St. Louis’ four major interstate highways provide great reference points for visitors learning the lay of the land, for they all radiate out from near the iconic Gateway Arch downtown. Interstate 70 shoots northwest out to Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, but offers little for tourists in between. Interstate 55 heads south, to the St. Louis neighborhoods Soulard and Benton Park in the city's historic district. Interstate 44 takes you southwest, to the cultural riches of Lafayette Square, South Grand and The Hill, then beyond to Grant’s Farm and The Magic House. Interstate 64—also known locally as Highway 40—is the region’s main east-west thoroughfare, connecting downtown with Grand Center, the Central West End and Forest Park, popular St. Louis neighborhoods, then beyond to nearby Clayton and the Delmar Loop. With a few exceptions (including Grant’s Farm and The Magic House), your sightseeing itinerary will keep you east of Interstate 170, or the “Inner Belt,” which in many St. Louisans’ minds is the unofficial border between the city and suburbs, even though an official St. Louis city boundary map would prove otherwise.
During the business day, the downtown St. Louis neighborhoods are bustling with locals buzzing to work and tourists exploring the Gateway Arch grounds and the new Citygarden urban garden. But unless there’s a sporting event on (the Cardinals, Rams and Blues all have their stadiums here), the downtown core along Market Street empties out at night. Party-seekers head a few blocks east to Laclede’s Landing along the riverfront or northwest to the Loft District along Washington Avenue for after-work frivolity. Wherever you end up, keep in mind that downtown is not the best place to walk alone at night.
A key suburb due west of Forest Park, this buttoned-up business center is home to the Ritz-Carlton St. Louis and a wealth of fine-dining outlets that, unlike downtown, keeps Clayton hopping well into the night. The city’s Parties in the Park (held every second Wednesday evening from May through September in Shaw Park) pack in the crowds, as does the St. Louis Art Fair in September.
The Delmar Loop
The Delmar Loop is one of the hippest St. Louis neighborhoods. This six-block stretch of Delmar Boulevard in neighboring University City boasts an eclectic mix of 140 bars, restaurants, boutiques and galleries. It’s a perfect place to sip, sup and shop, then stroll along the St. Louis Walk of Fame, a star-studded stretch of the Delmar sidewalk that honors more than 120 famous St. Louisans who’ve done their city proud. In recent years the Delmar Loop has expanded a couple blocks east of Skinker Boulevard into St. Louis City proper; it’s along this eastern stretch you’ll find the Delmar Loop stop on the Red Line of the MetroLink light rail system.
Like the overlooked treasures for sale along the popular Cherokee Antique Row a few blocks south, Benton Park has been dusted off and rediscovered, thanks in large part to its evolving restaurant scene. From an Old-World bread bakery to a beloved fried-chicken shack to five-star fine dining, this St. Louis neighborhood south of downtown along Interstate 55 has much to tickle your culinary fancy.
The site of the 1904 World’s Fair, this wonderful 1,293-acre park six miles west of downtown remains the cultural heart of the St. Louis area. It’s where you’ll find many of St. Louis’ landmarks: the St. Louis Zoo, St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis Science Center, Missouri History Museum and The MUNY (Municipal Theater Association). This St. Louis neighborhood's beautiful park itself, though, is worth exploring on its own right. There are also paddleboat rentals, four nine-hole golf courses and a skating rink. A paved 7.5-mile bike path connects all the sights—as does the Forest Park Shuttle, a bus service that operates daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Central West End
An affluent St. Louis neighborhood just east of Forest Park, the CWE (as locals call it) is a picturesque blend of old and new. The stately mansions of Westminster Place—listed on the National Register of Historic Places—date to the turn of the 20th century. The evocative street lamps and cobblestone streets along Euclid Avenue and Maryland Plaza—the CWE’s main commercial strip—lead the way to trendy boutiques, cafes, restaurants and nightclubs where the well-heeled come to see and be seen.
If you spot a red, white and green fire hydrant, you’ll know you’re in The Hill, St. Louis’ Italian neighborhood. Bring your appetite; packed within its one square mile are scores of fantastic Italian restaurants, bakeries and grocery stores that sell mouthwatering homemade salami and macaroons, as well as such St. Louis specialties as toasted ravioli and provel cheese. Keep in mind that most businesses are closed Sundays.
This charming St. Louis neighborhood west of Soulard is famous for one of the country’s largest collections of “painted ladies,” or pastel-hued Victorian row houses. Lafayette Square has seen its share of challenges over the years: a devastating tornado, threats of the wrecking ball and daunting crime rates. But the neighborhood, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is on the upswing, with a growing bar and restaurant scene attracting a hip, 20-something crowd.
Twenty years ago, this stretch of Grand Boulevard just north of Highway 40 was not a place for lingering. St. Louisans would drive here for concerts by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, shows by the St. Louis Black Repertory Company or touring musicals at The Fabulous Fox Theatre, then depart as quickly as possible. But a concerted civic effort has revived the St. Louis neighborhood and made Grand Center a hot destination not only for the performing arts but for the visual arts as well. A dozen galleries and museums—including The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts and the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis—have opened in recent years. As the restaurant and bar scene have revved up, as well, the area is making good on its motto of “The Intersection of Art and Life.”
For many people, Soulard = drinking. In fact, one translation of this French neighborhood’s name means “drunkard.” Located just south of downtown along the Mississippi River, this St. Louis neighborhood on the National Register of Historic Places is home to the Anheuser-Busch Brewery. Its St. Louis Mardi Gras is one of the country’s largest, and it also hosts a rollicking Bastille Day festival. Plus it’s home to many of St. Louis’ best blues and jazz bars. Keep in mind, though, that if you stick around until closing time, this is not the best neighborhood to be walking around alone.