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5Apr/13Off

St. Louis: A Travelogue

This spring, Sandra and I decided to take a vacation to St. Louis, Missouri with Charlotte and my mother.

I did find some humor that almost universally, the response was "St. Louis?  Why would you want to go there?  Do you have family there?" from friends and coworkers of both Sandra and my mother.

Of course, you may be asking yourself the same.  But I decided a while ago that I hate vacations, but I love exploring and visiting new places and because Charlotte is still very young, for practical reasons, it's easier to visit destinations that are a relatively short flight away and has some kid friendly attractions.

We left on a Saturday afternoon and arrived at STL (to rain and cold weather).  We decided to have dinner at a Steak and Shake near the hotel as both of us have seen them in our previous stops through the midwest but never stopped at one. It was pretty good -- right up there with Five Guys and In-&-Out.

City Museum

From there, we made our way to City Museum.

Preserved architectural elements from St. Louis @ City Museum

Preserved architectural elements from St. Louis @ City Museum

Enchanted Caves @ City Museum

Enchanted Caves @ City Museum

I will say this: I think this alone is worth visiting STL for if you have children (or if you're a big kid at heart).  City Museum cannot really be described in words.  It is a fantasy world in the truest sense of that word -- it is the world of Labyrinth, NeverEnding Story, Goonies, and a dash of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory realized in our world.  You can get lost in there for days exploring every nook of the Enchanted Caves or crawling through the various tunnels and passage ways.

Forget Disney; City Museum is the one place that every child should have a chance to visit once in their lifetime (before they become too big to fit into some of the passages!).

Be sure to stop here on a weekend when it's open until midnight and there are tons of kids around -- you can really feel the magic and energy of this place come to life.

I definitely plan on bringing my daughter back here at least one more time in her lifetime.

St. Louis Zoo

Fortunately, our second day there was a gorgeous day as we had planned to visit St. Louis Zoo.  Having visited San Diego Zoo twice now, St. Louis Zoo had big benchmark to live up to.

Checking out some huge insects in the insectarium

Checking out some huge insects in the insectarium

Three of the many Asian elephants they had

Three of the many Asian elephants they had

Lemurs were active and friendly

Lemurs were active and friendly

Another specimen at the herpatarium

Another specimen at the herpatarium

Up close with a boa in the herpatarium

Up close with a boa in the herpatarium

Up close with a hippo

Up close with a hippo

One important thing to note is that there is no entrance fee to this zoo.  You might think that it would impact the quality of the zoo, but I am pretty amazed at the quality, quantity, and variety of exhibits at this zoo.  And because entrance to the zoo is free, we spread out our visits and returned two times (three visits total over three days).

I have to say, in terms of the overall design, it certainly doesn't come close to San Diego, but in terms of the exhibits?  I think it blows San Diego away!  The herpatarium, bird house and garden, and the insectarium in particular  were top notch; some of the best exhibits of their kind that I've seen at any zoo.  Sandra and I also noted that the animals at this zoo were particularly active compared to animals at many other zoos that we've been to.

We really enjoyed the zoo and Charlotte had a great time seeing many of the animals that she's learned about in person.  The only disappointment is that her favorite animal seemed to be "Mr. Rhino" who decided he would hide on the second and third trips (the third trip was specifically to see him).

Missouri Botanical Garden

Also on our agenda was the Missouri Botanical Garden or "mobot".  Because the zoo was free to reenter and because the weather on the second day was amazing, we decided to leave the zoo early and visit mobot.  At this time of year, there's not much in the outdoor exhibits so it's hard to compare it to say Longwood Gardens (which we frequent) or Cheekwood.  And certainly, it felt smaller than either of those (Longwood for sure), but I still found it to be beautiful and interesting, especially the Climatron and Temperate House.

It is unfortunate that we did a poor job of timing our visit.  Had we scheduled our trip 3-4 weeks later, mobot would have surely been amazing as it would be in full spring bloom by then.

Grandma in the Temperate House

Grandma in the Temperate House

A lizard in the Climatron

A lizard in the Climatron

A glamor shot?

A glamor shot?

Mother and daughter in the Temperate House

Mother and daughter in the Temperate House

Charlotte chasing grandma in the Boxwood Garden

Charlotte chasing grandma in the Boxwood Garden

Fountain in the Temperate House

Fountain in the Temperate House

The Arch

Closeup of The Arch

Closeup of The Arch with Sandra and Charlotte

Had a hard time trying to fit the whole thing into one shot.

Had a hard time trying to fit the whole thing into one shot.

Of course, we also stopped downtown to see The Arch on our third day (after another stop at the zoo to visit the exhibits we skipped the day before).  I didn't expect much out of it, but I do have to say that driving up to it through the city, the structure is massive and seemingly alien in nature; it doesn't seem of this world -- I couldn't take my eyes off of it!

While there was not much to see while we were there, we thought it would be cool to show pictures of it to Charlotte when she gets older so we stopped and took pictures and visited the Gateway Museum in the lower level.

Pappy's Smokehouse

We had planned to visit at least one BBQ place on this trip and it was between Pappy's Smokehouse or Bogart's Smokehouse.  Bogart's was closed on Monday, so that made our decision easy.

We showed up at Pappy's somewhat late for lunch as Charlotte decided to take a nap.  I was hoping that by getting in around 2, we would avoid most of the crowd and it sure seemed promising walking up to the entrance.  However, upon opening the door, we were greeted with a line that was at least 50 patrons long.  We debated on staying given that Charlotte was surely hungry and it looked like it would be at least 45 minutes before we got to eat.  But we stuck it out and it was worth it (so worth it).

Ribs on the bottom right -- making me hungry right now.

Ribs on the bottom right -- making me hungry right now.

Sandra plowing through the pulled pork

Sandra plowing through the pulled pork

I would say that this was one of the highlights of the trip.  The ribs were fantastic -- smokey, crisp on the outside, tender and moist on the inside, and so flavorful.  The pulled pork and turkey were amazing as well.  We ate a good sized portion, but none of it left us feeling heavy.  While I normally hate waiting in line for anything, this was definitely one time where I'm glad that we stuck around.

City Coffeehouse and Creperie

For breakfast on our final day, we decided to get a special treat and headed into the business district to hit up City Coffeehouse and Creperie.

Charlotte sneaking some powdered sugar (naughty, naughty!)

Charlotte sneaking some powdered sugar (naughty, naughty!)

The menu at the City Coffeehouse and Creperie

The menu at the City Coffeehouse and Creperie

This is definitely a must-visit destination if you plan on stopping here as the crepes were all delicious and fantastic (we each ordered a different one and shared them).

What We Missed

There are a few places that we didn't make it to either because they weren't open yet or the timing didn't work out; I think we will definitely be back to STL once more.

On that list is Grant's Farm which doesn't open until mid April, World's Fair Donuts, and Donut Drive-In.

STL also seemed to have some great nightlife scenes and many, many awesome breweries and pubs.  It's a shame that Sandra and I weren't able to get do visit these on this trip!

Closing Thoughts

Contrary to popular sentiment, St. Louis is a fantastic place to take a vacation, especially if you have kids.  City Museum, the zoo, and mobot are enough to keep you occupied for quite a while and because the zoo doesn't have an entrance fee, you can really plan multiple trips to the zoo and break up your trip.  This is great because it gives you an opportunity to get out there and try some of the amazing food in the area.

I also found that getting around STL was pretty easy.  We never really hit any traffic nor did we have to drive very far for anything that we wanted to do; everything was within a 15-20 minute drive, tops!

Prices were great as well.  Of course, the zoo is free.  Mobot is $8 for adults (compared to $26 at Longwood Gardens).  City Museum is $12 for adults so I think it's a very wallet friendly destination for families.

If you plan on visiting STL, I would definitely recommend no earlier than the middle of April but optimally for the beginning of May as I'm sure the scenery at the zoo, mobot, the Arch, and Grant's Farm would be beautiful by then.

Posted by Charles Chen

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