St. Louis: BBQ, a Giant Playground, and an Arch Thing

St. Louis is fast becoming a favorite destination of mine. It has the good sense to be in the middle of the country where it’s easy to meet people halfway rather than driving all the way to, say, Oklahoma. While you’re there, there’s good food, a lot of free things to do, and some one-of-a-kind attractions. It’s a good underrated, ‘bang for your buck’ kind of place. We had the privilege of staying in St. Louis for a couple nights to meet my sister-in-law and her family. We did one day of sightseeing, and I must say I think we covered the highlights rather well.

If you’ve heard of one thing in St. Louis, it’s the Gateway Arch. Until this year, it was actually a part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, a lengthy name that did little to describe the Arch’s purpose. Bipartisan legislation took aim at the boring name and in February, President Trump signed a bill renaming the park the Gateway Arch National Park. In conjunction with the name change was a renovation of the park grounds and museum beneath the memorial. The museum and entrance’s official grand opening was July 3. We were there the morning of July 6.

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The new museum is an engaging and informative look at the westward expansion of the United States, the history of St. Louis, and the building of the Arch. The content is very 21st century, incorporating the points of view of colonists, pioneers, Native Americans, and slaves. Maps depict which entity–Native Americans, the Spanish, the French, the British, the Americans–owned what land when, and why. It is a remarkably balanced narrative for such a small museum, and after only an hour I felt I learned a lot. Although it costs to go up the Arch (which is a one and done kind of thing, and we’d done it before), the museum is free. I recommend it to everyone.

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I knew that I wanted to try some St. Louis barbecue while we were in town, so I did a little sleuthing as to where we should go. Every list I looked up mentioned Pappy’s Smokehouse. Also, the lady at the museum’s information desk mentioned it, so we returned to the car and put the address in the GPS.

We had no idea what a destination Pappy’s Smokehouse is. The line was nearly out the front door. The staff knows how popular the food is, so they’ve devised a system to keep the line moving and the restaurant organized, staggering the line and asking for party sizes before you order so they can find you a table. While waiting in line, we passed a wall of signed menus from celebrities who give their approval. The biggest name I saw was Hugh Jackman.

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Everything you see in this picture tasted immaculate. I think the ribs are in my top 3 of all time. The price wasn’t all that bad either. Split a full slab with a friend (trust me, you’ll want it) and add a quarter pound of another meat for maximum value.

To finish the day, we headed to City Museum. Occupying a former shoe factory, City Museum is a celebration of anarchic whimsy. It’s a playground first and foremost, a place that can be climbed on, slid down, crawled in, bounced in, and so on. Even better, it’s for all ages. These are not the brightly-colored, uniform modules like in a McDonald’s playground. These are caves, whales, trees, old buses, cages, and anything else the designers cared to build or incorporate into their design. It’s the kind of place you’d expect to find the Lost Boys of Neverland screaming “BANGARANG!!!”

However, it can be dark and tight in some of the spaces. We asked an employee how often people get stuck. She replied with 10-15…an hour. You’ve been warned. For maximum enjoyment, wear closed-toed shoes. We didn’t get the memo until we were already in St. Louis, and I feel I couldn’t do everything I wanted in my sandals.

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We managed to do all this in a day without feeling overly-strained. In fact, we had time in the afternoon to chill in the hotel. With a few more days, you could visit the free zoo and art museum, check out a baseball game, and visit the Cahokia mounds. And that ‘cue. I’ll be back for them ribs as soon as humanly possible.

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