Why Kirkwood, Missouri Is One of the Coolest Suburbs in America

published May 22, 2019
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Credit: Jessica Rapp/Apartment Therapy

Kirkwood was chosen as one of Apartment Therapy’s Coolest Suburbs in America 2019. We showcased the burbs nationwide that offer the most when it comes to cultural activities, a sense of community, and simply a good quality of life. For more on how we define “cool” and what exactly counts as a suburb, check out our methodology here. To view Apartment Therapy’s other Coolest Suburbs in America 2019, head here.

What makes Kirkwood so special is its sense of community and pride in the traditions the town was built on. The town’s historic train station is the heart of the community, and the center of a vibrant downtown, filled with shops and restaurants. When James P. Kirkwood planned a new route for the Pacific Railroad in 1852, little did he know how that railroad history would be embraced by the town that took his name. Kirkwood even has The National Museum of Transportation, a fun and educational space dedicated to trains and transportation history.

With the St. Louis metropolitan area just a short commute away, Kirkwood has the best of both worlds: access to world-class museums and attractions, plus a vibrant community in which to raise a family—even if that family is just you and your pet! (Take a walk around downtown Kirkwood on any given day and the pooches nearly outnumber the parents.)

Kirkwood is a wonderful place to call home and a welcoming place for visitors. Come for the history and shopping and, you never know, you might just hate to leave.

Median rent price:

$1,031, according to Census data.

Median house price:

$308,700, according to Zillow.

Price per square foot (compared to city):

$201 in Kirkwood vs. $116 in St. Louis, according to Zillow.

Walkability score:

40, according to Walk Score.

Median household income:

$79,439, according to Census data.


27,653, according to Census data.

What the suburb is known for:

Every Thanksgiving, while everyone else is keeping an eye on the turkey, Kirkwood residents flock to one of the longest-running football rivalries around. The annual Turkey Day game between Kirkwood High School and rival Webster Groves has been going strong for more than 100 years.

Hidden gem:

The Frank Lloyd Wright House in Ebsworth Park. When artist Russell Kraus and his wife Ruth decided to build a home in Kirkwood in 1950, they chose the renowned Frank Lloyd Wright as their architect. The couple lived in the home for almost 40 years. Now owned by a non-profit organization, The Frank Lloyd Wright House in Ebsworth Park, the delightful example of Wright’s Usonian architecture sits on 10.5 acres of pastoral land in the heart of suburban Kirkwood.

Place that makes you happy to live there:

Kirkwood Park. Kirkwood Park is locals’ happy place, and travelers agree. TripAdvisor lists Kirkwood Park as the no. 3 place to visit in the city, and on any given day you can see people fishing in Walker Lake; swimming at the aquatic center; or walking their dogs along the tree-lined paths. It’s a place to relax, rejuvenate, and meet up with friends and family.

Favorite activity for families:

The Magic House at the St. Louis Children’s Museum. Once a 5,500-square-foot Victorian mansion, the museum now serves more than 600,000 visitors a year, with fun and educational activities for kids. In 2005, the Magic House was ranked the nation’s best attraction for children by Zagat’s U.S. Family Travel Guide.

Favorite hangout for young professionals:

One 19 North Tapas and Wine Bar. With its great selection of wine and small plates, this restaurant, owned by local Pat Carr, has four stars on Yelp. The restaurant also hosts live music on Fridays and Saturdays.

Credit: Jessica Rapp/Apartment Therapy

Favorite teen hangout:

The Custard Station. From spring until fall, the Custard Station is the spot to see and be seen. The former 1930s-era filling station is a great place to hang out with friends, eat frozen custard, and wave to passing trains.

Favorite outdoor lounge spot:

Bar Louie. What sets this place apart is its location on Kirkwood Station Plaza. It’s a great place to get a drink and people watch. In mild weather, crowds angle for the prime outdoor space.

Favorite date spot:

Sapore Italian Café. This pretty restaurant has always been a date-night favorite, but its reputation got a bump when Justin Timberlake stopped by for dinner before a recent concert.

Average commute/traffic report:

Commuting around Kirkwood is a breeze, and is done mostly by vehicle, although there are some dedicated cyclists mixed in among the SUVs. The Metro Bus route also makes the rounds, with buses coming about every 10 minutes. Getting from Kirkwood to downtown St. Louis is easy, since it’s close to three major roadways—Interstate 64, Interstate 44, and Interstate 270—but traffic can be tough at rush hour. Still, according to an extensive report by Geotab, the St. Louis area has the least congestion among the top 20 metropolitan regions surveyed.

Favorite place to get coffee:

Kaldi’s Coffee Roasting Co. Kaldi’s started in St. Louis and is a hometown favorite. The shop’s indoor space is nearly doubled by outdoor seating on the plaza, and baristas are warm and friendly. Importantly, the coffee is beyond compare. Yelp reviewers give Kaldi’s four stars for location, free WiFi, and abundant parking.

Favorite bar for when you want to be around people:

Billy G’s. TripAdvisor reviewers give this hot spot five stars for its happy hour, drink selection, and food. The outdoor patio is a coveted spot on nice nights, but it does get packed.

Favorite alone spot:

Walker Park. Kirkwood is full of pocket parks, and half-acre Walker Park one is my favorites. It’s just outside the bustle of downtown and is ideal for soaking up peace and quiet.

Favorite free cultural activity to take part in:

Making Music Summer Concert Series. Held June through August, in the outdoor amphitheater at Kirkwood Park, this series is my favorite way to enjoy the arts in a beautiful setting.

Credit: Jessica Rapp/Apartment Therapy

Signature food:

Pastries from Nathaniel Reid Bakery—any of them, but especially the Ruby tea dome. Missouri native and Chef Nathaniel Reid studied Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, then honed his culinary skills in three-star Michelin restaurants. His bakery rates an almost perfect score on Zagat.

Favorite boutique:

Blush Boutique. This adorable boutique offers everything from clothing to perfume to jewelry and is one of my favorite places for finding fabulous special occasion outfits.

Most walkable area:

Downtown Kirkwood. Downtown Kirkwood is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Repurposed historic buildings along beautifully landscaped avenues make it a wonderful place to window shop. It’s also a popular place for dog walkers who are out for a stroll.

Favorite bike trails/parks/outdoor stuff:

Emmenegger Nature Park. The 93-acre park was once owned by the Lemp family, the “other” brewery family, after Anheuser-Busch, that St. Louis is known for. Russell Emmenegger purchased the property in the 1970s and subsequently donated a portion of that property to the city.

Favorite spot for an Instagram:

The James P. Kirkwood Bridge. Also known as the Clay Avenue Bridge, this overlook into downtown Kirkwood has a bird’s-eye view of businesses and the historic train station. Visitors are known to take photos of the bridge itself as well. Its construction earned it a 2001 prize from the National Steel Bridge Alliance.

Favorite brunch:

First Watch. Although this restaurant has several area locations, the Kirkwood spot is always packed, especially on weekends. The food has a nearly perfect score on TripAdvisor.

Favorite free activity:

The Summer Concert Series at Kirkwood Station Plaza is the place to be on Thursdays in the summer. Residents with lawn chairs, pets, kids, and grandkids flock to this free event in droves.

Favorite grocery store:

Schnucks. This family-owned chain of stores was founded in 1939 by the Schnuck family. It’s still the go-to place to stock the pantry for the week.

Favorite place for a workout:

At the Kirkwood Family YMCA, you can find workout machines, a running track, and an indoor pool, as well as a slew of classes, from yoga to spinning.

Favorite place to take an out-of-towner:

Kirkwood Train Station. The circa-1893 train station is the heart of the city. The town is named for James Pugh Kirkwood, an engineer for the Pacific Railroad. When Amtrak decided to close the station, the city of Kirkwood purchased this historical gem. Now, with the help of a crew of dedicated volunteers, the station welcomes passengers, and serves as a unique venue for myriad community and arts events. It is a model used nationwide as an example of a community pulling together to save a treasured landmark.

Worst place to find parking and easiest place to find parking:

Worst place: Downtown Kirkwood on a weekend. On the other hand, the city offers free ecab service on select evenings, to take people to and from available parking.

Best Place: For open parking, try the Kirkwood Station Plaza parking garage, or park on a nearby downtown street. Most evenings you can find a spot can be found within a few blocks of your destination.

Another driving tip: Kirkwood isn’t known as a train town for nothing. Kirkwood Road has a lot of activity, but if you’re looking to bypass a possible train detour, take Clay Avenue west to a bridge that goes over the railroad tracks.

What the neighbors say:

Kirkwood has a lot going for it, from its walkable downtown, to its family-centric culture, to its close proximity to the St. Louis metropolitan area.

“My favorite thing about Kirkwood is that it feels like a smaller community, but it’s centrally located within the metro area,” said Katie Turnure, a young professional who commutes into St. Louis for work. “So it’s the best of both worlds—small town and bigger city.”

With its abundance of parks and plazas, Kirkwood residents say it’s easy to find opportunities to get outdoors and explore.

“The outside atmosphere is what makes Kirkwood a great place to live,” Annie Cecil, a local elementary school teacher who has lived in the suburb for seven years, said. “There’s always someone outside doing something.”

That environment also helps new residents meet people, said Elizabeth Backus, who relocated to Kirkwood from Minnesota more than 20 years ago.

“Kirkwood has that established, small-town vibe that makes you feel at home here quickly,” she said. “It’s a warm, friendly, welcoming place.”

Favorite annual event:

Kirkwood Greentree Festival is the biggest community happening in Kirkwood, which is known as the “Greentree City.” There’s a parade, a festival in Kirkwood Park, and a week of activities leading up to the main event, which is held every September.

What I miss about the city living in a suburb:


What I never miss about the city:

Congestion and traffic.

Favorite local home store:

Christopher’s. This amazing home store has five stars on Yelp and carries everything from home goods to unique gifts.

Credit: Jessica Rapp/Apartment Therapy

Favorite local garden store:

O.K. Hatchery Feed and Garden. What could be cooler than shopping for plants and garden supplies at store that has been in business for more than 90 years? O.K. Hatchery carries everything from plants to pig food, and is Kirkwood’s alternative to big-box garden centers.

Favorite local diner:

Spencer’s Grill. This tiny diner in the center of downtown Kirkwood has been drawing locals for decades. It still sports an iconic neon sign and clock, and serves up breakfast and lunch the old-fashioned way.

Favorite dog park:

Treecourt Unleashed Dog Adventure Park. Yelp ranks this members-only park number one in the area.

Favorite salon/spa:

Ginger Bay. From hair to nails to pre-wedding prep, Ginger Bay is a hometown favorite. Reviewers on the bridal website The Knot gives Ginger Bay 4 out of 5 stars.

Credit: Jessica Rapp/Apartment Therapy

How would you sell your suburb to the coolest person you know?:

Kirkwood is more than just a suburb of St. Louis. It has its own unique identity and history, which residents treasure. People come from all over the metro area for its restaurants and shopping, and to soak up the atmosphere of Kirkwood’s pretty, walkable downtown. You can grab a Strange Donut or shop for produce at theKirkwood Farmers Market, all in the same block.

Everywhere you look there are colorful public sculptures, lovely landscaping, and gathering places for this very active community. Kirkwood even has its own train station that will take you anywhere you want to go.

Credit: Apartment Therapy