It must be annoying living in a city known for exactly one thing — particularly when that one thing is neither terribly interesting, nor aesthetically pleasing. This seems to be the St. Louis experience. You will never find a graphical representation of the city itself that omits some aspect of the iconic Gateway Arch, which, while meaningful in its symbolism, is not an especially compelling landmark in itself.
Even more interesting, in my experience, is St. Louis’ Forest Park and Central West End, and thanks to a robust and easily navigable light rail system, these are things that any visitor to the St. Louis city center can easily access and enjoy, the way the locals do.
Nearly twice the size of Manhattan’s Central Park, the first thing you’ll notice about Forest Park is its sheer size. It is gigantic. After walking for an hour, glancing at a map you’ll find that you’ve made surprisingly little progress en route to the other side. That’s correct: after an hour of consistent walking from one end, the far end of the park will still seem far off.
The second thing you’ll notice is the great diversity of landscape the park has to offer; ranging from forest to meadow to wetland to municipal.
As a runner, I was struck by the wide, shady, soft, dirt trails one can find in various corners of the park, and the wide, less shady, paved trails connecting them all. This is a great place to be a runner or walker for that matter.
Within the park, you’ll also find a war memorial, amphitheater and even a world-class zoo.
Like Central Park, maybe the most satisfying aspect of the park are the little out of the way things that may not appear on any map. These include beautiful bridges, copses of trees, vineyards and ponds.
If you’re hungry, I recommend the boathouse located just west of the geographic center of the park. There’s very pleasant outdoor dining right on a little lake . If you’re feeling adventurous, rent a paddleboat with a friend and explore the shoreline.
Accessing the park is easy from the Central West End Metro stop. I recommend taking the slightly longer route down Euclid street, where you can experience an unusually hip pub scene. Then return via Lindell Blvd, where you’ll see a full mile of profoundly beautiful homes facing the park. As with Central Park, the real estate immediately bordering the park is among the most beautiful in the city.
Forest Park isn’t likely a good enough reason to visit St. Louis, but if you’re there anyway, you’re safe skipping the Gateway Arch and enjoying this gem instead.