I recently paged through Patricia Schultz's book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. It's certainly a fun checklist for travelers, but a bit light on St. Louis area attractions. Shrugging off the slight, I decided to create a checklist of my own.
Obviously we have plenty of world-class attractions, such as the Arch, but today I'm focusing on a few of the lesser known places. You won't find them in many guidebooks, but these are still places every St. Louisan should see.
Stepping into Crown Candy is like stepping back in time. First off, it's a soda fountain. When was the last time you even heard the term soda fountain? Crown Candy opened in 1913, and you'll be hard-pressed to say what's changed over time. With much of the original décor, menu and original booths intact, it's like having lunch in a time capsule. Beyond the décor, people come for the shakes, malts and candy. Crown Candy makes them all from scratch, using the shop's original recipes. Lunch items include simple but tasty sandwiches, BLTs and chili dogs. But save room for a shake, they're huge!
The Lemp brewery was once the largest brewery in St. Louis, and the Lemp family mansion is everything you'd expect in the home of such a budding dynasty. But the dynasty seems to have been cursed. In a span of two generations, four members of the Lemp family committed suicide and others died under mysterious circumstances. No wonder the mansion is routinely listed among some of the most haunted sites in the nation. Today, the home is a unique restaurant and bed & breakfast. The food is always good, although the highlight of any visit is wondering if you're dining in one of the rooms where some of this macabre story unfolded.
If you haven't been to the Soulard Farmers Market, perhaps you think it's just a giant produce stand. True, there are nearly three dozen vendors selling locally grown fruits and vegetables, but there are also rows of bakers, butchers, spice shops, florists, dairies and jewelers. If you were visiting some exotic foreign city, the guide books would insist you visit the open air market. Luckily we have something just as good, and in some ways just as exotic, right in our own backyard.
National Geographic ranked it among America's top 100 adventures, yet not many St. Louisans have visited Bonne Terre Mine. Once one of the largest mines in the world, it was abandoned in the 1960's, only to fill up with groundwater. Its current owners claim the resulting billion-gallon subterranean lake is the world's largest. Visit the mine for a tour by boat or by foot, or if you're a certified diver (or want to become one), you can explore the lake to its depths, following up to 24 dive trails. Bonne Terre is about one hour south of St. Louis.
Gus' Pretzels has been supplying the city's south side with pretzels since 1920, but the shop has earned a cult-like following in more modern times. Go there around lunch on a weekday and there's a line out the door. Sure, some people come just for basic pretzels, but most come for their favorite pretzel sandwiches. Try a pretzel brat and you'll never want a brat on a plain bun again.