1. The Gateway Arch— it’s a given. But you’ve got to be on-site about 10 minutes before sunset, ideally in the spring or autumn when the air is very, very transparent. And you have got to stand about 75 feet to the south and 50 feet west of the south leg (the one closer to the Poplar Street Bridge), looking at the north leg (the one closer to the Veterans Bridge). What you will see is an array of different colors more vibrant than any rainbow– really glorious crimsons and blues and greens, shimmering off the metal. The display ends as soon as the sun drops behind the horizon, leaving a reddish-orange glow until the city lights are mirrored in the Arch’s steel skin. (707 N. First, 314-655-1700, gatewayarch.com).
2. The mosaics lining the wall surfaces of the New Cathedral. With approximately 41.5 million glass pieces, this is the largest mosaic collection in the world. The best way to encounter it? Recline in the nave, if you can, and gaze up at the glowing world above. Don’t miss the Stations of the Cross, restored in 2004. (4431 Lindell, 314-373-8200, cathedralstl.org).
3. Ernest Trova’s sculptures, concealed in the wooded grounds of Laumeier Sculpture Park. It was his present of 40 sculptures– the largest public collection of this internationally known St. Louisan’s work– that made it achievable for the park to open up, and coming upon one of his Cantos or Variations amid the cedars is magical. (12580 Rott, 314-615-5278, laumeier.org).
4. The area from the top of the Compton Hill Water Tower, one of seven such towers lingering in the country. This one’s stylish French Romanesque, built in 1898 to costume a 100-foot standpipe, and a haunt of architects for its 360-degree view of the city. (Compton Hill Reservoir Park, Grand & Russell, stlouis.missouri.org/comptonhill/tower).
5. These 10 trademark artworks from our precious Saint Louis Art Museum (not all of which are on view at all times): the Egyptian Mummy Mask, the Buddhist deity Guanyin, Liu Cai’s 8-foot-long hand-scroll Fish Swimming Amid Falling Flowers, George Caleb Bingham’s The Verdict of the People, Vincent van Gogh’s Stairway at Auvers, Henri Matisse’s Bathers With a Turtle, Max Beckmann’s Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery, Claude Monet’s Water Lilies, Jackson Pollock’s Number 3, 1950 and Gerhard Richter’s Betty. (One Fine Arts Drive, 314-721-0072, slam.org).
6. Mastodon State Historic Site, where archaeologists unearthed both Clovis arrowheads and mammoth bones, proving humans and prehistoric creatures existed side-by-side. Learn more about Missouri’s oldest Native American cultural site, and see a fully assembled (and fully intimidating) mastodon skeleton. Or just hike the 425-acre site, feeling the enormous cache of ancient history beneath your waffle stompers. (1050 Charles Becker, Imperial, Mo., 636-464-2976, mostateparks.com).
7. Theodore C. Link’s Union Station as it deserves to be seen– not as just another mall, but as an architectural marvel. The trick? Bring only enough dough to pay for parking or mass transit, thereby precluding consumerist temptation. Appreciate the Market Street monolith as one of the metro area’s preeminent prodigies. (1820 Market, 314-421-6655, stlouisunionstation.com).
8. Forest Park’s Art Deco masterpiece, the Jewel Box conservatory; its masterful renovation left each facet of glass sparkling and gave the wild orchids room to breathe the light. Tennessee Williams sent Laura here for solace in The Glass Menagerie. (Forest Park, 314-531-0080, stlouis.missouri.org).
9. Eagles fly while you stand gravity-bound on the Chain of Rocks Bridge, gazing jealously through binoculars on a chilly January weekend. Even better, try watching them dive for fish in the churning waters at Lock & Dam 24 in Clarksville. Well worth the drive.
10. The Wainwright tomb at Bellefontaine Cemetery, its domed limestone decorated with Louis Sullivan’s signature foliage patterns and as serene as a Buddhist temple. Commissioned upon the tragic death of young Charlotte Dickson Wainwright, the tomb is considered one of the masterpieces of American architect Sullivan, who created the modern skyscraper and mentored Frank Lloyd Wright. A great place for pondering mortality. (4947 W. Florissant, 314-381-0750, bellefontainecemetery.com).
11. The Altar of Answered Prayers at the Shrine of St. Joseph, erected by parishioners who, after praying to.
St. Joseph, were spared from the cholera epidemic of 1866. Or you can kiss the relic containing a sliver of bone from St. Peter Claver’s shin, which– as attested to by the Vatican– healed a German ironworker, Ignatius Strecker, who developed necrosis of the ribs after being struck in the chest by an iron spike. For a more contemporary brush with divinity, travel to Cahokia’s Holy Family Log Church, its chalice used first in 1698 and three centuries later by Pope John Paul II. (1220 N. 11th St., 314-231-9407, shrineofstjoseph.org. Holy Family Parish Log Church, 116 Church St., Cahokia, Ill., 618-337-4548).
12. The Saint Louis Zoo penguins. Their habitats are welcome relief in July, but if you go on a dreary, drizzly day in the fall, you can watch them waddle for hours, uninterrupted. Spot your favorite Gentoo, Rockhopper or King penguin winging through the icy waters of the Penguin Cove, then go out to the tidal pool to see the Humboldt penguins and their pelican pals through the rush of a 22-foot waterfall. (One Government Drive, 314-781-0900, stlzoo.org).
13. The Black Madonna Shrine and Grottos in Eureka. His materials were humble– cement, junk jewelry and Missouri stone– Brother Bronislaus Luszcz’s collection of sculptures is powerful as both spiritual testament and public art. His grottoes dedicated to Mary, Joseph and St. Francis glitter with 1950s brooches and pearl clip-on earrings, and the statues were poured from standard lawn-saint molds, but Brother Luszcz’s longing for the ineffable transformed the everyday into the transcendent. (8 miles outside Eureka, Mo., 636-938-5151, franciscancaring.org).
14. Shaw Nature Reserve sans camera, guidebook or binoculars. Let your feet and curiosity be your tour guides. There are sufficient prairie, marshland, woodland, forest and glade areas to lose yourself to that giddy place where you hear and smell and feel rather than think, finding yourself without any need to peer at plaques or rifle through your birding guide. Sometimes forgetting the definition of “angiosperm” is a very good thing. (Highway 100, 636-451-3512, shawnature.org).
15. The Piasa (pronounced PIE-uh-saw) monster (“the bird that devours man”), re-created high on the bluffs of the Great River Road. This prehistoric pictograph, carved deep into stone and painted, was first recorded in 1673– and it scared even the Jesuits. (Illinois Highway 100, Alton, Ill., roadsideamerica.com).