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Come fly away: 9 great destinations with direct flights from St. Louis

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Now that most airlines are no longer requiring masks and COVID rates are certainly down from the previous two summers, perhaps you are feeling a little more at ease with flying again. St. Louis Lambert International Airport is a perfect gateway to try something new, and many airlines fly directly to a city that's awaiting exploration. 

Here are a few of our favorite cities with a direct flight from St. Louis. 

Pennsylvania Daily Life

People view Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Monday, Oct. 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Philadelphia

The City of Brotherly Love is also the Birthplace of America.

The sixth-largest city in the country, Philadelphia is a comfortable blend of culture and history. First-time travelers will want to see Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution of the United States were signed. Nearby is the Liberty Bell, which is not as historically significant (it hung in the tower of Independence Hall), but has somehow acquired an even more iconic status.

Lovers of art will find bliss in the city's museums. The Philadelphia Museum of Art (go ahead, run up the stairs like Rocky — you know you want to) has one of the highest regarded, most comprehensive collections in the country. But don't miss the Rodin Museum, which is stuffed full of the sculptor's profoundly affecting works, and the Barnes Foundation, one family's truly extraordinary collection of the best in Impressionist and post-Impressionist art.

Pennsylvania Daily Life

The Liberty Bell in view of Independence Hall

If your taste runs more to sports, Philadelphia has you covered. The Phillies, Eagles, 76ers, Flyers and Union (soccer) all play there, though rarely well.

Culinarily speaking, the town is known for soft pretzels and especially for cheesesteak sandwiches. The most divisive topic in the city isn't politics, it is who has the best cheesesteaks, Pat's or Geno's?

Try 'em both, and make up your own mind. Pro tip: Get them with Cheez Whiz. You'll be glad you did.

More info visitphilly.com

Fly from St. Louis The nonstop flight is just over two hours on American and Southwest.

— Daniel Neman

Pittsburgh travel photos

Folk artist Randy Gilson bought Randyland on a credit card in 1995. Today, it's a free art stop in the Mexican War Streets neighborhood in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh

Often overlooked as the poor stepsister to Philadelphia, this Pennsylvania city is worthy of a visit on its own. 

Start with some of great museums in and around downtown: the Andy Warhol Museum, the Carnegie museums (art, natural history and science), the Senator Johns Heinz History Center or, my favorite, the eclectic and outrageous Mattress Factory, a contemporary art museum unlike any you have experienced.

Pittsburgh travel photos

The Duquesne Incline takes visitors to the top of Mount Washington, where you'll find restaurants, bars and office buildings. 

Just down the street a few blocks — some really gorgeous streets, called the Mexican War Streets, filled with restored row houses dating from the mid-1800s — you’ll find Randyland. You won’t miss Randyland, actually. Artist Randy Gilson bought a house in 1995 and has spend the years since turning it into a wonderland of found-object, bright-color murals and eclectic art pieces.

For a unique (and cheap) treat, take a ride on the Duquesne Incline, a century-old cable car with great views of downtown, the city's famous three rivers and the stadiums. 

Be sure to plan a day trip to visit nearby Latrobe, Mr. Rogers' real neighborhood, and Laurel Highlands, where you can tour several Frank Lloyd Wright homes, including what most consider to be his masterpiece, Fallingwater.

More info • visitpittsburgh.com

Fly from St. Louis • Southwest flies directly to Pittsburgh. The flight takes about an hour and half. 

— Amy Bertrand

Faidley's Baltimore

Faidley's Seafood inside the historic Lexington Market in downtown Baltimore in October 2021.  

Baltimore

Baltimore, my hometown, is St. Louis with better seafood. I simplify, of course, but among their many similarities good and bad, both cities reveal their charms through their many different, distinct neighborhoods. A visitor to Baltimore could spend the better part of a day just browsing the eclectic, often quirky stores along the Avenue in the Hamden neighborhood.

Really, though, Baltimore has better seafood. Stop by historic Lexington Market downtown for a proper crabcake, plump and fried, from the iconic Faidley’s. For a different kind of Baltimore specialty, drive out to Pioneer Pit Beef in the Catonsville area for a juicy pit-beef sandwich with tiger sauce.

The Inner Harbor is probably Baltimore’s most famous tourist attraction. The shopping pavilions aren’t what they used to be (to be kind), but the harbor is still worth a stroll on a pleasant day, and it boasts the National Aquarium.

(St. Louisans used to our many free attractions, take note: A family of four will spend around $140-$160 for admission to the aquarium, depending on your children’s ages.)

If the Orioles are in town during your visit, Camden Yards remains a jewel of a ballpark, even if the team itself is in the midst of a grueling, multiple-year rebuild. The O’s did recently promote the team’s top prospect, though, and more young talent is on the way. Let's say St. Louis is Baltimore with better baseball — for now.

More info baltimore.org

Fly from St. Louis It's a two-hour flight directly on Southwest.

— Ian Froeb

TRV-RIVERWALK-RANKINGS-2-DMT

A section of the San Antonio Riverwalk.

San Antonio

St. Louis has rivers, but it doesn't have anything close to a River Walk. It's the most popular tourist destination in the entire great state of Texas for a reason. The stone and concrete path along the San Antonio River is 15 miles long, five of which wind through the heart of the city and downtown. That area is packed with restaurants, bars, hotels, shops and cultural attractions. 

There are families pushing strollers, young couples on dates and tourists sipping margaritas nearly shoulder-to-shoulder during the busy summer months. Colorful open-air barges filled with visitors cruise down the river throughout the day and evening. The Alamo is also right downtown, next to the visitors center with steps leading to the River Walk.

It goes without saying that the best Tex-Mex in the country can be found here, but the city also has a vibrant and diverse food scene. The historic Pearl neighborhood should not be missed. In 1894, a brewhouse was constructed here, and by 1916 it was the largest brewery in Texas. Over the course of a century, it's transformed to become a crown jewel with trendy restaurants, one-of-a-kind shops and a renowned farmers market.

Another remarkable free attraction is the restored Japanese Garden, which features lush florals, shaded walkways, picturesque stone bridges, a 60-foot waterfall and koi-filled ponds.

San Antonio is one of the great cities that is so distinct in culture, architecture and food that it truly feels like destination unlike anywhere else in America. 

More info • sanantonio.gov/visitors

Fly from St. Louis • Southwest flies directly to SAT. The flight is a little more than 2 hours long. 

— Aisha Sultan

Las Vegas

The view from a balcony in a room at the Cosmopolitan shows the north end of the Las Vegas Strip with the Bellagio Fountains, Paris' Eiffel Tower and High Roller, a 550-foot tall Ferris wheel. photo by Amy Bertrand

Las Vegas

Whether you call it Sin City, the Entertainment Capital of the World or any of its other nicknames, Las Vegas has it all.

Where else are you going to find Lady Gaga, Zombie Burlesque, a Whitney Houston hologram concert, a “Sex and the City” musical parody, Chippendales and Wayne Newton all within reach of each other.

If music is your thing, you're definitely in luck as Las Vegas has become home to residencies that go far beyond the long-running perennial old school favorites people think of when they think of music on the Strip.

Stars such as Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez helped bring a hipper edge to the Strip, along with 2022 residencies from Silk Sonic, the Jonas Brothers, Usher, Luke Bryan, Carrie Underwood, Aerosmith and Katy Perry.

Comedy also rules in Las Vegas with options ranging from the Laugh Factory, the Comedy Cellar and more.

Cirque du Soleil remains a spirited option with its many specialty themed shows including ones celebrating the Beatles and Michael Jackson.

You'll also find the Blue Man Group, "Magic Mike Live," David Copperfield and "RuPaul’s Drag Race Live," and, wait for it … Puppetry of the Penis.

Las Vegas is also home to some luxury shopping, desert tours and so much more.

And lest we forget, we hear there’s some gambling to be found here and there in Vegas if you look hard enough.

More infovisitlasvegas.com, lasvegasnevada.gov, lasvegas.com

Fly From St. Louis • Southwest, Frontier and Spirit Airlines have direct flights.

— Kevin C. Johnson

McDowell Sonoran Desert Preserve

The city of Scottsdale has set aside 30,000 acres of the McDowell Sonoran Desert Preserve for hiking and mountain biking. Photo by Lonna Tucker

Phoenix/Scottsdale 

This winter do yourself a favor and book a ticket to Phoenix. When it's 10 degrees here, it will be 70 there, and the sun shines 330 days a year. 

Just after you leave the airport, drive to the Desert Botanical Garden. The park consists of several trails that take you through desert landscapes, each about a half-mile loop. If you'd rather see cacti in the wild, head to McDowell Sonoran Desert Preserve. Among its 30,000 acres wind 120 miles of nonmotorized trails. Some parts are dirt, some uneven rock that go up and down dry river beds, all at the foot of and going up into the McDowell mountains. 

Scottsdale travel

Workers with REI Co-Op pull inflatable kayaks out of the water along the Lower Salt River at Red Mountain. 

 Photo by Amy Bertrand

Scottsdale is more of a resort town than Phoenix. And it's only about 15 minutes from the airport. The mountains that surround the dessert, the spas and the world-class golf course loom large in the distance. They aren’t huge, which makes them ideal for hiking. Camelback, which looks like a lowering camel, is perhaps the most popular destination. So popular in fact that on a nice weekend day, it’s hard to find parking at the trailheads, so go early. It’s a strenuous hike, nearly rock climbing at some points. Tom's Thumb and Pinnacle Peak Park are other great hiking destinations. 

 And for fans of Frank Lloyd Wright, you can tour is Taliesin West winter home. It can only been seen on a guided tour, and it's worth every penny. 

And don't forget the outdoor pursuits: take an ATV or horseback ride through the mountains, paddle the Lower Salt River or play a round of golf.

Old Scottsdale has a thriving dining and arts scene, and dining al fresco is the only way to go in the winter. 

More info •  experiencescottsdale.com

Fly from St. Louis • Southwest and American Airlines fly directly to Phoenix Sky Harbor; the flight takes a little more than three hours. 

Secrets of a Big Apple Greeter: Tips for first-timers in NYC

The Staten Island ferry approaches lower Manhattan in New York. Riding the Staten Island Ferry is one of New York City’s greatest free attractions, with wonderful views of Lower Manhattan and New York Harbor.

New York City

With so many flights daily, of course there are nonstop tickets to the United States' biggest and busiest city. The relief is that tickets are often reasonably priced — because New York itself can be expensive. But with so many choices of things to do and places to eat, a tourist does have a fair amount of budgetary control.

Check out the Met Cloisters at the tip of Manhattan, with its Medieval art, architecture and lovely gardens. And it's cheap and fun to go to the opposite end of Manhattan to see the Statue of Liberty from the free Staten Island ferry. For kids, there are endless photo ops with Madame Tussauds' wax figures or take in the American Museum of Natural History. Pursue same-day discount theater tickets at the Times Square TKTS booth. For more edgy theater, try St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn Bridge Park, an ecologically managed space bigger than the Missouri Botanical Garden and built on old piers. There's a lot to see in the park, including the renovated century-old Jane's Carousel. If you have the time, maybe walk over the Brooklyn Bridge to get there (about 1.1 mile).

Shop in Soho or Chinatown and eat just about anywhere (for an iconic pastrami sandwich, Katz's Delicatessen). But food from around the world can be had. Likely, you'll want a centrally located hotel, perhaps near the Theater District and Rockefeller Center. Offerings range from upscale to even reasonable chains like the Hilton Garden Inn. 

More info nyc.com

Fly from St. Louis • Southwest, American, Delta, JetBlue fly direct in about two and a half hours.

— Jane Henderson 

Washington D.C.

A view of the circular exhibit spaces inside the Hirshorn Museum in Washington D.C. Mark Bradford's Pickett's Charge spans 400 linear feet and is an ongoing exhibit here.

Washington, D.C.

If you’re spoiled by the number of free museums and attractions in St. Louis, then buckle up for a flight to Washington, D.C., where the National Mall is literally bordered by them.

Get lost inside the Smithsonian Institution’s lineup of free museums: On our recent spring break trip we loved checking out the presidential gallery in the National Portrait Gallery, the gems and minerals in the Museum of Natural History, and the dizzying circular atrium leading to exhibits at the National Museum of the American Indian. We also checked out the Futures exhibit in the arts and industries building, which reopened last year after 15 years of renovations.

Washington D.C.

Washington D.C.'s Smithsonian Visitor Center, also known as "The Castle," includes a sampling of items from each of the museums. The 3D printed statues in the building and around the grounds of Smithsonian museums each depict real women who work in STEM careers.

Also, how can you put a price on ducking inside the National Archives to get a gander at the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and a copy of the Magna Carta?

While touring the White House and the Capitol requires some advance planning, you can still walk near the grounds and stop at the White House visitors center, a surprisingly fun venue that talks about the history of the building as a private home and public landmark. Landmarks like the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial (which turns 100 in August) are breathtaking at night.

The D.C. Circulator bus makes it easy to get around the mall and museums, and the Metro and bus system can’t be beat. Grab lunch from one of the dozens of food trucks parked at the mall. The historic town of Alexandria is a metro stop away, but if you do have a car, it’s not a big deal to spend $20 on an all-day parking space and walk the city. Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home, is only about 15 miles south of the Capitol. (The same journey took Washington just a bit longer by horseback.)

Stay at National Harbor, a relatively new entertainment complex with shops, restaurants and the National Wheel, an observation wheel that is the twin of the one at St. Louis Union Station.

More info • washington.org

Fly from St. Louis • It’s about a two hour flight. American, United and Southwest fly directly there.

— Valerie Schremp Hahn

Destin travel

The beach at Crystal Beach in Destin. 

Destin/Fort Walton Beach, Florida

One way to ruin a vacation is to get caught in traffic about an hour before you'd like to hit the beach. It seems to happen often when you drive to the Florida panhandle beaches in the summer. Consider saving the hassle (and time) and fly there. 

Destin, sits on the Gulf of Mexico, in Florida’s panhandle, in an area known for its white sand beaches and emerald green waters. Its beaches are about a 30 minute drive from the airport. Consider renting a house on the beach or staying in a high-rise in the touristy boardwalk area. 

Destin travel

One of the more permanent establishments on Crab Island, Waterworld serves seafood and Mexican food with floating "tables" and a dance floor. Photo by Amy Bertrand

Obviously the beach is the main draw, and if anyone in your group is able to drive a pontoon, rent one and spend a day floating around Crab Island. Sitting just off Destin Harbor at the entrance to Choctowatchee Bay, Crab Island isn’t really an island at all (though it used to be) but an underwater sandbar where the water is about waist deep and crystal clear. There are about a half-dozen semi-permanent structures: restaurants and shops and an inflatable obstacle course. In addition, several food boats (like a food truck) come by to serve margaritas, burgers and more. In the busy times, bands play on a floating stage. You can also book a dolphin cruise, where you can enjoy the waters, jumping dolphins and often a beverage. 

More info • destinflorida.com

Fly from St. Louis • Allegiant flies there out of MidAmerica Airport in Belleville. You can often find $38 each way fares, and the flight lasts about two hours. 

— Amy Bertrand 

 

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