A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

We spent a day in STL’s most livable neighborhoods to give you the lowdown on what to do, what you’ll see and the defining traits that make each of them great.

 

St. Louis is a city identified by neighborhoods—each as diverse and bursting with unique personality as the next. Whether within the city limits or out in the county, these vibrant areas reflect the variety of cultures, values and aesthetics that make our fair city great. Whether you’re looking to relocate or just explore some new spots around town, we’ve got you covered—having recently sent writer Matt Sorrell out to spend some time delving into five of STL’s most thriving enclaves. We looked at a variety of factors, from the amount of green space to the overall walkability to the quality of the schools and what’s happening on the local scene to give you the lowdown of what to expect in these flourishing areas.

 

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Downtown

Downtown St. Louis has long been known for its icons, like the Gateway Arch, Riverfront and the Old Courthouse, among other historic landmarks. For a while, though, it seemed Downtown itself would be relegated to the history books, as businesses and residences fled west. But the sprawling neighborhood has slowly been redefining and revitalizing itself. The resurgence of nightlift and commerce on Washington Avenue and the surrounding blocks (most recently the MX District, complete with a movie theater, restaurants and shopping), the re-development of the riverfront and the ballpark area (enter the long-awaited Phase 1 of Ballpark Village), the rebirth of many commercial and civic edifices (check out the beautiful Central Library if you haven’t already) and the growing loft-living community have all served to breathe new life into the heart of the city. From green spaces to shopping to sporting events, Downtown’s residents will tell you the city center is where it’s at.


At a Glance

Who Lives Here: Downtown resident median age: 30.5; average household income: $51,050
Real Estate: 13.7 percent owned; 86.3 percent rented; median property value: $138,700; median rent: $709
Notable Green Spaces: Citygarden, Kiener Plaza, Old Post Office Plaza
Walkability: Most of Downtown is very pedestrian-friendly, with dining and nightlife destinations concentrated on Washington Avenue, the Old Post Office District (housing the area grocery, Culinaria) and Laclede’s
Landing
Schools: Private: Downtown Children’s Center (PreK), The Soulard School (PreK-6, nearby in Soulard)


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URBAN SPRAWL Washington Avenue has been the eating, drinking and entertainment hub of Downtown for years‰ÛÓand although this bustling strip remains vital, there are plenty of other ways to spend an evening Downtown. Just a block or so from Washington Avenue, members-only Blood & Sand (1500 St. Charles Street) has one of the best cocktail bars in the city, as well as a first-rate menu that changes often. The area adjacent to Laclede’s Landing has casino action at Lumiere Place Casino & Hotel (901 N. First Street) and great dining and views at The Four Seasons Hotel’s restaurant, Cielo (999 N. Second Street). The area around Busch Stadium has a top-notch selection of places to eat, drink and see local and national touring acts. Try BB’s Jazz, Blues & Soups (700 S. Broadway), Beale On Broadway (701 S. Broadway) and Broadway Oyster Bar (736 S. Broadway). For a great view of the metro area, Three Sixty at the top of the Hilton (1 S. Broadway) can’t be beat. One of the challenges of enjoying Downtown is that it’s a sprawling area that encompasses everything from just north of America’s Center (701 Convention Plaza) to just south of the stadium. Its attractions tend to be located in clusters spaced a good distance from each other. These little neighborhoods within the neighborhood are pretty walkable within their confines, but to visit more than one, you’re going to have to drive or take a cab.

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SHOP TILL YOU DROP When St. Louis Center finally gave up the ghost several years ago, it effectively gutted the commercial heart of Downtown. Luckily, the new MX District, in and around the MX and Laurel buildings at 7th Street and Washington Avenue, has begun to turn the situation around. Plenty of shopping is now available at retail spaces like the Collective at MX, an eclectic boutique with a rotating selection of wares from a variety of local businesses (including City Sprouts, Lori Coulter and East +West, among others). The new three-screen luxury theater, MX Movies, makes it possible to enjoy the silver screen Downtown again. It’s surrounded by plenty of first-rate eateries, many of which are second (or more) locations for STL food favorites. Pi and Robust were among the first to open, joined most recently by another one of my go-to lunch spots, Snarf’s Sandwiches. (I can attest that the sandwiches they’re serving up are every bit the equal of those at St. Louis’ original Snarf’s in The Loop.)


Festival Haven

Enjoy Downtown with thousands of city residents and visitors at one of these summer fests.
Saint Louis Bluesweek Festival, May 24-26, at Soldiers’ Memorial is a free event featuring live music, barbecue and beer.
Pridefest St. Louis is June 29-30, at Soldiers’ Memorial. This annual celebration of the LGBT community will be Downtown for the first time after
many successful years in Tower Grove.
Fair St. Louis The big daddy of Downtown festivals, this year’s event will be held July 4-6, featuring a parade, air shows, live music, tons of food and the most spectacular fireworks display around.


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URBAN SPRAWL Washington Avenue has been the eating, drinking and entertainment hub of Downtown for years‰ÛÓand although this bustling strip remains vital, there are plenty of other ways to spend an evening Downtown. Just a block or so from Washington Avenue, members-only Blood & Sand (1500 St. Charles Street) has one of the best cocktail bars in the city, as well as a first-rate menu that changes often. The area adjacent to Laclede’s Landing has casino action at Lumiere Place Casino & Hotel (901 N. First Street) and great dining and views at The Four Seasons Hotel’s restaurant, Cielo (999 N. Second Street). The area around Busch Stadium has a top-notch selection of places to eat, drink and see local and national touring acts. Try BB’s Jazz, Blues & Soups (700 S. Broadway), Beale On Broadway (701 S. Broadway) and Broadway Oyster Bar (736 S. Broadway). For a great view of the metro area, Three Sixty at the top of the Hilton (1 S. Broadway) can’t be beat. One of the challenges of enjoying Downtown is that it’s a sprawling area that encompasses everything from just north of America’s Center (701 Convention Plaza) to just south of the stadium. Its attractions tend to be located in clusters spaced a good distance from each other. These little neighborhoods within the neighborhood are pretty walkable within their confines, but to visit more than one, you’re going to have to drive or take a cab.

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University City

University City, so named because of its proximity to the prestigious Washington University, is probably most known for The Loop–the part of Delmar Boulevard that once served as a turnaround (or “loop”) for the streetcar line. To be sure, this vibrant strip is home to some of the most popular eateries, music venues and shops in St. Louis, but U City’s amenities and attractions span well beyond The Loop’s confines. Throughout the city are fine examples of architecture, such as the mid-century modern Shaare-Zedek Synagogue, and thriving commercial areas like the stretch of Olive Boulevard between I-70 and Skinker Boulveard that’s home to an eclectic mix of authentic Asian markets and restaurants.


At a Glance

Who Lives Here? University City resident median age: 37; average household income: $80,084
Real Estate: 55 percent owned; 45 percent rented; median property value: $192,400; median rent: $844
Notable Green Spaces: Heman Park, University City Dog Park, Ruth Park Municipal Golf Course
Walkability: The Delmar Loop is the main business district, containing most of the area’s shopping and dining destinations within easy walking distance.
Schools: University City Public School District: seven elementary schools, two junior high schools and one senior high school. District is accredited, with an average student-teacher ratio of 15 to 1, and an 81 percent graduation rate.


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AM IN THE LOOP To start out the day in U City, I recommend a hearty breakfast at Winslow’s Home (7213 Delmar Blvd.), where you’ll enjoy a first-rate breakfast made from locally sourced ingredients, with the added opportunity to look around the wares in the old-school general store that’s part and parcel of this U City gem. Head east down Delmar to The Loop, where there’s tons of free parking available in the public lot that runs behind Delmar (I love being able to drop off my car and not have to pick it back up until well after dark). If you’re still not properly caffeinated, drop in for a cup of joe at the hip and eclectic Meshuggah Caf̩ (6269 Delmar Blvd.) before perusing The Loop Walk of Fame, celebrating St. Louis’ favorite sons and daughters Hollywood-style, from Maya Angelou to John Goodman. Blueberry Hill (6504 Delmar Blvd.) is one of my STL loves for many reasons, and Joe Edwards’ expansive collection of pop culture memorabilia is at the top of the list. My favorite piece? Chuck Berry’s Gibson guitar. Don’t miss out on the incredible neighborhood architecture, like the Art Deco opulence of the Tivoli Theater (6350 Delmar Blvd.). No matter how you start your day in The Loop, the morning will segue into afternoon before you know it.

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THE OTHER SIDE OF U CITY There are plenty of places to grab some lunch in the Loop, like Fitz’s (6605 Delmar Blvd.), but the area is also a mecca for those looking for the reused and repurposed, from records at Vintage Vinyl (6610 Delmar Blvd.), to clothes and accessories at Avalon Exchange (6388 Delmar Blvd.), to reading material at Subterranean Books (6275 Delmar Blvd.). But be sure to get off Delmar if you truly want to explore all that U City has to offer. It’s on what I call the “other side of U City” where you can find authentic Asian markets like Seafood City (8020 Olive Blvd.), boasting a huge selection of live sea-dwelling critters and other delicacies for sale; specialty vendors like Missouri Running Company (606 North and South Road); and Frida’s Vegetarian Deli (622 North and South Road).

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Tower Grove

St. Louis is a true melting pot‰ÛÓfrom its French and German roots to its more recent Asian, Latino and Eastern European influences. Tower Grove is the epitome of all the cultural and social diversity these diverse groups have bestowed upon the city. The neighborhood is also home to some of St. Louis’ most beautiful and historic sites, such as Tower Grove Park, the stately mansions on Utah Place and the one-of-a-kind Missouri Botanical garden in the nearby Shaw area. To understand what makes St. Louis great, take a walk down the tree-lined avenues and bustling sidewalks of Tower Grove.


At a Glance

Who Lives Here? Tower Grove resident median age: 34; average household income: $40,270
Real Estate: 44 percent owned; 56 percent rented; median property value: $156,950; median rent: $693
Notable Green Spaces: Tower Grove Park, Missouri Botanical Garden (in nearby Shaw)
Walkability: South Grand, bordering the Tower Grove and Shaw neighborhoods to the east, is host to a variety of amenities including banks, pharmacies, a library (St. Louis Public Library Carpenter Branch) and international food markets. Morgan Ford Business District in Tower Grove South offers an eclectic selection of food and drink (including Local Harvest Grocery), retail and entertainment.
Schools: Private: SouthSide Early Childhood Center (PreK), City Garden Montessori (PreK-2), Messiah Lutheran School (K-5), St. Frances Cabrini Academy (K-8), St. Elizabeth Academy High School (9-12); Special Education: Missouri School for the Blind


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YOUR TREASURE AWAITS If you can’t find something to do on South Grand, then you’re really not trying very hard. Gelateria del Leone (3197 S. Grand Blvd.) has one of the most inviting spaces that you’ll ever enjoy a latte or a smoothie in, and a cup of coffee at MoKaBe’s Coffeehouse (3606 Aresenal Street), especially on the patio looking over Tower Grove Park, is one for the books. On Saturday mornings from May to November, vendors like Baetje Farms, Kakao Chocolate and Kitchen Kulture are on hand at the Tower Grove Farmers’ Market offering all sorts of culinary goodness. There are more chain spots on South Grand than in years past‰ÛÓwhich takes away a bit from some of the bohemian vibe that originally made it a favorite of the hip set‰ÛÓbut there’s still plenty of character and interesting things to do, like perusing the stacks at Dunaway Books (3111 S. Grand Blvd.) or checking out the inking, piercing and assorted goings-on at TRX (3207 Grand Blvd.).

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SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE Diversity is the overarching theme of Tower Grove. Where else in town do you have the choice of cuisines from Vietnamese (Pho Grand, 3195 S. Grand Blvd.) to Ethiopian (Meskerem Ethiopian Restaurant, 3210 S. Grand Blvd.) to Thai (The King & I, 3157 S. Grand Blvd.) all within just a couple of blocks? Lunch is always an event when I visit Tower Grove. Afterward, appetite in check, I love browsing the crowded aisles at Jay International Food Co. (3172 S. Grand Blvd.) and marveling at the exotic ingredients available (I never leave without a can of wasabi peas). For the nature-inclined, the Missouri Botanical Garden (4344 Shaw Blvd.) in the nearby Shaw neighborhood has to be on your short list. This 79-acre paradise is the nation’s oldest botanical garden and a naturelover’s dream come true. Whenever I find myself around Morgan Ford, I always pop into Vintage Haberdashery (3181 Morgan Ford Road) to check out what old-school treasures I can find. Though not as sprawling as, say, Downtown, Tower Grove is spread over a good bit of real estate. In nice weather, it’s easy to traverse the main drags (South Grand and Morgan Ford) on foot, though it might take a while if you want to visit both. If Mother Nature isn’t cooperating, consider driving.


La Vie Boheme

Fun and funky indie businesses abound, bringing a refreshingly eclectic feel to Tower Grove’s two main drags.

South Grand: This lengthy stretch of Grand from I-44 to Chippewa Street features a plethora of attractions. It’s rife with ethnic eateries like Pho Grand, The King and I, Lemon Grass and more.
Morgan Ford Business District: Comprising the blocks on Morgan Ford Avenue between Arsenal Street and Fyler Avenue, this bustling business area used to be a bit in the shadow of South Grand just a few blocks east. But in recent years, it has come into its own, with Local Harvest Grocery and its sister business Local Harvest Caf̩ & Catering anchoring the north end of the strip, and other eating and drinking establishments like Tower Pub and Amsterdam Tavern and shops like Vintage Haberdashery dotting the length of it.


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OUT AFTER DARK There are plenty of places for pre-dinner drinks in Tower Grove, like Absolutli Goosed (3196 S. Grand Blvd.), which specializes in unique martinis and other classic cocktails, as well as for dinner itself. In addition to the abundance of eateries on South Grand, there are some great eats in the surrounding blocks, like the barbecue at The Shaved Duck (2900 Virginia Ave.). The neighborhood also has a plethora of casual pubs where you can spend a convivial evening: The Civil Life Brewing Company (3714 Holt Ave.), which brews some of the best beer around and then serves it up German-beer-hall-style on rustic wooden community tables; Amsterdam Tavern (3175 Morgan Ford Road), which always has a soccer match on the tele and cold beer on tap; and Tower Pub (3234 Morgan Ford Road), frequent host of Tenacious Trivia.

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Central West End

The Central West End is one of St. Louis’ most storied neighborhoods‰ÛÓso much so, that it was designated a Historic District in 1975 to protect its unique charm. Its tree-shaded streets are lined with some of the most elaborate private residences in the city, as well as stunning architectural achievements like Cathedral Basilica and The Chase Park Plaza. For those who want to enjoy the great outdoors, the neighborhood is bordered by the city’s ultimate green space, Forest Park. Epicures are sure to be pleased at the array of fine restaurants, while shopaholics have everything from high-end shops to funky, eclectic boutiques and galleries at their disposal.


At a Glance

Who Lives Here? CWE resident median age: 37; average household income: $61,490
Real Estate: 31 percent owned; 69 percent rented; median property value: $247,000; median rent: $775
Notable Green Spaces: Forest Park and Lister Dog Park
Walkability: Maryland Plaza, Euclid and McPherson Avenues contain most of the area’s shopping and dining destinations, as well as the public library (St. Louis Public Library Schlafly Branch) and grocery store (Straub’s)
Schools: Private: New City School (PreK-6), Cathedral Basilica School (PreK-8), St. Louis Language Immension Schools (K-4, nearby in The Grove), Crossroads College Preparatory School (7-12). Rosati-Kain High School (9-12). Special Education: Central Institute for the Deaf


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GET MOVING If there’s one thing to be said about the Central West End, it’s that it’s eminently walkable. Although there are plenty of places to pop in for an AM brew and a bite on Euclid Avenue (the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare), you can just as easily start in the far northern section of the neighborhood. I often fuel up at Caf̩ Osage, stopping for a bit to browse the garden supplies and assorted knick-knacks at Bowood Farms next door before meandering through the shaded streets. There’s an abundance of historic homes in the CWE, like Tennessee Williams’ boyhood digs at 4633 Westminster Place and T.S. Eliot’s parents’ residence down the block at 4446. But honestly, there are so many breathtaking homes in this neighborhood that a trip down any street will yield some impressive architectural sights. Once you make your way to the center of the action on Euclid, pop into one of the many art galleries in the area. A personal favorite is the Houska Gallery (4728 McPherson Ave.), where the namesake artist displays his latest bold and colorful pop-art creations.

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AFTERNOON DELIGHT There are plenty of places to grab lunch in the CWE, but I favor The Majestic, a CWE staple for the past 50 years. (I always used to pop in for a sandwich when I worked in the area.) Afterward, there are a variety of venues to while away a lazy afternoon, like the World Chess Hall of Fame (4652 Maryland Ave.) and the impressive Cathedral Basilica (4431 Lindell Blvd.). There are tours available, but it’s just as satisfying to bask in its majestic bulk curbside. When looking to kill a few hours in the middle of the day, I’ve always been partial to Forest Park. It’s the perfect locale to get in an early afternoon run, take in some culture at the Saint Louis Art Museum or the Missouri History Museum, or just sit in the shade and watch the locals try their luck fishing in one of the ponds that dot the landscape.


We Heart Forest Park

Forest Park is one of the city’s greatest treasures. How great is your FP knowledge (and love)?

    The park consists of 1,371 acres, some 500 acres larger than NYC’s Central Park.

    More than 12 million visitors a year utilize the park. Another half million people or so attend special events there, and another half million attend shows at The Muny.

    Forest Park has plenty of amenities to indulge your inner athlete. The park is encircled by a six-mile dual trail, part asphalt, part gravel, to accommodate runners, cyclists, skaters and walkers.

    There’s also a multitude of sports fields, plus tennis, handball and volleyball courts.


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TAKE TO THE STREETS Every time I walk into Left Bank Books (399 N. Euclid Ave.), I seem to emerge with a new or used literary treasure tucked under my arm (most recently, a pristine paperback copy of “Julie & Julia”). The variety of shops around the neighborhood, from the contemporary women’s apparel at Ivy Hill off Maryland Plaza to the eclectic jewelry offerings at The Silver Lady (4736 McPherson Ave.), provide enough stimulation to work up quite an appetite for dinner. I’m partial to indulging in a drink or two at Taste (4584 Laclede Ave.) before settling on a venue for the evening meal from the impressive array of eateries that call the CWE home, like Scape American Bistro (48 Maryland Plaza), Brasserie By Niche (4580 Laclede Ave.) and the upscale pub grub at Dressel’s Public House (419 N. Euclid Ave.). While there are also plenty of postprandial spots to spend an evening, one of my favorite “nightcaps” is taking in a flick at the boutique theater at The Chase Park Plaza (212 N. Kingshighway Blvd.), where an old-timey organist performs while you wait, and white-gloved servers offer you candy as you exit.

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Maplewood

Located inside Saint Louis County, just a touch outside the city limits, Maplewood has the varied architecture, diverse population and unique vibe that draws folks to many city neighborhoods‰ÛÓwhile simultaneously boasting the access to highways, quality schools and superior municipal services that make county living attractive. In recent years, Maplewood has become a bastion of fine food, with a number of award-winning restaurants opening up downtown. And as the home of Schlafly Bottleworks, it has also become one of the hubs of St. Louis’ thriving microbrew scene. While commercially the area is thriving with lots to see and do, Maplewood also boasts plenty of parks and green spaces for plain old relaxing and kicking back.


At a Glance

Who Lives Here? Maplewood resident median age: 37; average household income: $44,231
Real Estate: 42 percent owned; 58 percent rented; median property value: $149,100; median rent: $587
Notable Green Spaces: Ryan Hummert Park, Deer Creek Park, Maplewood Dog Park
Walkability: Historic downtown Maplewood lies in the center of town on Manchester Avenue, with more retail and entertainment along Sutton Boulevard.
Schools: Maplewood-Richmond Heights Public School District: one early childhood center, one elementary, one middle school and one senior high school. District is accredited, with an average student-teacher ratio of 13 to 1, and a 91 percent graduation rate.


 

Photo credit: Wesley Law

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