Insider's Guide: Historic St. Charles, Missouri

Missouri's largest historic district along St. Charles' Main Street opens the door to a frontier past.

Most of the time, when you see the word "historic" appended to a place name, it really just means "old." Not so at St. Charles, the town whose historic district, within a stone's throw of the Missouri River, saw the likes of Daniel Boone, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. There's a day's activities afoot. Let's get started.

Morning

Start the day at Picasso's Coffee House on North Main (open 6:30 am weekdays, 7:30 am weekends). They care rather deeply about the coffee here and also serve fresh bakery items and fruit smoothies.

Picasso's Coffee House in St. Charles MO

You're not far from the First Missouri State Capitol State Historic Site at 200 S. Main St., so pop in and take the tour. When Missouri became a state in 1821, legislators needed a place to convene while the capitol was being built in Jefferson City, and the second floor of the Peck Brothers Dry Goods Store filled the bill. Today, the building looks much as it did in the early 1800s.

First Missouri State Capitol State Historic Site in St. Charles, MO

Afternoon

But even before St. Charles hosted the state's first legislature, it landed in history as the launching spot for the Lewis and Clark Expedition, where Lewis rejoined Clark and the rest of the expedition after finalizing plans in St. Louis in May of 1804. The rendezvous is celebrated every year during Lewis & Clark Heritage Days. The Lewis & Clark Boathouse and Nature Center houses replicas of the boats used on the Corps of Discovery, and an upstairs museum illustrates highlights of the expedition.

Lewis & Clark Boathouse and Nature Center in St. Charles, MO

It's not known if Lewis or Clark ever crossed paths with the area's other frontier celebrity, Daniel Boone, but we do know that Boone (whose home is located not far away in Defiance, Missouri) once walked these streets. Stroll in Boone's footsteps the length of Main Street, lined with a virtual lexicon of 19th century vernacular architecture, and shop for gourmet food, crafts, gifts, antiques, jewelry and Christmas decorations.

South Main Street in St. Charles MO

Perennial favorites include The Flower Petaler, The Tintypery Old Time Photo Studio, The Glass Workbench, Olde Town Spice Shoppe, Thistle and Clover and The English Shop. Dining options abound: Trailhead Brewing Co., Lewis & Clark's, Mother-in-Law House, Little Hills Winery & Restaurant, Magpie's Cafe. Do not fail to check out the art at the Foundry Art Centre at the far north end of Main Street, where working artists have studios on the second level above exhibit spaces hosting themed shows and traveling exhibits. 

Foundry Art Centre in St. Charles MO

St. Charles loves a celebration, and Christmas is at the top of the list: St. Charles Christmas Traditions features Santa parades, roasted chestnuts, extended shopping hours and enough holiday cheer to last all year long.

Christmas time in St. Charles, Missouri

By the way, you're at the eastern end of the Katy Trail, which winds its way through the state mostly along the Missouri River. Rent a bike at the Bike Stop Cafe on Riverside Dr. if the weather's nice and take in the view.

Evening

Gingham's Homestyle Restaurant, St. Charles, MO

Dine, dance and rock into the night at Quintessential Dining & Nightlife on North Main St., where four bars, live music and DJ spins keep the action going into the wee hours. When you're ready to crash, head over to Gingham's Homestyle Restaurant (open 24/7) and order some fantastic breakfast from the ridiculously large menu.

David Lancaster
About the author

David Lancaster is an accomplished artist and photographer whose work has been shown in galleries in St. Louis, Chica...