Starting college is daunting enough on its own — add in the stress of moving to a new city, and you might be feeling like you're in way over your head.
And if you've moved to St. Louis for college, we'll be the first to admit: St. Louis isn't just any city. It's a quirky, one-of-a-kind town that locals love to brag about and hate at the same time (see "I Left St. Louis for College, and That's When I Began to Love St. Louis" for way more on that). Beyond our crime problem, which has earned us bad headlines from coast to coast, and our infamous polite distance to outsiders (where did you go to high school, anyway?), we may have some of the worst weather in the world (110-degree heat index in summer and zero degrees in winter? Come on!).
But with a little guidance, you can thrive in St. Louis. We've put this guide together with the mindset that you'll like St. Louis a lot more if you bother to explore it. We're recommending places to eat and drink, things to do, ways to get around and even attractions just outside the city for those looking for a little road trip.
Short on money? We've got a list of suggestions specially tailored for you. Our "Survival Strategies" includes a list of ten restaurants, ten bars and ten clothing shops to get you through the coming years without taking out another loan. College may be hard, but with a little inside info, St. Louis can be downright easy.
7 Neighborhoods to Explore
Any campus can be an insular bubble, but if you can force yourself to get outside of it, there's a whole city's worth of fascinating neighborhoods to explore. Plan a day or even just an evening in one of these areas, and you may quickly find yourself scouting out post-dorm-room housing.
The Central West End
St. Louis' densest neighborhood is also one of its most youthful. It's positively brimming with med school students, law school students and young college grads — and, not surprisingly, that means a host of good restaurants, bars and coffee shops. (It's also very close to most of the area's major colleges; a ten-minute drive will get you here from SLU, Wash U or Fontbonne, although good luck finding easy parking if you come by car!)
The CWE is a bit pricier than other St. Louis neighborhoods, but plenty of low-key spots offer dinner (and drinks). Check out El Burro Loco (313 North Euclid Avenue, 314-224-5371) for huge margaritas in a host of fruit flavors, including lemongrass and watermelon. For a West Coast take on similar fare, Mission Taco Joint (398 North Euclid Avenue, 314-930-2955) offers great tacos and even better margaritas. Or check out Subzero (308 North Euclid Avenue, 314-367-1200), which offers sushi, burgers and more vodka options than anyone could ever partake in. Finish the night at Coffee Cartel (2 Maryland Plaza, 314-454-0000), a 24-hour shop where you can sober up with coffee or ice cream or just people-watch over a sandwich.
This Wash U-adjacent area offers several blocks of good times, with everything from live music (the Pageant, Blueberry Hill) to art-house movies (the Tivoli) to comedy (Delmar Hall) to bowling (Pin-Up Bowl). One of these days, it may even get a trolley and not just tracks. You can get excellent coffee here at Blueprint (6225 Delmar Boulevard, 314-266-6808) or really good Korean fusion at Seoul Taco (6665 Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-863-1148). Up way too late? Peacock Diner (6261 Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-721-5555) will keep you filled up even in the wee hours of the morning.
The creative heart of south St. Louis runs through Cherokee Street. Cruise the antique shops, which are mostly east of Jefferson, and the art galleries and vintage stores, which are mostly west. Whichever way you go, make time for coffee at the Mud House (2101 Cherokee Street, 314-776-6599) or a drink at Earthbound Beer (2724 Cherokee Street, 314-769-9576). After dark, Foam (3359 South Jefferson Avenue, 314-772-2100) hosts all-ages shows; get your late-night eats (and juices, natch) at the Juice (2640 Cherokee Street, 314-354-8515).
If you're homesick for food with international flair, get to South Grand, stat! The commercial district straddling the neighborhoods of Tower Grove East and Tower Grove South offers restaurants that represent more nations than Epcot Center, from the Persian Cafe Natasha (3200 South Grand Boulevard, 314-771-3411) to Thai mainstay the King and I (3155 South Grand Avenue, 314-771-1777) to Middle Eastern the Vine (3171 South Grand Boulevard, 314-776-0991) to Moroccan Baida (3191 South Grand Boulevard, 314-932-7950) to Ethiopian Meskerem (3210 South Grand Boulevard, 314-772-4442). There's even fast-casual Filipino at Guerrilla Street Food (3559 Arsenal Street, 314-529-1328). There's also vegetarian cuisine to be had at both Treehouse (3177 South Grand Boulevard, 314-696-2100) and Lulu's Local Eatery (3201 South Grand Boulevard, 314-300-8215). Come during the day, and you can browse a decent shopping district that includes a great used bookstore, Dunaway Books (3111 South Grand Boulevard, 314-771-7150), fair-trade gifts at ZeeBee Market (3211 South Grand Boulevard, 314-932-1000) and assorted raunch at Cheap Trx (3209 South Grand Boulevard, 314-664-1830).
The city's "gayborhood" has also become its nightlife hub, with bars that center around LGBTQ customers — such as Attitudes (4100 Manchester Avenue, 314-802-8603) and Just John (4112 Manchester Avenue, 314-371-1333) — as well as others that target a broader base, like Handlebar (4127 Manchester Avenue, 314-652-2212) and Atomic Cowboy (4140 Manchester Avenue, 314-775-0775). Grab a spectacular sandwich at the bar at the Gramophone (4243 Manchester Avenue, 314-531-5700) or seek out a taste of Kabul at Sameem Afghan Restaurant (4341 Manchester Avenue, 314-534-9500). Either way, you'll want to see who's playing the Ready Room (4195 Manchester Avenue, 314-833-3929) — or what's on tap at the Monocle (4510 Manchester Avenue, 314-932-7003), where options include comedy and burlesque.
One of St. Louis' loveliest historic neighborhoods, Soulard is tucked into a spot that's a bit off the beaten track just south of downtown. But you won't feel one bit isolated once you're here, because this area is also party central for the crowd that loves to indulge. You'll see buses full of suburbanites getting their drink on, bachelorettes and veritable football teams' worth of frat boys. And no matter how drunk you get, watch out for the golf carts — Soulard thinks of itself as a little island, and puttering around is the perfect way to get from Bar A to Bar B.
Start your night with a pitcher of margaritas at Chava's (925 Geyer Avenue, 314-241-5503) or, if you're starting early enough, barbecue at Bogart's Smokehouse (1627 South 9th Street, 314-621-3107). From there, head to the terrific patios at Mollys (816 Geyer Avenue, 314-241-6200) and John D. McGurk's (1200 Russell Boulevard, 314-776-8309). Both are always jumping and filled with attractive people who want to make new friends.
Just a quick hop from both Wash U and Fontbonne, these first-ring suburbs may be a bit less diverse than the city proper, but they offer plenty of options for hungry (and thirsty) college kids. Start with brunch at Half & Half (8135 Maryland Avenue, Clayton; 314-725-0719) before grabbing coffee at the lovely Kaldi's on DeMun (700 De Mun Avenue, Clayton; 314-727-9955) — and maybe cap off the trip with ice cream at Clementine's Creamery (730 De Mun Avenue, Clayton; 314-858-6100). Make an appointment to visit Mauhaus Cat Cafe (3101 Sutton Boulevard, Maplewood; 314-384-2287) to get access to the furry friends you're barred from keeping in your dorm room. Or grab dinner at Pastaria (7734 Forsyth Boulevard, Clayton; 314-862-6603) and then taste some of the city's best craft beer at Side Project Brewing (7458 Manchester Road, Maplewood; 314-224-5211). Still thirsty? Check out Tapped (7278 Manchester Road, Maplewood; 314-899-0011), a short walk down Manchester offering pour-it-yourself beer and wine from 40-plus taps.
Free (and Discounted) Stuff to Do
There's no denying St. Louis freebies are some of the best in the nation. From beers to bears to balloon races, there's a ton to do in the Lou without spending a dime.
The Ghost Ride Cycle Club ([email protected]) is a free coordinated bike ride every month on the full moon. The hosts take riders to different St. Louis spots on each ride, including different monuments, parks and bars. They always end up at a secret location with a planned event. Meet the group at 7:30 p.m. at the flagpole in Tower Grove Park (4256 Magnolia Avenue, 314-771-2679) every full moon.
Forest Park is known for its free activities. Everyone will tell you that. The Saint Louis Art Museum (1 Fine Arts Drive, 314-721-0072) falls under this category; admission to the museum is a whopping $0. But there's a way to avoid paying even for the museum's ticketed exhibits, such as its current special, Sunken Cities: Egypt's Lost Worlds. The discounted price for students is usually $18, but on Fridays, those too are totally free.
Ready to show off the fact that you are finally 21? Go on a brewery tour and drink the free beer. Anheuser-Busch Brewery (1200 Lynch Street, 314-577-2626) and Schlafly Bottleworks Brewery (7260 Southwest Avenue, 314-241-2337) both offer free hour-long journeys through their respective histories and production processes. They boast free samples, too.
Prepared to spend a little? College kids also get discounts at a ton of places in town, including many theaters. The Fox Theatre (527 North Grand Boulevard, 314-534-1678) and New Line Theatre (3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, 314-773-6526) both offer those with a valid student ID "rush tickets." At New Line, students who show up five minutes before the curtain time for any performance get $10 tickets if seats are remaining. Want to see a show at the Fox? Join its email list (fabulousfox.com/email-sign-up) to get advanced notice when the theater has rush tickets available.
If you're a baseball fan or just want to eat ballpark food while the game happens nearby, the St. Louis Cardinals offer an unusual deal. For $29.99, you can go to every game at Busch Stadium (700 Clark Ave., 314-345-9600) in a month. The only catch: Tickets are standing-room only. Still, that gets you access to the Cards' new "Budweiser Terrace," which comes complete with a tavern, burger joint and plenty of party people.
If you're more into hockey, the St. Louis Blues host student nights during their regular season. Get tickets to Enterprise Center (1401 Clark Avenue, 314-622-2500) for $25. Cheaper than that? The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (718 North Grand Boulevard, 314-533-2500) offers students tickets to select concerts for just $10. Fifty dollars will get students a five-concert subscription.
Can't get enough reading in school? Left Bank Books (399 North Euclid Avenue, 314- 367-6731) offers a host of book clubs on topics such as "Read the Resistance," "The Black Experience" and contemporary fiction. Book-club members get their club books at 20 percent off. For introverted readers, Subterranean Books (6275 Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-862-6100) offers subscriptions at a discount. Tell 'em what you like, sign up for the three-, six- or nine-month programs (hardcover or softcover) and get a surprise book mailed to you once a month. Subby also offers a frequent reader program that's free and cardless. It keeps track of how many books you buy from them. Buy ten books and the eleventh one is free. Drop in the store or send an email to [email protected] to get started.
—Paul Friswold and Camille Respess
Getting Around Town
Public transportation can be a college student's best friend or worst nightmare. When used smartly, it can get you around the St. Louis area for a great cost. But, for the lazy-minded, it can become a hassle. Here's what you need to know to master public transit in St. Louis.
The MetroLink train system has many stops around the city and county and even into Illinois. Ticket vending machines are at each stop. It costs $78 for a monthly pass that works on the train and bus system. With a pass like this, you could easily get all around the city. A cheaper option, if you don't plan to ride all that much, is the single-day Metro Adventure Pass. It's $7.50 and works on all local trains, buses and trolleys for the 24 hours after you purchase it.
There are both red and blue lines, each with a host of stops, so pay attention to maps. Some popular stops are the airport, the Central West End, Delmar Loop, UMSL, and 8th and Pine for the Arch and Busch Stadium. Party people beware: The MetroLink stops around 1 a.m. and begins again around 5 a.m. Don't get stranded.
The train is run on an honor system. Ticket checkers can randomly board the cars to check tickets, so you don't want to throw away your ticket even after boarding. You can be charged $50 for riding without a ticket.
The MetroBus is also a good option but can be inconvenient because you must pay exact change when you board, unless you have a day or a month pass; credit cards are not accepted. (Fares vary; see metrostlouis.org/fares-and-passes/ for more info.) There are also many more stops for the bus compared to the MetroLink, so if you're trying to get somewhere that's not adjacent to the train tracks, the bus might be your BFF. The buses also go further out in the county than the MetroLink. Service begins at 4 a.m. and stops around midnight.
Metro Downtown Trolley
The Metro Downtown Trolley is not an actual trolley but rather a bus that costs $2 for unlimited all-day use. It stops at all the popular tourist attractions around the city — the City Museum, Ballpark Village, Citygarden, the Old Courthouse and the Enterprise Center for Blues games — with stops every twenty minutes or so. This can be a cheap option if you are going to a sports game, but it does not run 24 hours. Check online for details before making plans: rideschedules.com/schedule.html?9466.
Forest Park Trolley
The Forest Park Trolley is also a bus. It runs daily between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. from May 1 through September 3. It connects all the popular Forest Park attractions with the Forest Park-DeBaliviere MetroLink Station. It costs $2 for a day pass and is free on Sundays. Green and blue trolleys offer differing routes.
The Loop Trolley
Don't believe what you may have seen on the cover of the city's official 2018 Visitor's Guide: Ain't no such thing.
Uber and Lyft
At long last, ride-sharing is legal in St. Louis, and within the city limits at least, super easy to catch. Just beware of surge pricing; everyone else likely had the same last call you did.
6 Daytrips Worth Taking
Inevitably, you'll want to take a break from St. Louis. So, befriend someone with a car and convince them to take you on a daytrip.
Traveling to Napa Valley isn't necessary for a St. Louis college student looking to enjoy wine, good food and beautiful views. Several winery-centered small towns that are only about an hour from St. Louis make for the perfect quaint weekend getaway. The closest is Defiance, a 40-minute drive. Popular wineries and vineyards here include Defiance Ridge Vineyards (2711 South Missouri 94, 636-798-2288), Chandler Hill (596 Defiance Road, 636-798-2675) and Sugar Creek (125 Boone Country Lane, 636-987-2400). All offer different experiences and food menus.
Augusta, which may be the area's most popular wine town, is an hour away. Popular spots here include Augusta Winery (5601 High Street, 888-667-9463), Montelle Winery (201 Montelle Drive, 888-595-9463) and Balducci Vineyards (6601 South Missouri 94, 636-482-8466). Hermann is also an hour away and offers a wine trail of seven local wineries that do food-pairing events every month. Stone Hill Winery (1110 Stone Hill Highway, 573-486-2221) and Hermannhof (330 East 1st Street, 573-486-5959) are also here. Hermann offers a local trolley that can take you to all the local wineries, so driving won't be an issue.
Main Street St. Charles
St. Charles' historic Main Street is only 30 minutes from downtown St. Louis and offers a totally different vibe. On its historic brick streets, you'll feel miles from the big city. Shopping at the local boutiques and eating at the family-owned restaurants is a great way to spend an afternoon. At night, the street is a popular bar district for Lindenwood students.
Get your party on at Two Twelve Nightclub (212 North Main Street, 636-724-5225), which offers drink specials on Thursdays that include $2 wells and half-off bottle service. Friday is ladies night, with no cover for women, $2 wells and wines and $2 domestic beers.
Or try Bobby's Place (143 North Main Street, 636-949-2860), a Blues-themed sports bar with a full food menu. Happy hour during the week runs from 4 to 8 p.m. with many specials including $2 domestic drafts and $1 off shots and mixed drinks.
Finally, Quintessential Dining & Nightlife (149 North Main Street, 636-443-2211), or Q for short, is an upscale nightclub with a rooftop patio, dance floor and four separate bars. Thursday drink specials include $1 wells and $2 domestic beers.
Creve Coeur Lake Park
Creve Coeur Lake is 30 minutes from downtown St. Louis and offers many water activities, a four-mile paved bike and walking trail, hiking and more. There are canoes, kayaks and paddleboards available for rental, as well as bike rentals for the trails. The little beach along the lake is a great place to relax and get some sun, although swimming is forbidden, while more adventurous folk can try the Go Ape Treetop Adventure (13219 Streetcar Drive, Maryland Heights; 800-971-8271), a zip-line course through the park that costs $58 for adults.
If you're an outdoors type who loves hiking and mountain biking, Castlewood State Park (1401 Kiefer Creek Road, Ballwin; 636-227-4433) is the place for you. Located about 30 minutes from downtown, this state park is a mecca for mountain biking, with gorgeous hills that overlook the Meramec River. There are eight trails at Castlewood with varying lengths and terrain.
Yeah, yeah, we don't have a beach. But Missouri has a plethora of lakes that are fun for swimming, boating, tubing and more. Lake St. Louis is 40 minutes from downtown and is a great spot for a relaxing day on a boat. You can also swim here, but it can be difficult with all the boats causing waves. Lake of the Ozarks, which is a three-and-a-half-hour drive, is a favorite among St. Louisans for its party and bar scene. Mark Twain Lake is about an hour closer, but offers less to do. Table Rock is the furthest lake, about four hours, but it is also a popular boating spot. All offer scenic views and water fun.
Cool Stuff Outside
Elephants Rocks State Park (located in Belleview, about an hour and a half from the city), Meramec Caverns (in Sullivan, about an hour's drive) and Johnson Shut-Ins (two hours away, in Middle Brook) are all fun weekend trips that won't cost a lot of money and offer something new that can only be found in our area. Elephant Rocks is a great place for hiking, while Johnson Shut-Ins is known for its rock jumping and swimming. Meramec Caverns are million-year-old caves perfect for exploration.
An Intro to St. Louis's Local Pastime
St. Louis loves combining booze and trivia, and many college students quickly become partisans for our local preoccupation. With options all around the city and county, you can find a trivia challenge and drink specials every night of the week.
On Tuesday the place to be is Tin Roof (1000 Clark Avenue, 314-240-5400), which offers live music trivia from 7 to 9 p.m. A local band performs clues to all the trivia questions. Tin Roof also hosts themed trivia nights throughout the year. Tickets can be purchased online on the Tin Roof website before the event. Prizes include Cardinals, Blues and concert tickets.
Also on Tuesdays: Trivia at 7 p.m. at the Elvis Room at Blueberry Hill (6504 Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-727-4444). This live-hosted 21-and-up trivia game includes prizes of money, gift certificates and free drinks.
The Central West End location of Llewellyn's (4747 McPherson Avenue, 314-361-3003) hosts trivia on Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m., while Handlebar (4127 Manchester Avenue, 314-652-2212), the bicycle- themed bar in the Grove, has trivia at 8 p.m. on Thursday nights. It also offers a drink special with the game: $1.50 tallboys.
Or keep an eye out for private events: Many local charities hold trivia-night benefits. You can pitch in with a group of friends to buy a table for a good cause or (let's be honest here) just be the ringer for a group in need of your pop-culture knowledge. These events tend to have free wine and beer, so if you can just find someone in need of your trivia talents, it's a cheap night out with the occasional prize-winning payoff.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story inadvertently made note of a nightclub that's been closed for a few years now. We've since updated the story with the bar we intended to praise, Just John. We regret the error.