20 Summer Party Ideas That Are Genuinely Fun (and Won’t Cost a Fortune)
We’re beyond psyched to host our family and friends this summer. But after an uneventful (and lonely) 2020, throwing the same old barbecue in the backyard doesn’t seem special enough. So, this year, we’re pulling out all the stops when it comes to entertaining. We’re talking fun outdoor activities, next-level food and exciting party themes that will get all your guests in the spirit, like a garden party, cocktail potluck or backyard campout. Read on for all the summer party inspo.
1. Host an Outdoor Movie Night
The movie theater is an air-conditioned oasis on hot summer days, but come night time, the best place to watch a flick is…in your own backyard. Treat yourself to a projector that will display the movie for you and your guests to watch. Choose a summer classic, like National Lampoon’s Vacation or The Sandlot. Everyone can bring their own blankets and lawn chairs to hang in while you take care of the snacks. Might we suggest garlic parmesan popcorn for the kids and charcuterie for the grown-ups?
2. Put Together an Epic Ice Cream Sundae Bar
We all scream for summer’s most essential dessert. Start by snagging a few basic flavors of ice cream at the supermarket (vanilla, chocolate, strawberry—you know the drill), along with as many toppings as you can imagine. We’re talking chocolate syrup, caramel, whipped cream, maraschino cherries, crushed Oreos, mini brownies and allllll the sprinkles. Scoop everyone’s bowls ahead of time and keep them in the freezer until it’s time to top them, so the ice cream stays cold for as long as possible. You can also supplement the sundaes with homemade ice pops, grilled fruit or Insta-worthy ice cream sandwiches.
3. Sip Your Way through a Cocktail Potluck
If you’re on TikTok, odds are one of these booze-infused girls’ nights have crossed your feed. The concept? Everyone at the party creates their own over-the-top bev to serve their friends. Some parties even organize the drinks by color, so everyone drinks their way through the rainbow from red to purple. You can assign everyone a liquor (sparkling wine is fair game, too), agree on one liquor for all the cocktails (because you know, hangovers) or have all the drinks be a total surprise.
4. Make a Splash at a Pool Party
If you’re lucky enough to have your own pool, getting it party ready is as simple as blowing up a few cool pool floats and decorating the deck with lights, streamers or lanterns. (Bonus points for a transportable cooler than can be wheeled around the pool or a floating cooler, so no one has to get out for refills.) If you don’t have a pool, there are a ton of inflatable options on the market that would cool you and your guests off just as effectively. Kids at the party will also be totally cool with nothing but a water slide, sprinklers and squirt guns.
5. Throw a Revenge Dinner Party
After summer 2020, it’s going to take one hell of a soiree to make up for lost time. That’s where the revenge dinner party comes in: It’s a celebration so epic that it compensates for those months spent in solitude. So, why not go all-out with attire, decor and a dinner party menu that your guests will remember forever? Snag yourself a bold dress that might normally feel too fancy to wear in your backyard (retro prints are all the rage right now, BTW). Decorate your space with string lights, classy dinnerware and elegant citronella candles that’ll keep the bugs at bay. Finally, serve gussied-up barbecue delicacies like grilled flank steak with lemon-herb sauce, mac and cheese with Parmesan-phyllo crust and a stunning berry galette.
6. Turn Your Backyard into a Carnival
There are two ways to tackle this party theme. While you can go all-out by renting a mini Ferris wheel, carousel and other rides, we like the easier (and more affordable) route of setting up DIY booths with classic games in the yard instead, like a bean bag toss, balloon darts and horseshoes. Offer prizes for playing at each booth. And since a party is only ever as good as the food served, spring for a snow cone maker, cotton candy machine and homemade skillet funnel cakes. Don’t forget the massive pitcher of carnival-style lemonade.
7. Organize a Wine or Beer Tasting Party
You so don’t need to trek to a brewery or vineyard to have a proper wine tasting. There are plenty of ways to get drinks delivered to your home in advance (like ordering a few bottles or cans on Drizly or Wine Tasting 101 kits from Winc). You can run the tasting yourself or opt for a virtual wine tasting led by an expert instead. Either way, invest in some cute glassware and craft a menu of food pairings to go with each drink.
8. Break a Sweat at Family Field Day
Face it: Kids can have fun playing anything, so you don’t have to spend a ton to organize a fun field day. Split everyone up into teams and rack up points all day long with different activities, like tug of war, wheelbarrow, relay and potato sack races and an egg toss. At the end, award the winners with a summery prize, like a beach tote filled with towels, toys and a portable cooler or a gift certificate to a local ice cream shop. If there are no kids at the party, keep it lowkey with cornhole, limbo, tetherball, bocce, giant Jenga, volleyball or badminton.
9. Make Fancy S’mores
Summer doesn’t officially begin until you’ve scarfed down a toasty s’more. Equip your yard with a fire pit and skewers, then lay out all the basic ingredients plus a few fancy extras that will wow your guests. Think graham crackers coated in dark chocolate and stuffed with PB&J, s’mores made with bacon and homemade bourbon marshmallows or campfire-grilled s’more calzones. (You can even swap the graham crackers for homemade cookies…just sayin’.) Chow down by the fire while telling scary stories or hosting a singalong.
10. Try Your Hand at Making Sushi
It’s easier than you think, promise. Order a few rolling mats, along with essential ingredients like sushi rice, rice vinegar and nori. Then, decide what maki rolls you’d like to make. If you’re happy with eating raw fish (just make sure it’s sushi-grade), spicy tuna and Philadelphia rolls are a great place to start. If you’d prefer to eat cooked seafood, shrimp tempura, Boston or Alaska rolls are solid options. (For vegetarian sushi, go for mango avocado rolls and sweet potato rolls.) Alternatively, if you happen to live by a sushi restaurant that offers at-home omakase (an order that means you trust the chef to make whatever they feel like), you can always splurge on that instead and let the pros handle the food.
11. Plan an Old-Fashioned Softball Picnic
Pack your sunscreen, it’s time to play ball. Split your guest list into two teams and assign each team a color; that way, they know in advance what to wear. If you have a surplus of guests, you can have separate games for the adults and kids. (You could also have the kids play tee ball instead if they’re little.) Once the game is over, lay out the gingham blanket for a potluck-style picnic for the books.
12. Put Together a Neighborhood Scavenger Hunt
Turn your annual block party into a town-wide adventure by organizing a scavenger hunt for your kids and their friends to conquer. They can tackle it in teams or as one big group. Send them to their favorite hangouts to find clues, like a local park or ice cream shop. Once they get back, celebrate with a pitcher of lemonade and barbecue fare. If you’d rather keep the hunt in your own yard, you can hide tiny clues for them to find that lead to one another or write a nature scavenger hunt instead that asks them to find certain leaves, flowers and more.
13. Cook Up a Tasty Taco Tuesday Party
We don’t know about you, but socializing during the week makes the weekend arrive so much faster. Invite your friends over on a Tuesday for the best taco night you’ve ever hosted. Whip up some margaritas and unconventional guacamoles (we’re partial to the roasted poblano and corn variety), and have everyone bring their own taco fillings for the tortillas. Whether you spend all day on slow-cooker pork carnitas or 20 minutes on spicy shrimp with mango salsa, everyone will ask for seconds. If you and your friends are the competitive type, you can even have everyone participate in a blind taste test of all the taco fillings and score them to find the tastiest. (Oh, and churros for dessert are a must.)
14. Flex Your Creativity at a Tie-Dye Party
We all became tie-dye experts in 2020, so why not flex your skills at the most colorful party you’ll ever throw? Stock up on RIT dye (aka the color dye that’s designed to be used on fabric), latex gloves, squirt bottles and rubber bands. You’ll also want a few disposable aluminum trays or buckets and a waterproof drop cloth to protect your work surface from the dye. Tell your guests to bring a white t-shirt, blanket, pillowcase or bedsheet to color, then get to work in the yard so the mess stays out of your house. When your masterpieces are finished, head inside to decorate tie-dye sugar cookies.
15. Fire Up the Grill for a Pizza Party
Sure, steaks, burgers and chops are a given come barbecue season. But our favorite way to use the grill is for pizza. It ensures a slightly charred, impeccably crisp crust every damn time and bakes all the toppings to perfection in a flash. So, buy some store-bought dough and dole out a single-serving ball to each party guest. Set up a toppings bar with ingredients traditional and unexpected (how about grilled pineapple and prosciutto?) and let the partygoers dress their pies to their heart’s content. Pop them on the grates then chow down together on the deck. Follow up with grilled angel food cake topped with fresh blueberry sauce for dessert.
16. Host a Garden Party
Garden parties are all about elegance and plants, which sounds like a recipe for the prettiest summer bash of all time. If you already have a garden in full bloom, center your party near the plants. If not, buy a few different types of flowers (we like Trader Joe’s selection) and arrange them in mason jars or vases to place around the yard and table. Drive the sophistication home with thoughtfully placed sparkling waters, cocktail dispensers and cheese boards. String lights will also help pull the ambiance together. While the adults sip cocktails among the flowers, the kids at the party can stay busy painting and decorating their own flowerpots with buttons, pipe cleaners, gems and more. Once the pots are dry, let the kids pack the pots with soil and choose a packet of seeds to plant. Then, they can take it home and water it until it grows and eventually replant it in their own yard.
17. Invite Your Friends for Al Fresco Brunch
Just because it’s summer doesn’t mean you need to serve barbecue food. We’re all for cooking up a special breakfast to enjoy outdoors instead. (It’s cooler earlier in the day anyway.) Whip up a few crowd-pleasing dishes like sheet tray pancakes with peaches and strawberries, green shakshuka and roasted potato galette with crème fraiche and smoked salmon. Wash it all down with a pitcher of mimosas or a more surprising cocktail, like grapefruit wine or white sangria ice pops.
18. Head to Spain (in Your Backyard)
Paella is one of our favorite dishes to make for a crowd. It’s impressive, plentiful, filling and way easier to prepare than your guests may realize. Our rendition of the dish cooks in a single skillet (bye, dirty dishes) in just one hour. But we didn’t cut all the corners: It still boasts Spanish chorizo, shrimp and littleneck clams. Start the night with crudités and romesco sauce and a tapas board. After the paella, blow everyone away with coffee, cinnamon and muscovado sugar flan. Most importantly, keep the sangria flowing all night long.
19. Throw a Next-Level BBQ
OK, we said a standard barbecue wouldn’t cut it. But you don’t have to totally reinvent the wheel to have an unforgettable summer party. It all comes down to the menu, so start with some unique hot dog toppings that take them from basic to brag worthy, like a banh mi-inspired weenie topped with sriracha mayo and pickled veggies or a Hawaiian dog crowned with grilled pineapple. Go just as hard with the burger toppings by asking your guests to whip up a special condiment for everyone to dig into. Think homemade ketchup, garlic aioli and fresh mustard.
20. Sleep Under the Stars at a Backyard Campout
Let the party continue ’til morning by pitching a tent, rolling out sleeping bags and having an outdoor slumber party. If you have a bunch of guests who are down to stay over, have them bring their own sleeping supplies so there’s space for everyone. Before bed, the kids can do everything from make s’mores, play with sparklers or catch fireflies. Before sending your guests home, share breakfast together indoors or al fresco.