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With its horse-drawn carriage rides, Colonial red-brick buildings, and wrought iron electric street lights, Saint Charles, MO, is filled with charm. It’s a perfect day trip from St. Louis. Read on for what to see and do in Saint Charles, MO.
From the mesmerizing Gateway Arch and an urban ballpark that is Busch Stadium to the multifaceted Forest Park or family-friendly City Museum, there’s no shortage of enticing activities in St. Louis. But consider taking a short road trip from St. Louis to Saint Charles for a big dose of living history.
Where the Water Wheel Stands
We drove approximately half an hour before we arrived in the heart of historic Saint Charles, Missouri—an 8-1/2 block by 1-1/2 block district along the Missouri River’s north bank. A centuries-old wooden water wheel stood between rugged stone pillars, and ‘modern’ St. Charles surrounded the neighborhood on three sides.
French Canadian fur trader, Louis Blanchette, founded Saint Charles—the oldest city along the Missouri River—in 1769. Over time, Missouri’s state capital grew into a thriving riverfront trading center.
The city’s position near the edge of the Louisiana Purchase only enhanced its importance and popularity. Lewis and Clark set sail from St. Charles in pursuit of a water route to the Pacific Ocean. And Daniel Boone lived here while creating Boone’s Lick Trail, a predecessor to the Santa Fe Trail and the Oregon Trail.
Immersed in History in Saint Charles, MO
I felt like I had stepped back in time as we boarded a horse-drawn carriage to begin touring the downtown area. The clip-clop of hooves rang out against broad antique streets. We passed many Colonial red brick buildings, occasional wood frame, and plaster-walled structures. None of them were taller than three stories.
Amid mature trees, large slabs created an old-school version of sidewalks. Wrought-iron electric streetlights resembled antique gas lamps. But seeing a young drum and bugle corps dressed in red coats, white pants, black boots, and tall fur hats transported me to another century.
Exploring St. Charles, MO Lodging and Treats
After the introductory carriage tour, we visited Boone’s Colonial Inn, which the Mydler family renovated in 1981. A dapper gentleman in a tri-corner hat, tall boots, and antique vest gave us a tour of one historic lodging suite. A long wood trunk flanked the foot of a four-poster bed, and the ornate chandelier complemented several modern can lights. A broad upholstered ottoman stood before the tall stone fireplace near a small TV. A massive mirror reflected the vintage two-person dining table in the adjacent room.
The Mydlers also own a sister property, Boone’s Lick Trail Inn. This antique-filled 1840s Federal-style inn lies within the same historic neighborhood.
After a private lunch at Boone’s Colonial Inn, we explored Main Street further. Most places open between 10:30 and 11 am on weekdays.
My first stop was Kilwins, a long-time home to handmade chocolates and premium ice creams. A massive case displayed chocolate confections and other sweet treats, while premium ice creams filled a small freezer. Wrought iron tables and chairs awaited customers beside a long, antique stone wall.
Much to my surprise, I learned the original Kilwins opened in Petoskey, Michigan, more than 70 years earlier. Today, more than 150 stores operate under the Kilwins banner. Unsurprisingly, Mackinac Island Fudge is a customer favorite with those Michigan roots. The owners often incorporate Fair Trade chocolate, coffees, and nuts in their delicious treats.
Local Shops Offer Great Variety
I also peeked inside Native Traditions Gallery, which was unexpectedly closed for the day. The gallery, operating since 1988, is a terrific place to find one-of-a-kind, museum-quality indigenous art, from stunning sterling and turquoise jewelry to Pueblo pottery or paintings. Wildlife is another big focus, showing up in sculptures, paintings, and prints. Customers can also explore a beautiful collection of rocks and crystals.
At the whimsical Canine Cookies and Cream, a plethora of animal treats await pet parents. Currently open only on weekends, this little shop was packed with decorative bandanas (and plenty of St. Louis Blues inspiration). The store also sells gigantic, decorated dog cookies, as well as stuffed dogs, and, of course, toys.
A Delicious End to Our Visit of Saint Charles, MO
We arrived at Bella Vino Wine Bar & Tapas as sunset transformed to near darkness. Here, tapas rule, and many of the dozens of wines are available by the glass. Small brick fire pits warmed our chilly evening on the spacious Main Street patio as we enjoyed tasty bites and casual hospitality.
Think ooey-gooey Spinach Artichoke Dip, Chorizo Stuffed Dates with a perfect combination of sweet and salty flavors, or Burger Sliders, served atop tender brioche buns. We topped off our meal with servings of signature St. Louis Gooey Butter cake, Gluten Free Brownies, and more wine.
A quick look inside the restaurant revealed plenty of reclaimed wood and historic brick walls amid the cozy and compact dining space. Gold-framed mirrors and art also decorated the rooms. The restaurant is housed in the Newbill-McElhiney House at 325 S Main Street. The home, constructed in 1836 and expanded in the 1850s, is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
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Visiting Saint Charles, Mo
After a much-too-short visit, we ended our road trip from St. Louis to St. Charles and headed to our hotel for a well-deserved rest. With its horse-drawn carriage rides, Colonial red-brick buildings, and wrought iron electric street lights, this town is filled with charm. Since it’s less than an hour from St. Louis, it’s a perfect day trip from St. Louis and a nice contrast to the hustle and bustle of the city. Let Wander With Wonder be your guide when planning your travels to St. Louis, elsewhere in Missouri, or throughout the Midwest. We also love to share some of our favorite historic towns.