As they’ve grown, all major U.S. cities have absorbed nearby small towns and satellite communities into their metro areas. St. Louis is no exception. However, there are 2 big differences. St. Louis city and county remain governmentally separated. St. Louis is also largely racially separated despite some progress. Because they’re self-governing, many suburban communities retain a lot their original characters and are worth a visitor’s time. I know this because I lived there for so many years. St. Louis’ 2017 Official Visitors Guide and Where magazine list some of its satellites among attractions but both tend to emphasize city neighborhoods and things to do there.
Both magazines list Webster Groves, which has 2 commercial districts. The Visitor’s Guide calls WG enchanting and “Queen of the Suburbs”. Both commercial areas are stuffed with restaurants and local shops, but Old Webster has more charm. One of Ruth’s cousins suggested we gather for our annual reunion in Old Webster this year. Old Webster probably has more interesting stores, but the other commercial area is closer to Webster University, which has one of the best and most popular theaters in the United States that will never win a Tony. By the time its renowned Repertory Theater and opera seasons end their runs, this fine facility has been used almost year round. Conrad Hilton helped fund it long ago. Webster Groves is not as old as St. Louis, but it has seen its hundredth birthday and is stocked with grand old homes.
Kirkwood, however, is my personal favorite for historic houses. Where calls Kirkwood “St Louis’s first true suburb”. It began as a railroad town in the 1850s and still is. You can still hop on a train to Kansas City and beyond here. Tourists who find Kirkwood miss a lot if they don’t visit the classic Amtrak Station downtown. It’s seldom-sell residents are often Kirkwood fanatics who consider their homes members of the family. Kids love Kirkwood’s almost 40-year-old Magic House.
Where specifically mentions this city’s most notorious suburb, but the Visitors Guide doesn’t. In 2014 Ferguson erupted with a major killing and subsequent racial tension that made the national news. Local opinions about the lasting effects vary, but Where clearly sees Ferguson coming back. The Visitors Guide lumps all of the north suburbs under a North St. Louis County umbrella and promotes only one attraction there, the confluence of the mighty Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, now a state park. It’s worth seeing.
Clayton is the area’s business center and a definite treat for tourists. When we lived in St. Louis, Clayton had the best restaurants, and Ruth & I still go to Remy’s almost every time we ‘go home’. Clayton also has some great hotels and high rises. It’s a venerable ring community not too far from highly rated Washington University and a classy address adjacent to St. Louis’ Beverly Hills, Ladue.
Both magazines cite Maplewood as fun. Some call it funky. I spent a lot of time there when I was a teenager because it was the closest suburb to where I lived in the city. When my parents finally decided to buy a house for their growing family, Maplewood was considered. It was fading a bit back then but has come back a lot. The fact that Schlafly Bottleworks, a brewery, located there has helped.
After you see The Arch, attend a Cardinal’s baseball game, and eat some fine Italian food, head for the suburbs.