When the world pictures St. Louis, they picture the Arch. The Cardinals. Toasted ravioli. People aren't likely to imagine the world's largest chess piece, top-notch shopping or clubs where you can salsa dance the night away, but we have that, too — and it's all in a single, highly walkable neighborhood, the Central West End.
The city's most cosmopolitan district features both giant mansions and apartment living, so the streets have a good mix of visitors and residents, along with some of the cutest dogs you've ever seen. Ditch the car and join the street parade.
Start your stay with an early lunch at Dressel's Public House (419 N. Euclid Avenue, 314-361-1060). The neighborhood pub is cozy in the winter and sunny in the summer, with a fireplace inside for warmth and, on nice days, an outside deck facing bustling Euclid for expanded sidewalk seating. Don't miss the pretzel with rarebit — it's one of the most beloved appetizers in town.
Shop 'Til You Drop
Start your stay in Central West End by window shopping — it won't take long for you to find something that catches your interest. Fashion gurus are sure to find all sorts of surprises in boutiques such as 10denza (44 Maryland Plaza, 314-361-1010), Fauxgerty (228 N. Euclid Avenue) and Enchanting Embellishments (4732 McPherson Avenue, 314-361-5300). Closer to Dressel's, artists will love strolling through Atrium Gallery (4814 Washington Avenue, 314-367-1076) and Duane Reed Gallery (4729 McPherson Avenue, 314-361-4100). And if you're a book nerd, be sure to make your way to Left Bank Books (399 N. Euclid Avenue, 314-367-6731), which is home to new and used books of all genres, work by local artists and even a store cat. No matter your shopping preferences, however, be sure to go next door to snack on one of the creative flavors of natural ice cream at Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams (389 N. Euclid Avenue, 314-367-1700). Brambleberry crisp ice cream, anyone?
Burn off some calories with a short walk to the World Chess Hall of Fame (4652 Maryland Avenue, 314-367-9243). Roam the three floors of exhibits and take an Instagram-worthy photo with the world's largest chess piece, then step across the street to play a game at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis (4657 Maryland Avenue, 314-361-2437). You can try your hand at chess for free at one of the club's many boards on your first visit, and in good weather you'll also find chess boards ready for playing on sidewalk tables outside.
Say Your Prayers
Once you've had enough strategizing for one day, walk a bit further down the street to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis (4431 Lindell Boulevard, 314-373-8200). Catholic or not, you'll be astounded by this magnificent domed church, one reason St. Louis was once known as "the Rome of the West." You can simply take it all in on your own or arrange for a guided tour. It's recommended that you call ahead either way, as visits have to work around mass and other events in the church (you don't want to be a wedding crasher, after all). Call the tour office (314-373-8241) for details.
Dinner and Drinks
Take a cue from the French by dining in style at Brasserie by Niche (4580 Laclede Avenue, 314-454-0600), the brainchild of James Beard Award-winning chef Gerard Craft. Cap off dinner with drinks at Brennan's (4659 Maryland Avenue, 314-497-4449), where you'll find a bar, a cigar lounge and even ping pong in the basement. Don't forget to snap a photo of the latest humorous signage behind the bar — it's always a hoot.
Dance the night away either at Mandarin (44 Maryland Plaza, 314-367-4447), a chic rooftop lounge, or Club Viva (408 N. Euclid Avenue, 314-361-0322), where you can take a free salsa lesson and hone your Latin dance skills.
If you're truly looking to room in style, no other hotel will give you the Central West End experience quite like the Chase Park Plaza (212 Kingshighway Boulevard, 314-633-3000). Completed in 1931, the gorgeous Art Deco hotel today includes a beautiful outdoor pool, restaurants, shops, fitness center, spa and even a movie theater. And don't let its age fool you: Rooms are nicely appointed and modern, and unlike lesser hotels, they even provide robes here.
Rise and Shine
For a morning bite, we recommend going to Scape American Bistro (48 Maryland Plaza, 314-361-7227) and ordering the farmers cheese pancakes (be sure ask for a table in the ivy-lined courtyard if the weather is nice, too!). Bring your stay to a sweet close with a stop at Bissinger's Handcrafted Chocolatier (32 Maryland Plaza, 314-367-7750) to stock up on some delectable souvenirs. Trust us, you'll be back for more before you know it.