When most people think of visiting St Louis, the Gateway Arch National Park and the mighty Mississippi are the first things to come to mind. But outside of those well-known spots there are hidden gems to be unearthed in the city known as the ‘Gateway to the West’, where the Mississippi and Missouri rivers meet.
From Chuck Berry’s home to a mega-turtle playground, to the first rural cemetery west of the Mississippi, here are nine off-the-beaten-track sights you won’t want to miss in St Louis.
6401 Oakland Avenue
Get ready to climb atop a 40ft turtle sculpture at the aptly named Turtle Playground, a playful St Louis magnet for children of all ages. You'll find five species of turtles — a snapping turtle, a soft-shelled turtle, a stink-pot turtle, a red-eared slider and three box turtles – ranging in size from seven feet long to 40 – as well as a map of the Mississippi. Climb, jump, or just take a moment to sit and enjoy the scenery atop a hard-shell creature. Seven oversized turtle eggs, three of which are just about to hatch, will test your balance.
Chuck Berry’s home
3137 Whittier Street
If the walls in this home could talk... they'd sing. Rock-and-roll pioneer Chuck Berry, who was born in St Louis in 1926, lived here from 1958 until the 1970s. Berry and his wife Thelmetta lived in the 4,350-square-foot, three-story, red-brick property built in 1909 for eight years, during the most critically acclaimed part of his career, when he recorded hits including ‘Too Much Monkey Business’ (1956), ‘Rock and Roll Music’ (1957), and ‘Johnny B. Goode’ (1958).
4947 West Florissant Avenue
As the first rural cemetery west of the Mississippi, much of St Louis history is buried beneath the elaborate tombstones and mausoleums of Bellefontaine Cemetery. Of particular note are the many former ‘beer barons,’ scions of the famous St Louis brewing families, including the Anheuser, Busch, and Lemp families, who chose this Mississippi riverside cemetery as their final resting place. It’s also an official Arboretum and boasts a rare dwarf redwood.
Whispering Arch at Union Station
1820 Market Street
Inaugurated in 1894, St Louis' Union Station was once the largest passenger rail terminal in the world. Today, an elegant hotel calls the former station home. Yet the original elegant architectural details such as its green, glazed terracotta bricks and stained-glass windows recall the era when this station bustled with passengers making their way westward and back. One architectural element – an arch near the second floor North Entrance to the station – boasts a secret, unusual acoustic feature, the result of a building mistake. Grab a buddy and stand in opposite corners of the arch, facing the wall. Whisper, and the sound of your voice will magically travel along the arch towards your buddy, so they'll be able to hear your whisper loud and clear.
Earl C. Lindburg Automobile Center at the National Museum of Transportation
2933 Barrett Station Road
The National Museum of Transportation is 42-acres dedicated to car culture and the restoration and preservation of America’s transportation history. At the Earl C. Lindburg Automobile Center, a museum within the museum, more than 200 rare, vintage vehicles await admiration in their old-fashioned car dealership. Earl C. Lindberg was a St Louis Cadillac dealer who also developed car leasing in the U.S. The fascinating cars here range from a 1901 one-cylinder, 7-hp St Louis Motor Carriage Co. automobile, which once cost $1,200 and is one of only nine still in existence, to a 1923 steam-powered Stanley Steamer, to a Chrysler turbine car, one of only 55 produced by Chrysler and considered incredibly high-tech when hit the market in 1963. Try to plan a visit around one of the many car shows hosted by the museum, where classic car lovers from local clubs gather to show off their treasured cars of days gone by.
The Mural Mile
Chouteau Avenue and South Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard
Locals call this mile-long stretch of ever-changing public art the ‘Mural Mile.’ Top street artists from across the country and around the world transform what was once a boring old concrete floodwall near the Mississippi River into a mile-long secret St Louis museum of sorts. The murals here are constantly being updated by new artists with new themes, so you can count on seeing a fresh exhibition every time you visit.
Milo’s Bocce Garden on the Hill
5201 Wilson Avenue
Head to the highest point in St. Louis – the Hill – and you'll find a vibrant enclave where Italian American culture is not just embraced but celebrated. This close-knit neighborhood is an Italian-American dream come true: the scent of freshly baked bread wafts from specialty bakeries galore, customers clamor to find a table at one of the many Italian restaurants, espresso bars buzz at cozy cafes and neighbors chat over glasses of wine at street-side taverns. A visit to the Hill isn't complete without stepping in on a friendly bocce tournament at Milo’s Bocce Garden on the Hill. Beer and pizza round out the fun and spectators are welcome, as several neighborhood leagues compete here Monday through Thursday, April through November. If you’re traveling with enough friends or family to form a team of your own, registration is $50 per team. On weekends, the outdoor lanes are open for public play.
Old Chain of Rocks Bridge
10820 Riverview Drive
When the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge first started welcoming westward Route 66 traffic in 1929, it was considered a marvel of engineering. Five trusses forming ten spans are perched 55 feet above the river. It cost $2.5 million dollars to build, a stratospheric amount at the time. By the early 1960’s, Route 66 had been rerouted and the bridge was in dire need of repair, having become too narrow. In 1966 a bigger bridge – the Interstate 270 Bridge – opened just 2,000 feet upstream. The old bridge reopened for pedestrians and bicyclists in 1999, where stunning views of the Mississippi and its banks, with the Gateway Arch in the distance, as well as the amazing architecture of the bridge itself, are better captured at today's slower, pedestrian pace.
Penrose Park Velodrome
4200 North Kingshighway Boulevard
If you’ve ever dreamed of whizzing around a velodrome, here’s your chance. Designed by Olympic cyclist and Schwinn bicycle designer Frank Burlando, and inaugurated in 1962, the circular track of the Penrose Park Velodrome – paved in asphalt and measuring 1/5 of a mile on a 28 degree angle – is an outdoor cyclist’s dream come true. Built to host the prestigious U.S. National Track Cycling Championships, today it’s used by local racing clubs or anyone who wants to swirl away some steam by bicycle. The Metro St Louis Velodrome Association offers several onsite, first-come, first-served rental bikes for riders who want to race and do not own a track bike, but riders must supply their own helmets.