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St. Charles: A River Town Gem

Visitors can breathe a sigh of relief when they arrive in St. Charles, Missouri. Free from the hectic pace of nearby St. Louis, the river town features a scenic riverfront, historic architecture and welcoming locals.

Founded in 1769, Missouri’s original capital city preserves a colorful past in its historic district and museums. But St. Charles also offers modern visitors an upscale casino resort, a thriving wine region and an impressive art center.

Groups can explore this charming town’s historic lineage and high-end amenities on a tour of St. Charles.

Historic Main Street

Missouri’s oldest and largest historic district has attracted shoppers since the 19th century. More than 100 local shops and restaurants lie in restored buildings that date back to the 1800s.

Called the Williamsburg of the West by Southern Living magazine, the 14-block stretch sells all kinds of products from Colonial reproductions to floral arrangements. After hours, while exploring the shopping paradise, groups can dine al fresco at one of the district’s many patio cafes.

The downtown is currently open with social distancing protocols. Popular items to shop for in the area include infused olive oils, handmade soaps, clothing, antiques, books and specialty items like jewelry, original art and period-costume photography.

Visitors can stroll along the same brick-lined streets once walked by early explorers and pioneers. The town’s spot along the Missouri River made it an important port in the Colonial period. In the evenings, the downtown lights up under the glow of gaslights.

Among the must-see stops is Jos Collective Market, where more than 50 local designers and artists sell their wares. The large store sells handmade furniture, clothes, kitchen supplies, jewelry and other rare items.

Ameristar Casino Resort Spa

Groups can chase the thrill of winning big at the Ameristar Casino Resort Spa. The 130,000-square-foot casino offers multiple restaurants, a luxury hotel and an award-winning spa. Though the spa is now closed, the rest of the attraction is open with social distancing guidelines in place.

The towering casino anchors the western edge of St. Charles’ historic district. Groups walk into the casino’s stunning grand entrance before deciding between the latest electronic games, table games and live poker rooms.

More than 2,000 state-of-the-art slot and video poker machines range in cost from 1 cent to $100. The casino’s new High Limit Saloon offers 89 games with video poker, video reel and traditional reel slots. Other options include a baccarat pit and a poker room.

Groups can choose what style of meal to enjoy, since the casino offers a variety of restaurants from fine dining to casual eateries. Bugatti’s Steak and Pasta elevates the casino experience; Amerisports Bar and Grill keeps the experience laid-back.

Ranked in the top four luxury hotels in Missouri by U.S. News and World Report, the casino’s 400-suite hotel pampers guests. The hotel offers an indoor and an outdoor pool, as well as a health club, complimentary transportation and easy access to the casino.

Lewis and Clark Boat House and Museum

In 1804, St. Charles was the last civilized outpost before a vast unknown territory west of the Missouri River. This made the frontier town the most logical starting-off point for Lewis and Clark’s legendary journey to the Pacific Ocean.

To honor this moment in history, groups can visit the Lewis and Clark Boat House and Museum. Visitors see full-scale replicas of the keelboat and pirogues the company used on the expedition. A National Geographic film, enhanced by a detailed diorama, delves into the dangers of the 7,000-mile trek.

Other informative artifact exhibits tell stories from the event. Re-enactors provide living-history demonstrations and historical event appearances and re-create moments from the historic journey.

The attached gift shop specializes in Native American artwork and other historical items. Next door, Frontier Park displays a 15-foot-tall bronze sculpture of Lewis, Clark and Seaman, their hefty Newfoundland dog. Groups love this spot for a quick photo opp.

The Lewis and Clark Boat House and Museum is open; face masks are required.

Foundry Art Centre

A former train-car factory now houses a vibrant arts scene at the Foundry Art Center. The 1920s structure contains a 5,200-square-foot exhibition space, a mezzanine that is home to 20 studio artists and the Grand Hall, a stage for touring performance groups.

The 36,800-square-foot building encourages public participation in art. At the open glass-front studios, visitors can interact and watch artists practice their crafts. Groups can take an art class from a professional; topics include pottery, mosaics, metalsmithing, Chinese painting and drawing.

The center’s high-caliber art exhibits change about seven times a year. The site also hosts national juried exhibitions.

Overlooking the Missouri River, the Foundry Art Centre lies in St. Charles’ Frenchtown district.

Historic Missouri Wine Country

Augusta, Missouri, became the first federally approved American Viticultural Area in the country in 1980, eight months before Napa Valley, California. In the same county as St. Charles, the town is one of several in the region that produces prized wines at sites welcoming to groups.

Known as the Historic Missouri Wine Country, the region’s rare soil and microclimate ensure excellent growing conditions for dry red wines, white wines, dessert wines and port. Groups can sip their chosen drinks while watching the clouds float over the picturesque Missouri River Valley.

Wineries in Augusta, Defiance, New Melle and Femme Osage each produce signature varieties, with nearby quaint downtowns full of local shops to explore. A favorite stop, Sugar Creek Winery and Vineyards in Defiance, features hillside vineyards with views and access to hiking and biking trails.

Wine and cuisine complement one another at Augusta Winery. Opened in 1988, the award-winning winery serves its wines in a boutique-style tasting room. The site’s Wine and Beer Garden opens on the weekends to serve local beers, pizza and live music.