Whether you're visiting for the first or 15th time, no visit to St. Louis would be complete without taking part in one of many iconic Gateway City experiences. From a trip to the top of the Gateway Arch, to catching a ballgame at Busch Stadium, to exploring one of the top-rated zoos in the country, any trip to St. Louis should definitely include a "must do" experience. But even though St. Louis has its fair share of high-profile attractions and sites, if you don't get out and explore beyond the well-known, you're truly missing out.
With a city as rich in history as St. Louis, it's no surprise that the true soul of the city and character of its people can be found in one of the many eclectic neighborhoods around town. So, the next time you're planning an adventure to The Lou, check out these three diverse neighborhoods to get off the beaten path.
Get Cultured in Midtown
Long recognized as the cultural hub of the region, Midtown is known for its emblematic institutions like Saint Louis University and the Grand Center Arts District. Culture aficionados have flocked to the neighborhood's arts district for decades to catch professional live theatre at the opulent Fox Theatre or a concert at Powell Hall – home to the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, the nation's second-oldest professional symphony orchestra, preceded only by the New York Philharmonic. The Grand Center Arts District is also home to the International Photography Hall of Fame & Museum, plus 16 other galleries and museums all dedicated to art and design.
Though commonly known for its cultural offerings, Midtown more recently has solidified its reputation as a mecca for the city's red-hot culinary scene. For a one-of-a-kind fine dining experience check out Bulrush, where James Beard Award finalist and Missouri native chef Rob Connoley serves up contemporary forage-inspired foods rooted in Ozark cuisine and tradition.
For barbecue lovers, check out Pappy's Smokehouse to savor what Food Network considers to be the #1 best barbecue ribs in the country. If you've got a sweet tooth that needs to be satisfied, stop in at Fountain on Locust for some of the best ice cream in Missouri. Housed in a former automobile factory, this neighborhood hot spot has a full menu of classic American diner-inspired dishes with local flare.
Become One with Nature in Shaw
Wide-open green spaces and dense residential blocks lined with beautiful historic homes interweave seamlessly in the Shaw neighborhood. This area is home to the internationally recognized, 80-acre Missouri Botanical Garden. With more than 6 million specimens from across the globe, no two visits to the garden are the same. Must-see areas include North America's largest Japanese Garden and the futuristic Climatron – a geodesic dome and the world's first completely air-conditioned greenhouse – which recreates a low land rainforest complete with waterfalls, exotic birds and tropical plants of all shapes and sizes. At the southern end of the neighborhood you'll find Tower Grove Park, providing ample opportunities for tranquil walks, bike rides and picnics.
After working up a sweat exploring Shaw's parks and gardens, cool off with a glass of wine, frozen desert or quick bite at one of the neighborhood's many local restaurants. Located east of the garden, Ices Plain & Fancy serves up an ever-changing selection of ice creams, boozy shakes, sorbets, floats and non-dairy desserts. But this isn't just any standard ice cream parlor, Ices uses liquid nitrogen to flash churn its ice cream at -321 degrees. The end result is a silky-smooth treat that's just as fun to watch being made as it is to eat.
A relative newcomer to the neighborhood is Fiddlehead Fern Café. The experience at this lively coffee and tea joint is heavily influenced by the nearby Missouri Botanical Garden – patrons can enjoy a whole host of artisan caffeinated drinks and a light food menu highlighting seasonal botanical ingredients. Come on Saturdays for local live music.
Get Your Groove on in The Grove
Long considered a sleepy, yet favorite location for LGBT travelers with its strip of gay-friendly bars and restaurants along Manchester Avenue, The Grove has skyrocketed to the top of the list of St. Louis' trendiest neighborhoods. Residential and commercial development throughout the area has boomed in recent years, creating an entertainment district with a diverse collection of bars, nightclubs, live music venues, restaurants and independent shops.
St. Louisans love their beer. So a stop in The Grove isn't complete without a visit to Urban Chestnut Brewing Company. This industrial-themed beer hall and brewery features European style cuisine and excellent people watching along Manchester Avenue. Think you love beer more than most? Walk across the street to Urban Chestnut's research bar and taste batches of experimental brews for a dollar plus your feedback.
Nearby, The Ready Room is a no-frills concert venue and bar with capacity for 750 people. The spot frequently hosts national touring acts, but for a true neighborhood experience, check out a performance by a local musician, standup comedian or artist nearly every weeknight. Down the street, The Gramophone plays hosts to regular dance parties led by local DJs and serves its full menu of killer soups and sandwiches until 2:30 a.m.
Written by Brian Rehme