Getaway to the Gateway: St. Louis, Missouri

By Charlene S. Mixa

A Vibrant City Offering an Array of Activities

The Gateway Arch and St. Louis Riverfront

The Gateway Arch and St. Louis Riverfront

On the shores of the mighty and muddy Mississippi is a vibrant city that offers a rich past, an active present and an exciting future. St. Louis may have started with the Laclede fur traders, steamers and barges on the remarkable Mississippi River but it quickly grew to a major port city and became the Grand Dame of industry along with New York and San Francisco. Today, St. Louis is a remarkable travel destination where visitors learn its expansive history and experience the array of activities at this great vacation getaway.

Ready to embark on our visit to the Gateway City, we begin at the Marriott St. Louis Union Station hotel, a distinctive landmark in the heart of the city. Actually the former train station has been beautifully converted into a hotel that still exudes its fascinating history. An architectural masterpiece, designed to be the “grandest of the grand” train stations it retains its extravagant feel. Showcased in the Grand Hall of the hotel is the fabulous Tiffany stained glass “Allegorical Window” that dramatically presents St. Louis as the Grand Dame of industry. With three stately ladies representing the major railroad cities of the time, San Francisco and New York gaze at the reigning St. Louis in the center. This priceless window was amazingly discovered intact during the station’s renovation.

St. Louis Union Station view of the original boarding area

St. Louis Union Station view of the original boarding area

The Marriott St. Louis Union Station provides all the up-to-date services and amenities while retaining the station’s history and architectural elegance. The Grand Hall is now a plush lounge. Crossing the bridge connecting the Grand Hall to the guest rooms we view the former passenger boarding area which still has all the feel of a train station but now is home to numerous specialty shops. At the end of a corridor is our king suite featuring crisp white luxury bedding with a custom duvet and down comforter. An overstuffed chair and ottoman provide a comfy place to relax, while the spacious desk gives an area to plan our daily itinerary using the high-speed Internet access. There is also an LCD TV with premium cable channels and a well appointed upscale bathroom. Views of the city and station are seen from a large window. www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/stlus-st-louis-union-station-marriott/

Our hotel is just steps from the city’s premier shopping and dining destinations and only minutes to the numerous attractions of St. Louis. Touring the hotel, the first and second floors of the former station areas now sport a variety of shops, eateries and restaurants including a Hard Rock Café. We spot the Visitor Kiosk getting maps and suggestions for our visit.

The Lumière Place Casino and Hotels’ complimentary shuttle whisks us off to dinner at the House of Savoy. A Tuscan-style restaurant offering authentic Italian cuisine it is located in the Hotel Lumière. The service is excellent as our waiter makes suggestions for dinner and even shares ideas for our visit. We start with the Pere e Gorgonzola, a crisp spring salad of poached pears, candied pecans, and gorgonzola cheese lightly drizzled with a honey-rosemary dressing. The seafood entree of a savory blackened salmon filet, large grilled prawns accompanied by asparagus with red and yellow peppers and fingerling potatoes entices Richard. My Salmone alla Griglia, a grilled salmon filet topped with salmoriglio marinade with sautéed baby spinach and roasted potatoes is mouthwatering. Sharing a rich chocolate cake layered with mousse and coffee ice cream is a wonderful finale to our dinner. Now to the casino! Will we be winners or “donators”?

St. Louis from the top of the Arch

St. Louis from the top of the Arch

Visiting in July, it’s an early start to beat the summer heat and visitors to the Gateway Arch Riverfront. Hurrah! Arriving before 9:00 AM there are no lines. Gazing up at the 630-foot Arch, our nation’s tallest man-made monument, is breathtaking. This amazing view is only half the experience. Quickly passing through security we are soon on the small five-passenger tram to the top of the Arch. Celebrating Thomas Jefferson and St. Louis’ role in the westward expansion of the United States, the Gateway Arch and Old Courthouse sit on more than 90 acres of beautifully landscaped green space along the Mississippi River. A four minute ride up and we exit to a hallway with spectacular birdseye views to the of St. Louis and the gleaming Mississippi River. As the sun rises over the arch it creates a perfect shadow of the arch across city.

Next it’s a self guided tour of the Old West in the Museum of Westward Expansion at the Gateway Arch Visitor Center. We learn how mountain men lived in the 1800s and view the many Indian Peace Medals from Kings and Presidents. Phenomenal scenic photographs take us along Lewis and Clark’s journey from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean. At the Tucker Theater we witness the breathtaking construction of the Arch in “Monument to a Dream,” an award-winning documentary of this engineering feat.

Just a few steps from the Gateway Arch Visitor Center we board the Tom Sawyer, a replica 19th-century paddle-wheel boat, for a one-hour sightseeing Gateway Arch Riverboat Cruise. The Captain shares in depth history of this infamous mighty Mississippi River that continues as a major player in commerce and industry. The largest river system in North America it flows entirely within the United States, rising out of Minnesota and meandering southward for 2,320 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. Tourists are snapping photos of the sensational views of the Arch and sights along the river. Our cruise gives great insight of the Mississippi River and its impact on St. Louis and our country.

Olde Cathedral St. Louis

Olde Cathedral St. Louis

Walking through the Gateway Arch Riverfront Park, we visit the Old Cathedral, where in 1770 the first Catholic Church in St. Louis was built on a site dedicated by Pierre Laclede, St. Louis’ founder. Accordingly, the early history of St. Louis and the Old Cathedral are intertwined. When plans were made for the Gateway Arch Riverfront as a memorial to Thomas Jefferson, the Old Cathedral was the only building saved. Now the Basilica of St. Louis, King of France, “The Old Cathedral” stands as a reminder of the expansion of faith throughout the west.

Lunch is close by at the Point of View Restaurant located in the 720 Building on Olive Street. Taking the elevator to the 30th floor and seated by the large glass window, we gaze out at panoramic views of St. Louis, the Gateway Arch and more city sights. With a modern décor, the Point of View Restaurant only serves lunch; however, it is part of the Patty Long Catering Company which has an extensive catering business. Our entrees of steelhead trout amandine with grilled asparagus and tasty rice blended with corn and diced carrots are very tasty and filling. Dessert is a delightful Raspberry Cheesecake.

The unique City Museum

The unique City Museum

The Downtown Trolley is a “hop on and off” service that runs every 20 minutes to sights of the downtown area and is only $2.00 a day. Hopping off at City Museum, we gaze at this four story building with a Ferris wheel on top and a massive maze outside. Two airplane fuselages and a school bus hang off the edge of the building connected by wired tunnels winding around and through all four stories of the building. Known as Monstrocity it is the only monolithic, monstrous montage of monkey bars in the world. Unbelievable! Fun, creative and bizarre, City Museum is fantastic interactive museum for kids of “all” ages. Inside it is loud, noisy and jammed. Each floor has themes to educate, chill and thrill from multi-story slides, to gopher (people) cages tunneling underneath a display to educational areas. City Museum is an architectural marvel where old or disused items from the city are imaginatively transformed into a new use in this mixture of funhouse and playground. After our fun visit to City Museum, it’s time to relax.

For the evening we head to Laclede’s Landing that was founded centuries ago as a bustling center of trade and commercial activity and is now one of St. Louis’ most active and interesting places to work, play, dine and visit. Its cobblestone streets are a reminder of 1764, when French fur trader Pierre Laclede established a trading post on the western bank of the Mississippi, which is now St. Louis. We walk along seeing the century-old brick and cast-iron façade buildings which are both functional and architecturally significant. Today Laclede’s Landing is a mix of shops, restaurants and offices.

We stop for dinner at Morgan Street Brewery and Restaurant, a St. Louis brew-pub featuring handcrafted beers and an excellent variety of foods. Housed in a pre-1844 building at Laclede’s Landing it has a rich architecture and warm interiors highlighted by burnished wood and exposed brick. Our sandwiches of The Brew Burger and The Maryland Blue Crab Cake are scrumptious and are great with the excellent microbrews of a hearty Red Lager and their milder Honey Wheat beer. After our dinner we check out more of Laclede’s Landing which is bustling this evening.

Schroedrer Plaza, Missouri Botanical Garden

Schroedrer Plaza, Missouri Botanical Garden

We awake to a welcoming overcast day that cools off the summer heat. Our first stop is the Missouri Botanical Gardens, a National Historic Landmark and the oldest botanical garden in the United States. Covering 79 acres of magnificent gardens, we begin with the tram ride that takes us through the gardens as a guide educates us on its founding in 1859 by Henry Shaw, its expansion over the years and points out each of the garden collections. So much to see! We stroll through the Rose Garden, the Climatron, a Rock Garden, an extensive children’s area and the Linnean House, named for Carl Linnaeus the father of plant classification. The Botanical Gardens has it all from Japanese to St. Louis inspired areas to architecturally significant buildings, inspirational fountains and statuary. At the home garden center we even get ideas for our own yard and garden. Rains come preventing further outdoor exploration.

At the Schlafly Bottleworks we take the noon free brewery tour. Alex, our guide, explains that before Prohibition St. Louis had over 100 breweries. Afterwards it was basically just Anheiser Busch. Then in 1991 Schlafly Tap Room opened its doors, becoming the first new brewpub in Missouri since Prohibition. Schlafly later expanded, adding the Schlafly Bottleworks. Our tour covers all aspects of brewing and bottling in a microbrewery and Alex does a great job. In a large tasting room with a bar and high top tables we sample four beers of a Pale Ale, a Hefeweizen, Belgian Single, and the Dry Hoppa APA. Alex highlights the differences in smell, taste and color as we taste each beer. I prefer the Pale Ale with its smooth, balance and mildly spiced flavor and aroma. Richard likes them all put especially the Belgian Single, a nice, light straw-colored Belgian style beer. As the rains continue, we enjoy a tasty lunch in the Brewhouse of a flavorful grilled turkey sandwich brie and spinach and a unique bratwurst hamburger. The Brewhouse offers a variety of traditional favorites with a delightful culinary twist.

The rains stop and the skies clear as we arrive at Forest Park, a 1,371-acre urban park. The site of the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, the greatest of the World’s Fairs, it now home to the History Museum, Art Museum, Zoo, Science Center, and The Muny theatre and all have free admission. Driving through the park we see the 7.5 mile biking, jogging, and skating paths as well as several pristine lakes. At the Missouri History Museum the exhibit on the 1904 World’s Fair begins with the concept of this massive project. Through photos, memorabilia, recordings and videos we see how this became one of the most elegant and grand World’s Fairs, plus its impact on St. Louis’ future.

Missouri Art Museum

Missouri Art Museum

An extensive exhibit on Charles Lindberg’s life includes thrilling newsreels of his landing in Paris after the first transatlantic flight. In the St. Louis Art Museum the collection spans centuries from ancient Egypt to the present. A major attraction is the restoration of The Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi River Valley commissioned in 1850 by Dr. Montroville Dickeson of Pennsylvania. Artist John J. Eagan painted a series of 25 scenes from Dickeson’s travels along the Mississippi on a 348-foot 7-foot-9-inch roll of muslin cloth. Attached to two enormous spools the fabric scrolled to create a moving panorama, a popular form public entertainment in the 19th century. With the canvas attached to the spools, we are intrigued watching student artists carefully select colors and blends to restore the painting to its original splendor.

Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis

Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis

Later we visit the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis with its Romanesque architecture on the exterior. Entering the Cathedral with its Byzantine interior décor is like opening a treasure chest of glistening gold. The mosaic tile work is stunning and glimmers throughout the interior of the Cathedral. The visitors guide explains the mosaic scenes of the domes, narthex, and the other areas. Downstairs is an informative display of the building of the Cathedral and the process from design to installation of the magnificent and brilliant mosaics. It took over 75 years to complete this magnificent church.

Heading back to town, we end our evening at the Schlafly Tap Room, housed in a beautifully-restored wood and brick building on the National Historic Register. The Cardinal’s baseball team is in town and the Taproom is hopping. Waiting at the bar we learn the Taproom brews its own beers and actually brews over fifty styles of fresh Schlafly beer during a year.  The staff is terrific, smoothly handling the huge crowd on this hectic evening. Our dinners are the house special of snapper atop roasted potatoes, are excellent and are manly-size servings. Located close to downtown, the Taproom is only a few blocks from the St. Louis Union Station Marriott, it is a great ending to our getaway to the Gateway City.

If you go:

St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission, 701 Convention Plaza, Suite 300, St. Louis, MO 63101 314.992.0654 800.325.7962 www.explorestlouis.com

The “Explore St. Louis Visitors Guide” is great for planning a trip. View online at the website above or order a copy to mailed to you.

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About Charlene Mixa

Seeing new places, learning about cultures and seeing the sights has always been my dream. Growing up I was blessed with parents that enjoyed traveling and thought nothing of taking a family of seven on excursions. My career in Human Resources and later as a consultant for an international Human Resource firm offered some travel, but I knew as my husband and I approached retirement, my goal was to do more traveling and broader trips. The nine years since retirement has been filled with fantastic adventures from short local one day trips to several week excursions. Living in Florida, it is especially enjoyable to be away in the summer to cooler climates. Multi-week driving trips across the good ol' USA, settling in for a month in the mountains to explore the local area, or a combination of both fill much of our summer season. Our travels are predominantly self-orchestrated, bringing the fun and challenge of getting everything to click. It's all about doing and sharing! Experiencing a travel adventure is exciting. Reliving a special travel moment with a friend or family is exhilarating. I feel my heart race and pulse quicken, as I sharing that special moment. Thank you for joining in my travel adventures and allowing me to hear your stories.