St Louis

We planned a trip to St Louis to coincide with the area’s peak fall colors by comparing past fall foliage reports and hoped mother nature wouldn’t trick us this year. Unfortunately, just three days after booking the accommodation in July, St Louis broke the 100-year wettest day record where the historic flood water rose to almost 8 inches in 6 hours. Our only hope was the city would be fully recovered from the flood damage by the time we traveled there.

The Central West End is the neighborhood we chose to stay in, which is strategically located between Forest Park and downtown St Louis. It is a safe neighborhood, and Saint Louis University’s campus is only a block away from our accommodation. Even before the trip, we were very well aware that St Louis consistently ranks among the most dangerous cities in the US every year. In fact, we heard about a high school shooting incident on TV on the second night of our stay, which occurred just 3 miles south of our accommodation. We also drove past the bright collapsible spotlights and reporters’ vans parked beside the school on the following rainy evening. It’s worth noting that the high crime areas are mainly concentrated on the north side of downtown St Louis and in East St Louis. East St Louis is technically not part of St Louis since it is located across the Mississippi River in Illinois.

We allocated a full day to explore the Gateway Arch National Park and downtown St Louis. Knowing that parking in big cities is always problematic and costly, we left our car in the parking garage for the entire day and explored by foot instead. Our combo tickets covered a tram ride to the top of the Gateway Arch, a short documentary movie, and a riverboat cruise. It was fascinating to learn about the purpose of this arch and how President Thomas Jefferson played a pivotal role in the westward expansion by acquiring the Louisiana Territory from France. On the other hand, the riverboat cruise on the Mississippi River in the afternoon was a rather forgettable experience. Apart from admiring the giant arch from different angles and enjoying the beautiful fall weather, nothing was interesting outside that area, especially on the Illinois side. In the evening, we drove across the river to watch the sunset overlooking the St Louis skyline from the Illinois side.

We visited several public parks throughout the stay to capture the fall colors. In addition, we took advantage of the free attractions in St Louis and its vicinities, such as the St Louis Zoo, St Louis Art Museum, Missouri History Museum, World Chess Hall of Fame, and Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site. Besides covering the city attractions, we hiked in Lone Elk Park, Castlewood State Park in Missouri, and Pere Marquette State Park in Illinois. One of the trip highlights was the Anheuser-Busch Brewery tour. The guided tour was 2 hours long, and it wasn’t cheap, but we got to drink lots of beer to make up for the price. Our tour guide also shared many interesting stories, two of which stood out. One story was how the brewery founder originally wanted to name the current Busch Stadium as Budweiser Stadium. However, the Major League Baseball rules prohibited naming a venue after an alcoholic beverage. So, the owner circumvented that rule by naming it after himself and introducing Busch Beer later. The second story was about Walt Disney’s ambition to open a second theme park at St Louis Riverfront (where the Gateway Arch is currently located). However, the founder’s great-grandson vehemently opposed this idea after discovering that the theme park would not serve beer. Hence, Disney World was built in sunny Florida.

Our drive home included a stop in a small city named Hannibal. When we drove past this city on our way to St Louis, the city’s name piqued my interest. My impromptu research discovered this city is definitely not named after Hannibal Lecter (because it would be silly). Instead, it is the boyhood home of Mark Twain. I vividly remember my struggles with the college’s English reading assignments about Huckleberry Finn’s adventures. Every student was required to share their opinions after reading the assigned chapters. In the class, 2 nerdy students dominated the discussions among themselves and the teacher. Besides being lazy, the idea of speculating based on a storybook was odd to me since we could have read further chapters to learn about Finn’s next adventure. I digress. It is also worth mentioning that Samuel Clemens and Mark Twain refer to the same person, whereas the latter is the pen name of the earlier. As we drove home, we passed by a state park named Wakonda in Missouri, which we obviously had a few good chuckles at. And no, Black Panther is not a Missourian.

The overall trip was enjoyable. We were blessed with excellent weather and stunning fall colors, not to mention the gas price was considerably lower in Missouri. We tried several classic St Louis foods such as St Louis-style ribs, toasted ravioli, gooey butter cake, and pizza with Provel cheese. We also had several fantastic Chinese cuisines in the Chinatown area. Apart from a few ghetto areas we had to drive through near downtown St Louis, the rest of the neighborhoods were generally very safe for us to explore.

Incredible fall colors in Forest Park — one of the largest urban parks in the US and it is much larger than New York’s Central Park.
Half of McDonald’s arch view from the top of the Gateway Arch.
Sunset view overlooking downtown St Louis from the Illinois side.
An interesting display at Missouri History Museum illustrating what St Louis Riverfront might look like if Eero Saarinen didn’t win the 1947 Jefferson National Expansion Memorial competition with his Gateway Arch design.
Brewery tour at Anheuser-Busch — the world’s largest brewing company.
Similar to the Painted Ladies in San Francisco, St Louis has its own version of Painted Ladies in Lafayette Square.
Bored grizzly bear at St Louis Zoo.
A majestic elk in Lone Elk Park. The park’s name might indicate a single elk, but there are many elks and deer roaming freely in the park.
Fall colors in Castlewood State Park.
Fall colors in Pere Marquette State Park.
One of the many beautiful murals in Hannibal.
Places covered in St Louis.
Road trip route to/from St Louis.

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