I'm spending my second summer in Oberlin this year, and let me tell you, it's simultaneously one of the most exhilarating and yet relaxing experiences. The world is greener than you can imagine. It seems like everything that grows is producing things you can eat. There are no lines for brunch. It's light until quite late. You can run around and catch lightening bugs. And best of all, so few people know the secrets and wonder of the not-so-sleepy town of Oberlin during the summer.
But haHAH, I'm hear to reveal the awesomeness that is an Oberlin summer. I'm here to show and tell you about the great things that are performing, frolicking, and cooking under the surface of Oberlin. I sincerely regret not having spent a summer here prior to graduation, because hot dog, it's truly wonderful.
Things to know:
Oberlin in the summer is HOT.
I was at home in Hawaii during the ridiculous mainland heatwaves. I missed the three days straight of 100 degree Oberlin weather while relaxing at my family's new house in Hawaii, where it was a cool 84 degrees and breezy. Now that I'm back, the heat and humidity has greeted me back with a sweaty hug. If you're here for the summer, you MUST find your favorite way to keep cool. Right now, mine is wisely placed fans around my house, peppermint crema iced tea at Slow Train (peppermint iced tea with honey and a touch of half and half; if you're lucky and get Helena to make it, she'll probably add a shot of white chocolate syrup to it and it'll taste just like a peppermint patty), and Edy's creamy coconut bars.
Other popular cooling methods involve heading inside to any number of air conditioned buildings (the libraries, the bowling alley, Slow Train, or the Apollo, just to name a few) or take the opportunity to use your Oberlin ID to visit the pool in Philips gym. If you have the initiative (or a bike or a car), there's also Splash Zone at the edge of town.
Oberlin is full of good people.
The best thing about summer is that you have TIME. That's something in short supply during the academic year, so I encourage you to spend summer meeting new people or building friendships that you already have established. There's an air of relaxation, and it's not uncommon to continually run into people you know consistently throughout the summer: professors, students, townspeople alike.
There are lots of camps passing through Oberlin throughout the summer: the American Democratic Project (Oberlin College students and students from Israel and Palestine convening in Oberlin for a chance to build relationships and friendships on neutral ground), the Middlebury-Monterey Language Academy (intense language immersion camps), and a collection of conservatory-based programs included a Baroque music institute, Credo chamber music, instrument building workshops, young composers seminars, and the ever-favorite bagpipe camp frequent Oberlin every summer.
Things to do:
Get a bike.
It's not a necessity to have a bike during the school year, but for the summer, I like to think of it as a requirement. The only reason you wouldn't be able to use it for your main form of transport is during thunderstorms. No pesky ice slicks, or snow banks, or anything, just pure unadulterated gliding about Oberlin on your snazzy ride, AND you have natural air conditioning if you ride fast!
If you already have a bike, congratulations! Bike everywhere! Go on the bikepath, head to Chance Creek, or bike to Krieg's (see below). And always wear your helmet. If you don't have a bike during the school year, now is an excellent opportunity to baby-sit your friend(s) awesome wheels for the summer.
There is no end to the summer activities going on in town.
There's the Oberlin Summer Theater Festival, the free classic theater festival running throughout the month of July out of Hall Auditorium. This year's shows were The Little Prince, Hamlet, and A Raisin in the Sun, and there was an original musical cabaret fundraiser held the last week of the month (which was totally excellent). There is also summer MAD Factory theater/musical performance; this year's is The Wiz.
There's my personal favorite, the Oberlin Chalk Walk, when downtown Oberlin is taken over with chalk art. The Allen Memorial Art Museum and the FAVA gallery each sponsor some professionals to do large-scale pieces, but any and every level of artist is supplied with chalk (the chalk booths are usually manned by members of Kendal at Oberlin), and our drab sidewalks turn into works of art, for many weeks after, too. The Chalk Walk takes place in late June, and now, even in early August, there are still faint outlines of some of the pieces around downtown. It's lovely.
There is also the summer concerts series (which seems to range from classical, to marching band, to jazz, to folk music concerts) in the evenings throughout the summer. I haven't actually planned on attending any of the concerts, but manage to bike or walk by a good number of them already this summer. It's pretty excellent.
There are also a handful of fun little festivals like Juneteenth and the Family Fun Fair, early morning and afternoon festivals that take over a good chunk of Tappan Square and downtown Oberlin with music, food, raffles, and an outpouring of people.
Explore the greater Lorain County area.
If you leave Oberlin for a few hours, you have at your disposal any number of local county fairs and festivals. Last summer, Brandi and I visited the Wellington Cheese Festival and the Lorain County Fair. Wellington used to be the cheese capital of America, making and selling millions of pounds of cheese all over the country, but by 1912, the entire industry had shut its doors. There's still a festival, complete with parades, games, and a cheesecake recipe contest, but we were bemused to discover that out of the dozens of booths, only three sold cheese, none of which were produced in Wellington. Amusing, to say the least.
The fair is not to be missed. Last year, I ate a deep fried smore and petted all of the 4-H animals. We also watched some of the goat show and I had ridiculous throwbacks to Kentucky when I used to go to the county fairs with my best friend from middle school Sierra. She used to show goats. When I visited her family when we went to Kentucky last summer, their goats were birthing. GOATS. They are pretty cool.
I also think that farmland is pretty stunning. Look at this!
Things to eat:
This is obviously my favorite category. I frequent West Side Market less this time of year, because the Oberlin Farmers Market on Saturdays tends to supply me with a rainbow of fruits and vegetables (and vitamins and minerals that keep me healthy!) and they all taste amazing.
In last summer's exploration, Brandi and I also discovered some local fruit and vegetable stands up and down 58 (Oberlin's Main Street is actually State Route 58) and 113 (this road intersects with 58 north of town, and leads into Elyria). In the height of the summer, you can get dozens of ears of fresh corn for only cents (this past week, I got 13 ears for four dollars, and it was succulent as all get-out). Peaches, plums, cherries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries... All of them. My computer is currently sitting next to nine peaches, three tomatoes, and a baby yellow watermelon I bought yesterday on my local foods adventures.
The Feve and Black River still do their brunchy things, but there are no lines. Black River serves breakfast and brunch every day of the week, and during the school year, you can probably get a table pretty quickly on a school day, but if you're trying on the weekends, it's pretty ridiculous. The Feve serves brunch (a rotating menu featuring amazing savory and sweet pancakes, scrambles, pastas, sandwiches, variations on burgers, plus a series of morning-friendly cocktails), and seating is a hot commodity.
I've waited for a long time for a table at the Feve on the weekend (especially when the menu contains a pizza burger or a grilled-cheese and tomato soup combo or any of the pancakes involving a salsa or an especially delicious scramble combination with spinach and a tasty cheese). But come summertime, even a table for four at 11:30am might only have a 5 minute wait. I went yesterday with our video production coordinator Daniel and we were seated immediately. Totally. GREAT. (As were the "last chance" Chance Creek blueberry pancakes and the Philly cheese "pansteak" pancakes I had.)
Both restaurants also have the same bountiful collection of fruits and vegetables at their disposal as I purchase weekly at the farmers market, so their menus are bursting with color and flavor. Two weeks ago, Feve brunch featured three different dishes with peaches. Earliest this summer, I had a chilled mint and cucumber soup that was so incredibly refreshing that I woke up craving it a few days ago.
When you're looking for dessert, there's always Krieg's Itz the Berries, the frozen custard stand at the intersection of 58 and 113. It's a decent little bike ride away, but it's totally worth it because you get frozen custard as a reward! Each week they have a rotating fruit custard flavor; my personal favorites are peach/vanilla swirl and black raspberry/vanilla swirl. They also have a dozen hand-dipped flavors including combos like chocolate blackout (double chocolate with chocolate pieces and brownie bits), buckeye blitz (peanut butter ice cream with a chocolate swirl and buckeye bits), and lemon crumble berry (think berry cobbler with a hint of lemon in ice cream form).
No more secrets, then. Now you know how gorgeous and delicious Oberlin can be in the summertime. I'll be seeing you; give me a wave, cause I'll be sitting on my porch drinking my iced tea and editing photos in the sunshine.