Champaign, IL - A Summer Day in St. Louis
Start your day in St. Louis with a most unusual lunch. You might call Twisted Ranch a “fad,” but customers are stilling lining up around the block to eat here two years after it opened. After all, where else can you feast on ranch dressing?
You’ll find 27 kinds of ranch dressing at Twisted Ranch and the best way to start trying them is with a Ranch this Country Flight 13. You can choose 13 different ranch flavors with your fries so you’ll have a better idea which ones you want to dip your wings, Loaded Tots, Fried Green Beans, or a host of other choices in.
We tried all the dressings. Our favorites were Avocado, Asian Zing, Creamy Balsamic, Greek Ranch, Smoked Tomato Basil, and Red Billy Goat, though they were all good. The mozzarella sticks were also some of the best we’ve ever had, and the cole slaw and Mac N Cheese were also amazing. Wash it all down with one of their cocktails, such as the Blueberry Margarita.
After lunch, head to the St. Louis Science Center in Forest Park. This free museum has many activities for the whole family, including Mission to Mars, The Life Science Lab, and the Human Adventure. The big draw for me there was The Discovery of King Tut.
The King Tut exhibit does have a charge ($16 for adults; $14 for children/seniors) for those over seven years of age, but it is a once in a lifetime experience. Beginning with a film about King Tutankhamun and one archaeologist’s quest to find the only uncompromised tomb in the world, you’ll enter a series of interactive exhibits that take you through every treasure in the tomb.
This is a mesmerizing experience. The King Tut Exhibit will remain at the St. Louis Science Center until January.
After the museum, enjoy a summer evening on a Gateway Riverboat Cruise. The ships, which replicate 19th century paddle-wheel riverboats, leave from right under the Gateway Arch and take you along the Mississippi River. You can take a One Hour Sightseeing Cruise during the day, but the Skyline Dinner Cruise is a good way to spend a summer night with the family or for a romantic evening.
The boat leisurely goes along the river while banjo musicians play and a full dinner is served. There is ample roast beef, chicken, salad, and pasta for seconds, followed by chocolate and red velvet cake for dessert. (Wine is available for purchase.)
On a clear night, you can take in some beautiful sunsets on the Gateway Riverboat Skyline Cruise as you head back toward the Arch.
Take a relaxing cruise and discover the best view of the St. Louis skyline from replica nineteenth-century paddle-wheel riverboats, the Becky Thatcher and the Tom Sawyer. They were brought to St. Louis in 1964 so spectators could get a close-up view of the Arch as it was being constructed, and are the only riverboats on the St. Louis Riverfront today.
Also at the Gateway Arch this summer, the CityArchRiver Foundation and the National Blues Museum have teamed up for a series of free concerts on Fridays in August. This is the first concerts series on the newly renovated Arch Grounds. For details, visit Blues at the Arch.
Aikman Wildlife Adventure, Arcola
I was totally blown away by the Aikman Wildlife Adventure in Arcola. I never expected such an amazing experience, one that rivals any animal encounter I’ve had around the world.
James Aikman, who grew up in Arthur, had a dream about building a wildlife park and he made that dream a reality after purchasing the former Rockome Gardens in 2015. Together with his wife, Kelsey, and brothers, he’s created something you’d never expect to see in Central Illinois.
The park is about both providing family fun and giving a refuge to animals in need. On the 40 acres, Aikman houses and takes care of 32 different species for over 90 animals, including alpacas, hyenas, zebras, bison, kangaroos and more. Some of the animals have been taken from owners who could no longer care from them, or zoos that could no longer house them.
At the Aikman Wildlife Adventure, you have a choice of a walk-through that includes the petting zoo, a drive-thru adventure in your own vehicle, a wagon tour, or a behind-the-scenes tour (which also includes the walk-through.
The behind-the-scenes tour is an animal lovers dream. As you head through the jeep, you can feed and pet the animals that come right into the car! It’s like something you’d expect in an African safari and well worth the $30 ($25 for kids 12 and under).