The state of Missouri is blessed with numerous historic river towns. Many of them make perfect weekend getaways, including Washington. Only about an hour from Saint Louis, and built right on the banks of the Missouri River, Washington is loaded with charm. Here are a few of the things we love most about this weekend destination.
Things To Do In Washington, MO
History buffs will love exploring Washington’s downtown district, which was founded in the 1830s by a small group of German settlers. From its red brick riverfront buildings to its numerous shops and galleries, there’s truly something here for everyone. And Washington’s close proximity to Missouri’s wine country doesn’t hurt, either!
Walk The Riverfront
The beating heart of this quaint town is its riverfront, so it makes sense to start your weekend exploring it. Washington’s 5-mile Rotary Riverfront Trail is the perfect place to orient yourself and get some steps in. It extends through downtown and to the east and west. The gentle paved path has benches and overlooks in both directions, and there are also restrooms at both ends of the trail. Along the way, you’ll be treated to scenic views of both the Missouri River and the Highway 47 bridge spanning the water. Walking the trail, it’s not difficult to see why Washington’s first settlers were drawn to this beautiful stretch of riverfront nearly 200 years ago, and why people still choose to make it their home.
Washington’s historic downtown district includes several antique shops that are bound to delight any treasure hunter. Start at Waterworks Antiques, a four-story shop located in a historic pump house right on the river. This multivendor space is crammed with furniture, collectibles, and other fun finds. Vintage Trader breathes new life into old pieces, selling reclaimed, restored, and repurposed tables, dressers, bureaus, and much more. Modern Vintage seamlessly and stylishly blends old with new, mixing and matching the best of both in a fresh, lively manner. Make sure you reserve time to browse these shops and budget for a buy should you find the perfect piece. Chances are that you will!
Visit The Galleries
Washington is also blessed with more than its fair share of art galleries, most located downtown. At the Gary R. Lucy Gallery, the river, its wildlife, and the surrounding farmland take center stage and come to life on canvas. At the gallery, a variety of original works, prints, and even notecards are for sale. The Bryan Haynes Studio and Gallery houses original paintings and limestone lithograph prints by the award-winning artist. Haynes has created murals for the Missouri Botanical Garden and the Museum of Westward Expansion at the Saint Louis Arch. His gorgeous, brilliantly colored works make the gallery well worth a stop. And the Mid-Missouri Fine Arts Society often stages exhibitions featuring works by local artists at the Washington Train Depot downtown.
Sample Missouri Wines
When German immigrants settled this part of the state generations ago, the Missouri River, with its rolling hills and bluffs, reminded them of the Rhine River Valley back home, where they grew their own grapes. They brought their love of wine and winemaking with them, with many establishing their own small wineries. While many of these were devastated during Prohibition, they’ve enjoyed a renaissance in the years since.
There are seven wine regions in the state, and Washington is right next door to two of them. The Augusta and Hermann regions are both official American Viticultural Areas, and both towns are less than a half hour away from Washington. Augusta and Hermann are home to numerous historic wineries, many with gorgeous views of the river. These are terrific spots to enjoy a low-key afternoon picnic. Keep in mind that Missouri wines tend to be on the sweeter side, so you’ll want to sample before buying a bottle.
Bike The Katy Trail
If you’re looking to inject a bit more activity into your weekend, consider a cruise down the Katy Trail. This rails-to-trails state park, beloved by bicyclists, cuts across most of the state of Missouri and is easily accessible from Washington. The closest trailhead, which includes parking and a restroom, is in the village of Dutzow, about 4 miles from Washington. It’s an easy drive, and the crushed limestone trail, which is flat as a pancake, is a delight to traverse. The Katy Trail is dotted with small towns and set amidst stunning scenery, and exploring it makes for a terrific adventure.
Browse The Farmers Market
If you’re looking to pack your own picnic for a riverside sit or a visit to a winery, plan to stop by the weekly Washington Farmers’ Market. The produce here is truly field-to-market, and you’ll also find local meats, eggs, baked goods, and even honey, jams, jellies, and other handicrafts on offer. The market is open Saturday mornings from April through October and is held downtown on Main Street.
Meet The Meerschaum Pipes
Washington has the strange and delightful distinction of being known as the “Corn Cob Pipe Capital of the World,” and it’s all due to a small factory just west of downtown, right on the river. The Missouri Meerschaum Company has been here for 150 years, cranking out pipes made from locally grown corncobs. They were first handcrafted by a local woodworker, Henry Tibbe, in the 1860s, and his friends loved how the pipes fashioned from corncobs held their smoke. Demand went through the roof, and a factory was soon built. A small on-site museum details the history of the pipes and the manufacturing process; you can even buy your own pipe. It’s a quirky slice of Americana and worth a quick stop.
Appreciate The Town’s Railroad Heritage
Train travel has been central to Washington’s history since before the Civil War, and there are a couple of places in town where that heritage is still celebrated. The historic train depot, located downtown and still in use along the Amtrak route, was built in 1923. It contains a passenger waiting room, the town’s visitor center, and space for the aforementioned Mid-Missouri Fine Arts Society. The nearby Iron Spike Model Train Museum operates a number of model train sets on different scales, including many vintage pieces. It’s a great place for train enthusiasts of all ages.
Best Restaurants In Washington, MO
Washington offers its visitors a number of different dining options, and depending on your mood or the occasion, you might want to mix and match!
The Tilted Skillet serves up elevated comfort food, with a menu that includes a nice selection of seafood, steaks, and hand-tossed pizzas. There’s also a full bar.
If you’re looking for a protein fix, the Saint Louis-based barbecue chain Sugarfire recently opened a location in Washington where you can buy smoked and dry-rubbed brisket, chicken, and other favorites by the pound. Delicious sides are also available.
And of course, no visit to Washington would be complete without a stop at Cowan’s Restaurant. The downtown eatery has been around since 1930, and while it serves hearty portions of classic favorites including fried chicken and roast beef, you’ll want to save room for dessert. Cowan’s is known for its incredible “mile-high” meringue pies.
Where To Stay In Washington, MO
Washington has a terrific number of historic places to stay, including bed and breakfasts, country inns, and even individual lofts and cottages that can be booked online on homesharing sites.
Our favorites include the Aletha-Marie Krog Guest House, a full rental with three bedrooms that provides plenty of room to self-cater and spread out; the Brick Inn Bed and Breakfast, which offers beautiful rooms in the heart of downtown, plus a full hot breakfast served daily; and the Front Street Inn, located next door to the stunning Elijah McLean’s Mansion (now an event center), which features balcony rooms with views of the river.
What To Know Before You Go
Washington is very walkable, so if you feel like ditching your car for the weekend, consider taking the train into town. Amtrak’s Missouri River Runner offers daily service between Saint Louis and Kansas City, with a stop in Washington. The town’s train depot is located right on the riverfront and is near all the downtown attractions.
And if you time your visit just right, you might be able to attend one of the town’s biggest events. The Washington Town & Country Fair is held every August at the fairgrounds in City Park. The event, which features rides, a fairway, concerts, food stands, exhibits, and livestock competitions, is a beloved local tradition. It’s one of Missouri’s largest fairs, and its roots date all the way to 1872.