St. Charles, Missouri, is just outside the larger and more well-known Midwestern hub city of St. Louis. These are the most fun and best things to do in St. Charles.
Although the population of St. Charles is only a little over 70,000, it’s actually the ninth biggest city in Missouri.
It’s also one of the oldest cities in Missouri; it was founded in 1769 by Louis Blanchette, a French-Canadian fur trapper. It’s situated on the western shore of the Missouri River, and today it is considered a suburb of St. Louis.
St. Charles is a great destination for a weekend getaway from anywhere in the States. St. Louis is almost in the center of the continental United States, and flying into St. Louis Lambert International Airport is easy and affordable from any direction.
You’ll find that St. Charles is pleasant, welcoming, friendly, and interesting. There’s a lot to do in St. Charles, and you’ll also be able to visit attractions in St. Louis without being stuck in such a big city.
Read on to learn more about the wonders of St. Charles, Missouri. You’ll soon wonder why you’ve never visited before.
How to Get to St. Charles, Missouri
Getting to St. Charles is easy. You’ll be happy to learn that the St. Louis Lambert International Airport is even closer to St. Charles than it is to St. Louis itself, which makes it easily accessible after you get off the plane.
You can rent a car, but if you plan to stay in St. Charles all weekend, you might not need one; this small city is compact, and much of it is walkable.
St. Charles is also easy to get to on a road trip. I-70 passes right through town. Book a flight to St. Charles, Missouri, at Going (formerly Scotts Cheap Flights) to save money on your trip.
Where to Stay in St. Charles
There are not a lot of hotels in St. Charles, but there is plenty for the size of the area; you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding one that suits you for your stay.
Most common hotel brands are represented in this small city. As you might guess, many of the hotels are along I-70, but there are some in the downtown area as well.
Some visitors to St. Charles choose to stay by the airport to save money and this is not a bad idea. You’ll only be about ten minutes away from St. Charles and you’ll have even more hotels to choose from.
Another option is the Hollywood Casino St. Louis located across the Missouri River in Maryland Heights – especially if you like to gamble.
It has 502 rooms, 120,000 square feet of gaming space, 2,180 slot machines, and 91 table games. It also has six restaurants on-site and lots of other amenities to enjoy as well.
Airbnb is another great option. If you want to stay in the St. Charles historic district, Airbnb is the best way to go; there are nearly two dozen homey, well-rated, affordable accommodations in that neighborhood on the site. You’ll find other great Airbnbs elsewhere in town too.
Where to Eat in St. Charles
St. Charles is also full of great restaurants. As you probably already know, nearby St. Louis is a city known for great food, but you won’t have to travel to it to get a great meal.
Many of the best restaurants in St. Charles offer Italian cuisine. Fratelli’s Ristorante, Bugatti’s Steak & Pizza, and Bellocino’s Pizza and Grinders are all local favorites.
However, as you might imagine, the most popular cuisine in this part of middle America is, in fact, American. You might try Tony’s on Main Street, Bradden’s Restaurant, or Prasino St. Charles for a pleasant date-night meal.
Gingham’s Homestyle Restaurant is an excellent breakfast option, and Big Woody’s BBQ is the perfect spot for lunch or a casual dinner. You may also join a food and drink tour in Missouri.
If you’re looking for other types of food, Sushi Ai is the best-rated sushi place in town, Llywelyn’s Pub offers Welsh, Scottish, and Irish pub fare, Bella Vino Wine Bar and Tapas is lovely for wine and tapas, and Spiro’s is a great choice for Greek and Mediterranean.
Things to Do in St. Charles, Missouri
There are lots of fun things to do in St. Charles, Missouri – many more than you might guess for a place of this size. This city is quite historic. Not only is it the third oldest city in the state, but it was also the state’s first capital from 1821 to 1826.
It’s also quite lovely from a nature lover’s standpoint; there are a number of trails and natural areas that visitors should not miss.
You can fill a weekend with fun and memorable things in St. Charles without going into St. Louis. If you also plan to visit St. Louis, you may want to tack on a few extra days to your trip so you’ll have enough time for everything.
Check out this list of things to do in Saint Charles. These are the top attractions in town!
1. The St. Charles Historic District
The number one, main attraction in St. Charles is the St Charles Historic District.
St. Charles was the site of the first permanent European settlement west of the Mississippi River; it’s also famous for being the setting-off point for Lewis and Clarks’ exploration trip of the American west.
This area has been a nationally registered historic district since 1970 although the area that it includes has been increased twice since then. Today, the district includes over one hundred historic buildings.
Historic Main Street is the center of the action and locals and tourists alike flock here for dining and shopping. You’ll feel like you stepped back in time as you stroll through this well-preserved area. There are stores of all types and twenty-five restaurants to choose from.
A great way to get to know the area and to explore at your own pace is through the free, online Historic Main Street Tour created and offered by the St. Charles Chamber of Commerce.
You’ll learn all about the city’s history by reading about the buildings you see; there are over one hundred and fifty entries on this incredible digital resource.
Historic Main Street is also known far and wide as being the location of enjoyable events for the whole family throughout the year.
Two of the most popular and highly attended are their Christmas Traditions and Legends & Lanterns festivals that celebrate Christmas and Halloween in very special ways. Don’t miss out if you’re in town around either of those holidays!
2. First Missouri State Capitol State Historic Site
Although there are dozens of historic sites in the St. Charles Historic District, perhaps the most interesting is the First Missouri State Capitol State Historic Site.
When Missouri became a state in 1821, the state legislature needed a place to meet until the new capitol building was constructed in Jefferson City. That building took several years to build, so from 1821 to 1826, St. Charles, MO was the capital of this new state.
The complex is made up of four attached, two-story brick buildings.
The downstairs was residential and commercial; state business took place on the second floor. It’s impressive that this place still stands two hundred years later. It wasn’t purchased by the state until 1960 and it didn’t end up on the National Register of Historic Places until 1969.
Visitors today can learn more about these charming Missouri tours and history through exhibits. Hours vary by season. Be sure to check for days and times of operation before visiting.
See Related: 15 Best Things to Do in Rolla, Missouri
3. Lewis and Clark Boathouse and Museum
The Lewis and Clark Boathouse and Museum is another historical site that everyone should visit while in St. Charles and which will take you back to several decades before Missouri became a state.
This interpretive center teaches visitors about the incredible journey of Lewis and Clark from 1803 to 1806. These two explorers explored and mapped the American West and are key people in our nation’s history.
This museum has many hands-on exhibits, a film, and full-size, operational replicas of the boats that Lewis and Clark used for their journey. There’s also a great nature trail. The Lewis and Clark Boathouse and Museum is interesting and fun for all ages.
See Related: Best Places to Visit in the Midwest
4. Frontier Park
Speaking of Lewis and Clark, Frontier Park is just a few steps away from the Lewis and Clark Boathouse and Museum. One important feature of this park is a fifteen-foot-tall bronze statue of the famous explorers.
The 16-acre park also includes Katy Depot, a restored train depot built in 1893. It offers great photo opportunities and is a popular location for events. The park also has paved trails for hiking and biking, benches, restrooms, and picnic tables. Visitors enjoy strolling along the riverfront here.
See Related: Best Places to Visit in the Midwest
5. Katy Trail State Park
Katy Trail State Park actually passes through Frontier Park and past Katy Depot mentioned above. This state park is unique in that it is actually a trail and not just any trail, but a “rail trail.”
In fact, it’s the nation’s longest recreational rail trail at 240 miles in length. This trail runs along the path of the now-defunct Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad.
Work on the trail conversion began in 1982 and was technically completed in 1996, but it has been added to since. This trail is flat and easy, and you can take it from one side of St. Charles to the other and beyond if you wish. Walkers with doggos, joggers, bikers, and horseback riders are welcome.
See Related: 35 Best Places to Visit in Montana
6. Frenchtown Historic District
The St. Charles Historic District isn’t the only historic district in St. Charles. Just to the north, you’ll also find the adjacent Frenchtown Historic District.
It’s a bit smaller than the main historic district with 205 protected buildings. Still, it features homes and structures in a number of different architectural styles, including Greek Revival, Colonial, and Late Victorian. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.
This area is less visited than the St. Charles Historic District so it’s a great place to visit if that area feels too busy. In it, you’ll find a growing arts scene that includes a number of art galleries. There’s also a 30,000 square foot climbing gym, stores, coffee roasters, and restaurants to enjoy.
See Related: 35 Fun & Best Things to Do in St. Louis, Missouri
7. Fast Lane Classic Cars
If you’re interested in checking out some examples of more recent history, then you might enjoy a visit to Fast Lane Classic Cars. At its most basic, this is a car dealership. But, it’s not just any car dealership – as you can tell by the name, this place specializes in classic cars.
It’s a family-owned business that opened in 1994; today, it has three showrooms and over 180 vehicles on display. There’s also a lot of automotive art and memorabilia for you and a great gift shop to check out. This is a fun stop for car enthusiasts and history buffs alike. Everyone will find something they like at Fast Lane Classic Cars.
See Related: Best Things to do in Rolla, Missouri
8. August A. Busch Memorial Conservation Area
Just outside St Charles but still, in St. Charles County, you’ll find the August A. Busch Memorial Conservation Area. This land was donated to the state’s Department of Conservation in 1947 by Alice Busch, the wife of August A. Busch, the founder of Anheuser-Busch, after his death.
This conservation area spans 6,987 acres and contains trails and local wildlife. Visitors will find forests, lakes, ponds, wetlands, grasslands, fields, and more. Hunting and fishing are allowed, and seasonal boat rentals are available. There are over seven miles of trails as well.
9. Play Street Museum
If you’re looking for something fun to do with kids, then you’re in luck – the Play Street Museum is a children’s museum that they’ll just love.
This immersive, hands-on attraction will allow your little ones to let loose while playing in the land of make-believe. There are crafts, sandboxes, dress-up areas, and more. This is a great option on cold or rainy days – or anytime!
10. Shrine of Saint Philippine Duchesne
If you’re Catholic or even not, you might be interested to learn that St. Charles, Missouri was once the home of a bonafide saint. Although Rose Philippine Duchesne was born in Grenoble, France, in 1769, she died in St. Charles in 1852. She was canonized in 1988.
She’s famous for being the founder of the controversial Society of the Sacred Heart in the United States. She’s interred at the shrine, and you can learn more about her life through a number of informative exhibits if you visit it.
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