Last Updated on March 27, 2023

The glow of gaslights, the sound of horse-drawn carriages on brick-lined streets, and the beauty of 200-year-old shop windows contribute to the overall feel of St. Charles. Spending an afternoon or evening out in historic downtown St. Charles, Missouri, is an experience with a small-town feel in a metropolitan area.

There is so much history surrounding Saint Charles that you can’t help feeling like you are stepping back into the 1800s. With the beginnings of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the site of Missouri’s First State Capitol, and the home of Daniel Boone, history is everywhere you look. 

St. Charles offers everything you need for a fantastic day trip or weekend away, with places to stay, restaurants to dine in, and plenty of shops to find unique gifts for you and your family. With so many attractions and activities in St. Charles, you will want to come back and visit over and over to see and do everything.

St. Charles Historic District

The Historic District of St. Charles, consisting of over 100 buildings, maintains the first European settlement along the Missouri River. The settlement, established in 1769 by French Canadian fur trader Louis Blanchette, was called Les Petites Cotes (The Little Hills).

Eventually, more settlers moved into the area, expanding the village; one prominent early settler was the infamous Daniel Boone. With the most extensive grouping of French Colonial-style architecture in the Midwest, the district was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.

The city consistently served as a river trading port and played a significant role in the United States’ westward expansion during the 1800s. President Thomas Jefferson requested Lewis and Clark pursue water communication across the continent for purposes of commerce. The historic district embraces the strong ties with Lewis and Clark and celebrates that history with festivals and historic reenactments throughout the year.

Some of the main festivals are Riverfest, Festival of the Little Hills, Oktoberfest, and Saint Charles Christmas Traditions.

Today, you can explore over 125 one-of-a-kind shops in the district, where you can find antiques, clothing, gifts, and sweets.

My favorites are Sweet Poppin, where you can pick up gourmet flavored popcorn; Grandma’s Cookies, where you can pick up an ice cream scoop-shaped chocolate chip cookie; and Riverside Sweets, where you can pick up old-fashioned candy and large chocolate-covered strawberries. In addition to the stores, there are over 25 restaurants and plenty of bed and breakfasts and hotels.

Lewis and Clark Boat House & Museum

Before exploring the Louisiana Purchase territory during the winter of 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark picked up their final supplies in St. Charles. It was considered the last civilized stop by the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

The Lewis and Clark Boat House and Museum has living history demonstrations, historical event appearances, and recreations of the original expedition with a replica keelboat and pirogues.

Katy Trail State Park 

Ready to step onto the longest rail-to-trail development in the United States? Katy Trail State Park is 240 miles of crushed limestone on the former Mississippi-Kansas-Texas Railway.

The park’s 26 trailheads run through small towns with restored railroad depots. On mild, sunny days, you will see hikers, bikers, families with kids, and nature lovers all enjoying the trail along the Missouri River. The portion of the trail that goes through St. Charles County is designated an official segment of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail; make sure to check out all the Lewis and Clark historical sites along the way.

First Capitol of Missouri

You can’t miss the historic buildings that held the First Capitol of Missouri along Main Street. The first thing you notice is the uneven pavement on the sidewalk in front of the building, the original sidewalk from the 1800s.

St. Charles won the seat of the temporary state capital by offering a rent-free location along the Missouri River. At the same time, construction was ongoing in Jefferson for the official capital of Missouri. The Federal-style building served as a general store and the first state legislature meeting space from 1821 to 1826.

Today, you can tour the 11 rooms in the historic brick building.   

Missouri Artists on Main

While you are strolling down St. Charles’ streets, you have to stop at the Missouri Artists on Main. Set back from Main Street, the two-story historic “California House”, built in the 1800s as a stagecoach station, exhibits and sells the artwork of over 28 artists from Missouri. 

Walking in, you can browse through the individual galleries and even talk to the local artists. You can marvel at the creative photographs, paintings, sculptures, jewelry, mixed media, and folk art. Don’t forget that there are two floors; take the colorful steps up to the other gallery.

If you have more time on your hands, check out their schedule for classes. Missouri Artists on Main is open seven days a week.  

Ameristar Casino

If you enjoy games of chance, head over to the Ameristar Casino. It is situated on the banks of the Missouri River just west of St. Louis International Airport. You can see the towering hotel for miles. The luxury hotel has 400 rooms, seven restaurants, 12 bars, an entertainment venue, a full-service luxury day spa, over 2000 slots, and 70 gaming tables; it is an adult playground. 

Whenever I flew into town, my sister and I would head over to the casino for a girls’ night. We would spend a couple of hours playing slots, then we would grab a sandwich from the cafe to take home. It’s always a fun evening out at the Ameristar Casino.

BBQ in the St. Charles Historic District

© Heather Raulerson

You can’t help but enjoy the wonderful smells wafting from the patio of Salt + Smoke as you walk by the restaurant in downtown St. Charles. 501 N. Main Street is the third location of Salt + Smoke’s St. Louis-style BBQ cuisine.

Besides the beautiful 1800s building, spacious patio, and waterfall, the food is the highlight. Make sure to try the crowd-favorite burnt end toasted ravioli, white cheddar cracker mac, and any of the plates of meat. Salt + Smoke makes all dishes from scratch, so you know it will be delicious.

Two Plumbers Brewery + Arcade

Two Plumbers Brewery + Arcade is a local hotspot on the east side of the Missouri River specializing in a dozen unique craft beers. And while you are hanging out sipping a cold one, you can try your luck at playing some good ol’ arcade games from yesteryear.

Two Plumbers have 12 pinball machines to choose from and over 35 other arcade games, including Donkey Kong, Street Fighter, Mortal Combat, Frogger, and Pac-Man.

If you are looking for a fun date night, Two Plumbers should be on your list! 

Frenchtown Heritage Museum

© Heather Raulerson

A short 20-minute walk from the Historic St. Charles district takes you to another national historic district, Frenchtown. Besides the antique stores, there is one place you need to visit: Frenchtown Heritage Museum.

Housed in a restored 1880 firehouse, the museum has over two centuries of St. Charles history and memorabilia, including a 9/11 memorial and an 1850s fire wagon.

The highlight, though, is the massive train village displays. Some of the train displays are historic, with replicas of bridges from the St. Charles area. Kids will love the museum for the giant Lego train display. They can hunt for the Lego Batmobile for a fun little scavenger hunt through the museum. 

Opening hours are from Thursday to Saturday from 12 to 3 p.m. There is no admission fee. 

Fast Lane Classic Cars

© Heather Raulerson

What a surprising find this place was right outside St. Charles! 

Fast Lane is a massive museum and showcase of over 180 collectible classic and muscle cars, covering over 45,000 square feet. But it is more than a museum; it is also a dealership where you can purchase classic cars, high-end specialty vehicles, and performance vehicles. There is a retail store filled with car memorabilia and even an auto-detail service department for classic car owners. 

You can spend hours exploring the three large showrooms filled with cars straight out of the movies.

Get a selfie with the DeLorean from Back to the Future or one of the muscle cars equipped with NOS from Fast and the Furious. Or wander the floor admiring each of the colorful old cars and imagine which one you would choose to drive home. 

Author

  • Heather Raulerson

    Heather is a freelance writer for traditional and online publications in travel, human interest, food and drink, and photography. She loves SLOW travel, getting to know the local culture, and always exploring with her camera. She has been published in several publications.