Gateway to the West: A Beginner’s St. Louis Guide

By: Kathie Sutin

January 14, 2014

From the soaring Gateway Arch to the St. Louis Zoo, St. Louis offers an attraction for every kind of traveller. Affectionately known as the gateway to the west, St. Louis is a city with a whole lot going on. Take a look at our beginner’s St. Louis guide for our favourite first-timer spots…

St. Louis was French and Spanish before it became American. In 1763, New Orleans merchant Gilbert Antoine Maxent charged French fur trader Pierre Laclede Linguest with establishing a trading post at the confluence of two of America’s mightiest rivers, the Missouri and Mississippi.

But Laclede found the confluence too marshy. Instead, he established his post, which he named in honour of King Louis IX of France, 18 miles downriver on a high point on the Mississippi’s western shore.

Once a tiny trading post, St. Louis is now a major Midwestern hub © Burt Remis/Explore St. Louis

The “Louisiana Territory,” including tiny St. Louis, was transferred to Spain in 1770, but soon returned to the French via a secret agreement with Napoleon. In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson bought the vast territory, annexing it to the young country. Just a year later, St. Louis became the jumping-off point for explorers Lewis and Clark on their monumental expedition to chart the Louisiana Purchase.

Gateway to the West | St. Louis Guide | Busch Stadium

The Cardinals have won 11 World Series championships © Dan Donovan/Explore St. Louis

People used to say St. Louis was “first in booze, first in shoes and last in the American League.”

How things have changed! The large breweries have dwindled to one – the giant Anheuser Busch – with microbreweries sprouting up everywhere. Shoe production is gone, and so is the American League team. The Cardinals, a National League team, brought home the pennant 19 times and won 11 World Series championships, to the delight of “Cardinal Nation.”


In Forest Park, one of the nation’s largest urban parks, enjoy world-class art at the Saint Louis Art Museum, get science-y at the St. Louis Science Center or peruse exhibits at the Missouri History Museum – all for free. Also free are tours of the Budweiser brewery and historic Grant’s Farm.

The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, aka the Gateway Arch, commemorates Lewis and Clark’s monumental expedition with a soaring, 630-foot, stainless steel arh. Relive St. Louis’ past at the museum below, and journey to the top via capsule-shaped tram cars for jaw-dropping views of the Mississippi River.

Gateway to the West | St. Louis Guide | Gateway Arch

The Gateway Arch is the city’s icon © Burt Remis/Explore St. Louis

Get a quick history lesson at the Old Courthouse, where Dred Scott, a slave, sued for his freedom. The Supreme Court’s decision that African-Americans – both free and enslaved – could not be citizens was a contributing factor to the start of the Civil War.

Gateway to the West | St. Louis Guide | Blueberry Hill

Blueberry Hill is a popular throwback restaurant in The Loop neighbourhood © Explore St. Louis

St. Louis’ French connection lives on in Soulard, a neighbourhood known for its farmers market that dates to 1779, great restaurants and quaint architecture. The Loop neighbourhood, meanwhile, is packed with one-of-a-kind restaurants, including Blueberry Hill (which pays tribute to life in the 50s and 60s), as well as a number of eclectic shops.

St. Louis celebrates its 250th “birthday” in 2014, so stop by to take advantage of the city’s series of special events, planned to take place throughout the year.


Travelling to St. Louis? Then book a flight with Virgin Atlantic and Delta to one of over 80 US cities.


St. Louis has an incredible number of quality attractions. What’s your favourite? Share your thoughts in the comments below. 

Written by Kathie Sutin


Kathie Sutin

As an award-winning freelance journalist--Missouri Professional Communicators (formerly Missouri Press Women) named her Missouri Communicator of the Year for nine straight years--Kathie Sutin has covered everything from construction to transportation. But her favourites are writing about travel, food and people. Born in Chicago and raised in Michigan, the long-time St. Louisan is thoroughly grounded in the Midwest. Though she loves busting myths about “flyover country,” she also enjoys writing about each and every of the 50 United States, all of which she’s visited, and about foreign destinations.

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