Budget Travel

Locals Know Best: St. Louis, Missouri

There's no better guide to a city than someone who lives there, so we asked Tamara Keefe, owner of the popular Clementine's Creamery, for her take on culture, food, and drink in the town she calls home.

Ten years ago, if you asked Tamara Keefe where she thought she’d be today, she definitely would not have said St. Louis. In 2008, she moved to the city from California “kicking and screaming,” as she puts it. But her resistance was futile. Within six months, she had fallen under its spell and to this day she declares St. Louis is her one true love. The owner of Clementine’s Creamery, which has two scoop shops in town and a third opening in the spring, joins a number of other culinary entrepreneurs who’ve made the city their home, creating an accidental community of bakers, butchers, brewers, and craftspeople who see to it that locals have fresh baked bread, handmade kombucha, and plenty other delicious eats each day. Add to that the astonishingly low cost of living and a multitude of cultural options, many of them free, and it’s clear that the risk of falling in love with this town is high. (And that’s to say nothing of how Midwesterners are “gloriously friendly people,” Tamara quickly learned.) We checked in with Tamara to learn more.

A City of Neighborhoods

One of the many things that’s easy to love about St. Louis is its assortment of distinct neighborhoods. And there’s enough to do in each of them that you can spend the day and still leave not having done it all. Tamara has a fondness for Lafayette Square, the city’s oldest and most historic district that’s seen a lively community grow around its historic fixtures and sprawling park. Tamara recommends starting a day there with breakfast at Sqwires (sqwires.com), a secret among locals known for its killer brunches (smoked brisket hash, anyone?) and its bloody mary and mimosa bars on the weekend. Walk it off with a leisurely stroll through the boutiques and galleries along Park Avenue, the main drag. An eatery like Polite Society (politesocietystl.com) is a top pick for lunch, with plates like wild boar ravioli among the many choices. “It’s funky American cuisine and they do it right,” Tamara says. Nearby is one of her scoop shops, so definitely drop in to try one of her boozy creations, like maple bourbon or chocolate milk stout. (Those are the “naughty” options. She’s got “nice” liquor-free ones, too, like gooey butter cake.) Unwind at the end of the day with a drink at Planter's House (plantershousestl.com), which Tamra calls a “sexy little cocktail bar.”

Cherokee Street (AKA: Cherokee Antique Row) is another neighborhood that’s worth a wander. With its many antique stores, it’s a Shangri-La for vintage lovers who can easily spend hours sifting through inventories of furniture, home goods, jewelry, clothing and much more. One standout is Dead Wax Records, an overflowing vinyl shop owned by one of the same people that runs the Mud House (themudhousestl.com), a coffee shop nearby that Tamara recommends. Once you’re all shopped out, cap off the day at Chaparritos, Tamara’s go-to for amazing chili verde and mean margaritas.

A Hub of Culture

If you live in St. Louis, it’s easy to see—and hear—your tax dollars at work. Many museums are free, the zoo is free, there’s an outdoor theater, the Muny (themuny.org), where nearly 1500 seats are offered for free at every performance, and St. Louis is home to one of the country’s most celebrated opera companies, which you can see for as little as $12.

“The arts are huge here and it’s really important for them to have access to it—for everyone to have access. It’s not just for the elite,” Tamara says. “Coming from SoCal, where you pay outrageous prices for everything, it’s just awesome.”

Every city has a movie theater--or several--for regular entertainment, but St. Louis's main cinema, the independent, old-time-style Chase Park Cinema in the historic Chase Park Plaza hotel, comes with an added delight. His name is Jerry and he plays the vintage organ before every show and sees people off after the movie with a Hershey's Chocolate Kiss. Tamara estimates he's been there for decades. "Everyone knows him, everyone looks forward to it," she says.

Nature Calls

Should you need a break from the city, there are a few ways for heeding the call of the wild. Castlewood State Park, for one, features walking and running trails that snake along the Merrimack River. There are cliffs that make perfect perches for a picnic lunch. Tamara suggests stopping at Parker’s Table at Oakland and Yale (parkerstable.com) a wine and food market where you can pick up provisions like sandwiches, soups, and the house sausages for the day.

For kids, there’s an uncommon nature sanctuary. The Butterfly House at the Missouri Botanical Garden (missouribotanicalgarden.com) is a glass-walled conservatory that’s home to more than a thousand tropical free-wheeling butterflies. “They land on eyelashes, hair, clothes," Tamara says. "It’s so sweet and kinda magical. You feel like you’re in a Disney movie.”

Daytripping

Everywhere you go these days it seems like you're close to a wine country, and St. Louis is no exception. About 90 minutes west, Hermann (visithermann.com), a village settled by German immigrants, is Missouri’s wine region. A concentration of wineries could certainly keep you entertained for a full day. Break up the wine tastings with a stop at Old Stone Barn (oldstonebarn.com), a working hay farm that doubles as an antique emporium. Another destination if you want to hit the road is Cottleville, and old-timey town with still yet more antique shops and charming B&Bs. Stone Soup Cottage (stonesoupccottage.com), a restaurant in an old house with just enough space for ten tables, is worth the trip alone, says Tamara. Perch yourself on the wraparound porch and start your evening gazing at the stars. Dinner, chef’s choice, consists of whatever’s fresh off the farm that day, so expect a wholesome meal.

Here are some related articles

14 Free Things to Do in Seattle
7 Things to Do in Detroit
21 Free Things to Do in Boston
10 Best Places to Beat the Heat