Nearly every visitor to St. Louis marvels at the Gateway Arch and explores the zoo, the art museum or one of the other historic institutions located in Forest Park. But no visit to the Gateway to the West is complete without discovering a few of the city’s many distinctive neighborhoods. There are 79 within the city limits alone, with many more worthwhile spots as you head west into the greater metro area. Here’s your guide to what to see and do in 10 of the best neighborhoods in St. Louis.
Located just south of downtown St. Louis, the Soulard Farmers Market is one of the best-known markets in the city. Officially established in 1841 when landowner Julia Soulard set aside two blocks for a public market, the spot was already being used as a place for farmers to sell their goods as early as 1779. The Soulard neighborhood extends south from the market to the Anheuser-Busch Brewery. Many of the original houses — from rowhouses to mansions—in this early St. Louis neighborhood are still in use. Soulard is known for its nightlife and the large Mardi Gras celebration held there each year. For dinner or drinks, check out Bogart’s Smokehouse, John D. McGurk’s Irish Pub or Molly’s in Soulard. The southern tip of the area is also an easy jumping off point for Cherokee Street’s antique stores and vibrant Mexican-American community.
Three miles west of Soulard, just south of Interstate 44, the compact Shaw neighborhood is surrounded by three of St. Louis’ most historic green spaces: the Missouri Botanical Garden, Compton Hill Reservoir Park and Tower Grove Park. The area is named after philanthropist Henry Shaw, who owned the land that would later become the botanical garden (still sometimes called Shaw’s Garden) and Tower Grove Park. The Shaw neighborhood is filled with tree-lined streets and Victorian houses. After undergoing a renaissance in recent decades, the area is now home to many small businesses, such as Future Ancestor, Bonboni Mercantile Co., Fiddlehead Fern Café, and Ices Plain & Fancy.
Central West End
The Central West End hugs the northeastern corner of Forest Park and is home to some of St. Louis’ most impressive historic houses. Wealthy residents flocked to the area prior to the 1904 World’s Fair and built stately mansions, many of which are still around today. In recent years, high-rise developments with views of Forest Park and the Arch have attracted a wide range of new residents. The Central West End features a pedestrian-friendly area that stretches from the upscale Chase Park Plaza Royal Sonesta Hotel to the green-domed Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, which is filled glittering mosaics. While in the area, visit the World Chess Hall of Fame, enjoy a cupcake from The Cup, or browse the shelves of independent bookstore Left Bank Books.
A large, light-up sign hangs over Manchester Road announcing the start of The Grove, a mile-long stretch off the southeastern corner of Forest Park. This up-and-coming neighborhood is one of the most LGBTQ-friendly areas of the city. The Grove is home to bars and nightclubs, including Just John Club and Atomic Cowboy. The Grove also has many notable restaurants, such as Urban Chestnut Brewing Company’s German-style bierhall, Southern eatery Grace Meat + Three, and gourmet burger and shawarma spot Layla. The area is buzzing with activity and street art, including several interesting murals.
Italian flag-painted fire hydrants denote the start of The Hill, a traditionally Italian-American neighborhood less than a mile south of Forest Park. Italian immigrants began moving to the area, which was formerly known as St. Louis Hill, in the late 1800s, and baseball greats Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola grew up there. Now, the neighborhood is dotted with Italian eateries, bakeries and specialty stores—many of them still family run. For a great Italian meal, check out Charlie Gitto’s on The Hill, Favazza’s Restaurant, Zia’s Restaurant or Gioia’s Deli. The Hill is also a great place to try toasted ravioli, a St. Louis favorite.
The Delmar Loop
At the end of what used to be St. Louis’ streetcar line, the Delmar Loop’s six busy blocks have become a hotspot for dining, shopping and entertainment. Stop to look at the bronze stars celebrating prominent St. Louisans while browsing one-of-a-kind shops like Vintage Vinyl. Head to the elegant Tivoli Theatre to see an independent film, try St. Louis-style barbecue at Salt + Smoke, or relax at Blueberry Hill, a dining and music venue where Chuck Berry played more than 200 times. The Loop is popular with a younger crowd, especially the many Washington University in St. Louis students who live nearby. An electric trolley system connects the Loop with the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park.
St. Louisans love beer, and not just Bud Light. The city’s largest independent craft brewery, Schlafly, operates the Bottleworks in Maplewood, Missouri. Tour the facility and learn about Schlafly’s brewing process before sampling a rotating selection of beers. Along nearby Manchester Road, Maplewood’s main artery, the neighborhood has a thriving community of small businesses like Kakao Chocolate, Leopard Boutique, and specialty food store Larder and Cupboard. The area is also home to Mauhaus, the city’s first permanent cat café. Be sure to read the Route 66 plaques along Manchester before stopping for dinner at Reeds American Table or The Benevolent King.
Clayton, Missouri, became the county seat in 1877, and since then this area has developed into St. Louis County’s preeminent business district. It’s now the home of Caleres (formerly Brown Shoe Company) and Centene Corporation, among others. Bordered by Interstate 170 on the west and connected by the MetroLink transit system, Clayton includes expansive Shaw Park, as well as high rises, historic homes and an array of upscale boutiques and restaurants, including popular brunch spot Half & Half and Italian eateries Pastaria and Il Palato. Each September, Clayton hosts the Saint Louis Art Fair, which draws approximately 130,000 visitors.
Kirkwood, Mo., was established in 1853 as a commuter suburb, and it remains one of only two places in the St. Louis metro area where passengers can catch an Amtrak train. The community features 100-year-old Victorian houses and a pedestrian-friendly downtown area filled with boutiques, restaurants and a popular farmer’s market. While there, get a caffeine fix at Kaldi’s Coffee Roasting Co., sample a gooey butter donut at Strange Donuts, or sip a local beer at Billy G’s. For those with kids, drive a few minutes south to The Magic House, an interactive museum for children that spans 55,000 square feet.
Just across the Missouri River lies St. Charles, a far western suburb that was founded in 1769 — just a few years after the City of St. Louis. Lewis and Clark passed through this frontier town in 1804, and it later served as the first capital of Missouri (1821-1826). Today, many visitors are drawn to St. Charles because of its historic sites, casinos and access to Katy Trail State Park. Soak up the small-town charm along cobblestone-lined Main Street, and stop for a bite to eat at Hendrick’s BBQ, Lewis & Clark’s Restaurant, or one of the many other eateries.