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36 Hours in St. Louis: The RFT's One-Weekend Guide to Our Favorite City

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St. Louis today is on the rise. Household income is rising faster here than in the U.S. as a whole, and also faster than the neighboring suburbs (more importantly for bragging purposes!), while the poverty rate within city limits took a notable plunge in the last set of Census Bureau numbers. Increasingly, young families are choosing old neighborhoods to put down roots, and anyone smart enough to renovate a home in Lafayette Square, Shaw and the Grove is laughing all the way to the bank.

To show off the very best of the city to anyone visiting from outside the metro area, we created a packed itinerary that doesn't so much as touch foot in the suburbs. Why drive to Clayton when there are great restaurants in Botanical Heights and Benton Park? And why risk a DUI when you could easily Uber from one hotspot to the next?

That said, even this chock-full agenda had to leave out some terrific options. The city itself is just 66 square miles, but that doesn't mean seeing it all in a weekend is manageable. There's simply way too much to do; tough choices must be made. Make sure to check out our mini-guides to the Central West End and south city for even more great options within the city's borders.

FRIDAY

4 p.m.

See a Must-See

Starting your time in St. Louis at the Gateway Arch is the obvious choice, but that doesn't matter: It's still the best one.

As of press time, the massive construction project designed to better connect the Gateway Arch to both downtown and the river was still underway — and so the trams that take visitors up to the Arch's peak are closed, as is the museum at its base. But you'd be a fool to use that as an excuse not to visit. The best part of the Arch has never been the tiny little egg-shaped cars or the slightly dusty museum at their foot. It's the Arch itself, a 630-foot-high engineering marvel that you simply have to see to believe.

Start your visit at the Old Cathedral (209 Walnut Street, 314-231-3250), the first cathedral west of the Mississippi. The current building wasn't built until 1834, but a Catholic church has been on site since 1764. After you admire the light-filled sanctuary with its magnificent Arch views, step outside to see the thing itself. Some major parts of the CityArchRiver renovations are now finished, and that means it's an easy two-minute walk to the Arch and from there an easy walk down to the trails along the Mississippi River.

Olio is a cosmopolitan spot for cocktails and small plates. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER SILVERBERG
  • PHOTO BY JENNIFER SILVERBERG
  • Olio is a cosmopolitan spot for cocktails and small plates.

6 p.m.

Cocktail Hour

The cocktails at Planter's House (1000 Mississippi Avenue, 314-696-2603) aren't screwing around. Unless you're majoring in mixology, they're likely to strike you as longish rosters of ingredients you've never heard of: liqueurs, tinctures, bitters and a vegetable garden's worth of interesting herbs and plants. But there's no reason to be intimidated. Taking its cue from co-owner Ted Kilgore, himself an acclaimed bartender with a low-key manner, the staff here is incredibly friendly and adept at figuring out what drink will work with your palate. Perch yourself on a bar stool and let this team work its magic.

8 p.m.

Fill 'er Up

Located in an old Standard Oil filling station, Olio (1634 Tower Grove Avenue, 314-932-1088) represents the best of St. Louis' dining scene in 2017 — it's a cozy space in a once-neglected neighborhood that's now bustling with energy and genuinely good food (in this case, Middle Eastern-influenced small plates). Owner Ben Poremba's "Famous Egg Salad" really is just that, and even better with the optional white anchovy on top.

10:30 p.m.

Sing the Blues

St. Louis is a music city, and even more than that, a blues city — and there's no better place to catch the St. Louis shuffle than in the "Blues Triangle" on the edge of downtown. BB's Jazz, Blues and Soups (700 S. Broadway, 314-436-5222), Beale on Broadway (701 S. Broadway, 314-621-7880) and Broadway Oyster Bar (736 S. Broadway, 314-621-8811) offer live music nightly. Check their websites for schedules and plan to join the party.

The Missouri Botanical Garden might be the prettiest walk you ever take. - PHOTO COURTESY OF FLICKR/JIMRHODES
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF FLICKR/JIMRHODES
  • The Missouri Botanical Garden might be the prettiest walk you ever take.

SATURDAY

8 a.m.

Up and at 'Em

Start your day with one of the city's best bloody marys at Rooster (3150 S. Grand Boulevard, 314-772-3447). The second (larger) outpost of restaurateur Dave Bailey's popular breakfast-and-lunch spot, Rooster offers big communal tables, a kid-friendly atmosphere and some terrific adult beverages, right in the heart of Tower Grove South.

10 a.m.

Take a Walk

One of the loveliest walks anywhere in the country is on the grounds of the Missouri Botanical Garden (4344 Shaw Boulevard, 314-577-5100). The nation's oldest botanical garden in continuous operation, MoBOT spans 79 acres, all of them lovely.

The Bogart's crew at work. - PHOTO BY JENNIFER SILVERBERG
  • PHOTO BY JENNIFER SILVERBERG
  • The Bogart's crew at work.

Noon

Dig into St. Louis Barbecue

No trip to St. Louis would be complete without a visit to Soulard. The historic French neighborhood just south of downtown is the North American home of Anheuser-Busch; on a good day you can smell the hops from miles away. The brewery tour is fun enough; if you've never taken one, go for it. But the neighborhood itself can be an equally fun spot to explore, with gorgeous red brick rowhouses and a host of party-hearty bars, many with large patios. If food is more your thing at this time of day, plan to stop by Bogart's Smokehouse (1627 S. 9th Street, 314-621-3107), which almost always has a line out the door but also includes a host of sidewalk-facing picnic tables perfect for sunny days. Tuck into pitmaster Skip Steele's ribs, brisket or even prime rib sandwich, and we can guarantee you'll leave happy.

1 p.m.

A Sweet Treat

For dessert, head less than a mile west to Lafayette Square. One of the city's oldest, and grandest, places to live, the neighborhood boasts huge three-story mansions that trace their origins to the years following the Civil War. After falling on hard times in the middle of the 20th century, today the homes that line its streets are filled with young families, and new homes are being constructed that perfectly blend with the old (tough historic district rules will do that). Ditch your car in the plentiful angle parking lining Lafayette Park (2023 Lafayette Avenue, 314-772-5724) and play "count the stroller" as you take the long way to Clementine's Creamery (1637 S. 18th Street, 314-858-6100) for a cone. The city's first self-described "micro-creamery," Clementine's boasts "naughty" flavors with alcohol infusions and "nice" ones, such as strawberry with balsamic and white pepper and manchego with truffles and honey.

Lafayette Square is a history buff's dream. - PHOTO COURTESY OF FLICKR/THE.URBANOPHILE
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF FLICKR/THE.URBANOPHILE
  • Lafayette Square is a history buff's dream.

3 p.m.

Visit the City Museum

No trip to St. Louis is complete without a pilgrimage to the City Museum (750 N. 16th Street, 314-231-2489). Truly a St. Louis original, the brilliant sculptor Bob Cassilly acquired a former shoe factory on the edge of downtown and transformed it into a playground for adults and children alike. Climb up a giant slinky or walk through a larger-than-life treehouse; take a ten-story slide ride or explore a series of manmade caves. The roof has a Ferris wheel and a schoolbus dangling off the side — and yes, you can climb aboard. If it all sounds vaguely unsafe, the museum shop sells kneepads. There's also a magnificent collection of detritus salvaged from old buildings.

7 p.m.

Fancy It Up

For a romantic night out, there's no better spot than Sidney Street Cafe (2000 Sidney Street, 314-771-5777). Exposed brick walls and unpretentious service give the room a warmth belied by the white tablecloths and terrific wine list. Signature dishes include an incredible lobster-stuffed filet and a steak wasabi, but you needn't stick to red meat; chef Kevin Nashan is also great with seafood, and the night's appetizers, listed on a chalkboard presented tableside, are inventive and seasonable. Can't get a rez? Try Nashan's buzzy seafood spot just down the block, Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co. (1831 Sidney Street, 314-772-8858). There's always intense competition for tables, but the invaluable NoWait app lets you time your arrival perfectly.

10 p.m.

Get Funky

Whether you go all-in at Sidney Street or keep things casual at Peacemaker, just down the street from dinner is Venice Cafe (1903 Pestalozzi, 314-772-5994), an only-in-St.-Louis spot offering some truly funky art, a great patio and some of the best mosaics outside the Cathedral Basilica. Live music six nights a week keeps the place jumping.

Art Hill is the most breathtaking spot in Forest Park. - PHOTO BY KELLY GLUECK
  • PHOTO BY KELLY GLUECK
  • Art Hill is the most breathtaking spot in Forest Park.

SUNDAY

8 a.m.

Merrily We Row Along

Finish your time in St. Louis with a trip to one of its most beloved treasures, Forest Park (5595 Grand Drive, 314-367-7275). It's got everything — a free zoo and art museum, a giant amphitheatre that hosts Broadway-style musicals in the summer, running and biking trails, and even an ice-skating rink in the winter. The catch is that it's huge; at 1,371 acres, it's a full 500 acres bigger than Central Park. If your time here is finite, we recommend heading directly to the Boathouse (6101 Government Drive, 314-367-2224). Beginning at 10 a.m. Sundays, you can rent a paddle boat for $17 an hour. Even if water isn't your thing, it's a great embarkation point; just follow the trails to the Grand Basin for a beautiful view of Art Hill. That man on a horse staring down at you? He's King Louis IX of France, and we took his name.

10 a.m.

Chow Down

The Boathouse is also a solid choice for brunch, but if you'd rather up the ante, spend your last meal in St. Louis at Three Flags Tavern (4940 Southwest Avenue, 314-669-9222). Reservations are essential, but if you're lucky enough to secure one, you can choose from the eggs benedict topped with crab, a chorizo- and avocado-topped torta or the city's best French toast, topped with pecan molasses, whipped cream and berries. It would be wrong to leave town hungry.

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