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Friday, May 24, 2024

Gateway City

The thrill is as strong today as it was riding in the back seat of my parents’ car contesting which sister would see it first: The St. Louis Gateway Arch coming into view from Interstate 64.

A weeklong immersion in St. Louis revealed dozens of thrills and surprises and reminded me why I so like the red brick city on the western bank of the Mississippi River. Though I didn’t ascend the Arch, 50 years old this summer, in its elevator pods on this trip, several in my group did and reported it was their St. Louis defining experience. The nation’s tallest manmade monument, officially known as the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, is undergoing a major renovation project to transform its grounds and the downtown riverfront. Don’t wait until the project is complete to visit St. Louis; there’s too much to see now.

You’ll likely be driving in St. Louis, so don’t confine your hotel search to just one area. I stayed at the Ameristar Casino Resort Spa in St. Charles, Missouri, just west of St. Louis. The hotel offers 397 suites with sunken living rooms and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Missouri River or the city of St. Charles. The property includes a lovely indoor/outdoor resort-style pool, often lacking at Midwestern casino hotels, and a spa. The casino and hotel (the hotel has a separate entrance) are good neighbors with the historic city of St. Charles.

First on our agenda was a visit to the “new” Busch Stadium, opened in 2006, and Ballpark Village, opened last year, where guests can experience Cardinal baseball year-round. Included on the property is the Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum, celebrating 100 years of Cardinal baseball history with artifacts, photos, trophies, and videos. I enjoyed seeing Eddie Gaedel’s “1/8” jersey displayed. Gaedel, a 3-foot-7-inch person, took his famous at-bat on Aug. 19, 1951, for the St. Louis Browns.

If you visit before fall, you will want to schedule around a Cardinal’s baseball game — it’s a complete entertainment experience.

We took advantage of St. Louis Fun Trolley Tours — a great way to see a lot of sites with folksy Missouri narration. Our guide took us to the Gateway Arch, St. Louis Union Station, Laclede’s Landing, Lafayette Square and Lafayette Park, Millionaire’s Row, The Hill, The Cathedral Basilica, The Delmar Loop, and through magnificent Forest Park.

Yet another St. Louis must-do is the Anheuser-Busch Brewery Tour, where beer has been made for 150 years. The free tour includes a look at the famous Clydesdales in their stately 1885 stables and a factory tour where visitors see first-hand the seven-step brewing process including the brew kettles and beech wood aging cellars; guests also have the opportunity to enjoy The Biergarten, and of course, the gift shop. Other brewery experiences are available at a cost, including the History Tour and The Beermaster Tour.

Anheuser-Busch’s (now Anheuser-Busch InBev) legacy has helped establish an impressive craft beer market — the greater St. Louis area is home to at least 22 local breweries. Fortunately, Jason Arnold opened 21st Street Brewer’s Bar, offering at least one selection from every local brewery — 50 taps behind a massive bar in a renovated historic building in Lafayette Square. I participated in a tasting; my favorite was Urban Chestnut Zwickel, a Bavarian Style Lager.

On this trip, I wanted to experience neighborhoods and dining that I might not uncover on my own. Beth Heidrich, a former opera singer now a “culinary evangelist,” offers St. Louis Culinary Tours, named by Wine Enthusiast as the best walking food tour in the U.S. Heidrich offers monthly tours to the public and also books private tours for companies, groups, or individuals. We visited The Restaurant at the Cheshire, Demun Oyster Bar, Parker’s Table, and the Fox and Hound at the Cheshire.

I did manage to squeeze in a bit of St. Louis’ musical heritage. Jazz fans will be pleased that the famous Jazz at the Bistro now calls the newly renovated and remodeled Ferring Jazz Bistro home — great music in a great room.

Take time to explore the beautiful town of St. Charles on the Missouri River, which also is on the Katy Trail. The town’s brick-paved, 10-block long, 200-year-old Historic Main Street is Missouri’s first and largest historic district and home to more than 125 unique stores and dozens of restaurants. In December, more than 100,000 guests visit St. Charles for the month-long production “Christmas Traditions.”

Many storied towns dot the map around St. Louis. I did visit Hermann, billed as “Missouri’s Most Beautiful Town.” Nestled along the Missouri River, where restored brick homes from the 1800s hug the sidewalk in the traditional German style. Hermann is home to seven wineries (one-third of the state’s total) and dozens of inns, cabins, and bed and breakfast accommodations.

Stone Hill Winery in Hermann is one of the state’s top tourist attractions. With a commanding view of the town, the 13-acre complex consists of the stately 1869 main building and tasting room, 165-year-old arched underground cellars, a fine restaurant, and state-of-the-art production facilities making more than 260,000 gallons of wine.

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