louis at Busch Stadium, Three-Sixty has become one of the top bars in the St. Louis Area. St. Louis’ highest rooftop bar, Three-Sixty offers views of Downtown, Busch Stadium, and the St. Louis Gateway Arch. Featuring an expansive bar and full-service dinner menu, there’s no shortage of things to drink and eat while taking in some of the best views in the city.
The College Points Recommends: Urban Chestnut Brewery and Biergarten (Midtown)
One of St. Louis’ best known craft brewers, Urban Chestnut operates a handful of physical locations throughout the St. Louis area. One of Urban Chestnut’s most unique locations is the breweries Midtown Biergarten. According to the brewery “With a German biergarten and developing barrel-aging program, our Midtown Biergarten represents the Reverence side of Beer Divergency – paying homage to the traditions of classic, European brewing styles.” The atmosphere is very unique with the space coming alive during the brewery’s annual celebration of Oktoberfest. With around a dozen beers on tap with a menu updated weekly, Urban Chestnut’s Midtown Biergarten is the a craft beer fiends dream.
Other Top Bars in St. Louis
Best Upscale Bar in St. Louis – The Lobby Bar
Best Bar for Craft Drinks in St. Louis – Juniper
Best Wine Bar in St. Louis – Scarlett’s Wine Bar
Best Bar for Nightlife in St. Louis – Atomic Cowboy
Best Bar for Day Drinking in St. Louis – John D. McGurk’s Irish Pub
The College Points Recommends – Best Bar for College Students (21+): Narwhal’s Crafted (Midtown)
Both Saint Louis University (Midtown) and Washington University (Central West End/Clayton) lack one key aspect of the college experience, a true college bar. This is the result of both campuses being located in urban areas that aren’t conducive to playing host to a college dive bar. However, there are still a number of fantastic bars easily accessible to both SLU and WashU students. One of these is Narwhal’s Crafted in Midtown. Narwhal’s requires all patrons to be 21 years of age or older to enter. This is because Narwhal’s serves adult beverages and only adult beverages. It’s a bar and nothing more. But that works in Narwhal’s favor.
Narwhal’s Crafted is famous for their frozen alcoholic drinks. The consistency of a smoothie, Narwhal’s frozen drinks are amazing. They don’t skimp on the booze and they’re really flavorful. Narwhal’s also offers more traditional drinks as well as your standard domestic beers and house wines. The atmosphere is also very relaxed but still upbeat. It’s great for both small and larger groups. Thanks to its location and reasonably priced drinks, it’s also great for college students (21+) in the St. Louis area.
Where to Do & See in St. Louis
Located in the unfortunately named “fly over country”, St. Louis’ unique attractions are often overlooked. However, there’s no shortage of things to do and see in the St. Louis region. Whether you’re looking for an active weekend outside or a laid back weekend indoors, there’s plenty to do in St. Louis.
Top Attractions & Activities in St. Louis
The College Points Recommends: The Gateway Arch
Come on, you knew it was going to be in this guide. No trip to St. Louis is complete without a visit to the Gateway Arch. Completed in 1965, the Gateway Arch stands 630 feet (192m) making it the tallest man-made monument in the Western Hemisphere. Designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen (who also designed the TWA terminal at JFK Airport), the Gateway Arch commemorates westward expansion of the United States. The Arch is located on the grounds of the Jefferson Memorial Expansion. Towering over the city, the Gateway Arch is both a beautiful and bizarre sight.
The Gateway Arch isn’t just something to gaze upon. Located below the Jefferson Memorial Expansion, visitors can access a visitors center and take a ride to the top of the Arch. Atop the Arch, visitors enjoy stunning views of both St. Louis and Western Illinois. The Gateway Arch has reopened to the public. However, it is recommended that tickets are purchased in advance as capacity restrictions have been implemented. Tickets for the tram ride to the top start at just $12 for adults and $8 for visitors under the age of 15. Learn more on the Gateway Arch’s official website.
The College Points Recommends: A Day in Forest Park
Beloved by St. Louisans and visitors alike, St. Louis’ Forest Park is one of the nation’s top urban parks. Often referred to as the Heart of St. Louis, Forest Park covers 1,326 acres (that’s over 57 million square feet). Forest Park is situated between far eastern St. Louis County and the Central West End neighborhood of St. Louis City. The park is best known as the home of the 1904 World’s Fair and 1904 Olympics. However, the park continues to remain a major destination over a hundred years later.
Forest Park features a number of popular St. Louis attractions. Attractions include the Saint Louis Art Museum, Missouri History Museum, the St. Louis Zoo, part of the St. Louis Science Center, miles of bike paths, wooded trails, an ice skating rink, and two golf courses. One can easily spend an entire day exploring the park. Park access is free with certain attractions within the park costing only a few dollars to access. You can learn more about Forest Park on Forest Park Forever’s official website.
Things To Do In St. Louis
Best For/More Info
Castlewood State Park
Outdoors/Hiking: All Ages
St. Louis Art Museum
Museum: Ages 12+
Missouri History Museum
Museum: Ages 12+
The Wheel at Union Station
Attraction: All Ages
St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station
Entertainment: All Ages
Historical Site: All Ages
Weldon Springs Radioactive Waste Site
Weird: All Ages
The Magic House Children's Museum
Museum: Families (Children Ages 4-10)
St. Louis Zoo
National Blues Museum
Museum: Ages 12+
Missouri Botanical Garden
Outdoor Theater (Seasonal): Ages 12+
Steinberg Ice Skating Rink
Urban Ice Skating Rink (Seasonal): All Ages
Missouri Wine Country
Places to Check Out When in St. Louis
In addition to the sights and attractions we’ve included in out St. Louis travel guide, there is so much more to do and see in the St. Louis region. With hundreds of neighborhoods, there’s something for everyone in St. Louis. We’ve also included a few of our favorite St. Louis shops and other places in the table below.
Cherokee Street Antique Row
Clementine's Naughty & Nice Creamery
Ice Cream Parlor
Dictate Never Accept
High End Retail
John Vivano & Sons Grocers
Italian Grocery Store
Left Bank Books
Central West End
East + West
Central West End
Bottom Line: St. Louis Travel Guide
St. Louis, Missouri has been ranked as one of the top trending destinations, one of the most affordable vacation spots, and one of the best cities for a quick getaway. Centrally located and affordable, there is much more to St. Louis then meets the eye. The region should not be overlooked as a vacation spot. When visiting St. Louis, be sure to consult our St. Louis travel guide for the best attractions, restaurants, bars, accommodations, and more.