STL Summer from A to Z
26 Reasons to Love Summertime in St. Louis
A: AL FRESCO
One of the best parts of summer is getting to take everyday activities outdoors into the fresh air and sunshine. Whether it’s a meal, movie, music or just time spent in good company, everything gains a little more fun and romance when it’s done under the open sky. Many foodloving St. Louisians have already discovered the ever-expanding Food Truck Friday, the monthly mass picnic hosted by Sauce Magazine, May through October in Tower Grove Park. With mobile eateries peddling everything from tacos and smoothies to Asian-inspired and even fine French cuisine, there’s hardly a lack of options and plenty of space for spreading out a blanket and making a picnic of it. Outdoor happy hour events like the monthly Parties in the Plaza at Westport or Clayton’s Parties in the Park turn it up a notch for a full-on happy hour atmosphere complete with live music, food and drink. For a more low-key night out, families, couples and friends can enjoy free outdoor film screenings at places like Citygarden. Saint Louis Art Museum’s Outdoor Film Series  on Art Hill in July is perhaps al fresco culture at its best—a combination of weekly outdoor movies, pre-screening concerts, food truck fare and other festivities.
It’s inarguable—St. Louis is a beer town to the core. In June, 20-plus local breweries come together to showcase their latest and greatest at the St. Louis Brewers Heritage Festival. Now in its seventh year, the festival brings beer-lovers out in troves to sample and learn about a multitude of styles and brands from the city’s best and brightest beer producers— from the smallest craft brewery to industry giant Anheuser-Busch InBev. IndiHop on June 1 shuttles festivalgoers between The Grove and Cherokee Street to sample local craft brews while taking in live music, art and street performers. St. Louis Microfest , May 3-4 in Forest Park, features tastings of international and craft beers, plus a home brewing competition.
If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the sun and into a local gallery or art museum to nurture your creative side. The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis  exhibits multimedia installations by Mika Taanila May 24-August 11, and the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts has a showing of Donald Judd’s multicolored, minimalist constructions opening May 10. Plus, Saint Louis Art Museum celebrates the grand opening of its new East Building on June 29. Don’t discount the smaller galleries like Bruno David Gallery in Grand Center, Duane Reed Gallery in the CWE and White Flag Projects in The Grove.
Culture and diversity are alive and celebrated in STL, particularly when the weather cooperates. Festival of Nations , August 24-25 at Tower Grove Park, is the epitome of global reach with its food, entertainment and shopping from cultures around the world. Cherokee holds a huge celebration on Cinco de Mayo; Greek Fest (May 25-28) is known for authentic Greek cuisine and handmade crafts; and Missouri Botanical Garden’s Chinese Culture Days in May are a local favorite. One of the city’s biggest street festivals, PrideFest, is moving Downtown this year after many successful years celebrating LGBT pride at Tower Grove Park. Festivities begin June 29, with the Pride Parade launching from Soldiers’ Memorial on June 30. ALIVE’s own Pride party, ULTRA, kicks off the weekend on June 28.
Summer is ripe with food festivals, dining events and farmers’ markets perfect for exploring STL’s foodie culture. Missouri Botanical Garden hosts Around the World Wine Dinners on the third Friday of every month in various places around the garden (often al fresco)—this summer, taste wines and cuisine from New Zealand, San Francisco’s Chinatown, Barcelona and India. Celebrate the glory of chicken wings at the BCI Wing Ding, June 6 in historic St. Charles. Or, for a novel experience, head to Collinsville for the International Horseradish Festival, May 31-June 2. This time of year is also prime time to become a regular at your local farmers’ market —some of the best include the Tower Grove Farmers’ Market (Saturday mornings), Schlafly Farmers’ Market in Maplewood (Wednesday afternoons) and Webster Groves Farmers’ Market (Thursday afternoons). Don’t let summer pass you by without a picnic—there are plenty of great spots in Forest Park (Art Hill, the paddleboat-accessible Picnic Island and any number of shady nooks along the walking/biking trails on the east end), Tower Grove Park (rent a pavilion for large groups) and Castlewood State Park (if you prefer your picnics accompanied by a nature-rich hike).
F: FOUR-LEGGED FRIENDS
They’re called the dog days of summer for a reason. Treat your pooch to a social outing at the Humane Society of Missouri’s Bark in the Park, May 18 at Cricket Field in Forest Park. Participate in the one-mile walk or 5K run, marvel at the Purina Incredible Dog Team and more—all while raising money to help homeless pets. Laumeier Sculpture Park hosts Yappy Hour  on July 18 and August 15 on the museum lawn, and the Boathouse at Forest Park holds a Paddle with Your Pooch day in mid-July, allowing canines to go for a paddle with their owners. Many neighborhood pools, including Maplewood and Arnold, even open for dog-swim days at the end of the season.
A St. Louis summer wouldn’t be the same without a trip to Busch Stadium  to root-root-root for the home team. Many minor-league baseball teams, like the River City Rascals and the Gateway Grizzlies, have games throughout the summer months, too. If you want to get in on the action, sign up for recreational leagues in Ultimate Frisbee, slow-pitch softball, kickball or sand volleyball through organizers like St. Louis Ultimate Association, Sports Monster, BigBalls Kickball League or STL Volleyball.
St. Louis has a rich history, and discovering it can be an adventure in itself. A trip to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial can be accompanied by a ride to the top of the Arch and a stroll along the riverfront. Many of the city’s older neighborhoods, like Downtown, the Central West End and Soulard, host walking or biking tours on various dates throughout the summer to educate participants about historic sites and architecture. Downtown’s Central Library  has an entire room dedicated to St. Louis history, where you can read up on buildings, events and people important to the city. Plus, Missouri History Museum has a permanent exhibit on the city’s past and present, and another highlighting the milestone of the 1904 World’s Fair.
I: ICE CREAM
The saying traditionally goes, “we all scream for ice cream,” but in St. Louis, the commotion is more commonly centered around custard—particularly the kind dished out by local landmark Ted Drewes in South City. Other iconic spots include the art deco-inspired The Fountain on Locust, serving up decadent ice cream martinis and sundaes. Crown Candy Kitchen  is known for its ’50s soda fountain style, complete with signature shakes and malts, as well as World’s Fair sundaes. Don’t let the summer pass by without a visit to one of STL’s pop-up sno cone stands—some staff favorites include Kirkwood’s Tropical Moose and St. Louis Hills’ Murray’s Shaved Ice and D&M Sno Cones.
There’s no better place to celebrate the Fourth of July in St. Louis than the annual Fair St. Louis festivities—starting with the Veiled Prophet Parade, plus awe-inspiring air shows and spectacular fireworks displays over the river . The free concerts under the arch last all weekend, this year featuring Trace Adkins, Bret Michaels and Counting Crows. The Celebrate St. Louis concerts continue each weekend in July, bringing even more exciting free shows to Soldiers’ Memorial. If you prefer not to brave the crowds Downtown, there are plenty of neighborhood fireworks displays to choose from, like those in Webster Groves, Kirkwood and Jefferson Barracks.
K: KENTUCKY DERBY
If you can’t make it to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby  on May 4, do the next best thing. Spend race day at The Royale’s annual derby party, or Bobby Horvath’s annual Kentucky Derby Party at Monarch Private Event Space, both complete with fancy hats, derby-inspired attire and fancy gin- and scotch-laden cocktails. For a philanthropic take on the tradition, check out the Chasing the Cure Gala, which benefits The American Diabetes Association and features Derby-themed games, a gourmet dinner and auctions.
L: LEND A HAND
Take advantage of the longer days and warm weather to get involved in your community. United Way of Greater St. Louis helps connect volunteers from all walks of life with opportunities to help others, like playtime with toddlers at Almost Home, preparing meals for families at Ronald McDonald House, giving manicures to seniors at Lutheran Senior Services and much more. There are several nonprofits that could use more specialized help from volunteers skilled in things like social media, photography, cooking and tutoring as well. For those with a green thumb, Gateway Greening can always use a pair of extra hands at one of its community gardens or beautification projects.
To music-lovers, summer and concert festivals are almost synonymous. St. Louis’ homegrown indie festival, LouFest , has moved to the fall (mark your calendar for Sept. 7-8), but the summer months bring plenty of other big music events to look forward to. Vans Warped Tour on July 24 showcases the punk and indie rock genres with bands like Bowling for Soup, Motion City Soundtrack, Goldfinger and Story of the Year, while the Country Megaticket (with concerts from May through September) caters to country fans of all types with performances from Brad Paisley, Luke Bryan, Kenny Chesney and Miranda Lambert. Plus, Deftones, O.A.R. and Fall Out Boy all perform at The Pageant this summer and the smooth-talking Bruno Mars makes his way to Scottrade Center August 8. For a more lowkey live music experience, kick back at a free open-air concert series like the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Whitaker Music Festival (Wednesdays, June- August) or Twilight Tuesdays on the Missouri History Museum lawn (Tuesdays in May). Or, get your dancin’ shoes on and celebrate St. Louis’ blues roots at St. Louis Bluesweek, May 24-26 at Soldiers’ Memorial—if you need more convincing, new this year is a BBQ Battle Royale.
Neighborhood pride runs deep in STL— celebrate it with hyper-local events and street festivals like Macklind Days in Southampton, Taste of Maplewood, Midtown Taste Art Fair and Thurman LoopFest in Shaw. Neighborhood fests are a great time to get to know your local shops and restaurants, meet some friendly neighbors and enjoy some tasty local food and drink. Your neighborhood may have a summer concert series to check out as well, like the Benton Park Summer Concert Series  and similar events in Carondelet Park, Gazebo Park in Webster Groves, Oak Knoll Park in Clayton, Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park and the often folkthemed concerts in Chesterfield’s Faust Park.
When St. Louis’ infamous humidity is down and the great outdoors calls, bear in mind the many great camping, hiking and float trip destinations within a couple hours drive of the city. Families, hikers and dog-walkers all appreciate the beauty and diversity of Castlewood State Park , and those who like to skate, bike, run or walk shouldn’t miss out on the Katy Trail or Great Rivers Greenway. If you feel like spending a day on the river or a night under the stars, venture to Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park and experience its natural swimming holes, cozy cabins and varied hiking trails. Other popular camping spots include Blue Springs Ranch (float trips, horseback trail rides and zip lines), Huzzah Valley Resort (canoeing and kayaking, float trips and horseback trail rides) and Jellystone Park (family-focused activities, swimming pools and fishing).
One of the best ways to take in the summer air is from a patio or rooftop bar. McGurk’s in Soulard has a sprawling garden patio complete with lighted fountains and koi ponds, winding pathways and plenty of greenery. Copia’s wine garden is adorned with lush vines and hanging plants, with a retractable roof in case Mother Nature pays a visit. Sasha’s Wine Bar, The Royale, BARcelona  and Urban Chestnut are great patio haunts as well, each with its own unique atmosphere. As rooftop settings go, Vin de Set, Eclipse, Three Sixty, Cielo and Mandarin boast some of the best experiences in the city, with elegant settings complemented by sweeping views of the city.
There’s no denying that St. Louis has a thriving queer community—it’s been named to The Advocate’s list of 15 “Gayest Cities in America” for the past two years, and was one of only 11 cities in the US to score a perfect 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index. Summer brings out LGBT sports clubs like the running group Saint Louis Frontrunners, the gay and lesbian softball league GLASS and the Big Crank Cycling Club—not to mention the PrideFest  festivities June 29-30. Plus, there’s always something happening on the patios of Just John and Novak’s in The Grove, and Clementine’s in Soulard.
Runners who like to challenge themselves with obstacles and cross-country courses should be sure to check out the popular Battlegrounds Mud Run at Cedar Lake on May 4, Muckfest MS at Buchanan’s Farm on May 18 or the Wounded Warrior 5K August 10. If themed runs are more your style, slap on some gore for the July 14 Zombie Run or get decked out for the Reclaiming the ’80s 5K in Benton Park. For those who prefer to race on two wheels, MO PRO Cycling Series , May 10-12, is not to be missed— even if you’re just spectating.
Sometimes getting out of town for a vacation is more of a hassle than anything else—instead, book a room at one of STL’s boutique hotels and spend a couple of days decompressing. Moonrise Hotel in The Loop has a whimsical outer-space theme, with a prime location among plenty of hot nightlife and dining destinations. Hotel Ignacio in Midtown is luxuriously modern, with a distinct artistic theme (borrow one of the house bikes to explore the neighborhood). In Clayton, The Cheshire has a cozy, old-world feel with rooms themed around great British authors and novels. For an escape to the lap of luxury, settle into the Four Seasons Hotel  and treat yourself to a few hours in the world class spa.
Although it’s easy to find great theater productions all year long in St. Louis, some of the most spectacular take place on balmy summer evenings. The highly acclaimed Shakespeare Festival St. Louis presents the bard’s comedic play “Twelfth Night,” May 24-June 16 in Forest Park’s Shakespeare Glen, along with the usual crop of jugglers, bellydancers, jesters and more to entertain guests before the show. When Circus Flora raises the big-top May 30-June 23 for this year’s story, “A Trip to the Moon,” prepare yourself for awe-inspiring feats by its acrobats, clowns and tumblers. The Muny  opens its season June 17, with a summer lineup featuring classics like “South Pacific,” “Les Misérables,” “Mary Poppins” and “West Side Story,” as well as comedic masterpieces like “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” “Shrek The Musical” and “Nunsense.” For a more classical experience, the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis‘ summer season features the world premiere of “Champion,” comedic romances “The Pirates of Penzance” and “The Kiss,” and Italian operatic classics “Pagliacci” and “Il Tabarro.” Sweeten the experience with a picnic in the theater’s garden before the show, or cocktails with the performers after.
U: UPWARD BOUND
For those who love a little adventure, it’s time to add some height to your routine. Take a road trip to Jackson Falls in Southern Illinois for great rock climbing cliffs—but not before some practice runs and classes at STL’s indoor climbing facilities, Climb So iLL and Upper Limits . Embrace your inner primate and swing through the treetops at Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park’s brand new zipline course, or hit the established Eco Zipline Tours in New Florence. For the truly courageous, Saint Louis Science Center offers Flight Academy for adults. For a more low-key trip skyward, book a hot air balloon ride through Balloons Over the Rainbow or Air Balloon Sports.
St. Louis wine enthusiasts are fortunate to have a multitude of fine Missouri wineries within easy reach. Head south to the French-influenced Ste. Genevieve County and find Chaumette Winery and Vineyards, Crown Valley Winery and Cave Vineyard, among others. Or, head west and pay a visit to Chandler Hill Winery  in Defiance, MO, before continuing on to Augusta to pay a visit to Noboleis Vineyards and Augusta Winery. A little further west along the Missouri River is the German town of Hermann, home to OakGlenn Winery, Hermannhof Vineyards and Stone Hill Winery. Whether you make a day of it or a weekend, you’re in for some great wine tasting— and scenery, for that matter.
When it’s time to beat the heat, kids and adults alike make the most of the public water fountains and wading pools at Tower Grove Park and Citygarden. In Forest Park, rent a paddleboat, kayak or rowboat for a scenic ride on the charming lake that circles around Art Hill, the Grand Basin, World’s Fair Pavilion and more before returning to The Boathouse —extra special if you sign up for the Boathouse’s moonlight paddleboat picnics (June-September). If you’re feeling particularly energetic, plan a day trip to Six Flags’ Hurricane Harbor water park or spend a weekend waterskiing, boating, swimming and tubing at Lake of the Ozarks or Table Rock Lake.
When the wanderlust takes hold and you need to get out of town for a few days, living in the heart of the Midwest certainly comes in handy. Easily within road-trip reach is the metropolitan Chicago (300 miles) in all of its shopping, nightlife and foodie glory. In the opposite direction is musical playground Nashville (300 miles)  and laid-back Louisville (260 miles). Those feeling the need to get closer to nature can pack up a tent and head south to Arkansas’ Crater of Diamonds State Park (450 miles), where you can actually hunt for diamonds, or north to scenic Lake Geneva, WI (340 miles) for hiking, biking and fishing.
School’s out for the summer, so take your pick of great local camps, workshops and events to keep kids’ minds and bodies active. Sign on for day camps at local favorites like The Magic House, Circus Harmony and Saint Louis Zoo, or opt for mind-enriching programs at Saint Louis Science Center or the World Chess Hall of Fame. For creatively inclined kiddos, check out the varied range of art camps and classes with organizations like COCA , South Broadway Art Project, Chesterfield Arts and Laumeier Sculpture Park.
Free to visit and repeatedly listed as one of the leading zoos for saving endangered species, the everdiversifying Saint Louis Zoo in Forest Park is known for its wide range of animals, one-of-a-kind children’s zoo and live animal shows. This summer, make it a point to see the show at Sea Lion Sound, and check out the stingrays and sharks at Caribbean Cove. Or, sign up for the Pollinator Dinner on June 18 to sample food and drink made by bees and other pollinating creatures. Another great free option is Grant’s Farm , historical home of Ulysses S. Grant and current digs of the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales, featuring tram rides through a spectacular deer park and free beer samples for adults. Purina Farms allows kids to experience farm and domestic animals alike, while witnessing various shows and herding trials. In South County, visitors at Suson Park’s farms see creatures like sheep, cows and donkeys with fishing available at the park’s many ponds. Take a drive through Lone Elk Park, and you may be able to spot wild bison, elk, deer and other native creatures.
Saint Louis Art Museum Outdoor Film Series
St. Louis Microfest
Jeremy Deller, Beyond the White Walls at CAM
Festival of Nations
St. Louis Cardinals
St. Louis Central Library
Crown Candy Kitchen
Fair St. Louis
Benton Park Summer Concert Series
Castlewood State Park
Four Seasons Hotel
Photo credit: Dan Donovan