14 places to cool off in the city this summer
Louisville Mega Cavern
1841 Taylor Ave.
After 42 years of blasting massive amounts of rock out of a limestone quarry, this is the result: a man-made cavern that spans 100 acres, including 17 miles of corridors beneath the city streets. Year-round tram tours offer lessons in geology, mining and green-building technology, but if you’re looking for something a little more thrilling, there’s also an underground zipline. The cost to zip starts at $59, and tickets can be purchased online in advance.
Bar at Decca
812 E. Market St.
When the summer heat has reached its peak, sometimes you just need to hunker down in a cool, windowless basement to recharge. Lucky for you, that doesn’t mean you have to seek relief in a musty cellar: The downstairs bar at Decca offers the subterranean digs you crave, along with amazing ambiance and cocktails to boot. The basement of this 136-year-old building in the hip, happening NuLu district serves as an inviting watering hole, far removed from the elements.
Frazier History Museum
829 W. Main St.
From the Bronze Age to the lives of modern American presidents, the Frazier Museum has history covered — at least dating back about 1,000 years. A combination of permanent and temporary exhibits include thousands of artifacts, including a real stuffed buffalo named “Buffy” who sports roller skates under his hooves for easy transport (we kid you not). The cost of admission ranges from free (kids 4 and under) to $10.50 for adults. Through Labor Day, the museum is offering free admission for active duty military personnel and their families. Check out their website for more info about special exhibits, including the intriguing “Mythic Creatures: Truth Behind the Legends.”
Real Ice Cream Parlors
Serve-yourself frozen yogurt bars are all the rage, and we’re admittedly big fans of the fad, which allows you to pile on an odd assortment of toppings, from Fruity Pebbles to diced kiwi. But there’s just something so very summery about an old-fashioned ice cream parlor — the kind where you come in, select a flavor, and await your scoop(s). Two of our favorites: The Comfy Cow (thecomfycow.com), which has locations in Clifton, Westport Village and Cardinal Towne, and the Homemade Ice Cream & Pie Kitchen (piekitchen.com), with 10 locations around town.
Louisville Free Public Library
There’s something to be said for going to the library, selecting a book off the shelf, then settling into a quiet corner for some good old-fashioned reading. No laptop. No tablet. Just printed words on paper. OK, so even if that’s not your idea of summertime leisure, the local library system offers an array of activities for all ages, from children’s storytimes to author readings.
Kentucky Science Center
727 W. Main St.
Unlike most museums that enforce a strict “Do Not Touch” policy (lest you be ejected by some stern guard who means business), this place is all about hands-on learning … and it’s not just for kids (unless, of course, you’re an adult averse to fun). Children 2-12 are $11 and adults are $13, not including IMAX films, though a special discount is offered when bought as a package.
Long before air-conditioning was a common amenity, the sweaty masses would flock to the movies on summer days to seek relief from the heat. Bonus: They were simultaneously entertained! And although AC is the rule rather than the exception in most Ohio Valley households these days, catching a flick at a local theater remains a popular way to beat the heat. There are lots of theater options, with the most affordable being Apex Theatres (apextheatres.com), which operates Baxter Avenue Filmworks in the Highlands and Village 8 in St. Matthews.
E.P. “Tom” Sawyer Swimming Pool
3000 Freys Hill Road
This 570-acre Kentucky State Park on the outskirts of town offers an array of diversions, from hiking and biking to archery and badminton. But it’s the Olympic-size outdoor swimming pool that makes this place a good bet for summer. The pool is only $5 for adults and $4 for kids, ages 3-12. The hours are noon-6 p.m. Sunday-Friday and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. on Saturdays through Labor Day, so don that swimsuit and dive in post-haste.
Belle of Louisville
401 W. River Road
Our beloved Belle is turning 100 this year and will be celebrating all summer long, culminating in a huge blowout bash in October. The Belle of Louisville is America’s last true Mississippi River steamboat still in operation and is completely paddlewheel-driven. You can easily book a lunch or dinner cruise online now (belleoflouisville.org) or rent her for parties. There’s nothing like taking in the banks of the Ohio from atop the Belle, wind blowing your hair, fresh/fishy river water wafting by your nose. Or if you prefer, take in the scenery from the boat’s air-conditioned indoors. The Belle is the ship of dreams. And she is. She really is.
Parched and in need of a cold beverage? There’s no better place to seek out some hoppy relief than from a walk-in beer refrigerator. Not only does this frosty phenomenon offer a wide array of beers, you will be chilled to the bone while making your selection. Burrrrr! And though many large, big-box liquor stores offer this feature, we highly recommend the walk-in at Old Town Wine and Spirits (1529 Bardstown Road), which recently added a gigantic beer cave (after a car crashed into their shop, requiring a renovation), as well as the more compact but well-stocked fridge inside the Valu-Market at Mid-City Mall (1250 Bardstown Road).
Metro Splash Parks
There are more than 30 “spraygrounds” sprinkled throughout our city that offer you a chance to get cool and wet at your own pace. There are “modern spraygrounds” that offer interactive spray elements like the ones at Iroquois, Shawnee and Shelby parks, and “traditional spraypads” with a single fountain in a wading pool like the ones at Cherokee, Tyler and Central parks. Take the kids, take the pooch — just remember, you will get wet on this ride.
Muhammad Ali Center
144 N. Sixth St.
This contemporary museum offers everyone a chance to be as great as “The Greatest.” Modeled after Ali’s six core principles (confidence, conviction, dedication, giving, respect and spirituality), the center features interactive exhibits, educational programs and special events. Read about his life before boxing, during the war and his current endeavors, or step into the ring and take your turn at a few punching bags. You’ll also want to catch the introductory film and the new “Global Shoes” exhibit that showcases different cultures and industries through shoes.
108 W. Brandeis Ave.
Wanna get hiiiiigggghhhh? Well, gosh, don’t do that, it’s illegal (for at least a few more years)! But if you do like to see the world in an altered way, there’s nothing more timeless or stimulating than entertainments like “Laser Green Day” or “Dawne Gee’s Tour of the Spring Night Sky.” You’ll have to double-check Rauch’s schedule to see when Pink Floyd returns to help you get comfortably numb.
Joe Ley Antiques
615 E. Market St.
Is it an antique store or a museum? That’s what tourists and locals alike ask when they first encounter this notably overstuffed cool hotspot for antiques, curiosities and history. If you’ve spent too much of your sweaty summer watching “Hoarders” indoors, come see hoarders who make a healthy and happy living from doing basically the same dang thing. l