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POSTCARD FROM MISSOURI

By the riverside, the spirit thrives

From Lewis and Clark to Miles Davis -- and now, Nelly -- St. Louis is a city steeped in discovery. It offers first-rate museums, a vibrant downtown and a shimmering arch. And at this time of year, as the maples begin to turn color, so does the rest of the city -- a proud crimson glow in honor of favorite sons the Cardinals, poised for another playoff run.

October 02, 2005|Chris Erskine | Times Staff Writer

Prepare for landing

A great place to begin a St. Louis tour is where the city began, Laclede's Landing, a brick-and-cobblestone entertainment district that covers nine blocks. Patio restaurants and lively nightclubs draw a range of locals and visitors. It's the hangout before and after Rams and Cardinals games, partly because of the cheap parking (as little as $5). And in the evening, you can kill a good hour watching bachelorette party celebrants in heels clomp along the choppy old streets like Clydesdales toward the loudest nightclub and the biggest drinks.

Explore downtown

From Laclede's, you can make the most of the city's busy waterfront. Walk south and you'll find a shady park leading to the Gateway Arch and other attractions -- riverboats, tram tours, historic buildings, sports stadiums and the International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame. Get a big dose of history at the Old Courthouse, on 4th Street, facing the river. The former courthouse was the site of the multiple Dred Scott trials between 1847 and 1857. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that slaves were not citizens, intensifying the fight over slavery. It is now a museum (8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily; free).

Hop on, hop off

A Metrolink light-rail system connects many of the city's sights -- the riverfront, Busch Stadium, Union Station (a downtown landmark and marketplace). Or catch a tour bus at the base of the arch, which stops at the world's biggest brewery, Anheuser-Busch (where there are free daily tours). From the double-decker bus, you can smell the brewery's hops as you pass Federal-style townhomes in historic neighborhoods. Before you know it, you're in sprawling Forest Park, site of museums, the zoo, boat rentals and golf courses.

Bigger than Central Park

Forest Park is the city's massive centerpiece, a lush 1,300 acres. (New York's Central Park is 800 acres.) In 1904, the World's Fair there drew 20 million visitors, and it recently underwent a $90-million face-lift to its grounds and monuments. Today, besides the museums and zoo, the park features wildlife, waterways and a first-class science center. The zoo, home to more than 3,000 animals, is considered one of the nation's best. To the northeast are the World's Fair Flight Cage (a bird habitat) and the St. Louis Art Museum. As with many of the city's attractions, admission to these sites is free.

Do the Loop

Tired of the tourist crush? Try the Loop, a neighborhood of hip shops, galleries and restaurants. The main street, Delmar Boulevard, is home to the St. Louis Walk of Fame, honoring local luminaries such as Maya Angelou and Tina Turner. Chuck Berry still performs on Delmar, at the town's best-known blues club, Blueberry Hill (www.blueberryhill.com).

And don't miss...

Another spot off the beaten path is the City Museum, a five-story world of recycled, recovered and reshaped treasures (www.citymuseum.org; admission is $12). Also Lafayette Park, whose greenbelt is the old French commons from the 1700s. East of the Loop, check out Euclid Avenue, the most fashionable place in the city to shop. The original Bissinger's, which makes delectable handcrafted chocolates, is nearby, on McPherson Avenue.

Getting there

American flies nonstop and Southwest flies direct (stop, no change of planes) from LAX to St. Louis. United, Continental, Northwest, U.S. Airways and Frontier have connecting (change of planes) service. Restricted round-trip fares begin at $198. Downtown is a 30-minute ride on the light-rail system ($3 round trip).

Where to stay

The Sheraton City Center is a beautifully renovated hotel, blocks from the downtown attractions; 400 S. 14th St., (314) 231-5007, www.starwoodhotels.com; doubles from $189. The Hyatt Regency is in Union Station, with its many shops and restaurants. The lobby is the former train station's Grand Hall; at 18th and Market streets, (314) 231-1234, stlouis.hyatt.com; doubles from $219.

Where to eat

The Hill is renowned for its Italian food. Try Charlie Gitto's, with entrees from $16; 5226 Shaw Ave., (314) 772-8898, www.charliegittos.com. Jimmy Voss, former chef for the Grateful Dead, now cooks at Duff's; entrees from $15; 392 N. Euclid Ave., (314) 361-0522. O'Connell's Pub features delicious roast beef; sandwiches start at $4.75; 4652 Shaw Ave., (314) 773-6600, www.saucemagazine.com/oconnells. At Laclede's Landing, check out Hannegan's Restaurant & Pub; meals from about $7; 719 N. 2nd St., (314) 241-8877.

Times staff writer Anne-Marie O'Connor contributed to this story.

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