15 Best Things to Do in Washington, MO

Washington, MO
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Sitting on the banks of the Missouri River, Washington is one of the picturesque river towns in Missouri.

It was originally called St. John Meyer's settlement and was the site of a Spanish log fort named San Juan de Misuri.

Some of its earliest settlers were followers of Daniel Boone, trailblazing their way from the Kentucky hills to the east-central Missouri wilds.

In 1814, a ferry boat was licensed for crossing the Missouri River, and the settlement started to be known as Washington Landing, named after George Washington.

In the fall of 1833, the German population that the city is known for began with the arrival of 12 Catholic families.

They and other later immigrants were called "followers of Gottfried Duden"; for two years, they wrote sparkling reviews of the area for readers in his homeland, singing praises of the river valley and the lush green hills to Duden.

A thriving river landing, the Washington site was the perfect place to start a settlement, and it continued to grow in the first three decades of the 19th century.

Today, most historic structures stand proud in Washington as a reminder of the perseverance of its forefathers, cultivating a flourishing tourism industry.

With its festive eateries, distinctive boutiques, riverfront music, historic downtown district, red brick riverfront buildings, numerous shops and galleries, and location on the Missouri River, everyone is sure to find something appealing in Washington.

If you want to visit this beautiful riverfront city, take a look at this list of some of the best things to do in Washington.

Smoke a Pipe at Missouri Meerschaum Company

Exterior of the Missouri Meerschaum Company.
TravisLench, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Did you know that Washington has the quirky distinction of being the corn cob pipe capital of the world?

Since 1869, the Missouri Meerschaum Company has created products in its three-story brick factory and is the largest manufacturer of corn cob pipes in the world.

Woodworker Henry Tibbes first handcrafted these pipes made from locally grown corn cobs for his friends; the demand soon rocketed, and he built the factory recognized today.

Today, the company sells these cool, sweet-smoking corn cob pipes worldwide, and they are acknowledged as a fixture of Americana.

A museum on site outlines the history of the pipes and their manufacture and highlights famous American personas who enjoyed them.

Here, see different smoking pipes like the signature cobs, hardwoods, clay pipes, acrylic bits, and bamboo stems.

Also, spot old American-style tobacco and accessories for your corn cob pipes.

Walk by the River on the Rotary Riverfront Trail

The living pulse of Washington is its riverfront, so what better way to get acquainted with the city than to start exploring here?

The Rotary Riverfront Trail extends east and west through the downtown city with a gently-paved path extending in both directions.

Rest areas, benches, and overlooks are found along both trails, and one can make stops to catch their breath and gaze upon the city.

The trail winds into prairies and river bottom grounds, overlooking scenic views of the Highway 47 river bridge and the Missouri River.

Visit James W. Rennick Riverfront Park from this location: watch the boats on the water, enjoy a beautiful sunset, see wonderful views of Washington, or have a picnic at the tables or pavilions.

As one walks the riverfront, it's easy to see why ancient settlers were drawn to this beautiful stretch of land.

Washington has more than its fair share of galleries sporting beautiful artworks downtown.

At Gary R. Lucy Gallery, the river, its wildlife, and its farmland backdrop come into focus and bloom to life on canvas.

Gary Lucy captures beauty and ruggedness in his work: he immersed himself in the study of wildlife and found inspiration in the river's history, creating meticulous wildlife paintings and historical interpretations.

His wildlife depictions include paintings of the cottontail rabbit, the great horned owl, bufflehead ducks, bluebirds, wild turkeys, cardinals, etc.

His historical paintings feature portrayals of the Lewis and Clark expedition, the steamboat era, the American river's storied past, 19th-century Washington, 19th-century holiday traditions, and more.

You never know what scenes you'll encounter, whether it's a river steamboat on a misty morning or a wild creature staring at its wavy reflection.

Eat Iconic Food at Cowan's Restaurant

No stop at Washington is complete without a meal at Cowan's Restaurant.

This downtown eatery has been a fixture since 1930, serving hearty portions of classic home-style dishes to the masses.

Cowan's is dubbed "the place to meet" and serves as a significant link in the downtown Washington community.

It specialized in homemade cooking from the start, becoming known for homemade pies.

You can order classics such as roast beef, fried chicken, chili, burgers, and mashed potatoes – but be sure to save room for dessert!

Cowan's is acclaimed for its incredible "mile-high" meringue pies, carrying flavors such as apple crumb, peach blackberry, rhubarb, and apple berry crumb.

They are available for special occasions such as holidays, private celebrations, birthday dinners, romantic dates, and family gatherings, so make a reservation if you're interested.

Browse at the Washington Farmers Market

The Washington Farmers Market is open every Saturday from April to October, held downtown on Main Street.

Just like in any classic farmers' market, there is a true field-to-market gathering of fresh produce, baked goods, handicrafts, and other local products on sale.

Stop by Hilltop Gardens and pick up bedding plants, potted flowers, hanging flower baskets, or vegetables like broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, and carrots.

At 3 Girls and a Tractor, get in-season goods such as sweet corn, kohlrabi, cantaloupe, and pecans.

Pick a profusion of flowers and plants at Patchwork Gardens or Schroeder Greenhouse: mixed grass, alfalfa hay, chrysanthemums, geranium cuttings, and more.

At Spinning Blue Skies, find houseplants, bedding plants, and delicious jams and jellies, and at Zeh's Cottage Crafts, spot children's aprons, coin purses, pillows, and potholders.

Or pick chicken, duck, and goose eggs, and browse natural candles and lotions at Evergreen Farms and Naturalworks.

Go Gardening at Hillermann Nursery and Florist

Hillermann Nursery and Florist is a large family-owned nursery and garden center that started in 1951.

Its mission is to be the best nursery, garden center, and service business in the community by creating an experience that exceeds the expectations of its customers.

It has several departments such as the nursery, garden center, floral and gift shops, landscape/irrigation, and outdoor equipment.

The company has a fantastic selection of aquatic plants, trees, shrubs, annuals, native and non-native perennials, and tropical plants available in the nursery and greenhouse.

Its garden center has everything you need for your yard, garden, and outdoor living, such as garden tools, garden accessories, potting soils, fertilizers & chemicals, bee-keeping supplies, water garden accessories, and more.

It also offers professionally designed flower arrangements and floral gifts for any occasion and landscape services from a crew that studies its craft very well.

Have a Drink at The Old Dutch Hotel and Tavern

The Old Dutch Hotel and Tavern first became a household name in the Washington community almost 80 years ago and has now opened to a new era.

It is located in the heart of Washington's downtown shopping district, a meticulously recreated restaurant with an upstairs hotel, a modernized menu, a full bar, and 14 comfortable rooms.

The new tavern has melded the best of the modern and classic, with its dining room touting old details such as distressed oak floors, a tin ceiling, and modern fixings like flatscreen TVs.

Beer enthusiasts will undoubtedly go for the tavern's selection of domestic and European microbrews like Odell Sippin' Pretty Sour, Avery White Rascal, Dogfish Perfect Disguise, and Goose Island Matilda.

At the hotel, lodge in cute, cozy, and quaint rooms with Queen or King beds, a fully attentive 24-hour staff, and onsite dining at the downstairs tavern.

Discover the City's Past at Washington Historical Society Museum

The Washington Historical Society is devoted to the preservation, interpretation, and curation of the heritage and history of Washington.

It aims to ensure the accessibility of this heritage via maintaining a public museum, archival collection, and the development of educational programs.

It comprises about 6,000 square feet with much space for exhibits, genealogy, and historical paper records.

The items exhibited here are relevant to the past of Washington and the surrounding area.

They include pottery, Schwarzer zithers, corn cob pipes, John B. Busch Brewery items, photographs, art, advertising pieces, and some items and furnishings used in everyday life.

They also include items relevant to the Washington Turnverein, Missouri River, Native Americans, and World Wars I and II.

The place also holds the Ralph Gregory Library and the Four Rivers Genealogical Society, dedicated to promoting genealogical research and assisting family history documentation.

Bryan Haynes is an award-winning artist whose work has graced book covers, posters, CD covers, international advertising campaigns, and national magazines.

He has created murals for the Museum of Westward expansion at Saint Louis Arch and the Missouri Botanical Garden.

The gallery houses original paintings, limestone lithograph prints, and gorgeous, vividly-colored works.

From his sketchbook to color studies to the finished work on canvas, Haynes' compositions are crafted by hand and stir emotions in many a viewer.

Haynes produces many original works a year, ranging from family histories, farm landscapes, and corporate legacy murals commissioned by individuals, corporations, and institutions.

He develops art on a large scale, either as paintings on canvas or enlargements, with a technique of tiling panels together in an archival procedure.

His stone lithograph prints are drawn on Bavarian limestone using grease pencils, a timeworn craft in the tradition of Regionalist lithography.

Admire the Trains at Iron Spike Model Train Museum

Since before the Civil War, train travel has been essential to Washington's history – the historic train depot downtown is still in use, and this heritage is still celebrated in the museum.

The Iron Spike Model Train Museum operates model trains of many gauges and eras on different scales, including vintage pieces.

The main museum has special displays and multiple train layouts: gauges include G-, O-, HOn3, N-, and TY, and layouts have sound, light, and animation.

Their Research Library contains videos, books, magazines, and vintage 'how to' instruction documents: take advantage of almost 21000 resources to meet the needs of any history buff or modeler.

Their Recycled Railroad Store is for the benefit of the place, selling vintage trains, train materials, buildings, cars, tracks, and a lot more.

This place is a wonderful place for train enthusiasts and is veteran-owned and operated.

Tuck into Comfort Food at The Tilted Skillet

The Tilted Skillet is a favorite spot in Washington serving elevated comfort gourmet food, including a selection of steaks, seafood, and handmade pizzas.

It is a family-friendly restaurant with a large variety of choices for dinner and lunch and a full bar with options from the house's best wine, beer, and liquors.

It is a great place to enjoy amazing culinary selections, with every plate an elusive mix of the balance between sweet, sour, and salty.

Indeed there is a rich selection of soups, burgers, salads, sandwiches, appetizers, entrees, and sides at The Tilted Skillet.

There aren't many places where you can find yourself choosing between hand-spun gourmet pizzas, a New York strip steak, luscious desserts, and decadent drinks.

The Tilted Skillet American Bar carries the largest selection of drinks like gin, rum, tequila, bourbon, whiskey, beer, wine, and mixed specialty drinks.

Attend the Washington Town and Country Fair

If you time your visit to Washington just right, you'll be able to catch the Washington Town and Country Fair.

This fair is one of Missouri's largest, the roots of which date back to 1872.

It is among the biggest events in the city, held every August at the fairgrounds in the City Park.

At this beloved local fair, be entertained by the traditional rides, concerts, food stands, a fairway, exhibits, and livestock competitions.

Come and watch performers show their talent on the fairgrounds, including legendary rock band ZZ Top.

The entertainment lineup also consists of bullfighting, bull riding, barrel racing, a tractor pull, motocross, chainsaw carving demonstrations, agriculture exhibits, a petting zoo, rides on the midway, and food and drinks.

And you can join various contests such as the cornhole tournament, the egg drop contest, the hippity hop, and the pedal tractor pull.

Step into History at the Fort Charrette Historic Village and Museum

Fort Charrette Historic Village and Museum is an authentic trading post and village containing period gardens and antique furnishings, with a backdrop of the Missouri River valley.

It was established in 1790 by French fur trader Joseph Chadron and was noted by explorers Lewis and Clark during their exploration of the Missouri River.

It was a French and Native American trading post with five log houses containing 1700s American antiques; one of these houses is the oldest log home to the west of the Mississippi River.

Today it has been restored and divided into a blacksmith's shop, trading room, and frontier living quarters, housing an amazing collection of 18th and 19th-century furnishing and artifacts.

An architectural historian will give you a fact-filled tour, doling out a wealth of information on the Lewis and Clark expeditions, the trading depot, and Missouri history.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Get Active on the Katy Trail

Fall colored trees at Katy Trail.
Wspin / Shutterstock.com

If you find yourself longing for exercise time while in Washington, consider a ride down the Katy Trail.

It is a rails-to-trails state park that cuts through most of Missouri, is well-loved by bicyclists, and is accessible from Washington.

The nearest trailhead, which includes a parking lot and restroom, is located in the village of Dutzow, about 8 minutes from Washington.

A stone covered bridge at Katy Trail.
marekuliasz / Shutterstock.com

Trail users have a chance to wind among the most scenic areas of the state, traversing a delightful crushed limestone trail.

The Katy Trail is scattered with pretty towns and stunning scenery, closely following the Missouri River.

One might be walking through patches of history, as these small towns once flourished along the railway corridor, reflecting the lush heritage of Missouri.

Any bicyclist, equestrian, nature lover, or history buff will enjoy this opportunity for recreation and discovering the past.

Path and trees at Katy Trail.
Carl Belken, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Have a Sip of Wine at Blumenhof Winery

The German immigrants who settled in this part of Missouri long ago were inspired by the beauty of the river that reminded them of their vineyards back home.

They took their passion for wine and winemaking into this side of the new country, establishing seven wine regions in the state.

Washington is right next door to two of these wine regions, and Blumenhof Winery, located 9 minutes from the city, is the most awarded all-Missouri winery.

Blumenhof means 'court of flowers' and takes its name from the Blumenberg family's farm in northwestern Germany.

Blumenhof Winery is a family-farm winery dedicated to creating wines from local Missouri-grown grapes.

They have two estate vineyards featuring rich, deep soils: one that grows Vignoles and Chambourcin, and one that grows Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cynthiana, Valvin Muscat, and others.

Over the years, their Missouri-grown varietal wines have won many awards at distinguished national and international wine competitions.

Pack a picnic basket, ready your taste buds, and head on out to Blumenhof Winery for an idyllic afternoon with the perfect wines for your palate.

Final Thoughts

This city is one of the most scenic along the Missouri River and makes an ideal stop for curious minds.

Take this list with you if you want to visit Washington and know the best things to do here.

Washington is a very walkable place with many unique sights to see, so get ready for a vibrant weekend getaway while here.