10 things to do in St. Louis: how to enjoy the city like a local

Whether you like jazz or opera, historic sites or popular entertainment, the visual arts or dance, there’s something to satisfy every taste in St. Louis, Missouri. Centrally located, yet exotic in its quirkiness, this city on the Mississippi occupies a unique spot in our nation’s history as the Gateway to the West. The graciousness of the south meets the hustle-bustle of the north in “the Lou.” It’s a family-friendly town where kids and adults never run out of places to go and things to do.

Here are ten things to do in St. Louis that will make you feel like a local.

Walk through the belly of a whale in the City Museum.
Housed in the 600,000 square-foot former International Shoe Company (701 North 15th Street), the City Museum defies categorization. Dress comfortably in closed toe shoes so you can climb, slide, and explore.

Built with such recycled materials as a shoe factory’s conveyor belt, this stunning feast-for-the-eyes includes a museum-within-a-museum of architectural wonders, an art area where you can try your hand at being creative, and hands on circus entertainment. Need a pedicure? Visit the World Aquarium on the second floor and let the doctor fish (Garra rufa) nibble away your dead skin.

Eat “concrete.”
Under the green and yellow awning at Ted Drewes (two locations: 4224 S. Grand Blvd. or 6726 Chippewa St.) you’ll discover a “concrete,” a milkshake so thick you can turn it upside down. It’s the granddaddy of thick, frozen desserts. Don’t panic if you arrive to find a policeman directing the traffic overflow; the lines move quickly. Try the hometown favorite Terramizzou, a blend of frozen custard, chocolate, and pistachio nuts. (“Mizzou” is a nickname for University of Missouri.) Send up a cheer!
Rated by The Sporting News as one of the best sports cities in the US, St. Louis is home to outstanding professional baseball (the Cardinals), football (the Rams), hockey (the Blues), and soccer (AC St. Louis) teams. On game days, the whole city turns out in team colors.

Prefer motor sports? East of the city you can watch NHRA drag races or NASCAR races at Gateway International Raceway (Madison, IL).

Marvel at the more than 7,000 colors of mosaic tiles at the “New” Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.
The “New” Cathedral Basilica (ground was broken in 1907) boasts the world’s largest mosaic installation. Many were designed by Tiffany. When you visit, be sure to look for the red Cardinals’ caps (galeri) hanging from the ceiling. Legend has it that when a cap crumbles to dust, the soul of its former owner goes on to heaven.

Get down and funky in “the Loop.”

Named for an old streetcar turnaround, this unique neighborhood runs from 6000 to 6600 Delmar. Stop for dinner at one of its 45 restaurants, including Chuck Berry’s famous Blueberry Hill, where the vintage toy collection is sure to bring back memories. Enjoy the 140 unique shops located along Delmar’s “Walk of Fame,” where brass stars in the sidewalk commemorate such St. Louis-connected luminaries as Miles Davis, Josephine Baker, Kevin Klein, and Redd Foxx.

Eat toasted ravioli on “The Hill.”
Toasted ravioli is a St. Louis specialty. Your order will come with a rich tomato sauce for dipping. “The Hill” is a historically Italian neighborhood best known for its fine dining. Visit Trattoria Marcella (3600 Watson), and do like the locals. Order the lobster risotto even if it’s not on the menu!

Imagine an elephant running down the middle of a highway.
For more than 100 years, the St. Louis Zoo has thrilled animal lovers the world over. In 1997, the zoo celebrated the birth of its first Asian elephant, Raja. A few years later, the city’s favorite (pachyderm) son broke out of his enclosure, opened a zookeeper’s wallet and ate all the man’s cash. Dire predictions followed that Raja would escape the zoo grounds and wind up dodging cars on Highway 40. Today, you’ll visit Raja at the River’s Edge, his new enclosure.

Ride your bike “down in the Valley.”
Once submerged in the Flood of 1993, the low lands along Highway 40 (I-64/40) have been revitalized. Today the area known as “the Valley” hosts two million square feet of retail space, making it the longest outdoor strip mall in the country. Not only can you shop ’til you drop, you can also bike or walk the Chesterfield Monarch Levee Trail, which will eventually become a 17-mile loop directly behind the shops. When you get hungry, stop in at the Smoke House Market (16806 Chesterfield Airport Road), for a pastrami sandwich it takes two hands to hold.

Admire the Spirit of St. Louis.
Charles A. Lindbergh’s non-stop flight in 1927 from New York City to Paris was financed by two St. Louis businessmen. You can see a replica of the young pilot’s Ryan B-1 Brougham at the Missouri History Museum (5700 Lindell Boulevard). The museum also features the gifts and trophies presented to Charles Lindbergh and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

Ask, “What high school did you go to?”

St. Louis boasts more private schools than Chicago, which is four times its size. By hearing which high school you attended — if you attended locally — the questioner can figure out your religious preference, your ethnic background, your test score results, how wealthy your parents were, and whether or not you are “old” St. Louis. Bluff your way into the “old family” category by saying you attended MICDS or John Burroughs.

Joanna Campbell Slan is the author of the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series, which is set in St. Louis, Missouri. Her first novel, Paper, Scissors, Death, was an Agatha Award Finalist. Read her blog on Red Room.

[Photos: Flickr | Adam_d_; Mike Schmid; dyobmit; Clara S]