Sights to See, Things to Do
The best resource for what’s happening in St. Louis is the free weekly paper, The Riverfront Times. Beyond the permanent options listed below, the Riverfront Times Event Calendar offers the most comprehensive listing of everything going on in the city.
Forest Park, officially opened to the public on June 24, 1876, is one of the largest urban parks in the United States. At 1,293 acres, it is approximately 500 acres larger than Central Park in New York. The 1904 World’s Fair (the Louisiana Purchase Exposition) drew more than 20 million visitors from around the world to Forest Park. Countless people continue to enjoy the park’s beauty to this day.
The Missouri History Museum has been active in the St. Louis community since 1866. Founding members created the organization “for the purpose of saving from oblivion the early history of the city and state.” Exhibits on the 1904 World’s Fair, World War I, and westward exploration are among the highlights of the museum’s many offerings. The museum is located in beautiful Forest Park, and admission is free to all.
The Saint Louis Art Museum was founded in 1879, at the close of a decade that saw the establishment of art museums in great cities across the eastern half of the United States. This museum’s comprehensive collections bear witness to the inspirational and educational goals to which its founder aspired and the moral and democratic imperatives he embraced. The famed statue of King Louis IX, an iconic image associated with the city, is located in front of the museum’s entrance. Housed in Cass Gilbert’s Palace of Fine Arts from the 1904 World’s Fair, the museum sits in Forest Park, and admission is free.
The Saint Louis Zoo was cited as the “Best Zoo in the Country” by USA Today in 2017, and is regularly ranked as one of the top ten zoos in the United States. Home to more than 18,000 exotic animals representing 700 species, the zoo is a microcosm of all the major continents and biomes of the world. The St. Louis Zoo has made every effort to house their animals in their natural habitats. Set in the rolling hills, lakes, and glades of Forest Park, the Saint Louis Zoo is a great place to visit anytime, and admission is completely free.
The Muny (the St. Louis Municipal Opera Theatre), an amphitheater in Forest Park seating 11,000 people, is America’s oldest and largest outdoor musical theater. During the Congress, you have a chance to see “Smokey Joe’s Cafe,” running July 14-20, and “The Sound of Music,” running July 23-29.
The Arts District (just north of SLU on Grand Avenue)
Founded in 1880, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (the second oldest in the United States) is recognized internationally as an ensemble of the highest caliber, performing a broad musical repertoire with skill and spirit. The Symphony continues to build upon its reputation for musical excellence while maintaining its commitment to local education and community activities. Powell Hall, constructed in 1925, reflects European elegance in the classic red, gold, and cream decor of the Wightman Grand Foyer, modeled after the royal chapel at Versailles.
The Fox Theatre, first opened in 1929 as a vaudeville theater, is a wonderful example of the opulent architecture characteristic of the early twentieth century, often referred to as Siamese-Byzantine. A few decades after opening, the theater went into a steep decline, ultimately closing in the 1970s. The building was restored to its original grandeur in 1982 and has hosted a rich variety of plays, musicals, and concerts ever since.
The nation’s tallest monument at 630 feet, the Gateway Arch beckons visitors with its iconic, awe-inspiring shape. The vision of renowned architect Eero Saarinen, the Gateway Arch commemorates Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase and the role St. Louis played in the westward expansion of the United States; a beautiful new museum underground beneath the Arch chronicles the history of the city. A visit to St. Louis is not complete without standing at its base and capturing some timeless images. And the view from the outside is only half of the experience: make sure to take a trip to the top for breathtaking views of St. Louis.
The Old Cathedral (Basilica of St. Louis, King of France), and its museum (entrance on the west side of the Cathedral), contain many artifacts and relics from the early days of the Catholic Church in St. Louis. When Pierre Laclede and Auguste Chouteau founded the city of St. Louis in 1764, Laclede dedicated the square west of his home as a church and graveyard. The first Catholic church in St. Louis, built on this site in 1770, was a small log structure. The present church, consecrated in 1834, was the first cathedral west of the Mississippi River. Built in the Greek Revival style, it contains, among other treasures, a painting of Louis IX donated by Louis XVIII. Because of the church’s historical significance, it was named a basilica by Pope John XXIII in 1961, and was the only riverfront building preserved from destruction when the Gateway Arch was constructed a few years later.
St. Louis Union Station, once the largest and busiest passenger rail terminal in the world, is now one of America’s great marketplaces. Union Station first opened in 1894, but ceased operation as an active train terminal in 1978. It reopened in August 1985 as the largest adaptive re-use project in the United States. The Grand Hall features the original “Allegorical Window,” a hand-made Tiffany stained glass window. Union Station is home to dining and shopping options, as well as a luxury hotel. Recently, the St. Louis Aquarium opened here, a 120,000-square-foot aquarium with over 13,000 animals across 44 exhibits.
Housed in the 600,000 square foot former International Shoe Company, the City Museum is an eclectic mixture of children’s playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel, made out of unique found objects. The brainchild of internationally acclaimed artist Bob Cassilly, a classically trained sculptor and serial entrepreneur, the museum opened for visitors in 1997 to the riotous approval of young and old alike.
Founded in 1859, the Missouri Botanical Garden (“Shaw’s Garden”) is the nation’s oldest botanical garden in continuous operation and a National Historic Landmark. The Garden is a center for botanical research and science education, as well as an oasis in the city of St. Louis. The Garden offers 79 acres of beautiful horticultural display, including a 14-acre Japanese strolling garden, an English woodland garden, a geodesic dome housing a fully tropical micro-environment, Henry Shaw’s original 1850 estate home, and one of the world’s largest collections of rare and endangered orchids.
Since its founding in 1852 by Eberhard Anheuser, Anheuser-Busch has been perfecting the brewing process, taking pride in producing some of the world’s finest beers, one batch at a time. From the finest, all-natural ingredients to the finished product, visitors of all ages will experience first-hand how Budweiser is brewed and packaged. The world famous Clydesdale horses are also housed on the brewery grounds and welcome visitors.
Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site preserves the remains of the most sophisticated prehistoric native civilization north of Mexico. Within the 2,200-acre tract lie the archaeological remnants of the central section of a massive ancient settlement. In 1982, UNESCO designated Cahokia Mounds a World Heritage Site for its importance to our understanding of the prehistory of North America. According to archaeological finds, the city of Cahokia was inhabited from about A.D. 700 to 1400. At its peak, from 1050 to 1200, the city covered nearly six square miles and was inhabited by 10,000-20,000 people. In 1250, the city was larger than London! Admission to this unique site is free, but donations are accepted and appreciated.