This is my second post about our family's time in St. Louis, Missouri. You can see the first post here. Because I blog about educational travel, I received complimentary admission tickets, discounts, media rates, and other benefits for some of the places we visited throughout the trip. Many attractions we toured are free to everyone; I paid full price for the rest. This has no bearing on my reviews. Everything I am sharing is something that I whole-heartedly recommend.
Family-Friendly Fun in St. Louis, Missouri
We spent some time exploring the grounds and the Arch itself. It's massive. Check out how tiny Trevor and I look!
There are four main things to do at Gateway Arch National Park: visit the Museum of Westward Expansion, tour the Old Courthouse, take the unique trams to the top of the Arch, and take a riverboat cruise on the Mississippi. I'd recommend doing as many of those as you can. My media passes let us either travel to the top OR take a cruise. We chose the cruise.
I'm so glad we did. The hour-long cruise was fully narrated (and air-conditioned!) and gave us a unique perspective of St. Louis. We learned all about the role of the Mississippi River in St. Louis history and its importance as a working river today.
I think this is the only photo we got of the three of us together during the entire trip. Cheese!
After the riverboat cruise, we headed to the museum, which is located underneath the Arch. We arrived just in time to see the 28-minute movie "Monument to the Dream" about the construction of the Arch. The film costs extra, but it is money well spent. I came away with a completely different view of the Arch and the utmost respect for those who designed and built it.
After the film, we visited the six galleries of the museum.
The museum is an excellent introduction to the history of Westward Expansion and Manifest Destiny in the US.
My favorite part of the museum was the sixth and final gallery, called Building the Dream. There were two exhibits in particular that I liked best: a display of the runners-up in the contest to design a monument and the hands-on exhibit about the tram system and shape of the Arch that Trevor is trying out below.
After the museum, we walked to the Old Courthouse.
The Old Courthouse was the site of the 1847 and 1850 Dred Scott trials, as well as where Virginia Minor fought for woman's suffrage in 1872.
After our busy morning, we were ready for lunch. As you know, I'm obsessed with trying local specialties, so it should come as no surprise that I planned St. Louis-style pizza for lunch. Apparently, Imo's Pizza is THE place to try it.
So what is St. Louis-style pizza? There are three defining characteristics: a cracker-thin crust made without yeast, Provel cheese, and pieces cut into squares or rectangles instead of triangular wedges. You can put whatever toppings you want on it. We chose ham and pineapple.
So what did the deRosiers think of Imo's St. Louis-style pizza? The cracker crust was unusual, but fine. The sauce was abnormally sweet, but fine. The rectangular slices were fine. And then there's the Provel. Trevor didn't like it at all (but ate it anyway) and both Steve and I agreed that mozzarella is a far superior choice over Provel. While we have been raving about Chicago-style and Detroit-style for the past year, there won't be any raving about St. Louis-style. It was fine and I'm glad I tried it, but Chicago and Detroit don't need to worry about the competition. Steve said it best: "It's as if someone described pizza to a person who had never heard of it before and this is what they thought it was supposed to be."
Our air-conditioned respite over, we walked back toward the hotel. Remember how I said that the Arch acts as a compass in St. Louis? In the areas where it is blocked from view, these handy stencils on the sidewalk keep you oriented correctly. I love tourist-friendly touches like this.
Just before we reached our hotel, we passed the Federal Reserve Bank, home of the Economy Museum. I REALLY wanted to tour it, but it had closed for the weekend right around the time our plane landed in St. Louis and wouldn't open until after we'd left St. Louis on Monday morning.
We arrived back at the Drury Inn, our home-away-from-home in St. Louis. The building was originally Union Market, built in 1866. After expansions and other renovations, it is now a 6-story hotel that retains many of the beautiful original features of Union Market.
We only stopped long enough to drop off souvenirs and grab our car, but I did take a few moments to snap some photos. This is the lobby, which is on the ground floor. I interacted with two different people at the front desk during our stay and both were very helpful, friendly, and welcoming.
The second, third, and fourth floors have meeting rooms and parking; guest rooms are on the fifth and sixth floors. In addition to rooms, the fifth floor has a large eating area (free breakfast in the mornings, free dinner and drinks during the evening 5:30 Kickback and free popcorn and fountain drinks around the clock).
In addition to the food area, there is a pool area, fitness room, and laundry room under that atrium. I loved how convenient everything was and how well it was set up for relaxing.
But alas, the deRosiers did not have time for relaxing. Not with a city to explore! Next stop: the St. Louis Science Center and Planetarium.
It is awesome. And it is free.
Fortunately, we have been to so many science museums that we'd seen many of the same exhibits elsewhere and didn't bother waiting our turn to try them. Instead, we focused on things we'd never seen before and waited for those. For example, this cylindrical ping pong table was something totally new to us!
When you go, don't miss the GROW Pavilion that is all about agriculture. It was the least crowded area of the museum when we were there.
After the science museum, we headed to the World Chess Hall of Fame, home to the world's largest chess piece. (It's 20 ft. tall and gorgeous.)
We had very little time in the 3-story chess museum before it closed, so we hurried through the galleries to see as much as possible.
I love clever bathroom signs.
We'd parked at a metered spot across the street from the Chess Hall of Fame, which happened to be in front of the St. Louis Chess Club. We went inside, not knowing what we'd find. As it turned out, we found a small crowd watching the final matches of the 2019 US Senior and Junior Championships on a screen. The contestants were upstairs. It was really neat.
Time for dinner! I'd read about Carl's Drive-In, home to one of the best burgers in the US and decided we had to go.
I'd heard all about their smashed burger patties with crispy edges, grilled so thin that a triple burger is the size of a standard burger elsewhere.
Here's what I hadn't heard - how tiny the place is. I took this photo while sitting at one of eight bar stools you can get to from one entrance. The door is about 2 feet behind me. That's the entire kitchen in front of me and another eight bar stools accessible from the other door. There's no way to get from one counter to the other without going out one door and back in on the other side of the building.
To my right, Steve, a drink station, and an exit out to the parking lot (it's a drive-in, after all).
We had to wait a few minutes for three barstools to open up, which was not a big deal. The food was outstanding and well worth the wait. However, if we'd had a larger group with us, it could have been quite some time before we were seated. So know that before you go. As the t-shirt says, "1 Location, 16 Stools, 60 Years."
We made one final stop before heading back to the Drury Inn. Citygarden is a fabulous park and sculpture garden. Its many water features made it a popular place to visit on such a hot day.
I had two favorite sculptures. Bunnies (because, of course bunnies)...
... and this giant zipper.
We arrived back at the Drury in time for the 5:30 Kickback. I was really impressed with the spread: hot dogs, a baked potato bar, salad, pasta, nachos, and more. The Drury is already reasonably priced for family travel, but when you consider that the room rate includes a full breakfast and a full dinner (in addition to free sodas, popcorns, and 3 alcoholic drinks per adult per night), it's a great bargain.
I only had one complaint about the Drury. Despite being a non-smoking hotel, our room had that faint stale smoking odor that doesn't go away no matter how much you clean it. We're very sensitive to smoke, so I don't know that most people would even notice, but I feel like I should mention it. We spent three nights without an issue, so I do recommend this property for its excellent location and many wonderful amenities.
After our insanely busy day, we were ready to collapse into bed. Tomorrow I'll tell you about our third and final day exploring the best of St. Louis.