The charming city of St. Charles is nestled on the Missouri River and is one of the state’s oldest cities (it actually served as Missouri’s first capital!). Founded in 1769, the town definitely has a colorful history, which can still be seen on its streets today. It is just 30 minutes west of St. Louis, which makes it easily accessible from the big city, and the perfect day trip. But, with all the things to do in the city, you may find yourself wanting to stay longer…much longer. I certainly did.
Many people will start their day of exploration from the Lewis & Clark Boathouse and Museum, then move on to stroll the more than 100 shops on the Historic Main Street. That’s a good start, but there is so much more and here are my favorites.
St. Charles Bucket List: Things to Do in Missouri’s Historic Town
1. ✦ See the Cars at Fast Lane Classic Cars
Do you like Classic Cars? If so, then a stop to Fast Lane Classic Cars Inc. is an absolute must. There are three showrooms on premise filled to the rim with classic and collector cars—nearly 200 to be exact. They seem to have one of everything, but I’ll warn you—they are all for sale, so you may find yourself driving back a different car then you came with! It’s not just about ogling the cars; their buildings are also curated with interesting automobile art, memorabilia and antiques.
2. ✦ Stop by the First Missouri State Capitol
To immerse yourself deeper into the history of St. Charles, and Missouri in general, the historical First Missouri State Capitol is a must visit. While the permanent capitol was still under construction, St. Charles operated as one in the interim, making it the first capital city in Missouri’s history. This brick building complex that is set right in the middle of the historic Main Street underwent renovation between 1961 and 1971 to become what it is today, and it now features 11 rooms that visitors can tour to learn more of the time period.
3. ✦ Eat a Grandma’s Cookie
I’m sure we all know a little grandma who loves to bake, and Grandma’s Cookies will remind you of her! This specialty dessert shop whips up a variety of freshly-baked cookies, but I was a sucker for their chocolate chip (though my husband devoured the oatmeal raisin). Either way, stop by and get yourself a treat.
Their cookies are so good that they have visitors come from around the world. Make sure to pin your location on the map located inside, and then find my white pin from my hometown of Petaluma in Northern California.
4. ✦ Shop Along the Historic Main Street
The Historic Main Street has been a popular shopping location since the 19th century, and many of the buildings still have the same charm from those days. Inside each one offers a unique shopping experience with everything from jewelry to home decor. Don’t miss stopping in the beautifully decorated Homestead or perusing the work of more than 50 local designers and artists who have brought their goods to Joys Collective Market. There are dozens of others to choose from, so if you are any sort of shopper, leave yourself plenty of time!
5. Take a St. Charles Ghost Tour
Are you afraid of ghosts? Then this tour may not be for you. But, if you have a curiosity of the paranormal, then the St. Charles Ghost Tour is ranked as one of the best in all of the Midwest, and it can give you a ghostly glimpse of some mysterious manifestations in the city. One of the main highlights of a ghost tour in St. Charles is The Lost Graveyard. It got its name because it used to operate as a graveyard until the 1850s, after which most of the graves were moved to a different cemetery. So who knows, the place just might be haunted today because of that!
6. Play a Game at Two Plumbers Brewery + Arcade
I love a good pinball game, combine that with beer and for most people, we have a winner. Two Plumbers Brewery + Arcade is a local hotspot that serves up about a dozen different beers on tap, so you’re guaranteed to find at least one you’ll absolutely love. Beside the bar, they have a ton of fun to offer on the arcade side as well, starting with several different pinball games to choose from. They also have some of the classic arcade games like Street Fighter, Mortal Combat, and Pac-Man. Who doesn’t love a good game of Pac-Man while sipping on a cold zesty brew?
7. ✦ Make a Candle at Candle Fusion
You can be the scientist of your own candle at Candle Fusion. How fun is that? First, choose your favorite smells from their wall of scents (they have aromas like old books, cake batter and green apple!). Then pick the vessel for your candle, and bring it to the experimentation bar. Do a little mixology testing with your top scents until you find the perfect blend of up to four. And voila, about two hours later, you have your masterpiece. The St. Charles location is on Main Street of the historic downtown, but they have one in St. Louis, too!
The experience was a perfect date afternoon with my husband! We worked together to create a candle with a mix of bourbon, cake batter, Georgia peach and brown sugar. It was the best Missouri souvenir!
8. ✦ Get Some BBQ
You can’t come to Missouri without indulging in a little bit of BBQ, and Salt + Smoke is a great place to do it. They are a sustainable BBQ restaurant that makes everything from their fries to pies from scratch. One of their big sellers are their plates, where you choose your meat and a couple sides. I order the ribs and wings with a side of creamed corn and beans. It came on a plate topped with a ginormous popover! Needless to say, there were plenty of leftovers.
9. ✦ See the Lewis & Clark Boathouse and Museum
If you are an avid traveler, then the Lewis & Clark Boathouse and Museum is the perfect stop for you. It shows its visitors an interesting exhibition of the two famous explorers who were tasked by President Thomas Jefferson to explore the lands west of the Mississippi River in the early 1800s.
The exhibition includes dioramas of people that Lewis and Clark may have met during their expedition and equipment they used during their journey. One of my favorite displays was one that showed the tools and potions used for any ailments they may have encountered on their way. It made me grateful for modern medicine!
The historic town of St. Charles has the perfect combination for a short getaway that’s filled with fascinating culture, retail therapy, fun activities and yummy food. Just be warned that you better pack an overnight bag, because you might not want to leave too soon.
Essential Tips for Visiting St. Charles
Getting There: The Lambert International Airport is a major hub and most airlines will fly into it. You can easily check for the best fare deals at Skyscanner, which also has the option to choose ‘cheapest month’ as the departure to find the lowest priced dates to fly to your destination. From the airport to the city center, you can take a shuttle, a taxi, or take an Uber or Lyft.
Where to Stay in St. Charles: It’s best to stay near the city center, public transportation or the area that you will be spending the most time in. The Country Inn & Suites by Radisson or the Drury Plaza Hotel are both great choices located about a mile away from the city center. For something on the less expensive side, try the TownePlace Suites located conveniently by the Interstate 70. For a hotel with a little more extravagance, book a room at the Ameristar Casino Resort and Spa. Or search some great deals on hotels of your choice at Booking.com. If you’re looking for more of a home atmosphere (or are traveling with a group of people), head over to VRBO that has houses, apartments and even just a room for rent in every price range.
Getting Around: Renting a car in St. Charles is the best to really experience the city and its surrounding areas, and RentalCars.com has some great deals. If you are not renting a car, there are plenty of options. You can take a taxi, Lyft and Uber, which are available all over the city, plus most of the major attractions can be accessed with the free St. Charles Trolley.
Insurance: It’s always a good idea to travel fully insured so you are protected in case of trip cancellations or medical emergencies. You can check out pricing at Travelex Insurance.