St. Louis is one of those hidden gems that has a surprisingly diverse appeal. From the great performing and fine arts indoor and out to the food, the history, the sports., St Louis is a wonderful getaway for families, groups of friends, empty nesters and bargain hunters. It’s easy to find plenty of things to do in St Louis.
Plan a St. Louis getaway to this midwest city and prepare for fun.
Fine Arts Lovers’ Things to Do in St Louis
As a college student, I went to the Saint Louis Art Museum at least once a month, just to bask in the Water Lilies. And gaze at Degas’ Little Dancer. I could pop in at any time to spend just 30 minutes or so since the museum was free.
The Saint Louis Art Museum, aka SLAM, is one of the top things to do in St. Louis. It is still free and still filled with remarkable works of art, from the largest private collection of the work of Max Beckmann to Picassos, Cezannes and ancient and modern art.
Fun fact: the Saint Louis Art Museum was the only permanent exhibition facility built for the 1904 World’s Fair.
SLAM has a summer Art Hill Film Series on three Fridays in July with music, food trucks and a movie, all outdoors. It’s one of the best free things to do in St. Louis.
SLAM does charge for special exhibits. In February, the ticketed Matisse and the Sea opens.
A short drive from The Gateway Arch, Laumeier Sculpture Park in Saint Louis County has more than 70 outdoor sculptures. There are also walking and hiking trails. Laumeier Sculpture Park is free and open daily, from 7 am to 30 minutes past sunset.
The urban Citygarden Sculpture Park, in downtown St. Louis, has water fountains and gardens in addition to outdoor sculptures.
The Grand Center Arts District includes both the Fabulous Fox Theatre and St. Louis Symphony Orchestra at Powell Hall, as well as two free art museums: the Pulitzer Arts Foundation and the Contemporary Art Museum.
The neighboring art museums – literally next door to each – should be visited together. The Pulitzer Arts Foundation, which has no permanent collection, presents two exhibits a year. The three sculptures in its collection are permanently on view.
One of the large-scale sculptures, “Joe,’ by Richard Serra, is in the courtyard shared by both museums. Be sure to walk through the spiral sculpture, named for Joseph Pulitzer Jr.
The Pulitzer has been expanding its footprint, adding a garden and contemplative space across the street. Called Park-Like, the outdoor space is a series of rain gardens, filled with native plants.
Then, around the corner, the ruins of an old church, the Spring Church, are used for arts programs and events like ‘Laugh Yoga.’ There is also a Tree Grove behind the Pulitzer, where you can picnic or just enjoy the shade.
The Contemporary Art Museum often features one contemporary artist at a time in its ground-level space. In its upstairs galleries, it focuses on community art. CAM also does not have a permanent collection.
The Grand Center Arts District also includes High Low, an arts center with a gallery, performance space and cafe with excellent coffee and pastries. Don’t miss the open-air graffiti art galleries, The Walls Off Washington.
Performing Arts: Nightlife in St. Louis
The Fabulous Fox Theatre, a grand movie theater appropriately situated on North Grand Avenue in 1929, was renovated and reborn in 1982. Today, with a National Trust Honor Award from The National Trust of Historic Preservation, it presents more than 200 performances a year.
Nearby, Powell Hall, home of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, is renovating its historic 1925 home. The expansion, which will add rehearsal space and increase accessibility, will open in 2025, coinciding with the building’s centennial.
The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, the second oldest in the country, has a free annual concert in Forest Park. The orchestra will play in other theaters around St. Louis while its home is renovated.
This opera company stages all productions in English and is accompanied by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. Its spring/summer season is in residence at Webster University, after the college semester ends.
The Opera Theatre is dedicated to presenting new work and building community. It offers 50 free seats at every performance, first come, first served. It also sets up tables outside the theater, so operagoers can picnic before the show, and come back at intermission for dessert.
The Black Rep
The Black Rep, started in 1976, presents its season at Edison Theatre at Washington University in St. Louis. I saw productions here when I was at Washington U. Unlike the Opera Theatre, the Black Rep uses the university theater throughout the year.
In addition to attracting professional actors, the Black Rep has fellowships that train actors, stage managers and theater administrators.
Based in Forest Park, The Muny has theater all summer. For over a century, the Muny has offered outdoor productions of Broadway shows.
Things to Do in St. Louis for Foodies
The first place you have to go is the City Foundry STL food hall. The transformation of a century-old Century Electric company manufacturing site emphasizes local food purveyors.
City Foundry is not just about food. There is also an outpost of City Winery, the small-scale live music and event venue that started in New York City but was founded by a fellow graduate of Washington University in St. Louis.
More than Food
And the artisans curated for the ‘makers’ part of City Foundry are like an Etsy site come to life. Women and minority-owned businesses include sustainable gift shops, locally designed sneakers and clothing, vintage fashion and a bike store.
What I liked most about City Foundry was the wide pedestrian ‘boulevard’ that separates the food hall from the businesses. It encourages a symbiotic relationship and creates a streetscape where trucks once roamed. There is plenty of outdoor seating, so you can take your food and brews outside in nice weather.
The food has a wonderful mixture of ethnic cuisine, from Argentinian empanadas to Afro-Caribbean to tacos that have Japanese and Korean influences.
I sampled a vegan dosa, a vegetarian bowl with ancient grains and lots of veggies, and wild mushroom pizza. You can also try a St. Louis specialty, toasted ravioli.
Local James Beard Award winner Gerard Craft is in charge of the pizza and the bar. The bar has local beer on tap and craft cocktails.
There is also an Alamo Drafthouse, which has 10 movie theaters, all of which offer meals and beer (or cocktails) delivered to your seat; Puttshack, which has indoor mini golf (with beer); and Sandbox VR, a virtual reality experience.
Soulard Farmers Market, the oldest public market in the United States west of the Mississippi River, is open year-round, Wednesday – Saturday. You can get everything from local produce to exotic spices, prepared food, baked goods and flowers.
The Lucky Accomplice, near Soulard, takes advantage of the fresh produce and local meat at its restaurant and bar. We had a tasting of everything on the menu (I stopped after the vegetarian choices). But there was plenty of inventive fare to sample.
Beer and Spirits: Things to Do in St. Louis for Adults
I may have mentioned beer a few times. St. Louis is, after all, the home of Anheuser Busch, makers of Budweiser. And even though Anheuser-Busch Brewery is no longer locally owned, it still has the famous Clydesdales, which are trotted out on opening day at Busch Stadium.
But St. Louis is no longer a one-brew town.
4 Hands Brewing Company in LaSalle Park, near downtown St. Louis, has a huge tasting room with a wide variety of tasty locally-made beers. The hoppy City Wide was delicious and one dollar of each case sale goes towards St. Louis non-profit organizations. A great reason to drink more beer!
The beer is on tap at the Missouri Botanical Garden.
4 Hands has a line of hard alcohol, with 1220 Spirits specializing in gin and amaro and Withered Oak, a line of bourbon. You can get craft cocktails at the tasting room. While you imbibe, you can get lunch or dinner, and play free Skee-Ball and arcade games.
If hard alcohol is your thing, stop by Still 630 for amazing gin and a geeked-out collection of idiosyncratic ‘experimental’ spirits.
The best way to try the gin, bourbon, and other spirits is to go here on a Friday evening for cocktails. The bare-bones distillery has rotating cocktails every month, encouraging loyal fans to return again and again.
You can also take a weekend Grain to Glass Distillery Tour, which includes a tasting.
In case you’re wondering, the 630 stands for the 630-foot height of the Gateway Arch.
The Missouri Botanical Garden opened in 1859. Its 79 acres include a Japanese Garden with a lake, bridges and lanterns, in addition to a rock garden and trees and plants found in Japan. This is a great garden in winter; in the Japanese Garden, snow is considered to be a flower.
The Geodesic Dome Conservatory, The Climatron, is also good to visit in inclement weather. The climate-controlled dome, built using Buckminster Fuller principles, has no interior support and no columns from floor to ceiling. What it has is around 24,000 square feet of light-filled space for tropical plants.
Women of a certain age take note: the warm, humid Climatron could easily trigger a hot flash.
Of course, there is plenty to see outside. In fact, there is so much to see, you might want to take a hop-on, hop-off tram tour to get around. There is a large rose garden, an English Woodland Garden and a Sensory Garden.
The Missouri Botanical Garden also caters to art enthusiasts. It had a second Chihuly exhibit, Chihuly in the Garden 2023. But it owns several Chihulys that are scattered throughout the grounds.
The botanical garden has a Victorian home that you can visit, a large Children’s Garden with a seasonal splash pad and play area and a Center for Home Gardening, with 23 demonstration gardens offering ideas for home gardeners.
The restaurant Sassafras, in the expansive visitors center, has several vegan and vegetarian options.
The Jewel Box
In Forest Park, The Jewel Box, listed on the National Historic Register, is truly a gem. The renovated Art Deco conservatory blooms with permanent floral displays, along with seasonal flowers. It costs an adorable $1 to enter, unless you go Monday or Tuesday before noon, when it is free.
Love History? More Things to Do in St. Louis
St. Louis Union Station has a great history as the terminal for a rail line from the east. When rail travel fell out of favor, Union Station had a couple of different uses. Now it thrives as entertainment for the whole family. You can ride the giant Ferris wheel, explore the architecture in the 1894 luxury hotel and have a drink in the historic Grand Hall while enjoying the daily light show.
The historic train shed isn’t big enough to contain the St. Louis Wheel, but it now houses a Fire and Light Show on the Lake, a mini golf course, a carousel, the St. Louis Aquarium and many places to eat and drink.
City Museum – More than a Children’s Museum
City Museum, in a former shoe factory, is a marvel of fun for kids and adults. If you bring children here, they will want to slide down the giant slides and climb the reclaimed architectural elements throughout the museum. It is one of the best things to do in St. Louis with kids.
Children might not care about the history behind the building, but adults (who are also welcome to climb and slide) will find much to examine. The quirky founder of the City Museum incorporated cornices and pillars from other buildings, and reused machine parts to turn this vast space into a place that manufactures fun.
You can get a drink ( of course! This is St. Louis) and take a guided tour of the City Museum with an archivist.
The Missouri History Museum has several ongoing exhibits, including Painting Creole St. Louis and Soccer City, developed with Citypark (see below). A great way to find out more about St. Louis’ history is to take one of the walking tours. Learn about downtown St Louis, the Gateway Arch, Eads Bridge and the Old Courthouse, or Cherokee Street, the downtown of the South Side, on another tour.
Thursday Nights at the Museum, a weekly series, has special activities, including concerts, lectures and beer tastings. The museum also offers on-site tours, providing deep dives into the exhibits.
Things to Do in St. Louis for Sports Fans
I didn’t get a chance to see a game but I did see the soccer stadium, Citypark, which opened in 2022.
The food scene at the stadium is so strong that vendor stalls open to the street and to the stadium-goers. The vendors, curated by celebrated chef Gerard Craft, are all local restaurateurs.
Citypark has the first permanent and dedicated pet-friendly section in an MLS stadium. The stadium also has compost bins collecting food waste
And Citypark includes a plaza where it hosts live music and festivals.
Of course, St. Louis Cardinals baseball is also a huge draw. Busch Stadium rocks out whenever its beloved team plays.
Ballpark Village, a giant entertainment complex next to Busch Stadium, has restaurants, Cardinals Nation and Hall of Fame & Museum, Budweiser Brew House and Beer Garden and FOX Sports Midwest Live! You can even watch the St. Louis Cardinals without going to the ballpark. There is more than 40,000 square feet of outdoor space and seating and a huge state-of-the-art LED screen broadcasts the action.
Other St.Louis sports options include the St. Louis Blues, an NHL hockey team that plays at Enterprise Center. St. Louis no longer has an NFL team, but the St. Louis Battlehawks, part of the XFL, play at The Dome at America’s Center.
The Gateway Arch, the iconic structure on the Mississippi River, tops most visitors’ must-see lists. The tram to the top has a retro feel (while also observing safety regulations) and a ride should be taken at least once.
But one of the ironies of the Arch is that, while you can take fun pictures of the Arch from other places around the city – or from your luxury room at the Four Seasons Hotel – the views from the top are a bit of a letdown.
Partly, this is due to the tiny windows, and partly because – well, you are looking at the muddy Mississippi River, or straining to see Forest Park or Busch Stadium – and that’s about it.
SheBuysTravel Tip: If you DO go up the Gateway Arch – and you know you will want to – try to get a photo looking straight down. You can get both legs of the arch from the middle window.
Virtual Reality at the Gateway Arch
The Virtual Reality Theater lets you experience the Gateway Arch, with no claustrophobic tram ride. You get a ‘living’ recreation of the St. Louis riverfront in 1855, via a 3D headset. Definitely a fun and modern way to learn about the city and the Mississippi River.
St. Louis Riverfront Cruise
Part of the Gateway Arch National Park, take a guided tour on the Mississippi River by paddleboat. One-hour cruises run from March through November and are led by National Park Service Rangers, riverboat captains or a docent from the Missouri History Museum. There are also evening blues cruises with live music by local blues artists.
SheBuysTravel Tip: The Gateway Arch National Park has plenty of green space. If you are staying near the Gateway Arch, you can run along the winding paths early in the morning.
Taking the Whole Family? More Fun Things to Do in St. Louis
Many of the things to do in St. Louis discussed above are perfect for the whole family. But there are also a plethora of things designed just for families.
Housed in a Victorian mansion, The Magic House, St. Louis Children’s Museum has an outdoor play garden, a soccer-themed exhibit developed with St Louis City SC and hands-on learning for kids babies through age 11.
Grant’s Farm, built by Ulysses S. Grant, has a petting zoo and Clydesdales. You can see goats and deer, take a picture with Clydesdales and ride the carousel. Anheuser-Busch gives adults free Budweiser.
Nearby, Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site commemorates the life, career and presidency of Ulysses S. Grant.
The giant amusement park, Six Flags St. Louis, includes a water park and thrill rides for all ages. Open seasonally.
More Forest Park Attractions
In addition to the St. Louis Art Museum (see above), Forest Park has two more world-class institutions: The Saint Louis Science Center and The St Louis Zoo. They aren’t only for kids, but children are sure to love them.
The Saint Louis Science Center has a planetarium, with laser light shows and an IMAX theater, plus interactive exhibits. If you are adventurous, take a ride on a flight simulator or explore the universe from a VR Transporter. The interactive science museum has exhibits on space, energy, earth sciences and more.
The free St. Louis Zoo has large mammals like elephants, lions and tigers and bears (oh my!) and giraffes. There are also apes, alligators, Gila monsters, owls, penguins and sharks – pretty much any animal you can imagine.
The zoo also has many paid attractions, including a carousel, railroad, season stingrays at Caribbean Cove, animatronic Dinoroarus, 4D theater, bird show and sea lion show. The carousel’s hand-carved wooden animals replicate protected and endangered species seen at the Saint Louis Zoo.