St. Louis: The Gateway To The West

St. Louis sits beside the mighty Mississippi River in the shadow of the Gateway Arch ready to offer an amazing adventure for those exploring this iconic city (Photo courtesy of St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission/Dreamstine)

Wanderlust

The city of St. Louis is full of American history and culture, earning its nickname as the center where all explorations to the West originated. Let’s join gastroenterologist Dr. Jun Ruiz as he tours the city’s iconic attractions


Most tourists from the Philippines visiting the United States of America for the first time travel to the West Coast or the East Coast (or both in the same trip). Among the most visited cities in America are the highly urbanized New York City, Los Angeles, Orlando, and San Francisco. However, there is much more to America than just California and New York.

The Midwestern United States, more popularly known as simply the Midwest, consists of twelve states whose predominant topography is characterized by relatively flat plains with vast prairies and gentle rolling hills. The American Midwest may not be as popular as the coast cities, but it is home to marvelous national parks, the beautiful Great Lakes, and uniquely American landmarks. In addition, the heartland is home to some of the most exciting and culturally-rich American cities, like Chicago and St. Louis. The Midwest is definitely a place to see!

St. Louis is nicknamed as “The Gateway to the West”, due to its establishment as the gateway to the new territory in 1804 (Photo courtesy of St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission/Mc Elroy Fine Arts Photography)

The city of St. Louis in Missouri is a very charming Midwestern city that is full of life, culture, and history. It is home to 308,000 people, and approximately three million live in the metropolitan area. It is located on the western bank of the Mississippi River, just 16 kms south of the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

Center for fur trade

St. Louis was founded in 1764 by Pierre Laclede as a center for the French fur trade, because of its strategic position along the Mississippi River. It was named after King Louis IX of France. It remained a French territory, until it was acquired by the United States in 1803 as part of the Louisiana purchase.

The author Dr. Jun Ruiz with his closest family in America – his Aunt Rosette and Uncle Arturo who are from St. Louis, circa 2000 (Photo courtesy of Jun Ruiz)

St. Louis became a major port on the Mississippi River. It was established as the capital of, and gateway to, the new territory. In 1804, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to lead the Corps of Discovery – a selected group of US Army volunteers – for an expedition along the Missouri River to explore the vast territory to the wild West. This historical expedition began in May 1804 in St. Louis. They explored to search a water route to the Pacific Ocean. They successfully reached the Pacific via the Columbia River in summer 1805.

Lewis and Clark returned to St. Louis as heroes in 1806. Many other brave pioneers from the east would follow the same route, and this is the origin of how St. Louis earned its nickname “The Gateway to the West”. The city continued to be a busy port during the steamboat era and the industrial periods. In the last half-century, St. Louis underwent urban revitalization and has been attracting tourists for business and pleasure.

I have been to St. Louis at least seven times in a span of more than twenty years. My closest family in America, the Pamaongs, are from this beautiful city in Missouri. The first time I visited St. Louis was in the mid-1990s when I was applying for a medical residency position in the United States. Over the years, I would make short trips there to celebrate the holidays with my Uncle Arturo, Aunt Rosette, cousins Teresa and Scott. The relaxed pace there provided a break from the hustle and bustle in New York, Washington DC, and Manila. In my recent August trip to the United States this year, I made sure that I would make a stopover in this Gateway to the West to visit my American family.

Dr. Jun Ruiz recommends starting your city tour at the Gateway Arch (Photo courtesy of the author)

The Gateway Arch

St. Louis sits beside the mighty Mississippi River in the shadow of the Gateway Arch ready to offer an amazing adventure for those exploring this iconic city. The prime tourist attraction that everyone should first visit is none other than the breathtaking Gateway Arch. This shimmering arc of steel is an astonishing feat of engineering. The first time I set my eyes on the Arch, it was such an overwhelming experience to finally see this monument after reading about it in many tourist and history books. I recommend starting your city tour at the iconic monument located on the historic river front, which is an endearing homage to the exploration and westward expansion of the United States. This is also a fitting tribute to all the brave pioneers and frontiersmen who conquered the old frontier in the 19th century, despite its dangers.

The Arch towers over the city at 630 feet (192 m), and still remains the world’s tallest arch. It is also the tallest manmade monument in the Western Hemisphere. The Arch is 75 feet taller than the Washington Monument and over twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty. The best view of the Gateway Arch is from the Illinois side across the Mississippi River.

The actual construction of Gateway Arch started in 1963 based on a design by architect Eero Saarinen. The Arch is shaped like an inverted threesided catenary made of stainless steel, and is hollow inside. It was completed in 1965 at the cost of $13 million. It is the centerpiece of the Gateway Arch National Park, previously known as the Jefferson Expansion Memorial till 2018.

Take the tram ride to the top of the Arch and get a bird’s eye view of the city. It usually takes four minutes to get to the top. Visitors will reach an enclosed observation deck that has small viewing windows that offer spectacular panoramas of St. Louis and Illinois across the river. The tram tickets usually sell out early – advance tickets are strongly recommended.

The elegant Old Courthouse is Greek Revival in style, and has a cupola that
topped the building (Photo courtesy of Gateway Arch National Park)

Beneath the Arch, the Museum of Westward Expansion was recently renovated, reopened in July 2018, and now includes six new galleries. I was fortunate to have visited after the completion of the renovations. The museum narrates the extraordinary stories of the pioneers and their migration to the West. In addition to the Gateway Arch tram ride experience, you can watch the documentary movie “Monument to the Dream” that details the ideas and building of this American monument, filmed while the work was in progress. There is another movie called “National Geographic’s Lewis & Clark: Great Journey West” that traces the Lewis and Clark Expedition from St. Louis to the Pacific. You can easily spend four hours touring this complex.

Outside the Arch are big lawns, wood areas, and serene ponds where you can hike, bike, and enjoy the views of the river. For those who want a unique experience, hop aboard a 19th century paddle wheel-boat replica for a narrated, one-hour sightseeing cruise while enjoying the best sights of St. Louis. On the riverfront, the Gateway Arch stands proud reminding Americans of their noble heritage.

Downtown St. Louis

Part of the Gateway Arch National Park is the elegant Old Courthouse that was completed in 1864. The architectural style is Greek Revival, and an Italian-Renaissance style cupola topped the historical building. This was the scene of the historical slavery-laden Dred Scott trial, wherein Scott and his family sued their master for freedom. This is probably the single most important location that jumpstarted the Civil War. Inside, you will see galleries featuring exhibits on the trial and the history, lovely murals, and two restored courtrooms. The interior of the dome is very impressive, and the American flag adds to a strong sense of patriotism.

This is the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis with its Byzantine-style interior and the ornate mosaics collection (Photo courtesy of St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission/Jeff Hirsch )

Also located nearby is the Basilica of St. Louis, more commonly called as the Old Cathedral with its green steeple. It was the city’s first cathedral, and the style is Greek revival. The other popular cathedral is the Romanesque-style Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis located in the Central West End. Be impressed by the grandeur of the Byzantine-style interior and the ornate mosaics collection from nearly 42 million glass tesserae pieces.

St. Louis is a sports-crazy town. Just walking distance from the Arch is Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals of National League Baseball. The Cardinals are one of the most successful sports franchises, having won 11 World Series titles – the second-most in Major League Baseball after my favorite sports team, the New York Yankees. As much as I wanted to watch a Cardinals’ game in this ballpark as I like this team too, the Cardinals had always been on the road every time I visited St. Louis.

Just adjacent to the stadium is the new seven city-block entertainment plaza known as Ballpark Village. It is the premiere dining and sports-anchored entertainment district in the region. There is a lot to enjoy for the loyal Cardinals fans. The Fox Sports Midwest Live venue is at the center of the complex has a 40-foot LED display and a retractable glass canopy. It is not a surprise that it is the favorite hangout of the locals for food, friends, and fun.

If you want to end the day with a recreation of the Old St. Louis atmosphere, you can easily walk to Laclede’s Landing. It was part of the original fur-trading port that became the modern-day downtown St. Louis. The roads are paved in cobblestone, iron lamps illuminate the streets, and you hear jazz music. The old buildings have been converted to shops, galleries, restaurants, and bars.

Forest Park

On your second day in St. Louis, I suggest you explore nature. There are more than 100 parks in the city. The largest is Forest Park, occupying 567 hectares of land and almost twice the size of Central Park in New York. It is the location of six popular institutions, namely the St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis Zoo, the St. Louis Science Center, the Missouri History Museum, the Jewel Box conservatory, and the Muny amphitheater. The park attracts 12 million visitors every year with its attractions, events, biking trails, and scenery.

Ballpark Village is the premiere dining and sports-anchored entertainment district in the region (Photo courtesy of St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission/Mc Elroy Fine Arts Photography)

Forest Park was the site of the 1904 Summer Olympics and the famous 1904 World’s Fair, which claimed to have served the first hotdogs and hamburgers. The Beaux Arts-style St. Louis Art Museum is the only one building left standing from the fair.

The largest park in St. Louis is Forest Park, home to six popular institutions (Photo courtesy of St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission. /Larry Emerson)

A boat ride through the canals in Forest Park has been popular since the 1904 Fair. One can relive this experience on a paddleboat ride from the scenic Boathouse at Forest Park. Visitors can rent paddle boats to cruise around the lake, watch the ducks and other wildlife, as well as enjoy the fountains in the main canal. The Boathouse, designed in the style of an early 20th century Midwestern boathouse cottage, is also a restaurant by the lake where we spent a memorable afternoon to enjoy the view and had an early sumptuous dinner for family bonding.

The author enjoying dinner and nature with his relatives – Teresa, Rosette,
Jamie and Gemma (Photo courtesy of Jun Ruiz)

On my last evening from this year’s visit, we went to the Missouri Botanical Garden as they had a special event this season. The 79-acre Garden is considered among the top public gardens in the world. Itwas founded in 1858 by a local philanthropist Henry Shaw. Visitors will be captivated by the variety of lush gardens, landscape architecture, fountains, footbridges, and greenhouses. We watched the special nighttime exhibit Flora Borealis that featured cinematic projection mapping, laser lights, and sounds bringing the gardens to life.

Every time I visit St. Louis, it has always been a wonderful experience, not just for the exciting activities the place can offer, but also for the fond memories with family that I cherish. I still look forward to my next visit to St. Louis – each time is a different journey as the adventures here are limitless.

Flora Borealis at the Missouri Botanical Garden features visual effects, laser lights, and sounds bringing the gardens to life (Photo courtesy of Missouri Botanical Gardens)

“I recommend starting your city tour at the iconic monument (Gateway Arch) located on the historic river front, which is an endearing homage to the exploration and westward expansion of the United States”

Nov 2018 Health and Lifestyle

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