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St. Louis, Your Gateway To Fun!

I'm not quite sure how to describe St. Louis. Sure it's affordable, diverse and even very accessible; but it's something more than all that. Let's just call it "bordering on kitsch". And I mean that in a very positive way. For example, there's Phil the Gorilla. Have you heard of Phil? Well, if you grew up in St. Louis in the 1950's you'll remember Phil. He was a top attraction at the St. Louis Zoo. Then he died, and they stuffed him. Today the stuffed Phil resides in the zoo's gift shop. You can't miss him. Now that's what I call, "bordering on kitsch". A stuffed gorilla named Phil. It's subtle, it's obscure, it's sometimes silly and sarcastic; but most of all, it's just plain fun. And that's St. Louis in a nutshell; just plain fun.

Photo of Ramp equiped zoo train
Ramp equiped zoo train
Photo by Charles Pannell

There's no better place to begin your St. Louis adventure than at the St. Louis Zoo, where their slogan is, "You're not at the zoo, you're in it." Located in Forest Park, the St. Louis Zoo was established shortly after the 1904 world's fair; largely due to the popularity of the World's Fair Bird Cage in Forest Park. Today this walk through free-flight aviary is a favorite attraction at the zoo. Although the aviary was designed almost a century ago, it still offers remarkably good access, with eight foot wide walkways, plenty of maneuvering room and level entries. The best bet for wheelers is to approach the cage from the west side, as the east entrance is a bit steep.

Other must-sees at the zoo are the new Monsanto Insectarium and the recently remodeled Children's Zoo. And when you get tired, hop on the Zooline Railroad for a good overview of the 79 acre property. Each Zooline train features one ramp-equipped car. Most of the attractions at the zoo offer barrier-free access, including the restaurants, exhibits and the gift shop. An access map depicting accessible routes is available at the entrance. For more information call (314)781-0900 or visit www.stlzoo.org.

Don't miss the other attractions in Forest Park, including the St. Louis Art Museum and the Missouri History Museum. The St. Louis Art Museum is housed in the stately 1904 World's Fair Fine Arts Palace, and features top-rated pre-Columbian and German Expressionist collections. The accessible entrance is located in the south wing, and there is elevator access to the upper level. Visit www.slam.org or call (314)721-0072 for details on rotating exhibitions.

The Missouri History Museum is composed of the Jefferson Memorial Building and the Emerson Electric Center. The popular "Seeking St. Louis" exhibit in the permanent collection offers an interactive look at the region's rich history; while rotating exhibits such as "Miles: A Miles Davis Retrospective" draw visitors from around the world. The Missouri History museum features ramp and elevator access to all exhibits. For more information visit www.mohistory.org or call (314)746-4599. Both of these Forest Park museums offer free admission to their permanent collections.

Photo of Fun at the City Museum
Fun at the City Museum
Photo by Charles Pannell

For a different kind of museum experience, check out the City Museum. Housed in a former shoe warehouse, this three year old fun-house is built from salvaged and recycled materials. Among other things, it includes a working tidepool and a wheelchair-accessible cave. Must-sees are the world's largest pair of mens underwear, the collection of recycled art and the recreation of a 1950's era shoe store. The City Museum is an interactive museum with lots of spaces to crawl, roll or climb. There's plenty of staff on-hand to assist visitors, and their motto is, "We're all here, because we're not all there." Access features include a level entry, cement floors and elevator access to all levels. For more information visit www.citymuseum.org. Oh, and in case you're wondering, it's not just for kids!

If you'd prefer a calmer outing, then head for the Missouri Botanical Gardens to enjoy the serene landscape of a 14 acre Japanese Garden, or experience a tropical rainforest inside the Climatron conservatory. There are level pathways throughout the gardens, and the Climatron features a zero-step entry and barrier-free asphalt pathways. Hop on board the accessible tram for a tour of the 79 acre property. Inherited from the Atlanta Olympics, the tram has ramp access to one car and features integrated seating with fold-down jump seats. Visit www.mobot.org for more information about the Missouri Botanical Gardens.

Of course there's no shortage of restaurants or shopping centers in St. Louis, but one fun place that combines both activities is Union Station. Formerly the largest train station in the country, this historic landmark now houses over 100 shops and restaurants, a Hyatt Regency Hotel and a lake filled with paddleboats. Don't miss the great collection of Route 66 memorabilia at Union Station's Route 66 Brewery. The accessible entry to the Route 66 Brewery is located on Market Street. Check out www.stlouisunionstation.com for a complete directory of restaurants and shops in Union Station.

And for a classic Route 66 treat, stop by Ted Drewes Frozen Custard stand, an original Route 66 landmark. You just can't visit St. Louis without trying a Ted Drewes "concrete"; a milkshake so thick that it's served upside down. Ted Drewes Frozen Custard stand features roll-up access and it's located at 6276 Chippewa. You can't miss it; just look for the line.

Photo showing accessable pathways at Missouri Transportation Museum
Accessable pathways at Missouri Transportation Museum
Photo by Charles Pannell

Indeed, transportation played an integral role in the growth of St. Louis. Today the Museum of Transportation (www.museumoftransport.org) celebrates that fact with exhibits illustrating the ever-changing nature of transportation. According to the Smithsonian Institution, the Museum of Transportation houses one of the worlds best vehicle collections. The museum is situated on 124 acres at Barrett Station, and includes over four miles of track, 70 locomotives and 10 exhibition halls.

Inside the exhibition halls you'll find Bobby Darin's dream car, a horse-drawn streetcar and a portion of the old Coral Court Motel. The outside exhibition areas house a large collection of steam and diesel locomotives. The exhibition halls have zero-step entries and plenty of maneuvering room; while the outdoor exhibition areas feature well-marked accessible routes along asphalt pathways. Additionally, the Roberts Building contains accessible platforms which allow visitors to peer into restored Pullman sleepers, dining cars, and even a railroad president's private office car. It's a fun place for kids of all ages!

Another fun place, especially for animal lovers, is Grant's Farm. President Ulysses S. Grant farmed a potion of this land in the 1850's, before it became the ancestral home of the Anheuser-Busch family. In keeping with their commitment to animal conservation, the Busch family later converted the land to a wildlife preserve and opened it to the public.

Today, visitors can board a tram and tour the 281 acre deer park; home to a large variety of deer, antelope, zebras, elk and bison. The first car of the tram features ramp access with room for two wheelchairs. The tram stops at the Tier Garden and the Bauerhof before it returns to the main entrance. Visitors can visit the Tier Garden to feed the animals, or stop by the Bauerhof to see the carriage collection. There are a few steep grades along the asphalt paths in the Tier Garden, but wheelchair-users can still get an up-close-and-personal look at the majority of the animals. Guests can also enjoy a free sample of their favorite Anheuser-Busch adult beverage. Grant's Farm is open from April to October, and admission is free. Visit www.grantsfarm.com or call (314)843-1700 for schedule information.

Finally, no visit to St. Louis would be complete with a trek out to Meramec Caverns, the one-time hideout of outlaw Jesse James. As legend has it, a posse tracked James and his cohorts to the cavern entrance, only to find the gang's abandoned horses. They searched the caverns to no avail, as the gang had already escaped through an underground river passage. Years later, in 1933 the caverns were opened to the public by well known caveologist Lester B. Dill. Today, Meramec Caverns is still billed as the "greatest show under the earth".

As far as caves go, Meramec Caverns offers fairly good access. There are paved walkways throughout the caverns, with plenty of room for wheelchairs to maneuver. The lower level of the caverns is fairly level; however, because of the very steep grade, most wheelers will have a tough time getting to the upper level. Additionally, once you make it to the upper level, there are 52 steps up to the natural theater. Still, the lower caverns offer some spectacular formations, crystal clear streams and Mirror River; an 18 inch deep pool which reflects a great hollow overhead dome. Abbreviated tours are available for wheelchair-users who can't access the upper level, but the full tour distance is 1 1/4 miles round trip. For more information visit www.americascave.com. You can't leave the "cave state" without visiting at least one cave, and Meramec Caverns is a fun way to top off your St. Louis visit.

Resources

www.ExploreStLouis.com
This official tourism website of St. Louis. Call (800)916-0040 for your free visitors guide.

Metro Link
(314)231-2345
www.bi-state.org
Metro Link offers roll-on access to light rail trains throughout St. Louis. Visit website for route maps, schedules and fares.

Paraquad
(314)567-1558 X257 or X224
www.paraquad.org/access.html
This St. Louis CIL provides detailed access information on local properties. Check out their website, or call them directly for information about the accessibility of local lodging.