Besides the starting and end points of Chicago and Los Angeles, Route 66 is short of big cities. And honestly that’s most of its charm. But 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. So much that it deserves its own Route 66 post (check out my Route 66 through the entire state of Missouri here).
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.
Where to Stay in St. Louis
The Chase: If you want a Route 66 era hotel that doesn’t skip on the luxury, 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.). Check pricing and read reviews here.
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 here), 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.
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.
More posts about driving Route 66: