I am a true Californian with a love of traveling around America and the world. What I enjoy most about traveling is discovering new experiences and meeting new people. So after two decades of living in the United States, I decided to explore one of the states in the ‘Great Plains’ region.
Both my best friends from high school ended up there and had been complaining I don’t visit them. So to meet them and check off seeing fall foliage from my bucket list, I planned a trip to St. Louis and Hannibal.
I flew in last week and stayed for only a couple of days. But, I had an amazing time. Here is what I discovered:
1. St. Louis is nothing like what you expect from a middle America region. It is diverse, historical, cultural, and actually very beautiful.
2. The downtown region is filled with old brick factories turned into lofts for living. One of my friends actually lives in one and the flooring is original. Honestly, I have never seen a more beautiful floor.
3. The city has the most beautiful, undiscovered churches I have seen in America. I wasn’t surprised to see so many churches knowing that many people go to church there. However, when you walk into one of these charming churches, it’s like you have been transported into an Italian cathedral. Stain glass, marble floors, religious statues, you name it, the perfected details are all there. Sadly, you won’t find any mention of churches in the guidebooks (at least in Lonely Planet there wasn’t any), but if you ask your Uber driver to suggest you a site, they would be able to guide you to one.
4. Some of the freshest food is in St. Louis. I was surprised to learn this because California is touted as an agriculture state and farmer’s markets are so trendy here. In St. Louis I realized how important freshness in food really is to your taste buds. One place I recommend is Red Oaks Eats. It’s a tiny diner/cafe in the heart of Downtown Louis and I had breakfast almost all days I was there. The produce is locally sourced and it has a nice neighborhood feel. The food is absolutely delicious.
5. That being said, I found limited options for halal-eating and vegetarians in St. Louis. Almost everything had meat and I had to resort to going to big restaurants to ensure I had food I can eat. I soooo wanted to try St. Louis’s famous fried ravioli, but like I said, it was stuffed with non-halal ground beef.
6. THAT being said, I had fish and chips at Dressel’s and Fitz and they were absolutely divine. Portions were great and the fish was freshly cooked. Unfortunately, I didn’t try Fitz’s famous ice cream sundae because my friend betrayed me and wouldn’t split it, but Fitz is known for it.
7. Lastly, do try a drink from a Starbucks. I know this sounds funny and totally against all traveling mantras, but I thought I love Starbucks so why not? Honestly, their mixed coffees tastes better than San Francisco’s. It was extra nutmeg-gy and cinnamon-y.
8. In terms of famous landmarks, I thought the Tom Sawyer Riverboat Cruise and The Gateway Arch are good. The cruise was soo much fun as you ride on the mighty Mississippi river on a replica of a riverboat. The boat ride is about 45 minutes to an hour long and you learn so much about the old buildings along the river. My favorite part was the playing of swing (not blues) music in the background. It made my imagination run wild as I pictured famous figures like Mark Twain spending their lazy summer days here on the riverboats. Awesome experience. In terms of the Gateway Arch, that was awesome too as we went up the VERY (almost claustrophobic) elevator to the top. The views are beautiful!
9. If you want, you can visit the Old Courthouse as well. It is walking distance from The Gateway Arch. It is free and open to the public. Some famous slave trials were held here. Expect to spend about 45 minutes there and do take pictures of the beautiful dome.
10. If you want to check out some neighborhood of the greater downtown area, then check out Delmar’s loop and Central West End. While Delmar Loop is more touristy, the Central West End neighborhood is more trendy and for young crowds.
Hannibal was an absolute ball and I would highly recommend it. I am a literature buff and was so high to learn that Mark Twain based his famous books “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” in this town (although he changed the name of it). The drive there is soo beautiful and although I saw it only in the early fall, I can recommend it for viewing fall foliage.
1. Hannibal is around a 2-hour drive north of St. Louis. It is not the birthplace of Mark Twain (his birthplace is Florida, Missouri), but you can get to know a lot about why this town impacted his stories so much. It is absolutely charming and a quintessential American town.
2. One of the first things we did was visit the Mark Twain Cave. We bought tickets to the guided tours and with a little prayer, made our way inside. Back in the days, guides would take people with torches and (candles?), but now there are lights installed so it is not as scary as you think. You can easily take pictures with your DSLR and flash is allowed there. This cave is mentioned in Mark Twain’s books and it is quite famous in history and today. The guide had some funny stories and legends that made the tour much more pleasing. Trust me, it can get scary in there. Sorry no bats though!
3. From there, we rushed (we were pressed for time) to the steamboats. Riverboats and steamboats are different in the way they look. Steamboats have a giant paddle wheel and both kinds of boats have smoke chimneys. So cute! Mississippi is quite calm and wide so there are plenty of photo opportunities on this river. We even sighted two bald eagles!
4. After our tours, we took a self-guided tour to Hannibal downtown. We bought tickets to a self-guided walking tour of Huckleberry’s House, Mark Twain’s house, and Becky Thatcher house. So fascinating. The town of Hannibal is tiny and you can park your car somewhere and walk around taking in the sights. There is even a lighthouse you can attempt to climb to.
So that was my trip to Missouri. I can check this state of my bucket list for sure. If I come back to visit my friends, I would probably check out the food scene more and maybe visit Florida, Missouri.