St. Louis offers a family a great vacation. The lively city, on the banks of the Mississippi River, is fresh and old, modern and historic, energetic and relaxed, but most of all, it is a super affordable spot to spend a few days. The city is often described as a network of fabulous neighborhoods, each with a personality and feel all its own.

We spent time in several and left the rest to explore on another trip. The St. Louis area is home to about 3 million people. Tourism is a major economic driver but several well-known corporations make their home here including Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Anheuser-Busch, Edward Jones Investments, Energizer and Monsanto. St. Louis is home to three professional sports teams: the St. Louis Cardinals, the St. Louis Blues (hockey), and the St. Louis Rams.

Our hotel was awesome - we stayed about 10 minutes from downtown at the River City Casino and Hotel. Not only is it beautiful, but rooms feature floor-to-ceiling windows (some with views over the Mississippi River), free WiFi, iPod docks and flat-screen TVs. Guests love the rainfall shower heads and TVs in the bathroom mirror. Some rooms include patios with tables and chairs. There are multiple dining options including 1904 Steak House, Lewy Nine’s Café, The Beerhouse, Burger Brothers, The Great Food Exposition and Peet’s Coffee and Tea. The chef at the steakhouse has one of the most creative and innovative minds I've seen. He offered one exotic treat after another. We loved his seafood shelf. This is a destination in itself. The reigning AFC National Pastry Chef of the Year, Stephan Schubert, is the executive pastry chef at River City. The casino offers more than 2,000 slots, plus table games and a smoke-free poker room. I enjoyed a behind-the-scenes tour and can truthfully say the staff is amazing and the gambling is great!

Things to do
First, as incredible as it seems, most public activities in St. Louis are free. Yes, free. All the time. The zoo is free and so is parking on surrounding streets. The St. Louis Science Center, the St. Louis Art Museum, the Missouri History Museum, Citygarden Park, Anheuser-Busch Brewery Tours, and Grant’s Farm, home to the Budweiser Clydesdales and hundreds of other animals, do not have an admission charge. Also free are the World Bird Sanctuary, the Cahokia Mounds, a World Heritage Site; the Cathedral Basilica, a stunning cathedral home to the largest collection of mosaics in the world; the Laumeier Sculpture Park; the Museum of Westward Expansion and Old Courthouse, located at the base of the Arch; the National Great Rivers Museum; and the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts. The Arch (not free), of course, is a must for visitors to the city. Officially titled the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, the iconic monument honors Thomas Jefferson and his forward-thinking expansion of the United States, much of which began in St. Louis, the “Gateway to the West.” Enjoy a cool hour in the Missouri Botanical Garden, founded in 1859, the oldest continually operating botanical garden in the U.S. Forest Park is a lovely, 1,300-acre park that was home to the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Today, it is home to a great golf course, the zoo, the art museum and the Muny (the theater), and tons of activities such as biking, running and boating.

on Parker, owner of Parker’s Table, shows off the fabulous imported pasta shoppers may find at his store. This was one of the stops on the culinary tour.

Houston has a good-hearted rivalry with the Cardinals but we thoroughly enjoyed touring the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum, followed by an hour on board the St. Louis FunTours Trolley. The Hall of Fame and Museum is filled with fascinating memorabilia. Interactive exhibits allow visitors to feel the thrill of the game. You can even hold a bat used by a famous player, like Stan Musial, and “hit” it into the crowd.

Here are some of the very best culinary experiences in St. Louis:

Two words: The Hill. We parked on the street and emerged from the car and the incredible smell of garlic was wafting toward us. Originally the enclave to St. Louis Italians, it is still a thriving community of family owned businesses and restaurants sprinkled deliciously throughout the neighborhood. Excellent.

Sidewalk dining along Lindell Avenue – one wonderful place after another in this chic neighborhood will entice and delight you. Tennessee Williams wrote “The Glass Menagerie” inspired by the nearby apartment building he lived in during his late teens.

The Delmar neighborhood, called The Loop, is named for the trolley turnaround from the World’s Fair days. Today it is a vibrant neighborhood of young professionals, art deco buildings, restaurants, art houses, hotels, night clubs and shopping. You can trace the Walk of Fame, with 75 brass stars, each one a tribute to a famous St. Louis native like Vincent Price and Shelley Winters. Enjoy craft cocktails and heavy hors d’oeuvres in the New Moon Room at Moonrise Hotel then walk over for incredible homemade desserts at Piccione Pastry.

Combine a tour of the St. Louis Art Museum with lunch or dinner at their lovely restaurant, Panorama. The food is delightful, reasonably priced and you will thrill to the view through their floor to ceiling windows. Art aficionados will insist on seeing their collection of German Expressionist art – the best in the nation.

Enjoy strolling the brick-paved streets of historic St. Charles for shopping or eating or both! Prasino restaurant offers locally sourced dishes in an upscale ambiance. Lewis & Clark's restaurant, with deck views of the Missouri, has plenty of tasty dishes. Bella Vino Wine Bar & Tapas features high-end wines, tapas and homemade pasta. Don't miss Little Hills Winery where you can dine outside and enjoy Missouri wines and local cheese along with a full and interesting menu.

Sipping cocktails on Beth Heidrich’s STL Culinary Tour.

You know what's next! Beer. St. Louis has an extensive heritage of beer making, going back more than 20 years. Today the tradition is still in full swing. Drop in at 21st Street Brewer’s Bar, a multilevel, ultra chic bar, restaurant, historical property and gift shop. The cellar has dozens of beers on tap and more in the fridge. The Grand Petite Market has a nifty selection of wine, treats, sweets, salts, spices, gifts, kitchenware and culinary specialty items; truly special is the Vin de Set Rooftop Bar and Bistro, located on the upper level. Something for everyone!

Meeting the ebullient and vivacious Beth Heidrich was the highlight of the trip. Heidrich founded the STL Culinary Tour, which has received buckets of awards including being named “Top Gourmet Walking Tour in the U.S.” by Wine Enthusiast Magazine in 2013 and Midwest Living’s “Best of the Midwest” in 2014 and 2015! Many different tours are offered, and most sell out in less than a day. We followed her to the Restaurant at the Cheshire, DeMum Oyster Bar, Parker’s Table and The Fox and Hound. The food was fantastic but Heidrich is unforgettable!

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