Road Trip: St. Louis!

The iconic Gateway Arch

Jessi, the kids and I recently traveled to St. Louis, Mo. to visit a friend and spend a four-day weekend playing tourists. Another friend on Facebook asked for some tips of things to do since she’ll be headed there in August and, after jotting some notes down for her, I decided some folks might find a blog post on the trip helpful. It seems that as summer trips occur across all our networks that we should start sharing adventures as more than just cool photos on Facebook or Flickr. We all have a few tips we can share so the next person taking that trip doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel — pun intended.  🙂

I’m sure there are comprehensive sites and books available, but that’s not my intention with this type of post. I’m just looking at practical, “here’s what we did and it worked” types of notes. If you take a trip and would like to contribute to this compilation, let me know that, too. I’m thinking of starting a separate page on this blog for this kind of thing and would entertain guest posts.

In the meantime, here are my travel tips for St. Louis:

From Lansing, Mich., it’s about a 500-mile trip, which meant about 8 hours of driving. You have to factor in a few stops for food, gas and bathroom breaks, so it took us 9 hours. I usually try to combine gas stops and bathroom breaks to increase our trip efficiency. We did it in a four-day weekend — leaving mid-morning on Friday and coming home late on Monday night. For us, the road trip is part of the experience, so we don’t mind that some of our time off was spent in the car.

Tip #1: From Lansing, we took the I-69 to I-70 route, which meant the only major city with the potential for major traffic was Indianapolis. When you punch up directions on Google Maps, the first route that pops up is to follow I-94 west out of Michigan and then south on I-55, but that takes route sends you into Chicago-area traffic, which means more potential for delays. The Indiana route along I-69 isn’t the most visually exciting, but it’s relatively free of traffic backups except for the summer scourge of road construction.

Tip #2: Visit the Gateway Arch. It’s the iconic symbol of St. Louis and for good reason. It dominates the city’s skyline and it offers a great view once you’re up there. If you want to beat long lines, you’ll want to arrive at the Arch ticket booth before 10 a.m. on most days. Also, there are two entrances to the Arch, with the North Entrance getting backed up faster because it’s the closest one to parking. Take the short hike to the South Entrance for faster access, plus you can get some great views and pictures while walking under the arch. Also, leave time before or after your tram ride to the top so you can visit the museum located inside the Arch’s base. It’s worth spending some time wandering around in there, especially if you’re interested in the Louis and Clark expedition era. I’d block off two or three hours for this excursion, that way you have time to just stare at the view from the top and grab some photos. You’ll find that you sometimes have to wait to get to the viewing window that has the angle you want for pictures.

Tip #3: Visit the Old Federal Courthouse a couple of blocks away from the Arch. Its historic claim to fame is that’s where the Dred Scott case was held, but besides that there is some great architecture to behold. It’s not a long visit so it’s easy to tack on to the end of your Arch tour.

A hungry hungry hippo at the St. Louis Zoo

Tip #4: Go wild at the St. Louis Zoo. Thanks to taxes paid by Missouri residents, it’s free for everyone, except for parking. If you’re battling a hot day like we were, you can take some breaks at indoor exhibits that are air-conditioned, like the reptile house. You can even spend time in a deep freeze if you go in to see the penguins and puffins. If you wear glasses though, be ready for them to fog up for a while when you exit that exhibit and hit the famous St. Louis humidity! Also, don’t miss the elephant and hippo exhibits in the River Walk area. The St. Louis Zoo has seven elephants in several different exhibits where you can actually get quite close. The hippos are visible on the other side of glass walls in their exhibit, and these “river horses” often come up to the glass while swimming along — it’s a great treat for the kids. You could easily spend most of a day at the zoo if you wanted to.

Tip #5: Take the Anheuser-Busch brewery tour. It’s interesting for almost any age group that’s on your trip. Sure, they teach you about how they make beer, but there’s also a lot of history in the buildings along the tour, they have the world-famous Clydesdales there for you to see, and watching modern packaging processes is a treat for some. If you’re 21 or older, you can have a free beer at the end of the tour; the brewery offers a good selection of different products for you to try. They also offer you pretzels to enjoy with your beer and there’s free pop for kids or adults who just don’t like beer. The tour takes about an hour, but you’ll want to block off two hours so you can spend some time at the history displays, the gift store and enjoying your refreshments. This is a popular place to visit, so, again, consider getting there early to avoid too long of a wait before your tour starts.

The fabulous Fox Theater

Tip #6: Visit the Fox Theater. Not everyone is into broadway musicals, but if you get a chance to see a show at the Fox Theater downtown it is a real treat. In addition to whatever great performance you might see there, this 1929-theater has had millions of dollars in restoration done and it shows. It’s incredible to see how much detail and craftsmanship used to go into structures like this.

No matter where you go and what you do, make sure you pack plenty of water to carry with you. The heat and humidity will drain you pretty quickly while you’re out and about. We carried a couple of Camelbak style water bottles with us and ended up refilling both of them about three-quarters of the way through the zoo visit.

On a side note, we stayed with friends rather than in a hotel, so we made a point of bringing along a gift for our hosts. We put together a goodie bag filled with yummy Michigan-made treats and it was a big hit.

So, those are my tips for a St. Louis road trip. Have you been? What did we miss that others should be sure to take advantage of? And where are you going this summer? Share your tips — I want to know what you liked and what you didn’t for the next time we’re planning a long weekend getaway!

(Pictures by Jessi Wortley Adler)