There’s just something about the onset of summer that’s always made me giddy with excitement—and also, fearful that it’ll fly by way too quickly. Growing up, my countdown to summer would start on May 1st, and there was such a build-up by the time Memorial Day rolled around, my excitement had reached a near-frenzy. Those long, unstructured days full of sunshine and watermelon and bare feet—summer is quite literally my (fresh berry) jam. Nevertheless, when August arrives, I always start to feel wistful as I see those carefree days coming to a close, and can’t help but think about all the things I wanted to do during the summer that I never quite got around to. Enter: the summer bucket list.
I’ve been writing seasonal bucket lists for the past few years in an effort to carve out simple, special moments that our family will remember years later. Think back to the summers of your childhood—what stands out? For me, it’s chasing fireflies through the fields of our home in rural Missouri, going to the U-Pick Blueberry Farm outside town and eating so many berries my stomach hurt, and picking zinnias from the cutting garden my mom planted from seed each year. In a way, creating these memories is the closest we can get to “slowing downtime,” and research backs this idea up.
In Off the Clock (a book I recently read and loved), author Laura Vanderkam says that the most deeply ingrained memories are often about newness or adventure—which explains why major life events or vacations to new places stand out so much more in our memory than a typical day that looks much like the one that came before. She says, “Going through normal life, you might only remember half a dozen interesting events over the past two weeks. Travel somewhere exotic, and you can have half a dozen new experiences before breakfast… That can make a day feel like a fortnight.” When we create new memories from novel experiences, our brain interprets them as longer and more spacious.
Another way to create more memorable experiences is to engage all the senses: similar to Proust’s madeleines, think about how you feel when you catch a whiff of tropical-scented sunscreen on the first pool day of summer!
The thing is, making memories doesn’t have to be a big production. With a little intentionality, we can turn normal days into unforgettable ones by choosing a mindset toward adventure, and make summer 2021 one for the books.
So, save this post for when summer boredom strikes (there’s a handy pinnable image at the bottom!) and share it with a friend who might be looking for some fun things to do this summer, too. Read on for my own summer bucket list, and I’d love to hear what’s on your list in the comments!
1. Jump into a swimming pool and get your hair wet.
For me, diving into a swimming pool without caring about my hair or smeared mascara equals diving fully into LIFE. You can read more about my journey to let go of perfection and live life to the fullest right here.
2. Pick berries at a local farm.
Some of my favorite memories from childhood are going to the U-Pick berry farms near our home in rural Missouri. In the Austin area, I love Sweet Berry Farm, where you can pick strawberries through May. Just search for berry picking farms in your area to find out what’s available and when—then get ready to have more berries than you can ever eat (that’s what these recipes are for!)
3. Host a barbecue.
I looove grilling season—not only is it quintessentially summer, but it also means less work for me since Adam’s the grill master at our house. Plus, fewer pots and pans to clean up! Burgers or ribs are always a welcome classic, but check out our guide to unexpected foods to throw on the grill this summer. And if you need to brush up on your grilling skills, Adam shared his top grilling secrets for success right here.
4. Read one of the hottest books of summer.
I’ve currently got Sharon Stone’s new memoir and a gripping new thriller, What Comes After, in my cart. There’s no question that one of my favorite parts of summer is curling up in a hammock or on a beach towel and getting lost in a great book.
5. Catch fireflies.
This simple summer pleasure never fails to feel magical.
6. Create a summer playlist.
I’m working on one to share with y’all soon, but in the meantime, get down with the 44 most summery songs of all time.
7. Do a digital detox for an entire weekend.
Nothing spells FREEDOM like silencing your notifications so you can be fully present. This summer, why not turn off your phone for an entire weekend and see how it feels? Just be forewarned: you might love it so much that it becomes a weekly occurrence.
8. Hike on a trail you’ve never taken before.
Remember what we learned about novel experiences carving stronger neural pathways in our brains? It can be as simple as hiking a new trail for the first time—an experience that combines both adventure and serotonin-boosting exercise all in one. I’m asking for these hiking boots for my birthday, ’cause we all know it’s more fun to hike in style.
9. Make homemade ice cream.
Is there anything better than a dish of peach or strawberry ice cream on a hot summer day? I think not, especially when it’s made with simple, homemade ingredients. Growing up, we had one of the old-school hand-cranked machines, and it was so much fun to take turns cranking it until our arms hurt, then be rewarded with the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted. Today, you’ve got options when it comes to homemade ice cream makers: this Cuisinart model gets high ratings, and I have the KitchenAid Ice Cream Attachment that goes straight into my mixer. Or, skip the machine altogether and try this 4-ingredient vegan no-churn ice cream recipe. Yum!
10. Watch the sunrise from a beautiful spot.
Whether you’re at the beach, on a mountaintop, in a forest, or on the rooftop of your apartment building, there’s something magical about getting up early enough to watch the sunrise. Start your morning with this moment of beauty, and just see how it makes you feel all day.
11. Hang up a hammock in your yard.
I’ve never owned a hammock, and this summer will be the one where that finally changes. A hammock feels like the ultimate symbol of rest and relaxation, so hang one up and savor the bliss of a nap in the great outdoors.
12. Go wine tasting on a sunny afternoon.
You don’t have to live near Napa Valley—these days, solid winemakers and tasting rooms have popped up all over the country. Find a good one near you by asking around or searching it online, and be sure to call up and see if they require an appointment in advance, whether they serve food if you can bring a picnic, etc. Then grab a friend and make the most of a beautiful day by skipping town to sip some good wine.
13. Plant summer herbs.
Not only is a container garden of herbs the simplest way to get your green thumb going on a budget (or if you lack a yard); it’s also an affordable way to have fresh herbs at the ready for cooking all summer long. Check out our guide to growing herbs and veggies in pots right here, then spend a Saturday morning at your local nursery stocking up on everything you’ll need.
14. Meet up with a group of old friends.
You know those old friends who you genuinely love and care about, but don’t see very often because life gets in the way? Usually, all it takes to schedule a reunion is one person to send a group text thread and throw out a few dates to hang, so why not be that person? Suggest a meet-up for brunch, dinner, or a girls’ night at someone’s house, and I guarantee that a few hours spent catching up and laughing over old stories just might become one of your summer highlights.
15. Make s’mores.
Sweet tooths of all ages love the classic combo of graham crackers, chocolate, and caramelized marshmallows—and the very thought of it brings up summer memories of sitting around a campfire. Make an average summer night feel special by busting out ingredients for the classic version, or one of these next-level combos. And if you don’t have a campfire at the ready, here’s how you can still make perfect s’mores at home.
My five-year-old has recently become fascinated with astronomy, and reading books about space with him has sparked my curiosity, too! Stargazing is one of the simplest forms of “entertainment” around, and it’s free—though I do recommend driving somewhere outside the city if you live in an area with a lot of lights at night. You’ll be amazed at how the sky suddenly “fills up” with stars! Download one of these stargazing apps, and if you really want to take things up a notch, invest in a telescope for optimal viewing. (If anyone has a great telescope to recommend, let me know in the comments—I’m in the market!)
17. Go to the farmer’s market.
This is one of my favorite weekend activities all year round, but especially in the summertime when the market is a literal feast of nature’s bounty. Peruse the stalls, talk to farmers, stock up on tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini, berries, peaches, and more. Plan your dinner that night based on what veggies look best.
P.S. I highly recommend trying this watermelon tomato Caprese salad with your farmer’s market haul.
18. Run through sprinklers.
One of the summer’s simple pleasures that I haven’t indulged in in way too long! A slip-n-slide also counts.
19. Make pasta by hand.
Sure, it’s more effort than buying a package of pasta at the store, but the rewards are so much greater, too. Making handmade pasta is the most romantic idea for a date night at home, and it’s also such a fun activity with kids. They’ll be amazed by what can be made with just a little flour, oil, and eggs! I love my KitchenAid Pasta Attachment to make easy work of turning out perfect noodles. Cook it up simply with summer tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, basil, and sea salt—or try one of these pasta recipes you can whip up in less than 30 minutes.
20. Pack a picnic and take it to a beach, lake, or park.
Eating outdoors never gets old especially if you’re prepared with bug spray, sunscreen, a soft blanket, and lots of cold beverages. Keep it simple with a classic sandwich and chips combo, or try this delicious grazing board for the perfect “snacks for dinner” picnic solution.
21. Sleep under the stars.
Yes, it’s inconvenient, and I’m personally not a fan of waking up in a sleeping bag that’s damp with dew. Still, there’s something quintessentially summer about spending the night under the stars, so pick a night this summer, head to a campground (or your own backyard), and embrace a spirit of adventure. Google a few scary ghost stories to complete this picture—you’ll be glad you did.
22. Make a blended cocktail and put an umbrella in it.
If you’re like me, there’s no tropical vacation in your future… but that won’t stop me from bringing the piña colada vibes to my poolside hangs this summer. My favorite blended cocktail is made with peach, ginger, and mint, and we’ve also rounded up our favorite tropical cocktails for a summer state of mind. Try just one, or try them all.
23. Take a road trip.
As people’s travel plans were put on hold last summer, it quickly became the official Summer of the Road Trip. And I have a feeling the trend won’t be slowing down any time soon since a road trip turns out to be the easiest way to get your fill of adventure safely and on a budget. You can make it big or make it small, but for any type of road trip question, I turn to my friend Jordan: she wrote the ultimate guide to take a road trip right here.
24. Go thrifting or garage sale hopping.
We’re spending most of this summer at our beach house outside LA, and I cannot wait to finally hit up the Rose Bowl Flea for cool vintage home decor finds. The beauty of garage sales and antique shops is that you can literally find them anywhere: in my experience, some of the very best are in small towns and rural areas. Grab a friend and an iced coffee, and peruse without an agenda—some of the best flea market finds happen when you just wait and see what speaks to you.
25. Make a scrapbook to commemorate the #BestSummerEver.
I always say I’m going to make an end-of-summer scrapbook, but this year, I’m really going to do it. To start, make sure you chronicle both special moments and normal days by taking lots of photos on your smartphone—even just one a day adds up! Remember, this bucket list is about creating memories, and there’s no better way to do that than through photos you can revisit later. I’ve loved having beautifully bound photo books printed by companies like Artifact Uprising in the past. This year, however, I’m going old-school, by buying a simple blank scrapbook, printing out photos using this amazing device, and adding notes and little tokens (shells, drawings, ticket stubs) to help us never forget Summer 2021.
What’s on your summer bucket list? I’d love to hear any of your ideas in the comments for fun things to do this summer.
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