If you haven’t been looking at a calendar, and you’ve been spending most of your time indoors, it’s easy to forget that summer is nearly here.
Things that make the season feel like itself—hitting the local pool, going to the beach, or maybe some traveling—may not be in the cards this year. But it’s still possible for you to infuse summer with some of its traditional carefree aspects at or around your own home. Put some of that now-abandoned vacation budget to good use with these fun splurges for making the most of the hottest season of the year in your own backyard (in many cases, literally).
1. An above-ground pool to get your chlorine fix
If your community pool has no opening date in sight, fill that chlorine-scented void in your heart with an above-ground pool. Set it up, get the garden hose cranking, and throw in some chlorine tablets per the pool’s size and manufacturer instructions, and you’ll be splishing and splashing around in no time.
Most above-ground pools are going the way hand sanitizer and toilet paper went back in March—which is to say, they’re selling out very, very quickly—but if you keep an eye on the stock at retailers such as Home Depot, Pool Supply World, and Kmart, and you’ll score the ultimate backyard cool-off solution of your dreams.
- Shop above-ground pools at Home Depot
- Shop above-ground pools at Pool Supply World
- Shop above-ground pools at Kmart
2. A bar cart to serve drinks in style
Give your summertime beverages the flair they deserve by rolling them out on your deck or patio on a stylish and functional bar cart. This one, which comes pre-assembled, has two flat shelves and a hinge in the middle that allows it to fold flat for easy storage when it’s not in use. In its 1,000-plus perfect reviews, happy buyers extol the cart’s storage space, easy-rolling wheels, and wide variety of uses, from displaying potted plants to organizing grilling accessories to holding plates of food, to, naturally, providing a station for mixing drinks.
If you want to really make it work, make some classy summer drinkware—like this five-piece Kate Spade margarita set—a permanent feature on the top shelf.
- Get the Beachcrest Home Hull Bar Cart from Wayfair for $86.99
- Get the Kate Spade 5-Piece Margarita Set from Bloomingdale's for $45
3. A cooler to keep your beverages icy cold
If you’re hanging out in your backyard all day, you’ll want a stock of ice-cold water, soda, beer, and popsicles close by. (Sure, the fridge is right there if you decide to go back inside the house, but what’s the fun in that?)
This is especially easy with our favorite ice cooler, the Otterbox Venture 45. It keeps things chilled for days, provides ample space for packing in food and drinks, and has rubber feet that keep it sturdy and balanced. Eventually you may want to use it for camping and beach days, but for now, it’s the perfect vessel for a lazy day in the yard.
4. A great grill for cooking out
A summer evening in the backyard practically requires an accompaniment of hamburgers, hot dogs, and veggies straight from the grill.
Our top pick for gas grilling is the Weber Spirit II E-310, which has space for a lot of meat and veggies and the ability to cook them all to smoky perfection. In testing, we loved that the grill heats up quickly to almost 400 degrees F, seems well constructed and built to last, and has nice bonus features like vented lids that direct smoke away from the griller’s face.
5. Fancy floaties to make you feel like an influencer
If you go for an above-ground pool—or happen to have an in-ground one—you can accentuate it with an Insta-friendly pool float.
The brand Funboy has all sorts of rafts you’ve probably seen on your favorite Instagram feeds, in whimsical shapes like unicorns, donuts, butterflies, flamingoes, as well as simple-yet-comfy reclining chaises. You’ll be sure to find one that fits your personality and the overall vibe you’re trying to achieve this summer (and on your own feed, too, of course).
- Get the Funboy Chaise Pool Float from Nordstrom for $79
- Get the Funboy Glitter Unicorn Pool Float from Nordstrom for $69
6. A towel that allows you to really spread out
Sometimes, it’s the little things. Or, actually, sometimes it’s when the little things are bigger than you expect, like an oversized towel—one you can lay out and lounge in, possibly with more than one person.
You can get the ideal picnic or beach sheet in a classic rectangular shape, like this striped, monogrammable towel that measures 60 inches by 72 inches, or mix things up with this round one that has a 60-inch diameter. Reviewers love both for their absorbent material, fun patterns, and super-sized proportions.
- Get the Stripes Beach Blanket from Bed Bath and Beyond for $52.99
- Get the Terra Round Towel from REI for $55.99
7. A snow-cone maker for a nostalgic treat
Many happy summer memories are formed by indulging in icy treats—like, say, snow cones—in the heat. You may not be able to get one at a carnival or swimming pool snack bar this year, but you can make your own with this Cuisinart snow-cone machine. It grates enough ice for up to five snow cones in under a minute and comes with a scooper, four reusable snow-cone holders, and 12 paper holders.
Top with your own juice or add in some authentic fruit-flavored syrup and you’ll be prepared to build those happy, sugary memories at home all season long.
- Get the Cuisinart Snow Cone Machine from Bed Bath & Beyond for $69.99
- Get the Snowie 3-Pack Carnival Style Snow Cone Syrup from Bed Bath and Beyond for $19.99
8. A fire pit for socially-distanced gatherings
Taking a backyard camping staycation this summer? Enhance the experience with a fire pit that allows you to roast marshmallows and tell ghost stories around a (safely) roaring fire (but not too close to your tent and sleeping bags, please).
One great option is this wood-burning stainless steel pit, which produces steady heat and minimizes smoke with a double-wall design. Reviewers say it’s sturdy enough to stick in the backyard, yet compact enough to bring on vacation.
9. An outdoor pizza oven to perfect your quarantine cooking skills
Homemade sourdough is so spring 2020. (Just kidding, of course—we’ll take freshly-baked bread all 365 days of the year.) But if you want a new spin on a yeasty treat, and you want to make and enjoy it outside, you may want to install a pizza oven in your backyard.
Reviewers love this 32-inch oven, which is lined with handmade terracotta bricks to maintain insulation and can cook two 12-inch pizzas to perfection. Add some prosecco (or sparkling water), and you can pretend you’re dining al fresco in Tuscany.
10. A hammock that’s as comfy as a bed
Ease into your summer break with a Vivere hammock. We tested—and loved—the brand’s double hammock, which is easy to set up, extraordinarily comfy to sit in, and fits two people with room to spare. It also feels so sturdy and supportive when you’re in it that some reviewers claim they use it as a replacement for their bed.
Whether you use it to sunbathe, nap, read books, listen to podcasts (or all of the above) is up to you, but we know that this hammock will elevate your experience.
11. Outdoor speakers for backyard raves
Keep the party going—not too late, though, for your neighbors' sakes—with our favorite bluetooth speaker, the JBL Flip 4. It's waterproof and long-lasting, and has great sound that can get pretty loud for its compact size. Use it to provide an excellent-sounding soundtrack as you do yard work, grill out, or splash around in a pool or sprinkler.
12. A projector for outdoor movie nights
Local movie theaters closed, and no drive-in in the vicinity? No problem—if you’ve got your own gear for an outdoor movie night.
Start with the Anker Nebula Mars II, our current pick for the best portable projector, which offers the best combination of picture quality and value of all the projectors we tested. Pair it with a movie screen—like the Elite Screens YardMaster2, which is designed for outdoor viewing—some outdoor speakers, and summer classics like Dirty Dancing and Grease, you’ll (only barely) miss all the movies in the park nights you’d planned on attending.
- Get the Anker Nebula Mars II on Amazon for $369.99
- Get the Elite Screens Outdoor Projector Screen from Best Buy for $277
13. An inflatable bouncy house to help your kids release some energy
Whether you have an at-home birthday to celebrate, or just want your kids to have some fun in the sun, you’ll do well with an inflatable bouncy house. This bouncer has a water slide and small pool at the base, plus a mini “climbing wall” and basketball for kids from ages 3 to 8 years old. Reviewers like that it isn’t too big—which makes it easier to set up and store—but still has ample space for kids to bounce, slide, and play around.
14. A patio mister to keep you cool in the heat of the afternoon
Love sitting outside in the summer, but not the oppressive heat that can accompany it? (No way. Us, too!)
Consider this misting fan, which blows a steady flow of fresh air along with a cloud of refreshing moisture. The fan has a 60-inch cord length and its blades cover up to 500 square feet of space, so you can place it where you want to ensure a nice, misty breeze on your porch, deck, patio, or yard. Reviewers say the fan looks and feels sturdy, isn’t too loud, and helps keep outdoor lounging comfortable, even on the hottest of summer days.
15. Post-sun spray to soothe your skin
If you’re out in the sun for an extended period of time, you should be wearing (and re-applying) your SPF. But maybe you missed a few spots or just have that hot, tired feeling that goes along with hours spent in the unrelenting rays of a cloudless day.
Either way, you’ll be thankful for this Herbivore facial skin mist, which is infused with aloe, mint, and lavender oil. This makes it gentle enough to spritz on after a long day in the sun, or for use as an everyday cooling spray.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.