St. Louis is, weirdly enough, the only city I’ve ever been in where I saw an actual tent community on an empty lot. It’s also the only city I’ve ever been in where entire buildings were painted with murals and Roman columns.
The Gateway Arch
For anyone unfamiliar with St. Louis, the Arch is exactly that: a gigantic steel structure randomly sticking up from the bank of the Mississippi, holding up nothing. It’s actually part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, which also includes the nearby Old Courthouse. They’re doing some work on the museum underneath the Arch, so until that reopens the Courthouse is acting as the museum/visitor’s center/ticketing location. I opted for the Arch + river cruise combo for $25 ($22 with a NPS pass). After checking out the incredible dome and somewhat comical dioramas in the Courthouse I hopped aboard the not-so-imaginatively named Becky Thatcher for a narrated 1-hour trip up & down the Mighty Mississippi. Our captain told us some of the history of the area and pointed out some interesting things along the way, including river traffic, abandoned buildings, and a casino that filled its basement with river water to comply with the law that all casinos must be “on the river”. I guess it works.
Disembarking from the boat, I headed back up the Grand Staircase (being sure to find the 33rd one, the high-water mark of past flood) and headed down into the heart of the Arch. Getting in here only costs $3, but while the museum is out of commission there’s really only the documentary movie. The cool thing to do is to head to the observation deck on the weirdest elevator ride in town, up through the leg of the Arch itself ($10). The elevators are these crazy little round pods with 5 seats that tilt & ratchet themselves along with the leaning leg of the arch, with windows in the doors that offer a great view of the inner workings of the building. The visitor’s center in the Courthouse has a sample one set up for anybody who’s not sure if they can handle the confined space. It takes 4 minutes to get to the top, but only 3 to get back down (yay gravity!), and they run about every ten minutes. The view from the top is of course spectacular, with one side facing out over the city and the other across the river into Illinois. I stayed up there for a long time watching people and cars, and looking for whatever little oddities I could spot. Click here for a short video I shot on the way down. (It’s not the greatest, but hey.)
St. Louis Zoo
The zoo itself is free, but they charge a huge amount for parking in the lots. I was lucky enough to find a single open spot on the street that I didn’t have to pay for. It’s a surprisingly nice zoo for not costing anything. I only had time and energy to cover about half of it. I really liked the insect house, although I was careful to avoid the employee walking around with a hissing cockroach asking people if they wanted to pet it. One of the coolest things was a display of ants: they had the ant nest on one side of the box and the food on the other side, with a winding vine in between that the ants walked on. I could have stared at them for hours, going back and forth with their little leaf pieces. I also enjoyed the indoor penguin habitat (bring a jacket, the climate is for the penguins, not the humans!) and the seal tunnel. There’s a train ride through the zoo ($5) that I didn’t go on but I’m sure it’s fun.