Photo: Felix Mizioznikov/Shutterstock

Why St. Louis Should Be on Every Art-Lover's Travel List

Saint Louis Insider Guides
by Eileen Rhein Aug 21, 2023

St. Louis is known as the Gateway to the West. A major stop on the Mississippi River and just south of the Missouri River, it was the jumping-off point as the United States expanded its border westward and the city boomed in 19th and 20th centuries. Today, you can see vestiges of an affluent past mix with a forward-thinking, artistic community that make St. Louis an exciting destination year-round.

This city of approximately 300,000 (the greater St. Louis area has about 2.8 million) is full of surprises. There are renowned chefs serving up farm to table fare, world-class free museums, local art endeavors providing complimentary workspaces for up-and-coming artists, and factories that have been repurposed into art museums and trendy food halls. St. Louis also a stop along Route 66 (and the largest Route 66 stop between Chicago and Los Angeles), making it an excellent road trip destination as well as having easy to access from the international airport with direct flights from around the country and Europe.

Embracing the visual arts in St. Louis

Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis

Near the Pulitzer Arts Foundation is The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, a non-collecting museum that presents temporary exhibitions around contemporary art and culture. Designed by renowned American architect Brad Cloepfil, the museum occupies a striking building in a former electrical substation, with a design that retains industrial character fused with modern minimalist elements. A work of art in itself, the building provides a dynamic space for artworks with high ceilings and large open galleries with glass, concrete, and steel as well as expansive windows and skylights that allow natural light to flood the interior spaces. Free to all visitors, the exhibition program showcases emerging and underrepresented artists, as well as established figures in the contemporary art world and explores artistic mediums ranging from painting, sculpture, and installation art, to photography, video, and performance.

Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis: 3750 Washington Ave, St. Louis, MO 63108

Pulitzer Arts Foundation

pulitzer center st. louis

Photo: Mark Hermes

Open and free to all, the Pulitzer Arts Foundation for contemporary art presents temporary art collections and permanent sculptures in an expansive light-filled gallery. Works are placed in conversation with the building, designed by celebrated Japanese architect Tadao Ando. The building is a stunning example of minimalist architecture with clean lines, smooth concrete, geometric shapes, tranquil reflecting pools, and abundant use of natural light. Of particular note when it comes to the artworks interplaying with the building is “Joe” by Richard Serra, a 13-feet-tall steel sculpture spiraled into a massive snail-like shape that totally engulfs the viewer while walking both inside and around the structure.

Pulitzer Arts Foundation: 3716 Washington Ave, St. Louis, MO 63108

Walls of Washington

walls off washington st. louis

Photo: Explore St. Louis

Art isn’t only confined to museums in St. Louis. Case in point: the Walls of Washington, an outdoor exhibition featuring 20 massive murals from local, national, and international artists. The project allows for a space of vibrancy and color in the Grand Center district, helping beautify the neighborhood and becoming a source of civic pride and outdoor engagement. Artists are fairly compensated for their work here. One mural is even entitled “Lift Others as you Climb,” a motto that seems to be ever present in this collaborative city.

Walls of Washington: The alleyway off Washington Blvd between Josephine Baker Blvd and N. Leonard

Saint Louis Art Museum

st louis art museum

Photo: Judd Demaline

To see more classical art forms, head to the free Saint Louis Art Museum. The collection here holds more than 34,000 works of art spanning thousands of years of artistic expression from ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman art, to European paintings and sculptures, to contemporary art, American, African and Oceanic art, and more. You can see impressionist paintings from Monet, Degas, Renoir, and Pissarro, as well as modernist artists such as Kandinsky, Dali and Chagall. Contemporary artists like Warhol, Koons, and Lichtenstein also have a place here.

In addition to these renowned free permanent exhibitions, the museum also hosts temporary exhibitions that bring in artworks from around the world that can be seen for a small fee. The building itself is a stunning example of Beaux-Arts architecture featuring soaring ceilings, ornate moldings, grand spaces, and beautiful details that provide an exquisite backdrop for the art on display. It was designed by Cass Gilbert, the same architect responsible for the Woolworth Building in New York City.

Saint Louis Art Museum: 1 Fine Arts Dr, St. Louis, MO 63110

The City Museum

city museum st louis

Photo: McElroy Fine Art Photography

For something offbeat, The City Museum is an unconventional museum offering an interactive experience in a former shoe factory. This sprawling playground and architectural marvel is made from reclaimed materials, salvaged architectural elements, and found objects. This approach gives the museum an eclectic and creative atmosphere, where visitors are encouraged to climb, crawl, and explore their surroundings. With elements like a 10-story spiral slide, an intricate explorable cave system, and a life-size whale suspended from the ceiling, it’s a trippy and eccentric experience like none other.

The City Museum: 750 N 16th St, St. Louis, MO 63103

Music, opera, and theater in St. Louis

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

st louis opera theatre

Photo: Explore St. Louis

The Opera Theatre of Saint Louis is a leading regional opera company known for its commitment to American composers and the American operatic tradition as well as an annual summer festival. The repertoire encompasses classic works from the standard opera cannon as well as contemporary operas including world premieres of modern works.

Opera Theater of Saint Louis: 210 Hazel Ave, St. Louis, MO 63119

St. Louis Symphony Orchestra

Founded in 1880, the St. Louis Symphony is the second-oldest orchestra in the United States, after the New York Philharmonic, and is one of the leading symphonies in the country. Performing a wide range of classical music under the instruction of world-class conductors and accomplished musicians, most concerts take place in the acoustically acclaimed Powell Symphony Hall. This world-class venue was originally constructed in 1925 and rivals celebrated European concert halls with excellent acoustics and a stunning Spanish Renaissance Revival architectural style.

The exterior features a grand façade with intricate detailing and decorative elements while the interior hall showcases a stunning combination of Spanish and Italian architectural influences. Elaborate molding, gold and red details, a beautifully designed ceiling, elegant chandeliers, and ornate plasterwork surround traditional opera boxes and balconies providing a beautiful window into the city’s affluent past. A $100 million expansion and renovation by renowned Norwegian architects Snøhetta will further develop this extravagant concert hall, adding modern elements like glass facades and gracefully curved stairways to this stunning historic venue. With concerts starting from just $15 per ticket, the Symphony helps make classical music accessible to a wide range of audiences and fosters an appreciation for orchestral music among people of all ages.

St. Louis Symphony Orchestra: 718 N Grand Blvd, St. Louis, MO 63103

Black Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The Black Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, commonly referred to as the Black Rep Theater, is a prominent company dedicated to producing shows that highlight the Black cultural heritage. The company presents a diverse range of theatrical productions, including classics, contemporary works, original plays, and musicals. The shows often address social, political, and historical themes that resonate with the Black community as well as a wider audience.

Black Repertory Theatre of St. Louis: 813 Skinker Blvd, St. Louis, MO 63130

Outdoor arts and sights in St. Louis

Missouri Botanical Garden

Those who would prefer to explore world-class art while immersed in nature should visit the Missouri Botanical Garden. Founded in 1859, the garden covers 79 acres and features over 6.6 million plant specimens, including rare and endangered species, and a diverse range of flora from various ecosystems. Visitors can explore themed gardens, such as the Japanese Garden, English Woodland Garden, and the Climatron, a geodesic dome housing tropical plants. There’s also an impressive research and conservation center devoted to botanical research, conservation efforts, and plant exploration, and a herbarium with a vast collection of plant specimens that supports scientific studies and participates in global conservation initiatives.

Along with plants, there is art to be seen. On a recent visit, a temporary exhibit called “Chihuly in the Garden” showcased the captivating large-scale blown glass sculptures and installations of prominent American artist Dale Chihuly. Strategically placed throughout the garden’s outdoor spaces, such as in reflecting pools, flower beds, and amidst lush greenery, the intricate glass forms in vibrant colors and organic shapes enhance the existing natural beauty of the garden and create a harmonious interplay between the glass art and the botanical environment.

Missouri Botanical Garden: 4344 Shaw Blvd, St. Louis, MO 63110

Gateway Arch

There’s one attraction that is unavoidable in St. Louis, and just because it’s popular and well known national landmark doesn’t make it any less worthy of a close-up visit. Visitors can take the tram up to the observation area at the renowned Gateway Arch, a bizarre experience that feels part Disneyworld, part Ferris wheel, part James Bond villain lair, but nonetheless provides stunning views of the city and a fascinating, well thought-out historical museum presenting the history of St. Louis and its role as The Gateway to the West.

Where to eat and drink in St. Louis

Lucky Accomplice

This upscale craft drink and food establishment has a focus on farm-to-table, locally driven fare and creative drinks by chefs Logan Ely and Justin Bell. When Ely opened Lucky Accomplice in 2022, he wanted to create a place where friends and regulars and people from the neighborhood could stop in without a reservation and have a fun and casual, yet elevated, meal without sacrificing the brilliance of his older, high end, tasting-menu-focused restaurant, Shift. He achieved that in spades, with dishes that rival an upscale establishment without the bank-breaking pomp and circumstance of fine dining. Menu highlights include pork collar served with creamy pesto and marinated turnips, kanpachi crudo topped with strawberry aquachile and jalapeno, and fresh focaccia with fermented tomato butter.

Lucky Accomplice: 2501 S Jefferson Ave, St. Louis, MO 63104

City Foundry STL

This highly anticipated food hall is located in an old manufacturing facility. After a $210 million redevelopment, the chic industrial space ,which operated as an automotive factory for more than 70 years, has a new lease on life providing a stage for chefs from around the city and region to showcase their talents and the great diversity of cuisines the city has to offer. No two vendors are alike and most offer small bites and shareables, allowing guests to take a trip around the world without leaving St. Louis. Think Argentinian empanadas, Yucatan tacos, Afro-Caribbean samosas, and Bombay sliders – perfect for sharing and building a meal while strolling through the food hall. What’s more, the owners of City Foundry STL have taken care to ensure that the food hall supports small local restauranters, with many of the vendors taking their first step toward a brick-and-mortar location.

The structure itself is a modern, industrial hall full of character, with soaring ceilings, plant-wrapped columns, exposed brickwork under glass patches set amid the concrete floor. Century-old, riveted beams, steel trestles, and towering columns which provided the original structure of the foundry remain in place for an ode to the bygone industrial era.

City Foundry STL: 3730 Foundry Way, St. Louis, MO 63110

4 Hands Brewery

With a long and storied history in the beer industry, St. Louis has been a hub of brewing since the 19th century. Anheuser-Busch of Budweiser fame was founded in 1852 and is now among the largest brewing companies in the world. Today, the city’s tradition of innovative brewing continues to evolve via numerous craft breweries many of which are open for tastings.

4 Hands Brewery, for example, has a diverse selection of beers, from hop-forward IPAs to rich stouts, refreshing wheat beers, and experimental brews that utilize unique ingredients and brewing techniques to create distinctive and memorable flavors. Visitors to the taproom have the opportunity to try exclusive releases and engage with knowledgeable staff, in an inviting atmosphere serving up tasty American fare for lunch or dinner.

4 Hands Brewery: 1220 S 8th St, St. Louis, MO 63104

Still 630

For something a little stronger, a Grain to Glass Tour at Still 630 provides an in-depth look at the entire distillation process and a tour of their “indomitable distillery” set in an old gourmet restaurant. Confluence Gin, the team’s latest award-winning creation, is a unique blend of horseradish, pink peppercorn, and galangal root that is not to be missed.

The distillery primarily uses organic, local ingredients to produce award-winning gins, whiskeys, rums, and bourbons. The brand worked together with other local distillers to help lobby and create the first official Missouri bourbon using 100-percent Missouri grown corn that is mashed, fermented, and distilled in Missouri, then aged in new barrels made from Missouri oak trees.

Still 630: 1000 S 4th St, St. Louis, MO 63104

Elevated accommodations in St. Louis

four seasons rooftop bar st. louis

Photo: Expedia

We hope you love the spaces we recommend! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to book a stay.

Four Seasons Hotel St. Louis is ideally located along the Mississippi River with a view of the Gateway Arch. Epic views of the expansive Mississippi await at the rooftop pool complete with private poolside cabanas and a hot tub. An extensive spa and fitness center sees to guests’ relaxation needs, exuding an atmosphere of refined luxury that combines comfort with upscale aesthetics. As the sun sets, the adjacent Cinder Bar and Sky Terrace serves up stylish cocktails by talented mixologists alongside sleek furnishings, cozy fire pits, and an open-air layout.

James Beard winner Gerard Craft blends the traditions and flavors of South America with bold international flavors at Cinder House, the hotel’s sophisticated on-site restaurant. Keep an eye out for live fire cooking and Brazilian-inspired shareables like cheese pastels, empanadas, and ceviche as well as heartier dishes like feijoada, piri piri chicken, and New York Strip served with yuca frites, chimi-rojo bearnaise and a side of manioc polenta.

The hotel has a contemporary and sophisticated architectural design, with a sleek and stylish exterior that reflects the modern, upscale ambiance within. Spacious and well-appointed guest rooms and suites feature contemporary artwork, plush post-modern furnishings, and luxe amenities. Floor-to-ceiling windows offer breathtaking views of the city skyline, the Mississippi River, or the surrounding landscape, providing a peaceful and indulgent retreat for guests.

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How to get to St. Louis

Getting to St. Louis is easy. Visitors can fly to St. Louis from most major U.S. cities in three hours or less. St. Louis Lambert International Airport is situated just 13 miles from downtown St. Louis and is connected via MetroLink light. Visitors can also take a quick ride share or taxi, arriving downtown and checking into a hotel in 15 to 20 minutes. If driving to St. Louis, there is an easy-to-use network of interest highways. I-44 begins in downtown St. Louis and runs southwest along the former path of Route 66 to Springfield, Missouri, making for an iconic route.

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