This post is part of a series I’ve done on Route 66. In 2022, I drove the entirety of Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles. 2500 miles, 8 states, countless stories, and an endless stretch of small towns, neon, diners, motels, and roadside attractions. Read through all of my Route 66 posts here. They’re also linked at the end of this post. If you’re planning your own Route 66 road trip, either the whole thing or just a part, I hope these help you out. Enjoy the drive!
Meet me in St. Louis…and we’ll get our kicks on Route 66. Oh my, I’m mixing metaphors, eh, songs, but you get the picture.
Besides being the largest city mid-route, St. Louis has a lot of history, Route 66 related and otherwise.
Baseball! Beer! The Blues! BBQ! Lewis and Clark! There is a lot going on in the STL.
St. Louis is a unique city packed with culture, history, and charm. And it’s the biggest city along the route so there’s plenty to do.
I’ve spent a little time in St. Louis before eating Italian food on “The Hill,” visiting the penguin house at the St. Louis zoo (they are PRECIOUS), standing in line at Ted Drewes, talking my way out of going to the top of the Arch, etc. But on my Route 66 road trip, I was mostly focused on, well, Route 66 things,
Route 66 in St. Louis
And I found plenty to do! Here’s what you need to know:
Planning the Drive through St. Louis
How long should you stay? First things first, you’ll need to decide how much time you can spend in St Louis. If you’re not interested in the big cities, you may choose to skirt St Louis or just cruise on through to spend time elsewhere, but if you’re using your road trip to experience America and American culture, I think St Louis deserves some time. At the very least you should spend one night. And honestly you could easily spend two. Besides the sites associated with Route 66 in St Louis, there are a LOT of other things to see and do that are unique to this part of the country. In this post I’ll lay out everything to see and do in St Louis (Route 66-wise) and also give you the scoop on other things you could do to extend your trip. So you can decide how much time is right for your trip.
The road coming into St Louis. Route 66 forks into two different alignments coming through Hamel, IL so depending on which you choose, you’ll either be following I-270 (crossing Chain of Rocks Bridge) or I-55 into the heart of downtown (hello Arch!). If you’re just breezing through town to get on down the road, you’ll have to choose between passing the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge or the Arch. Hence why I recommend spending a bit more time in town so you can see everything.
The routes through St Louis. I’ve laid out the major Route 66 alignments running through St Louis on the map below, and as you can see…there’s not really one route you can drive to see everything. You’ll have to do quite a bit of driving around to see it all and it’s a bit of a loop. My recommendation is to do your research and have a list of everything you want to see and do in St Louis and just kind of knock it out and not be determined to drive every bit of the route. Some parts are more historic and concentrated than others and some are just normal roads running through suburbs.
Route 66 Stops in St. Louis
Okayyyy! Let’s get on with the best Route 66 stops in St Louis…
Old Chain of Rocks Bridge: This is a GREAT stop and if you don’t squeeze it in you’ll be missing out. The Old Chain of Rocks Bridge is the end of Route 66 in Illinois and was the Mississippi River crossing point for the route between 1936 and 1955. It’s since been closed to traffic, but it’s open for walking and biking. It’s only accessible from the Illinois side.
From St Louis, you’ll cross the Mississippi on I-270 (NEW Chain of Rocks Bridge) where you’ll get a good view of the old bridge off to the right. Take the first exit across the river, a right, and then another right (it’s pretty easy to find with a map). You’ll have to cross a one way bridge (there’s a stoplight controlling the flow of traffic) before you get to the parking lot where you can walk onto the old bridge. It’s a short walk to the point where you can stand in the middle of the river.
Gateway Arch National Park: If there’s one attraction not to be missed in St Louis, this would be it. Read my full post on the Gateway Arch National Park here.
Missouri History Museum: If you’re not from the area (even if you are!), and you’re interested in getting a feel for the history of all of the states that Route 66 passes through, you’ll want to carve out a little time to spend at the Missouri History Museum. Sitting in the middle of Forest Park (former home to the 1904 World’s Fair), it’s free to enter and it’s pretty impressive. In addition to two permanent exhibits on the history of St Louis and Missouri from the Lewis and Clark days to modern city planning and an impressive gallery on the World’s Fair, there are rotating exhibits (currently one on the St Louis music influences and another on suffrage in St Louis). Read more about the museum here. It’s also close to the zoo and the art museum if you’re looking to make a day of it.
National Museum of Transportation: I haven’t made it to this museum yet, but it’s probably the most Route 66-centric one in town. The museum has the largest collection of transportation vehicles in the world from planes, trains, and automobiles and even the facade from the old Coral Court Route 66 motel.
Wayside Motel & Crestwood Bowl: Just down the street from each other, these two iconic Route 66 spots are worth cruising by. And the infamous Coral Court was also in the area but was finally torn down in 1995.
Crown Candy Kitchen: If you only have time for one meal in St Louis, make it the Candy Crown Kitchen. Well over 100 years old, this classic soda fountain serves up really tasty sandwiches too. They’re only open from 10:30-5 and the parking in the area is all on the street but you can use the ParkMobile app to pay.
Ted Drewes: If you’re only going to have one roadside snack in Missouri, it’s got to be a concrete from Ted Drewes. On the route since 1929, it’s a St Louis tradition. Frozen custard is ice cream but it’s made with eggs (still plenty of cream and sugar!) so it’s thicker. It’s actually so thick that they mix it with toppings and call it a “concrete” and even when they turn it upside down it won’t fall out. Go during the day if you can because it gets PACKED at night. Especially during the summer.
Donut Drive In: This place is just down the street from Ted Drewes so if you’re going to hit both, it’s easiest to get the donuts to go for later.
Spencer’s Grill: Located in Kirkwood in 1947, this place is open from 6AM to 2PM 7 days a week. It’s a super cute place and it’s a nice part of town (if it’s spring time, plan to spend a little time driving through the neighborhoods because they are stunning), but honestly the food all tasted pretty off to me. It’s just typical diner fare (which is a favorite of mine) so maybe I just caught it on a bad day, but I would definitely pick the Crown Candy Kitchen over this place (for lunch).
Big Chief Roadhouse: Opened in 1929, if you’re up for a big meal made from scratch this is your spot. It’s out of town a ways and you’ll need to take the PRE 1932 alignment. I didn’t get a chance to stop here on my last trip, but I’m going to make it a priority on the next.
Other Things to Do in St. Louis
There is a lot going on in St Louis besides Route 66 attractions. If you have a little extra time in town, here’s what to check out:
Cardinal’s Baseball Game: There’s nothing more St Louis than drinking a beer while watching a baseball game. Missouri is a big baseball state so if you’re looking for the full experience, plan your trip for a night when the Cardinal’s are in town.
Brewery Tour: Before breweries and brewery tours were a “thing” you could tour the Budweiser Brewery in St Louis. And of course now there’s a whole scene of craft breweries and tours too.
City Museum: I haven’t been here yet but everybody I know who has absolutely RAVES about it. I think it’s less a museum and more an experience. Located in an old warehouse downtown, the designers and artists have salvaged old pieces of cities (bridges, tunnels, architectural elements, etc.) into some kind of magic. Fun for kids and adults.
St Louis Zoo: I think the St Louis Zoo is pretty exceptional. Their penguin exhibit is one of my favorite animal exhibits I’ve seen anywhere and like all Forest Park attractions, it’s free.
The Hill: St Louis’ famous “Little Italy” neighborhood is home to the likes of Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola and today it’s packed with mom and pop Italian restaurants, markets, bakeries, trattorias…basically everything that makes life good.
National Blues Museum: Located downtown just a stone’s throw from the Arch, the National Blues Museum uses high technology driven experiences to share this impactful genre of music that’s so intertwined with the city’s history.
Where to Stay in St. Louis
The Chase: If you want a Route 66 era hotel that doesn’t skip on the luxury, I would book a room at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel. The art deco style hotel was built in 1929 and it’s located in the historic Forest Park neighborhood which was home of the 1904 World’s Fair and now home to some of the city’s best attractions (the zoo, art museum, history museum, boathouse, etc.).
Downtown: There’s a heavy concentration of hotels in downtown St Louis which puts them within walking distance to the Gateway Arch National Park as well as everything else. On my Route 66 trip I stayed at the Magnolia Hotel since I was looking for something budget friendly downtown (read my full review below), but next time I’d consider the Hotel St Louis or even the Four Seasons which is pretty reasonably priced for a luxury hotel. And true luxury hotels are going to be in short supply once you get outside of the major cities along Route 66.
Magnolia Hotel Review
I like hotels with a good history. I’m 100% drawn to them over standard big hotel brand chains (Courtyard Marriott, etc.) so when I was looking for a shower and sleep situation in downtown St. Louis and found the Magnolia Hotel at a reasonable price, it was an easy pick for me.
I was in town for two nights with a long list of route 66 related stops and wanted something within walking distance to the Gateway Arch that was under $200/night. I always check Marriott options first since I carry loyalty status with them and I usually love their Autograph/Tribute options because they have a more boutique feel.
So I found the Magnolia Hotel and it checked all of the boxes.
Upon further investigation I found a pretty juicy story about Cary Grant staying here in the 1950s. Apparently he was having a romantic tryst in the penthouse suite with an unnamed lover (maybe in between wives three and four- there were five in total, you know ; ) and laid a trail of chocolates across the suite ending on the pillow. Well the hotel manager liked the idea and started the tradition of leaving a chocolate on the pillow of every guest (a tradition still carried out during turn down service at luxury hotels around the world).
Okay old Hollywood stories aside, here’s the straight scoop: this is actually going to be a pretty short review post, because there’s actually not a lot to say. The story is probably the best part of the hotel.
Unlike some places I’ve stayed at, I don’t really have much negative to say because here’s the thing…this hotel is priced exactly right for what it is.
It’s referred to as a luxury 4 star hotel around the internet, but…it’s not. But it’s also not priced like one which makes me think that they know it’s not. I would actually consider it more of a budget hotel that has a nice history, a nice lobby, and a good location.
First things first, I had nothing but absolutely lovely interactions with the staff at this location. Everyone at the front desk and the valet was extremely friendly and helpful every time we came and went.
The lobby and exterior is very pretty and it’s been renovated really well.
The rooms are more on par with an outdated (but clean) Courtyard Marriott, though.
But again, not really anything to complain about because that’s how it’s priced. The room was about $150/night (which is really about as cheap as you’ll find in downtown St. Louis) with a $44/night valet fee (pretty standard at downtown hotels) putting it right in that $200/night price range which I think is pretty fair.
If the rooms felt fresh and updated, I would call this hotel a gem. But since it all felt a bit tired, I think its value just depends on your budget and how much time you’re planning to spend in the room.
My bottom line: I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this hotel because it falls a little short for me room-wise, but it’s priced accordingly so if budget is your driving concern, it’s worth a look.
Planning a Route 66 road trip? I’ve got all of the info you need!
I’ve written about my cross country road trip pretty extensively section by section. Read them all here: Part 1 (Chicago), Part 2 (Chicago to St. Louis), Part 3 (St. Louis), Part 4 (St. Louis to Springfield MO), Part 5 (Springfield, MO), Part 6 (Springfield, MO to Tulsa), Part 7 (Tulsa), Part 8 (Tulsa to OKC), Part 9 (OKC), Part 10 (OKC to Amarillo), Part 11 (Amarillo), Part 12 (Amarillo to Albuquerque), Part 13 (Albuquerque), Part 14 (Albuquerque to Flagstaff), Part 15 (Flagstaff), Part 16 (Flagstaff to San Bernardino), Part 17 (Los Angeles).
I’ve got the scoop on where to stay including the best Route 66 motels recommendations.
And finally, my final trip recap where I spill the beans on how many days you need, the best itinerary, my favorite don’t miss spots, and other tips.