Surprising St. Louis: A “B-side” City with Top-Tier Attractions

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Looking for the Top St. Louis Attractions?

At the March 2019 D.C. Travel & Adventure Expo, Samantha Brown, host of Places to Love on PBS, discussed how she selects destinations for her show. She mentioned, in particular, that her team often looks for B-side cities (a vinyl records reference that may be lost on some). To her, a B-side city is lesser known than top tourist destinations but still has plenty to great things offer.

After hatching a weekend getaway plan with a friend, I recently found myself on a plane to St. Louis, Missouri, which is arguably the B-side to the midwest’s top destination: Chicago.

Here are the top four attractions that make this a great destination.

Gateway Arch
A weekend away without the kids can apparently lead giddy moms to pose for silly pictures.

When you hear “St. Louis,” what comes to mind?

  • Gateway Arch?
  • Departure point for the Lewis & Clark Expedition?
  • 1904 World’s Fair?
  • The Mississippi River

For me, that pretty much summed it up.

What I found on my arrival, on a grey, rainy March morning, was a series of top-notch attractions that punched well above their weight class. Here are my top four sites not to be missed:

The Gateway Arch is the most famous of the top St. Louis attractions
The clouds parted and skies cleared to give us a beautiful view of St. Louis’ most iconic site.
  1. The Gateway Arch

Ok, this one is totally obvious. The Gateway Arch is synonymous with St. Louis or “the Gateway to the West”. At 630 feet, it is the tallest man-made monument in the U.S., designed by Finnish American Eero Saarinen (Google him, and you will immediately recognize his iconic chair design) to serve as a memorial to Thomas Jefferson who executed the Louisiana Purchase and dispatched Lewis & Clark on their famous expedition. (Ooh, that reminds me, if you haven’t read Undaunted Courage, by Stephen Ambrose, you must!)

There is an excellent museum in the visitor’s center at the base of the monument that presents much of this history.

Visiting the top of the Arch

The tram ride to the top of the arch is popular, so purchasing tickets in advance is highly recommended. Because folks here are midwest nice, they kindly moved our entry time TWICE at our request, due to the weather (it didn’t make much sense to visit the top when it was shrouded in dark fog).

After passing through security screening, your guide will walk you through a multimedia presentation about the building of the Arch and the history of the time. You then line up to board a five-person pod that simultaneously manages to look both futuristic and completely antiquated.

Prepare to get cozy with your neighbors. If you are particularly tall or wide, the pod will feel cramped, but the trip up is only 4 minutes (down is just 3). Our pod, which we entered through a door that is only 4 feet tall, held three average-sized women and two small children, and it was tight! The adults sat hunched over in their seats because of the curved roof. If you don’t love heights, don’t select either of the seats next to the glass door (don’t ask me how I know this…).

From the Observation Deck at the top, you can look east to see the Mighty Mississippi and the Illinois countryside beyond.

A view of the Mississippi River from one of the top St. Louis attractions--the Gateway Arch
The muddy waters of the Mississippi following very heavy rain

Westward lies the city of St. Louis, with great views of the Old Courthouse–site of the famous Dred Scott case (in the mid-1800s, the enslaved Mr. Scott twice sued for his freedom and that of his wife, Harriet. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately ruled against them.)

View from Gateway Arch in St. Louis
View of the circular entrance to the visitor’s center, the Old Courthouse, and downtown St. Louis to the west.

We did not linger too long at the top, as the best views in town are, in fact, not from the Arch, but of the Arch. The 62-acre park at the base of the Arch proved a great spot for a stroll and for taking in views of the Arch from all angles.

View from the base of the Gateway Arch
You can have a lot of fun photographing the Arch from different vantage points.

Next up–our #2 site in Saint Louis: Surprising St. Louis: A Second Top Attraction in the Gateway to the West

In the meantime, please let us know what B-side cities you love to visit and why!

Next article:

Surprising St. Louis: A Second Top Attraction in the Gateway to the West

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