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4 ways to have nostalgia-inspired summer fun

Make a splash at Green Lake, where past meets present with old-school pedal boats and modern stand-up paddleboards.



All seasons have traditions, but summer oozes nostalgia like an overripe blackberry. It's easy to recall the sounds, smells, and sensations of summerthe sulfurous smoke from spent fireworks, the call and response of “Marco!!” and “Polo!”, the sticky sweetness of watermelon, and skin crisped from hours spent in the sun (Coppertone's SPF might have gone up to 8 back then). We’re busting open that creaky box of summers past to craft old-time fun by reigniting favorite childhood memories… minus the metal-tipped lawn darts.  


1.) Popsicle trucks

PHOTO: MOHAI, Seattle Post-Intelligencer Collection, Robert H. Miller photograph, 2000.
Kids flocked to a Joe Popsicle truck in the summer of 1971. The Joe Confection Co. launched with these three-wheeled trucks, but changed to more reliable postal Jeeps — all emblazoned with "Joe."

You might have been mid-turn in a game of Simon, or parked in front of the TV, singing along to Gilligan’s shanty, and then you heard it: the tinkling notes of "Camptown Races" or "Pop Goes the Weasel."  What followed was a mad scramble, desperately seeking loose change in the couch cushions, while your sibling dashed out to the street, trying to divine in which direction to hightail it. The stakes seemed frighteningly high—stop that truck, or go an afternoon without the cooling, patriotic hues of a Missile Popsicle or the creamy goodness of a Fudgsicle.

In some parts, the local Popsicle pied piper would be the Good Humor man or Mister Softee, but in the Puget Sound area, it was all about Joe. From South Seattle up to Mount Vernon and east to North Bend, refurbished white postal trucks with orange stripes on the roof and emblazoned with the name “JOE” cruised neighborhoods, peddling their frozen treats. James McCoy started the enterprise in 1961, and called it "JOE Confection Co." for the name painted on the first vehicle he purchased. In 1981 his daughter Linda Drake and her husband took the wheel.

“Ice-cream trucks are irresistible,” Linda Drake said, “simply because children anticipated them coming to their neighborhoods on a summer day, at the same time, every day.”

The Popsicle man doesn’t show up like clockwork anymore: The JOE trucks fell silent after the summer of 2002, thanks to rising costs, unlicensed competitors and a readiness to retire.  

Where to go:

A variety of mobile ice-cream and ice-pop purveyors have cruised into Joe’s frosty void, including more artisanal sellers such as Seattle Pops, Bluebird Ice Cream, and Street Treats. Their desserts are delicious and a cut above the classic frozen pops—though you likely won’t find enough change in the couch to cover the price.

Want to try your hand at making your own popsicles? Give these recipes a shot.


2.) Drive-in movies

PHOTO:  Tommy Liggett 
Decades ago, a trip to the movies meant cheek-by-jowl viewing from the back of the station wagon.

A night at the drive-in was an informal affair. Neighborhood kids piled into the wagon—the price of admission was of the pay-by-the-load variety—while someone grabbed bottles of Tab and a sleeping bag before you all hit the road. Once the heat broke, the sleeping bag would be stretched across the expanse of the wagon's rear compartment, covering four to six kids in pilled flannel. The wiggling bodies made the bag’s outer fabric crackle, threatening to drown out the movie’s audio, which was broadcast via a warbling box hanging from the rolled-down, front-seat window or a fuzzy AM radio station.

In 1982, E.T.’s saucer eyes and glowing index finger lit up the outdoor screens nationwide. Locally, the blockbuster played at Lynnwood’s Sno-King Drive-In and Kent’s Midway Drive-In. Other kid-friendly summertime favorites that played in theaters in the early ’80s included The Secret of NIMH, The Jungle Book, Ghostbusters and The Muppets Take Manhattan.  

Where to go:

Only a handful of drive-ins are hanging on in the Northwest these days, and in far-flung locales (fancy a drive to Shelton or Oak Harbor for a show?). 

Outdoor movies, however, abound in easier-to-reach locations in the magic part of summer between mid-July and Labor Day. Some examples: the Seattle Center's Mural Ampitheatre,  Hing Hay Park and Movies at Marymoor Park


3.) Green Lake   

PHOTO: MOHAI, Seattle Post-Intelligencer Collection, Cary W. Tolman photograph, 2000.
The pedal-powered "Slo-Mooo-Shun"was a contender in the Seafair Milk Carton Derby back in 1986, buoyed by empty cartons.

The good news was that Gregg’s Greenlake Cycle had a two-for-one deal on your high-top roller skate rental. The bad news? Before you could get your wobbly bearings on your just-laced-up skates, you had to navigate the five-way intersection separating Gregg’s from the safety of the path ringing Green Lake. With that hurdle cleared, it was smooth skating on Seattle’s “freeway for free wheels.” 

Green Lake was a summer mecca. In one weekend in July 1982, visitors to the lake could roller skate, cheer on contenders of the Seafair Milk Carton Derby, and grab a plate of crab enchiladas or a strawberry shortcake at the city’s first Bite of Seattle—an event that drew nearly 200,000 people and featured 51 restaurants. Sadly, Gregg’s doesn’t rent roller skates anymore, and the Bite—which now attracts roughly 400,000 visitors—has relocated to the spacious grounds of Seattle Center. But the Milk Carton Derby will mark its 48th year with a with a regatta on July 13. 

Families can check out Green Lake’s wading pool or beaches throughout the summer. There's also the option of renting a standup paddleboard, canoe, kayak, rowboat, sailboat, or pedal boat (though the price per hour for a pedal boat is now $24, compared to $4.50 in the early ’80s). 

And when your crew gets hungry from all that activity, we suggest visiting Spud Fish & Chips. The long-time Northwest classic is still dishing up crispy fish on the east side of the lake. 


4.) Wild Waves

PHOTO: Courtesy of Wild Waves and Enchanted Village
When Wild Waves Water Park opened in 1984, then-owner May Betts told a local paper, "The water park business is here to stay."

It's true that inner tubes were a little awkward to schlep around in, and the first time down the river it was a bit tricky not to slip through the thing, but you were at an honest-to-goodness waterslide park. Summer was looking up.  

Since opening in 1984, Federal Way’s Wild Waves has grown beyond its original four waterslides, wave pool and inner-tube river. It now includes 18 waterslides, Hook’s Lagoon (complete with water cannons and three-story treehouse), a lazy river, and other attractions. The park in the past changed its name to “Wild Waves and Enchanted Village” to bring more attention to the adjoining amusement park that predated the water park by seven years. Recently though, they've combined both parks under one name: Wild Waves Theme & Water Park.

“We’ve stood the test of time,” said general manager Todd Suchan. “We’ve had a good reputation, and we’ve tried to stay current.”

While Wild Waves is one of the biggest water parks in the Northwest, local public pools also have some interesting aquatic features. Renton's Henry Moses Aquatic Center offers a 9,000 square foot leisure pool. Tacoma’s Kandle Pool includes a wave pool. Lynnwood Recreation Center and Pool has a great variety of slides and spray features. The Snohomish Aquatic Center even has a surf simulation machine!


Dawn Zedonis contributed to this story. 

Editor's note: A version of this story was originally published July 2016 and updated for July 2019.

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