Located just north of the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, Alton features a day’s worth of sight-seeing, shopping and antiquing. First stop: the Alton Visitor Center offers a wealth of brochures, maps and advice for Alton and the entire Meeting of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway area. Get brochures guiding you to the Miles Davis Monument, Lincoln-Douglas Debate site, Elijah P. Lovejoy Monument, Lincoln & Civil War Legacy Trail, Robert Wadlow Monument (world’s tallest man at 8 ft., 11.1 inches, 1918-1940), Haunted Alton tours, and Historic Alton driving tour, featuring Alton’s considerable collection of 19th and early 20th century architecture.
In January/February, tourism spikes as the area is occupied by hundreds of bald eagles seeking warmer weather and open waters, and a number of eagle events and tours are designed to help visitors make that eagle-watching connection. The Alton Visitor Center has all the information.
Lots of visit-worthy businesses are huddled close to the river on State St., 3rd St. and Broadway. Start the day at State Street Market Café & Wine Garden, bistro, wine bar, courtyard and wine shop serving breakfast and lunch.
Grab lunch or dinner at Morrison’s Irish Pub (traditional Irish cuisine from family recipes, sandwiches, burgers, 60 imported whiskeys and scotch); Tony’s Restaurant & Third Street Café (old-school Italian steak house) or Brown Bag Bistro (casual American cuisine).
Plenty of browsing opportunities: Olive Oil Marketplace (more than 30 flavored olive oils from Chile and the Mediterranean, plus balsamic vinegars, pastas, seasonings, sauces, coffees, teas, gadgets and gifts); The Gift Box (gifts galore); Mississippi Mud Pottery (handcrafted, oven/dishwasher/microwave-safe stoneware made on the premises while you watch).
If art and antiques float your boat, be sure to check out Jacoby Arts Center (occupying the former Jacoby’s Furniture building and featuring art galleries, shop, performance space, studios and juried shows), Brass Horse Antiques and Prairie Peddler Antiques (exemplary collection of 18th and 19th century American antiques, including early American,/primitive, formal furniture & accessories).
Visit the National Great Rivers Museum, constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers as a component of the Melvin Price Locks and Dam. The handsomely designed museum features an exhibit gallery, a multi-purpose classroom, a theater and a gift shop and tells the story of the people, nature, and wildlife that have shaped the Mississippi River.
Check out the Piasa Bird, a re-creation of the original painting seen by the earliest European visitors to the area on the bluffs just north of town on the Great River Roadthat depict a mythical bird "as large as a calf with horns like a deer, red eyes, a beard like a tiger's, a face like a man, the body covered with green, red and black scales and a tail so long it passed around the body, over the head and between the legs." The Illini Indians called it "The Piasa," meaning a bird that devours men.
A few miles south of Alton, the Lewis & Clark State Historic Site features exhibits on the Lewis & Clark era, corps activities in Illinois, the 8,000-mile journey and a full-sized replica keelboat.