If you're new to St. Louis, searching for a home or apartment can feel a bit overwhelming. Especially if you have no idea which part of the region is right for you. On a map, all areas look pretty much the same, but of course each has its advantages and disadvantages.
Although it's hard to describe the metropolitan area's various regions and neighborhoods within a short sentence or two, there are some general statements we can make about each. These statements should make your map a bit more useful and help you focus your search on areas more likely to fit your personality.
Downtown is obviously home to landmarks such as Busch Stadium and the Gateway Arch, but it’s also undergoing quite a revival, both commercially and residentially. For example, Washington Avenue just underwent a massive facelift and is now a thriving entertainment and shopping district. Going hand-in-hand with this and other downtown makeovers has been a swell in loft living. Most lofts are found on streets running parallel to Washington (Locust, Olive and Pine), and are within 20 blocks of the riverfront. Again, costs vary greatly, but most lofts are geared to young urbanites, although they also attract their share of business executives, empty-nesters and even families.
Outside of downtown, but still within the City of St. Louis, there are dozens of neighborhoods to consider. A neighborhood that might be paradise to one individual could be completely unacceptable to another. One good tool to help you sort out general characteristics is the "maps and data" section of the City's Community Information Network (CIN) website. Start by looking at the city wide map. This tool allows you to view the city as a whole, color-coded by categories such as people, environment/health, housing, education and economic. For example, if you're looking for a neighborhood with lots of young families and kids, you can see which parts of St. Louis have the highest concentrations of children.
If you're interested in one specific city neighborhood, visit the city's neighborhood guide. Each neighborhood site provides a general overview of the neighborhood, as well as lists of parks, schools and places of worship, demographic information and links to local organizations and government officials. Another tool is the SafeCity map program operated by the St. Louis Police Department. SafeCity displays crimes committed in a neighborhood during whatever time period you specify. The site is very interactive, allowing users to zoom in to the street level, as well as toggle on and off each type of crime.
St. Louis County
Surrounding the City is St. Louis County. St. Louis City and St. Louis County are completely separate political units and require separate tools to research. The county itself is comprised of more than 90 municipalities. Luckily, you can slim down your options by picking a general area of the county, and then focusing in on the individual cities within that area. In general, locals divide the county into North County, West County and South County. General stereotypes exist for each, but must be taken with a grain of salt; these stereotypes developed decades ago and are no longer very accurate. Still, most locals would describe North County as an older suburban area, originally more blue collar than it is today. West County is considered the region's more affluent area, and South County has almost a (surprisingly) southern culture. But don't let these stereotypes deter you; there are plenty of exceptions to each and quite a bit of variety within each area.
Once you've narrowed down which part of the county interests you, you can learn more about individual municipalities. St. Louis County's website links to each city's site, all of which offer general descriptions of the city, provide demographics and list civic organizations, schools and government services.
If you're interested in living a bit further afield, your options increase significantly. On the Missouri side of the river, both St. Charles and Jefferson Counties are booming with new home developments. Likewise, on the Illinois side, Madison, Monroe and St. Clair Counties are all growing rapidly, but also have terrific established communities. The main benefits of all of these counties are low home prices and the availability of larger land plots. The main drawback is the distance of each to downtown, if commuting into the city is something you'll have to do on a regular basis.