Road tripping between two iconic cities is definitely our idea of an exciting long weekend getaway. Whether we are leaving after work on Friday and coming back late Sunday evening or adding an extra day to make the most of a holiday weekend, finding an area where you can maximize your time is something we always love to explore. For those of you that have yet to venture to the heart of the States, namely the “Midwest” and “South”, you can frequently find yourself isolated given the distances between many larger cities. However, if you read our post on enjoying a road trip from Memphis to Nashville, you will know that there are some opportunities. We are delighted to introduce a similar entertaining trip, this time from Memphis to St Louis, Missouri.
If you are reading this post wondering why you would want to explore both Memphis and St Louis during a two or three-day weekend getaway, the simple answer is because you can! Sure, both of these historic locations are cities where you could easily spend several days exploring on their own but their relatively close proximity to each ensures that they can be considered exploring in the same trip. Whether you are visiting one of these from out of town or simply live close to one of these, we feel that the following post will give you an idea of the must-see experiences in each location along with some hidden gems worth exploring along the route.
From the best BBQ spots in Memphis to the iconic Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis that has only recently been designated with such status in 2018, there is a myriad of reasons to want to explore both locations. But perhaps the lesser-known locations such as Cape Girardeau, Ste. Genevieve and Arcadia Valley, among others, will be an added selling point for exploring this road trip. Let’s take a look at the different routes available along with why Memphis to St. Louis is a trip we think you will want to explore for yourselves in the near future!
Road Trip from Memphis to St Louis
If you are looking for an easy 4-hour drive between two cities, the route along I-55 between Memphis, Tennessee and St. Louis, Missouri couldn’t be much simpler. Of course, there are always a couple of alternatives (albeit slightly longer) that you can take, so ultimately it’s going to be down to personal preference and exactly what you want to experience on the journey.
We are going to highlight the following locations along this route, featuring some of the best things to do in each spot.
- Memphis, TN
- Cape Girardeau, MO
- Ste Genevieve, MO
- Arcadia Valley, MO
- St. Louis, MO
Let’s take a look at a couple of different options and throughout the rest of this post, we will highlight some of the best things to do regardless of which route you take.
I-55 – Quickest Option
Total Distance – 283 miles
Duration – 4 hours 7 minutes
If you plan on spending all of your time exploring the very best of Memphis and St. Louis, the quickest route is obviously to take I-55 directly between the two cities. You will notice that there are a couple of spots along here such as Cape Girardeau, that are worth exploring but for the most part, this option is definitely going to give you the optimal amount of time to experience both major cities.
Arkansas/Arcadia Valley – Scenic Option
Total Distance – 290 miles
Duration – 4 hours 47 minutes
Visiting Missouri and Tennessee on this trip? Why not add Arkansas to the mix and spend a little more time in the Natural State before heading into the depths of the Arcadia Valley region of Missouri? If you love breathtaking natural scenery and are planning a Fall road trip between Memphis and St. Louis, we can 100% attest that this is a route well worth considering.
The inherent beauty of this region, given that it is part of the Ozark Mountains, is something not to be missed. Plan on visiting the highest point in Missouri at Taum Sauk while exploring other natural gems such as Johnson’s Shut-Ins and many others. The real benefit of this route is that you can venture back across to I-55 if you want to explore some of the other urban locations on this route.
Things to do in Memphis
Memphis may well be renowned as being the birthplace of rock and roll, and certainly for good reason, but there are plenty of other reasons why Memphis should be on your radar. If you are trying to experience some of the highlight attractions in a short period of time, we think that the following will give you an eclectic sampling of the best things to do in Bluff City.
From Beale Street to Graceland, from the diverse collection of thriving neighborhoods to a myriad of vibrant coffee shops, Memphis has something for everyone. We are going to focus on some of the best neighborhoods in Memphis that will truly represent the city and allow visitors that only have a short time to get a real feel of the culture and diversity there.
Of course, our suggestions are just a few ideas and there is certainly plenty more to experience, dependent on personal preference. Did you know that Memphis was home to probably the most unique Bass Pro Shops anywhere in the US? “The Pyramid” is home to this outdoor retail store and can be found close to the Mississippi River.
Take a trip to the summit of this iconic building to admire breathtaking scenes across the river and also downtown Memphis. This is just one of many unique “other” attractions that Memphis is famous for.
Located along the banks of the Mississippi River, downtown Memphis is stacked full of rich history. At the heart of downtown Memphis is the iconic Beale Street. Frequently renowned as the heartbeat of Memphis given its lively collection of bars, restaurants, and unique stores, Beale Street is an area every visitor needs to experience.
I would encourage you to visit both during the day and again at night if possible as you will see polar opposites. Throughout the day, Beale Street is frequently a relaxed environment with plenty of cleanup taking place (similar to Bourbon Street in New Orleans but on a lesser scale) but home to a variety of places that remain home throughout the day and long into the evening.
Original, rare vinyl records can be found along Beale Street and well, it’s not called the “Home of the Blues” for nothing. Memphis Music is a popular spot to find a plethora of Blues related merchandise. Everything from CD’s, vinyl, DVD’s and t-shirts can be found here.
If you choose to return to Beale Street in the evening, be prepared to enjoy a variety of lively bars such as Silky O’Sullivan’s (home to the “Drunk Goats”), Rum Boogie Cafe and many more.
South Main Arts District
Just a short drive (or trolley ride) from Beale Street is the eclectic neighborhood of the South Main Arts District. In terms of history and iconic locations, this is perhaps one of the most infamous throughout Memphis. For those that are interested in civil rights history, the Lorraine Motel and the National Civil Rights Museum are two landmarks you won’t want to miss. Known as the site for Martin Luther King’s tragic assassination, this is a poignant location that should be on everyone’s radar when heading to Memphis.
The story of the civil rights movement may be the prevalent topic of conversation in this part of Memphis but that shouldn’t take away from the other highlight attractions in this neighborhood. Check out the Blues Hall of Fame for a deeper look at the music scene that has made Memphis such a hot spot for musicians over recent decades. If you are ready to grab a bite to eat or perhaps just recharge your batteries with a decadent espresso, head over to Bluff City Coffee to enjoy a wide variety of menu options.
If you are looking for art, history, culture, and delicious cuisine all thrown into one neighborhood, look no further than the Cooper-Young district of Memphis. The term “hip neighborhood” springs to mind when looking for words to describe this area of Memphis and it’s no surprise to hear that this is a popular spot for locals and visitors alike.
Cooper-Young is one of those areas where you want to park your car and walk around to explore the beauty of this neighborhood. Just allow yourself to get lost among the urban beauty of this area and you will be pleasantly surprised at the diverse blend of restaurants, boutique shops and many other attractive reasons to keep you intrigued by the neighborhood.
Artisanal coffee shops are always a huge selling point when we explore neighborhoods and Cooper-Young doesn’t disappoint, with Java Cabana and Otherlands offering two of the best coffee shops in Memphis.
It’s fair to say that exploring the above Memphis neighborhoods will likely make you intrigued to explore more of the city. But remember, this trip is all about making the most of your long weekend getaway and exploring Memphis, St. Louis and everything in between. The drive from Memphis to Cape Girardeau is around 2 1/2 hours (172 miles) along I-55 but this is honestly the first worthwhile spot to stop and explore if you choose to take the interstate route mentioned above.
This is the perfect place to grab a bite to eat before continuing your journey with a collection of chain and local restaurants to choose from. However, one of the best things to do in Cape Girardeau is to head close to the banks of the Mississippi River and enjoy the collection of street art on display. The creativity of these murals is a real sight to behold and this location is home to a variety of both temporary and permanent displays.
For the history buffs out there, perhaps the thought of visiting the oldest permanent European settlement in the state of Missouri will be intriguing. Head to Ste Genevieve that dates back to 1735 to enjoy various historic landmarks along with modern-day attractions that will appeal to all the family.
The Green Tree Tavern is the oldest vertical log building in the town dating back to 1790 and is an interesting sight. The Centre for French Colonial Life is a historian’s dream with plenty of artifacts and exhibits providing a detailed look at early French settlers in the area.
Whether you just want to spend a few minutes exploring the historic buildings in Ste Genevieve or want to learn all about the rich history here, it’s a place you should consider visiting en route from Memphis to St. Louis. Located just one hour from Cape Girardeau, this is another spot perfectly situated to break up the drive, again ideally situated if you are planning on taking the direct route along the interstate.
Head away from the hustle and bustle of city life and driving along interstates to explore the Ozark region of Missouri, in particular, Arcadia Valley which is perfectly situated to experience while driving between Memphis and St. Louis. Home to Taum Sauk Mountain, the highest point in Missouri at 1,772 feet, Arcadia Valley has a plethora of outdoor adventures waiting to be experienced.
Elephant Rocks State Park is an intriguing area worth exploring as it is home to a number of large granite boulders that collectively look like a group of elephants – hence the name! Take a short drive through the scenic Ozark Mountains to arrive at Johnson’s Shut-Ins, home to various hiking trails and scenic overlooks by the river.
This area is the perfect relaxation spot and if you have time on your side, it’s definitely worth considering spending a half-day or even a full day exploring this part of Missouri. The scenery alone is worth the effort of leaving I-55 and we don’t think you will regret it.
Things to Do in St Louis
Be prepared to spend at least a full day exploring the best of St. Louis. Just like Memphis, you can easily spend the whole trip in a location known as the “Gateway to the West.” One of the attractive benefits of exploring St. Louis is that there are A LOT of free (that’s right, you read it correctly…FREE!) attractions across the city such as St. Louis Zoo, Anheuser Busch Brewery among many others.
Visitors to St. Louis will understandably likely want to visit the Gateway Arch, an iconic landmark in this part of the US. Be prepared for a tight squeeze inside the capsule that takes you to the summit of the arch but once you arrive at the top, the views across the Mississippi River into Illinois and downtown St. Louis are breathtaking. Pick out some of your favorite highlight attractions such as Busch Stadium, home of the St. Louis Cardinals and Gateway Mall.
Let’s take a look at three of our favorite neighborhoods that will help give you an insight into this beautiful city. If you want to explore St. Louis off the beaten path, this is definitely a great start!
When it comes to iconic neighborhoods in St. Louis, “The Hill” is perhaps the most infamous given that this is home to an eclectic collection of Italian restaurants and also where baseball great Yogi Berra grew up. From the world-class athletes to the colorful Italian influence in this area, The Hill is a part of St. Louis where you will immediately feel at home with friendly locals always willing to make you feel welcome. You could easily be forgiven for thinking that you were in an Italian town with the amount of red, green and white paint everywhere.
But the history of The Hill is combined with 21st-century additions such as authentic coffeehouses, studios and boutique stores that make this a popular hangout spot not only for visitors but also locals that call St. Louis their home. Pizza is unsurprisingly the go-to cuisine in this part of St. Louis and if you are looking for something other than Italian cuisine, you would be better suited to visit another part of the city. We always hear that many restaurants lay claim to having “authentic” cuisine but we would argue that “The Hill” has an abundance that truly can attest to having true Italian dishes.
Home of the St. Louis Zoo, Forest Park covers over 1,300 acres and is a prominent area of green space in the heart of an urban environment. Forest Park is the perfect area to visit if you are looking to relax away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Similar to Hyde Park in London and Central Park in New York City, Forest Park plays an integral role in daily life in St. Louis.
One of the most beautiful urban parks in the world — and one of the greatest civic treasures of St. Louis
Aside from the zoo which is undoubtedly one of St. Louis’ highlight attractions given that there is free admission, the park is home to a plethora of gorgeous ecosystems, beautiful landscapes full of trees, lakes, and streams and of course, a plethora of cultural institutions. It’s no surprise to hear that with 13 million annual visitors, this is the sixth most frequently visited park in the US.
If “The Hill” is home to Italian cuisine, Delmar Loop is home to everything else. For those of you that are frequently indecisive when it comes to cuisine options, head over to Delmar Loop for a diverse range of options ranging from BBQ, noodles, Mexican and Korean cuisine to mention just a few. Hop on a vintage trolley to meander along Delmar Loop, admiring the authentic architecture and planning where you want to visit once you have explored using this traditional public transportation.
Get ready to immerse yourself in ethnic and cultural diversity while exploring Delmar Loop. Fitz’s, America’s original soda microbrewery can be found here and this is a must-see attraction. Enjoy a cream soda, root beer or another flavor while watching the bottling of St. Louis’ acclaimed drink.
For more information on the best things to do in Delmar Loop, check out Visit The Loop.
Memphis and St. Louis are two cities that we love visiting and we hope that anyone planning a visit to this part of the US will choose to follow this itinerary in order to experience both. There is a unique beauty about both cities and it’s only when you start exploring the neighborhoods away from the main tourist attractions that you really begin to appreciate the inherent quality of these cities.
Visitors from all corners of the globe will appreciate both Memphis and St. Louis but we would argue that planning a long weekend getaway to both is the ideal scenario, given that you can experience the beauty of Arcadia Valley in the heart of Missouri. We all hear about the stereotypical beauty of the Appalachian Mountains, Yellowstone, and Yosemite, but that should take nothing away from the Ozarks. An off the beaten path hidden gem and one that deserves just as much recognition.
We hope that you will find this itinerary beneficial and choose to follow this in the near future – if you are planning a trip to either Memphis or St. Louis…or both, please let us know as they are both considered our “home cities” given their close proximity to where we live.