For many, the shining beacon of the Gateway Arch is a symbol of hope, of perseverance and entrepreneurship, and most importantly, of exploration. The West moved through St. Louis and it was here that the melting pot philosophy truly took root and blossomed. Today, St. Louis no longer marks the literal beginning of the frontier but she is a beautiful city, full of culture and diversity, glowing with pride. Take a look at where to stay, play, and eat on a St. Louis student trip and come see it for yourself!
One spectacular thing about St. Louis is that it's fairly affordable and one of the most budget-friendly cities in America. Downtown St. Louis is going to be pretty pricey, especially during peak season (May to August), and when the Cardinals are playing at Busch Stadium. Hotels in surrounding neighborhoods, such as Hampton or Maryland Heights, maybe a little further out but they offer cheaper prices. Across the river, too, you'll find cheaper hotels, such as in Collinsville or Caseyville. However, if you're going to be splitting the cost of a room with several friends, you can maybe afford to get a little closer to the action and pay a few more bucks extra apiece. It's a trade-off but sometimes, being closer is worth it. And really, the more expensive hotels aren't bad considering what you have to pay even in Chicago.
Here's where it gets really interesting. Many of St. Louis' top attractions, the ones everyone talks about, are free! There are a few that are worth seeing that require admission, but your group can absolutely see what St. Louis is all about without ever having to go over budget.
- Thomas Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Park (free-$) - This park not only includes the famous Gateway Arch but the Old Courthouse as well, where the Dred Scott court case was held. Your group can view the Arch from the outside for free but if you want to go up the tram to the top, you'll have to pay admission. The Courthouse, however, is free and offers free ranger-led programs.
- Grant's Farm (free-$$) - Technically, Grant's Farm is free but parking is not. If you don't park in the main lot or walk to the park, then you don't have to pay to get in. And believe me, you'll want to spend a lovely spring or summer day exploring the animals, historic sites, and delicious German-style Biergarten on site.
- St. Louis Zoo (free) - Believe it or not but one of the best zoos in the country, period, has no admission fee! You can get in free to see all the animals your heart desires, set in beautiful exhibits and enriched by knowledgeable trainers. They have many behind the scenes program for a price, such as petting giraffes or taking a tour, that you might want to consider.
- St. Louis Art Museum (free) - Also in Forest Park, along with the Zoo and the Missouri History Museum, is the award-winning and absolutely free Art Museum. They don't cut corners when it comes to fine art and you'll see everything from Egyptian sarcophagi to Etruscan weapons, Monet's lilies, and German abstract art among others.
- Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis (free) - A wondrous construction made to honor God's glory, the St. Louis Cathedral is a masterpiece. Whether or not you're Catholic, a tour of the Cathedral is recommended if for the history and architecture alone. Mass is always open to newcomers if you so choose. For self-guided tours, the Cathedral asks that you call ahead in case there is an ongoing wedding. Otherwise, there are scheduled tours daily.
- Missouri History Museum (free) - Also in Forest Park, the Missouri History Museum has a beautiful collection of highly curated exhibits that rotate annually, giving you the fullest look at Missouri history.
- Missouri Botanical Gardens ($) - Though the Botanical Garden charges a small admission fee, it's well worth it to see the stunning landscapes from the Japanese Garden to the Climatron geodesic biodome housing a rainforest.
- Busch Stadium ($-$$$) - If you have the opportunity and the inclination to see a Cardinals game, we recommend that you do. It's a wonderful experience to witness America's favorite pastime being played by one of America's best teams. They also offer guided tours of the stadium if you're interested.
This is one of my all-time favorite things about St. Louis, especially on The Hill. We recommend you spend some time getting to know the restaurants in Little Italy (The Hill) section of St. Louis, at places like Zia's ($$), Dominic's ($$), and Adriana's ($). If the plates are a little too expensive for you, share with a friend and split the cost. Make sure you don't forget dessert either and stop by Missouri Baking Co. ($) or Gelato Di Riso ($) where, between them, you can get authentic Italian gelato, cannolis, and a multitude of cookies.
Barbecue is also pretty famous in St. Louis, so if you're not in the mood for Italian, stop by Bogart's Smokehouse ($) or The Shaved Duck ($$) for some scrumptious ribs or brisket. Do you know what else is famous in St. Louis? Thin crust pizza! Though it's a chain restaurant, Imo's Pizza is pretty delicious and great for students on a budget. However, if you're craving some yummy cracker-thin pizza crust and fresh toppings from a non-chain restaurant, La Pizza ($-$$), Pizza-a-Go-Go ($-$$), The Good Pie ($$), and PW Pizza ($-$$) all won the top spots for best thin crust pizza in the city.