Summer in the city

Students, faculty share their favorite attractions

Artist Dale Chihuly's vibrant glass sculptures are installed among the trees, flowers and gardens at the Missouri Botanical Garden. (Photo courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden)

St. Louis is known for the Arch, the Cardinals and, of course, Ted Drewes. But there’s much more to see and do in the Gateway City. Here, students and faculty at Washington University in St. Louis share some of their favorite summertime St. Louis attractions and activities.


Two American robins eat termites in Ruth Park in University City. (Photo courtesy of Joan Strassmann)

Novice birders will find a variety of winged wildlife in area parks, forests and wetlands. To get started, Joan Strassmann, the Charles Rebstock Professor of Biology in Arts & Sciences, recommends checking out a St. Louis Audubon Society beginning bird walk in Forest Park or a birding program at the Audubon Center at Riverlands, near the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. 

“If that is not available, just go out wherever you are for a walk one morning or afternoon, but morning is best,” said Strassmann, whose 2022 book, “Slow Birding: The Art and Science of Enjoying the Birds in Your Own Backyard,” is packed with colorful stories about America’s most common birds. “Walk slowly and listen. You don’t even need binoculars.”

Strassman also recommends downloading the Merlin Bird ID app to record and identify birds and their songs and, like most outdoor activities, to bring water and wear a hat and sunscreen.

Circus Flora

A St. Louis tradition, Circus Flora features acts from around the globe as well as St. Louis performers. (Photo courtesy of Circus Flora)

Rising sophomore Finn McNamee never misses Circus Flora, the annual one-ring circus that features entertainers, acrobats and jugglers from across the globe. Only this year, McNamee was a spectator, not a performer.

“Circus Flora is totally a unique St. Louis experience,” said McNamee, the now-retired St. Louis Arches performer who is studying mechanical engineering at the McKelvey School of Engineering. “There is nothing like the atmosphere under the big top.”

This year’s production, “Undercover,” runs through Sunday, June 25. In addition to St. Louis Arches, the elite youth performance troupe of Circus Harmony, Circus Flora features favorites the Flying Wallendas, motorcycle act Globe of Speed, and the Human Fountain, a trio of synchronized spitters. For tickets and information, visit the Circus Flora website

Katy Trail State Park

Emily Talkow (left) said the Katy Trail was a highlight on her ride across America. (Photo courtesy of Emily Talkow)

At 240 miles, the Katy Trail is the longest rail-to-trail bike route in the United States. It’s also one of the most interesting, said rising senior Emily Talkow. 

Last year, Talkow rode the Katy Trail as part of her 4,500-mile journey from Astoria, Oregon, to Boston, Massachusetts, for Stroke Across America, a bike ride to raise awareness for stroke and aphasia. 

“The Katy Trail has a ton of cool towns along the way and rest points that have a lot of history and some even have museums,” said Talkow, who is studying environmental analysis in Arts & Sciences. “It’s so nice being away from cars in traffic and just being able to bike for miles upon miles.”

Missouri Botanical Garden

Recent graduate Sarah Wilson said the Missouri Botanical Garden is both a global leader in conservation and a local gem with beautiful gardens, cultural festivals and family-friendly attractions. This summer, the garden hosts “Chihuly in the Garden 2023,” an exhibit of blown-glass artwork from world-renowned artist Dale Chihuly. Wilson also recommends the free Whitaker Music Festival, which takes place on Wednesday evenings through Aug. 2. 

The Missouri Botanical Garden offers a range of conservation programs, education events, flower shows and festivals, including the free Whitaker Music Festival, which features local musicians on Wednesday evenings. (Photo courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden)

“You can spend the whole day there and not even notice that time has passed,” Wilson said.

Pere Marquette State Park

Illinois’ largest state park, Pere Marquette State Park, offers a range of outdoor activities including hiking, biking, birding, boating, camping and horseback riding. The scenic drive along the Great River Road is especially gorgeous, said Suzanne Loui, a lecturer in environmental studies in Arts & Sciences.

“Pere Marquette is a wonderful place to take a hike, with many trails to choose from,” Loui said. “You can bring a picnic, get lunch at the Pere Marquette lodge and enjoy the Grand Hall (built with mighty timbers) or stop in Grafton, where many restaurant options are available.”

Rising junior Isa Cymrot, president of the Washington University Climbing Team, said the park also is a great destination for climbers of all levels. 

“Pere Marquette has a great variety of bouldering, sport climbing and even traditional climbing,” Cymrot said. “Additionally, the climbing is mostly on limestone rocks, which dry pretty quickly after it rains, so if you have a day planned to go and it rains, it won’t be completely ruined.”

Art exhibitions

“Faye HeavyShield: Confluences” features a selection of the artist’s drawings and sculptures from the 1980s to the present, alongside two commissions responding to landscapes and histories of the greater St. Louis area. HeavyShield’s work also is featured at the Saint Louis Art Museum as part of the Native Artist Collaboration series. (Photo courtesy of the Pulitzer Arts Foundation)

Art lovers will find plenty to see this summer at local museums and galleries, said Sage Dawson, artist and a senior lecturer at the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. She encourages St. Louisans to check out the Pulitzer Arts Foundation and its current exhibition, “Faye HeavyShield: Confluences,” which includes two commissions responding to landscapes and histories of the greater St. Louis area.

Located in Grand Center, the Pulitzer is free and hosts a range of special events including concerts, dances, talks, readings and wellness workshops. Dawson also recommends visits to the Granite City Art and Design District in Illinois, including her own project, STNDRD, which will feature the Anne Thompson exhibit “Maritime TXT” starting July 1, as well as to Counterpublic  and Craft Alliance in St. Louis.

Rising junior Sophie Floyd, a communication design major at the Sam Fox School and president of Washington University’s Art Council, also is excited to explore the upcoming Barbara Zucker exhibition, “Photo Possibilities from Cyanotype to Solar Plate,” opening July 21 at the St. Louis Artists’ Guild in Clayton.

“As someone who has just dipped my toes into printmaking techniques, I’m interested to see how Zucker manipulates cyanotypes, which are prints where ink is reactive to (and to a lack of) sunlight, and photography in her work,” Floyd said. 


Orion and the Orion Nebula as seen from Broemmelsiek Park in Defiance. (Photo courtesy of Michael Krawczynski)

Stargazers need not travel far for a good view of the night sky, said Michael Krawczynski, an associate professor of earth and planetary sciences in Arts & Sciences. 

Mark Twain National Forest has the darkest skies around for hundreds of miles, and is only a 90-minute drive away,” Krawczynski said. 

He also recommends the beautiful campgrounds of the many Missouri state parks, including Johnson’s Shut-Ins and Sam A. Baker.

To stargaze closer to St. Louis, the Astronomical Society of Eastern Missouri (ASEM), an association committed to the appreciation and education of astronomy, hosts a variety of special events for the public, including Friday night stargazing at Broemmelsiek Park. Use binoculars and keep an eye out for the fireflies, Krawczynski advised.

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