St. Louis is like no other city in America. First of all, it's history as the Gateway to the West. Second, St. Louis has combined the cultures of all those who originally settled in the area to become a giant collection of ethnic neighborhoods filled with culture, art, entertainment, a delicious selection of food, and above all, personality. If you only have a weekend in the Gateway City, make sure you hit all of the best avenues of adventure that can only be found in St. Louis. Check out this suggested itinerary for 48 hours in St. Louis and enjoy it!
Day 1: A Taste of St. Louis
First thing in the morning, you'll want to jump straight to the St. Louis Zoo. Like, as soon as it opens at 8:00 am. I know this is early, especially on vacation, but hear me out. For the first hour, admission is free to pet the stingrays and small sharks at Caribbean Cove. Feeding them costs a little money, as does admission after 9:00 am, but just petting them is more fun than you imagine. They like to swim right under your hand and splash you with their fins. It's pretty cool. The Children's Zoo is also free until 9:00 am and here you can pet small goats and visit other sweet creatures. The rest of the zoo is blissfully free and has such amazing exhibits that you'll be sorely tempted to stay until closing.
If you can draw yourselves away from the Zoo, stop for some lunch for some classic St. Louis food at Mama Toscano's Ravioli. If you aren't from the Midwest, perhaps you don't know about the toasted ravioli phenomenon and if not, I am pleased to be your guide into discovering such deliciousness. Take fresh, beef-filled ravioli handmade in the restaurant's kitchen, and then fry it until it's crispy brown. Topped with mozzarella and dipped in marinara, it's heaven and Mama Toscano's is so good that they make and sell it to neighboring restaurants for resale. Try it first hand, you'll be delighted.
Head from there to Grant's Farm. Owned and operated by the Anheuser-Busch company, Grant's Farm is a historic site, wildlife reserve, and all-around fun place to be. As soon as you park, get in line to board the tram which leads you through the wildlife reserve and past two historic cabins once owned by President Ulysses S. Grant when he lived here in the mid-1800s. Ride past herds of deer, bison, longhorn cattle, and more into the park where there are more exotic creatures, a delicious Bavarian Biergarten, and a few rides for kids. See the elephant or bird show, visit the group of rescued bald eagles, pet some cute zebras and llamas, and more.
If you still have walking power left in you, end the day at the Delmar Loop entertainment and shopping district. Grab an ice cream cone or cupcake at Jilly's, an award-winning cozy cafe that has won Food Network's Cupcake Wars twice. Take it easy and have dinner, catch some live music, and shop along what was named as "One of the 10 Great Streets in America" by the American Planning Association.
Day 2: Day of Culture
So long as you aren't completely exhausted from your whirlwind tour of St. Louis, jump straight into day two with verve. Start with the St. Louis Art Museum and be impressed, amazed, and dazzled by the stunning collections of art from nearly every era. Plus it's free! Ancient artifacts from tribal Africa, centuries-old Asian pottery, paintings by Renoir and Van Gogh, and contemporary additions compete for attention. You'll want to spend at least a couple hours roaming the halls and exploring every inch. Just don't step over the line in between you and the art. The art monitors will forever after think you're there to touch the art and they'll follow you around suspiciously. Or maybe it was just me.
Today, I'm sending you to The Hill for all of your meals. It's worth it to sample everything this Italian neighborhood has to offer. For a snack, midday dessert, or break in your diet, make a beeline for the Missouri Baking Company and try their cannoli. It is a sublime Italian concoction that is made in-house from heavenly ingredients and served to you with a cherry on top. Or get a box of assorted cookies of your choice. You won't be disappointed with a single one.
We'll come back to The Hill for dinner, but in the meantime, visit the Missouri Botanical Garden for a quiet afternoon among the roses. 79 acres of pristine landscaping include a tropical rain forest, Japanese Garden, Victorian District, and Children's Garden among other beautiful additions. Artwork, statues, historic attractions and more highlight the beauty of nature and raise it to a new level, making the Missouri Botanical Garden one of the most popular destinations in the city.
Okay, back to The Hill for dinner at Zia's. Zia is Italian for "aunt" and here you are treated like family with supremely authentic Italian dishes, friendly service, and a good time. Try the fried calamari to start, or the toasted ravioli if you haven't had enough, and then dive into the fresh seafood ravioli that will burst in your mouth with such exquisite flavors that you'll never try anything else here again.
End your day, and your trip, with a show at the Muny, the nation's largest outdoor amphitheater devoted solely to musical productions. Located in beautiful Forest Park, the Muny is currently showing such productions as My Fair Lady, Oklahoma!, The Beauty and the Beast, and the first production of Into the Woods. If you get the chance, you don't want to miss seeing a show at the Muny. It's a sensational experience with a phenomenal cast. Always.
P.S. If you are coming to St. Louis with kids, make extra stops at the Magic House, City Museum, and the St. Louis Science Center. And if you've never been, and aren't bothered by heights or small spaces, a tour of the Arch is recommended.