St. Louis Zoo To Open Animal-Themed Hotel

St Louis zoo hotel penguins
Flickr, Jorge Rodrigo Gonzalez

The St. Louis Zoo has some major expansion plans in store for the next several decades, including an open savannah, a gondola crossing the park, a formal restaurant and a boutique hotel. The Missouri zoo will be making big changes to their existing park and developing a new site, bringing the total campus to over 100 acres, and creating new animal habitats and attractions. Don’t get ready to book yet, the full strategic plan is not due until the end of 2014, and construction could still be well into the future.

Where else can you overnight with animals, even if you don’t have kids?
Cincinnati Zoo has several after-hours options for families and kids, such as family camping outside the giraffe exhibit or inside the manatees building. You can even travel with the zoo on an African safari to Kenya.

Cleveland Zoo has a variety of fun overnight programs for children, but the adults have the option of a cash bar and make-your-own s’mores in the summer months. Costs are $90 to $300, depending on tent size.

The Houston Zoo Wild Winks program is primarily for children, but private events can be arranged. Want to sleep without the fishes? On November 1, adults can attend the annual Feast with the Beasts fundraiser event with 80 local restaurants providing food and drinks, animal appearances, and a performance by Smash Mouth. The zoo also hosts trips to Yellowstone, Alaska and Kenya.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park regularly offers “roar and snore” overnight camping excursions for children and families, and an “adults-only” option where you can learn animal facts for mature audiences only. Tickets range from $140-$264 per person, depending on age, membership, and tent size.

The Washington National Zoo hosts adults only for summer snore & roars including wine and cheese and an after-hours tour. Families and kids can choose their favorite animal or regional tour, from Amazonia to chimpanzees, but eat before you arrive, dinner is not on the menu.

Photo Of The Day: Arch, Arch & More Arch

Peter Rood, Flickr

Today’s featured photo comes from Gadling Flickr Pool member Peter Rood. The St. Louis Arch is certainly a sight to behold, and the angle of this image makes it quite impressive. Now tell us — what monument or building has impressed you the most?

We’d love to feature your photos and videos on Gadling, so please add them to our Flickr Pool (with Creative Commons licensing!), tag @GadlingTravel on Instagram or email us at OfTheDay@gadling.com.

Saddle Up And Bike Under The Stars In These Cities This Summer

Nick Nunns, Flickr

Somewhere in Chicago there’s a personal tiki bar on wheels. I’m not talking about the rental “cycle pubs” popular in cities and hipster burgs. This is a five-top cocktail table under a thatched roof, hitched to a bicycle. It passed me around midnight on the streets of Chicago’s South Loop a few years ago. Everyone at the “bar” took a turn on the bike while the rest of the pack chilled on tall stools, nursing longnecks.

These spectacles are part of the reason I love Chicago’s L.A.T.E. Ride. The 25th annual event starts around midnight on June 30 this year from downtown’s Grant Park, and it’s not restricted to extreme thrill-seekers or serious cyclists. Around 8,000 bike riders of all levels (honestly, all levels – I’m living proof) show up to pedal through the city en masse. Most people come on a regular bike and wear everyday workout clothes, but the freaks and weirdos can’t resist the big audience and the slightly nuts wee-hours concept. Thank goodness. It wouldn’t be any fun without them.

Chris Koerner, Flickr

Late-night bike rides haven’t caught on like mud runs, but that’s a good thing. Rather than corporate-branded productions with dates in 45 cities, they’re organized locally and reflect the community. Such rides tend to fall into one of two categories: the nonprofit annual fundraiser on a closed course (meaning police block traffic on most streets along the route), and the unofficial weekly or monthly group ride alongside cars, organized by the area biking community. The first type will carry an entry fee, but there’s more support and festivities, and the route appeals to out-of-towners. The second type will probably be free and might have grown into an established, well-attended ride promising safety in numbers, though the starting point and route might not be as visitor-friendly. Either way, they tend to be well organized, somewhat of a workout but not too much and very safe.

Logistically, out-of-towners only have to worry about getting a bike to a ride that starts around bedtime and finishes around closing time. Most events don’t offer bike rental. You either have to drive to the event with your own bike, fly with one or rent one on your own once you arrive (and most bike rentals are priced for an hour or half-day of sightseeing, not overnight keepage). For the trouble, you get to ride in mild after-dark temperatures, see part of a city from an unusual perspective and do something kind of nutty. Spectators sit in bars and front yards along the route and cheer you on. Riders are hyped up on Red Bull to stay awake and inexplicably wearing Halloween costumes. Plus: free glow-in-the-dark T-shirts!

Here’s where you can saddle up this summer:

London and Paris: The Nightrider isn’t for beginners. The 100-kilometer (62-mile) ride takes six to eight hours to complete, starting at 10:30 p.m. But it’s probably one of the world’s most scenic workouts, passing nearly every major landmark in the city aglow against the starry sky. The Nightrider is organized by a producer of “worldwide charity adventures” called Classic Tours, and participants can raise money to offset some of the entry fee. June 8 for London and Sept. 21 for Paris, £39 and up

Indianapolis: The N.I.T.E. Ride fundraiser for the regional biking association is nearly as established as Chicago’s and covers 20 flat miles through the heart of the city, passing monolithic war memorials bathed in golden light. It attracts about 2,000 people. Before the 11 p.m. start time (early enough for a 1 a.m. finish), you can warm up on the city’s brand-new urban bike path, the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. June 22, $31

Denver: No bike? The Moonlight Classic is the only organized ride where you can rent wheels on site. Around 4,500 riders hit the 10-mile closed course, and unlike other events, they can choose a starting time. Join the Gonzo Wave for the 11:30 p.m. departure and you’ll have some fired-up company (see video). June 27, $40

Chicago: The L.A.T.E. Ride is a 25-mile flat route from downtown’s Grant Park through Chinatown, the Greek neighborhood and northside residential areas. It links to the city’s excellent Lakeshore Trail and runs right along Lake Michigan for 7 miles back to Grant Park. Problem is, that usually happens around 2, 3 or 4 a.m., and everything’s just pitch-black. You can’t even tell you’re near water. Still, this fundraiser for Chicago’s Friends of the Park Foundation draws an insanely large and entertaining crowd. Someone always dresses like the Blues Brothers. June 30, $45

St. Louis: The Moonlight Ramble got an auspicious start 50 years ago, when only one person showed up for the inaugural event in 1964. Now thousands attend and choose from a short closed route of 10.5 miles and a longer one of 18.5 miles. The route changes every year, but the timing coordinated to August’s full moon doesn’t. Everyone is done by 3 a.m. Aug. 17, $25

Los Angeles: In 2004, a group of counter-culture bikers called the Midnight Ridazz stopped partying long enough to put together a late-night ride open to anyone. Then they started hitting the streets the second Friday of every month, joined by about 1,000 others. The organizers have stepped down and the community they created has taken over, announcing loosely coordinated rides on the website. The Ridazz aren’t as menacing as the name suggests. They follow a set of “Rulezz” to keep the rides safe and organized. Ongoing, free


San Jose: The grassroots San Jose Bike Party covers between 15 and 30 miles the third Friday of every month, from around 8 p.m. to midnight. Though the course is not closed and the event doesn’t offer the live music and support vans like larger ones do, it’s still attended by 2,000 to 4,000 people and led by experienced volunteers. Ongoing, free

Paris: Several tour companies offer a nighttime excursion, taking in the big sights. To cruise with a pack of locals instead, rent one of the Velib bikes stationed around the city and join Rando Velo. Just show up at City Hall a little before 10 p.m. any Friday night. The leisurely route goes through the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 11th and 12th arrondissements, ending just after midnight. Ongoing, free

Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, A French Colonial Town In America’s Heartland

When we think of Colonial America, we generally think of the old parts of Boston, lovely New England port towns such as Marblehead, or Spanish colonial towns such as St. Augustine. America’s heartland has some colonial traces too. The best preserved and most distinct is the French colonial town of Ste. Genevieve, Missouri.

Located about 60 miles south of St. Louis, Ste. Genevieve was one of the first permanent European settlements in what is now Missouri. French settlers came here in the early 1730s. The first years were tough ones. The town was poorly situated on the Mississippi flood plain and often got soaked, leading the poor Frenchmen to nickname their town Misère, meaning “misery.”

The French were mostly from Canada and copied the architecture they were familiar with. Single-story houses had walls of vertical logs set into the earth and plastered in a style called poteaux-en-terre. A roof of wooden shingles extended past the walls to bring rain away from the house and a covered porch often ran all the way around the house.

Each lot was surrounded by a palisade of vertical logs to keep out the animals that strayed unattended around town. The tops of the logs were sharpened to keep out unwanted two-legged visitors as well. Inside each of these little forts was a yard, garden, barn and an outside kitchen, placed there to reduce the chance of a fire inside the house.

Ste. Genevieve did well as the center for the fur trade and many local farmers made extra income mining for lead and salt. When the region was sold to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase it kept its French character. Even as recently as a hundred years ago some residents spoke French in the home.

As well as keeping their culture they preserved many of their distinctive colonial houses. While you won’t see buckskin-clad trappers hauling their loads of furs onto shore from canoes, or French farmers heading out into the uninhabited woods with a flintlock over their shoulder in search of meat for the pot, Ste. Genevieve retains a strong historic feel. Many of the original 18th-century homes are open as museums and are stocked with period furniture.

Ste. Genevieve makes a good day trip from St. Louis, and an even better overnight. Several 19th century homes have been turned into bed-and-breakfasts and the shopping district is well stocked with antiques and gift items.

Being a regional attraction means the town keeps a full events calendar, including occasional reenactments, so you might just get to see those French trappers and hunters after all.

President Obama’s Favorite Pizza Squares Off Against A College Favorite

pi pizza in st louisWho could resist trying a pizza fit for the President of the United States? Last week, I visited a friend in St. Louis and he mentioned that President Obama offended some in his adopted hometown of Chicago a few years ago by choosing a St. Louis pizzeria called Pi to cater a pizza party at the White House, after having tried and liked their pizza at a campaign event at the St. Louis Arch.

Any pizzeria worthy of the President’s admiration is one I want to try, but I was just in Italy for five weeks earlier this year and ate at Da Michele, a pizzeria that many consider to be the best in the world. The pizza at Da Michele is otherworldly and cheap too, so I was skeptical that Pi could measure up but was still eager to give it a shot.

We met at Pi’s Washington Avenue branch, which is in a stunning, high-ceilinged building in downtown St. Louis. My friend and I decided to split a large, thin-crust Central West End pizza, which comes with mozzarella, prosciutto, goat cheese, cherry tomatoes, red onions, and a mountain of arugula.Pi’s thin-crust pizza has very tasty, super thin, almost crispy crust that I found to be outstanding. All of the ingredients were first-rate and the pizza melted in my mouth. For my taste, there was too much arugula and not enough prosciutto, but that’s splitting hairs.

My only complaint about this pizza is the portion and the price, $21. With crust this thin, I could practically eat the large by myself. I had four good-sized slices – half the pie – but I wasn’t full. It’s more than a little unfair to compare a pizza with a slew of toppings in St. Louis to a cheese pizza in Italy, but I’m going to do so anyways.

At Da Michele, the large cheese pizza is just over $6 and is so good you want to get a job at the place, or, better yet, move in upstairs to benefit from the aroma. Over the last decade or so, the gourmet pizza craze has hit every good-sized city in the U.S. to the point that you can get really good, wood-fire pizza fairly easily. But the prices can be ridiculous. In Italy, pizza is never expensive – never. And it shouldn’t be here either.

shakespeare's pizzaWith that ethos in mind, I tried another well-hyped Missouri pizzeria called Shakespeare’s, in Columbia just a few days after our Pi experience. I was just as anxious to try Shakespeare’s because fellow blogger Sean McLachlan wrote that it was “the best I’ve ever had and I’ve been to Rome.”

Shakespeare’s is located right next to the University of Missouri’s main campus in downtown Columbia and the unpretentious vibe couldn’t be more of a contrast to the sleek, trendy interior at Pi’s downtown location. We sat underneath a large sign advertising “Liquor, Guns & Ammo,” and I fell in love with the place after having a look at their homemade food pyramid, which values pizza, candy and my other favorite foods above broccoli and fruit.

We ordered a large sausage pizza and it was tasty, huge and cheap at $15.50. The circumference of the pizza was probably similar to the one at Pi, but the crust was more substantial and filling. That said, I thought that the pizza at Pi was a lot tastier. I ate every morsel of the crust at Pi, but the crust at Shakespeare’s was flavorless.

Verdict: Pi wins the Battle of Missouri for my taste, but even pizza fit for the President should cost less.

Note: Pi now has a location in D.C. as well.

(Photos: first photo by Stlbites on Flickr, second by Dave Seminara)