Having spent a bit of time in STL, I knew the city offers a variety of FREE! attractions; more than enough to keep sisters on a budget entertained for a few days. And along with exploring the city, we also got spoiled by our host family The Jensens.
So what did we choose to do with ourselves? Well...
FREE! An afternoon stroll through Tower Grove Park. After settling into our room at the adorable Jensen Inn and Suites, sister and I walked to nearby Tower Grove Park and spent time stretching our legs and catching up on men, work and family politics.
FREE! Grooming advice from a caring sister: "I don't know if it's your pregnancy hormones or what, but your beard hair is OUT OF CONTROL. I knew no one else was going to tell you that."
FREE! Backyard cookout @ The Jensens. Everyone in the family pitched in a served a delicious dinner including burgers, chicken, fresh broccoli from the garden, slaw, baked potatoes and stawberries with vanilla custard for dessert.
$10.00 The St. Louis Arch - Journey to the Top. First thing on Friday morning, Sister and I headed to the city's most recognizable landmark - The Arch. At 630 feet in the air (via a very sloooowww mid-century modern rickety pod) we were able to see an areal view of the city. And after about 3 minutes of viewing, we were done. Back on the ground we entertained ourselves by taking pictures under the Arch.
$10.00 (about) - Lunch @ The Vine. After a failed attempt to locate a tapas style restaurant (thanks to the crappy Garmin getting us lost), we ventured back to the Tower Grove Park area. I remembered eating at The Vine before, and I knew it would be delicious. The flavors at this Medieterranean restaurant are like none I've had before. The rice is cinnamon-y and the fresh pita bread is warm and soft. The serving sizes are so generous that you can easily split a plate between 2 people. Did we do that? Of course not! The stretch of South Grand where The Vine is located - between Arsenal and Humphrey - is host to a whole mess of restaurants, most of which are international. Yet, I keep returning to The Vine because it's just that good.
FREE! Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis - a breathtaking experience. Completed in 1914, this cathedral offers 5 billion square feet (or thereabouts) of gold mosaic tile. Okay, I just confirmed on Wikipedia that it's actually 83,000 sq ft, one of the largest mosaic collections in the world. It was GORGEOUS.
$5.42 - a large strawberry concrete (custard) from Ted Drewes, a local shop serving shakes to the people of STL since 1929. St. Louis is HOT in mid-May, and my pregnant ass needed a big cool treat.
FREE! (Well, free for me.) Dinner at SALT was definitely NOT free, but sister treated me to a birthday dinner. Salt is located in the area of STL known as Central West End (just sounds fancy, doesn't it?) We spotted this restaurant after leaving the cathedral and knew that it would be worth our while. Had we made a reservation early enough, we might have been able to enjoy dining on the whimsical outdoor patio, but this converted funeral home offers an artistic and modern indoor dining experience as well. We feasted on several small plates; gnocchi, pork belly and pickled vegetables, pork meatballs and mussels. Though, it was dessert that really had my eyes rolling into the back of my head - a whipped goat cheese custard (yes, goat cheese) served in a small mason jar, topped with strawberry fluff and served with chocolate sauce and wafer cookies.
After dinner, it was back to the Jensens' abode for some R&R. We watched Magic Beyond Words: The JK Rowling Story with the family.
$34.75 - a Saturday morning stroll through the historic Tower Grove Heights neighborhood followed by breakfast for 2 at Local Harvest. I love this place! Their vegan sausage is surprisingly delcious, and they serve a huge portion. (Before you get all crazy on me, don't worry - I'm not vegan. I had enough pork at dinner the night before and thought I ought to lay off for a while.)
FREE! Following breakfast, our busy Saturday tour of STL started with a trip to the Missouri Botanical Gardens. St. Louis City/County residents are generously offered free admission on Wednesday and Saturday mornings before noon. Knowing this, Sister and I turned off our Southern twang and offered our local zip code to the gate attendant...and in we went for $0.00! (Normally, admission is $8 for adults.) The garden is offering a Chinese lantern exhibit through the middle of August, and although we didn't see the lanterns glowing at night, I could tell that the displays would be magical. We were especially impressed with the Climatron domed conservatory, which held a maze full of unusual plants, waterfalls and lizards.
$28.32 lunch @ Wildflower. After a long and hot trek through the botanical gardens, these sisters had worked up an appetite. Our bellies took us back to the Central West End area in search of good grub. The intersection of Leclade and S. Euclid is another little pocket of eateries, and we settled on the outdoor patio at Wildflower. The place was hopping with guests, the food was acceptable, but the service left a lot to be desired.
FREE! We made the quick hop from Central West End to the entrance of Forest Park and headed towards the St. Louis Art Museum. The collections and exhibitions were a bit lackluster in my opinion. The place was half empty, and I felt any eerie sense of abandonment as we headed to the top floor (most of which was blocked off). Regardless, we found some noteworthy pieces to ponder, but our journey to the art museum didn't last very long. I reckon I shouldn't complain about a free activity.
$32.55 Admission for 3 to the City Museum. The rate drops from $15.00 to $10.00 per person after 5 p.m. Sister and I borrowed the youngest Jensen child to acompany her through the museum. Due to my current condition (pregnancy) I was unable to participate
$33.44 Dinner for 2 at Anthonino's on "The Hill." The Hill is the Little Itlay of St. Louis, and this joint came highly recommended to us by a local. THIS JUST IN: Food Network star Guy Fieri visited Anthonino's for his show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives less than one month after we were there. His show is stuipd, but the restaurant was perfect-o! (That's an Italian word, right?) The restaurant itself is rather small and dark, which I enjoy if done right - and it was. The dining room was cozy and offered a good atmosphere. The guests were cheerful and clearly enjoying their meals. The service was SPOT ON, and I couldn't have been more pleased...until I got my food, and then I was all, "WOOOOWWW!!! YUUUMMMMM! MMMMMM CHEEEEESSSSSEEE." Our pizza was delicious. I sure do love pizza, especially Anthonino's. Definitely ranked among my Top 5 favs.
$18.16 Last stop on our tour of St. Louis was Sunday breakfast at City Diner. We once again walked through Tower Grove Park and enjoyed our last moments together. City Diner is just that - a diner with greasy breakfast food and lots and lots of 1950's memorabilia. A little too cheesey for me...but it got the job done. After breakfast we were back on the road - Sister to Lexington, and me back to Nashville.
**You may have noticed that we skipped a few St. Louis highlights...and that was on purpose. What we DIDN'T do?? The FREE! Budweiser brewery tour. Why? Because I've been before and it wasn't all that great. We also didn't go to a Cardinals game. Why? Because last time I went to a game I thought the Cards were playing a baseball team from South Dakota. And guess what - there is no baseball team from South Dakota. Little did I know, the "SD" on the scoreboard stood for San Diego. It is a complete waste of money for me to attend ANY sporting event. And finally, we skipped eating at the world famous Pappy's Smokehouse. Why? Because I've been several times, and because Sister is a martian and doesn't care for BBQ.
$82.41 - gas for the 10 hour round trip drive from Franklin, TN to St. Louis, MO
$16.33 - food for the road - a combination of Wendy's, Chik-fil-A and gas station snacks/drinks
Grand Total: $271.38 (a fraction of what I spent on last year's trip to NYC!)