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]

Hidden Treasures: Ted Drewes Concrete Ice Cream in St. Louis

If you live in St. Louis, you know all about Ted Drewes. However, if you are just passing through, it’s worth a trip out of your way to stop and enjoy a Custard Concrete. Once you pay your first visit, you will never forget it.

Not only a hometown favorite, Ted Drewes is also known in the celeb-circuit. Elvis Presley use to fly into St. Louis just to stop in and today has a special custard concrete named after him, called the “All Shook Up.”

Ted Drewes has been in business since the South Grand store opened in 1931, by Ted’s father Ted Sr. The Chippewa store was added in 1941, on the old route 66 highway. To this day, both locations serve thousands of customers each year. It is a great way to cool off on those hot St. Louis summers.

Ted Drewes has two locations in St. Louis: 4224 South Grand Ave and 6726 Chippewa.

Carl Benjamin is a Seed.com contributor.

Going to the Major League Baseball All-Star Game? Here are 10 fun things to do in St. Louis.

On Tuesday, July 14, the St. Louis Cardinals and their new ballpark Busch Stadium will host the 2009 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, with the must-watch Home Run Derby taking place the night before. Thousands of people from around the country will be flocking to St. Louis to see the festivities, but many of them will know the city for only two things, baseball and beer. And really, what else is there?

Well, plenty. Here’s a look at ten fun things to do in St. Louis when you’re not catching Albert Pujols’ home run balls.

10. Imo’s Pizza Serving up thin-crust, St. Louis-style pizza, Imo’s has been the city’s choice for pie for 45 years. Sure, many non-St. Louisans scoff at Imo’s use of provel cheese instead of mozzarella (sample review: “Provel is just wrong and it doesn’t belong anywhere near a pizza crust”), but you haven’t visited St. Louis until you’ve eaten at Imo’s.

9. The St. Louis Art Museum Located in the heart of Forest Park, the St. Louis Art Museum is home to one of the nation’s most underrated collections of art, with works by the likes of Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet, and Gauguin. The best part? Admission is free.

8. The Missouri Botanical Garden
The oldest botanical garden in the United States and a National Historic Landmark, the Missouri Botanical Garden is a relaxing, beautiful oasis located in south St. Louis. Don’t miss the Butterfly House, the Japanese walking garden called Seiwa-en, and the Climatron, which simulates the climate of a tropical rainforest.

7. The Gateway Arch Like a Parisian who makes a point to avoid the Eiffel Tower, I’ve been a St. Louis resident most of my life yet I’ve never been to the top of the Arch. The most well-known feature of the St. Louis skyline, the Arch was completed in 1965 to celebrate St. Louis’ status as a “Gateway to the West,” and it stands 630 feet tall and 630 feet wide. The trip to the top is (supposedly) not for the claustrophobic, but it no doubt affords a great view of the city and its surroundings.

6. Anheuser-Busch Brewery Take a free tour of the Anheuser-Busch brewery and you’ll be able to check out the world-famous Budweiser Clydesdales, learn more than you ever wanted to know about hops and beechwood aging, and sample a glass or two of the product. Located in the historic Soulard neighborhood downtown.

5. Laclede’s Landing Cobblestone streets and converted warehouses give this riverfront food, drink, and entertainment district a truly unique feel. The St. Louis Fish Market is the place to go in St. Louis for seafood, The Big Bang is a spirited piano bar, and Morgan Street Brewery is a college hangout with great microbrews. Laclede’s Landing is within walking distance of Busch Stadium and the Arch.

4. Ted Drewes’ Frozen Custard Don’t let the long lines deter you: They move quickly and they’re a small price to pay for St. Louis’ most well-known custard stand, notoriously packed after every Cardinals home game. Allow me to recommend the Cardinal Sin, a “sinfully” good cherry-chocolate-and-custard treat, or a Concrete, made of frozen custard so thick you could pave a driveway with it. Go here for locations.

3. St. Louis Zoo Dating all the way back to the 1904 World’s Fair, the St. Louis Zoo is one of the best free zoos in the country. You can get up close and personal with penguins and puffins, see elephants and cheetahs at the River’s Edge, and take a ride aboard the Zooline Railroad. A great, affordable destination for the whole family.

2. Fast Eddie’s Bon Air Just a 30-minute drive from downtown St. Louis, Fast Eddie’s of Alton, Illinois, proudly proclaims itself “the best bar in the Midwest, maybe even the world.” An exaggeration? Sure, but not by much. Cheap beer, 99-cent half-pound burgers, 29-cent peel-and-eat shrimp, and a huge new outdoor patio make Fast Eddie’s the place to go in the St. Louis area if you want to kick back for some cold suds and good grub.

Be sure to check out the pair of shoes once worn by the late Robert Wadlow, the 8’11” Alton native who is still known as the tallest man ever to live. (Note: You must be 21 or over to enter Fast Eddie’s.)

1. The City Museum The 600,000 square-foot museum is an “eclectic mixture of children’s playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel made out of unique, found objects.” It’s what Willy Wonka would have built if he hadn’t been so obsessed with candy.

You can crawl through an airplane fuselage in the playground, create your own art in Art City, and take a ride on one of several massive slides. One TripAdvisor reviewer sums the place up best: “Unsafe? Perhaps. Fun? Most Definitely.”