There are few things I love more than a classic Americana summer party. Food on the grill, cold drinks in the cooler, music sifting through the hot air reminding you of the past—and of the current endless present. Kids running around, firecrackers going off, lawn games that are fun and weirdly competitive. Burgers and ribs, grilled veggies, salads passed around laughter-filled tables. A long and sultry day that sunsets into a firefly dusk and a dance-filled night. It’s the bottomless plastic ketchup bottle to my soul.
But, sometimes, you want something different, something that bucks tradition. While no one objects to a classic, this year you can expand your sunny BBQ repertoire by exploring new summer kickoff party theme ideas that focus on some favorite elements of the sunny season slowly rolling in. Celebrate the sun and fun to come by turning that feeling of being warm and free into a backyard BBQ or summer block party.
So, here are three summer-themed party plans for the three months of (hopefully) endless sun ahead. They’re just around the corner. You can already taste them… Now get ready for them.
Summer Kickoff Party Ideas With an Oceania Theme
If you don’t live on one of the coasts or the Great Lakes, your summer party might be pretty landlocked. Most people don’t have backyards abutting a sea. But that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate the feeling of being by a large body of water, a cool breeze meandering through, carrying with it the salty freshness of a million waves.
Teal and seafoam colors, along with nautical decorations, set the mood. If you want to get really wild, you can create the thatched gazebo look of the South Pacific (repurposing what you used on St. Patrick’s Day). Here’s what else you’ll need for your Oceania-themed summer kickoff party:
- Seafood: Lobster might be a little expensive, but grilled shrimp is always delicious, and super easy. Some of the younger guests might not like seafood, but they’ll always enjoy the classic kid snack of goldfish crackers. If you really want to go all out, though, in a way that’s both fun and not terribly expensive, try a crawfish boil. That’ll bring the nautical theme to the Gulf of Mexico.
- Blue Wave Punch: Blue Hawaiian punch and lemonade make a sweet, colorful, seafaring addition to any ocean-esque party.
- Seashell painting: Decorate seashells! Seashell painting is fun for kids and adults, especially if you use ocean-themed greens and blues to create swirling masterpieces that feel like stepping into the ocean. Even if you aren’t by the water, seashells are easy to get and pretty inexpensive.
- Walk the Plank: All you need are some two-by-fours, a few cinder blocks (or other level objects) and, of course, plenty of eye-patches. Set up two boards and two teams, then race. Falling off is a disqualification. The eye-patches make it an especially piratical game.
Camping and Crafting: A Woodsy Summer Party Theme
As a former Boy Scout, I have great memories of camping. The deep North Woods in the summer had a certain piney stillness punctuated by hiking, archery, and other events of greater or lesser meretriciousness. Adults love camping too, especially now when the chance to unplug takes on greater importance.
So maybe have a camping party. Spread out pine needles, put some tents in the backyard, make table runners that feel like the old log cabins we used to stay in…it harkens back to national parks and lingering days. Your party will have that warm campfire smell, where the only notifications you hear are the gentle questionings of owls.
- Flame-grilled food: Food can be pretty normal, except (if this is possible) it has to be cooked over an open flame. You can get safe, clean, easy-to-use firepits nearly anywhere, and they’re perfect for cooking hotdogs on sticks. But, of course, the mandatory food is s’mores. It’s not camping if you don’t have s’mores. Don’t forsake ants on a log, either. Reach back into your childhood, people.
- Bug Juice: Flavored gelatin, orange and pineapple juice, ginger ale, sugar, and maybe some sherbet. It’s the perfect summer cool-down treat. And really, any recipe is a good recipe. Everyone has their own, just like everyone has their favorite camping spot.
- Pinecone bird feeders: All you need is some peanut butter, oatmeal, birdseed, and a pinecone, of course. Kids will love coming up with creative ways to make their feeder stand out, and they’ll love seeing birds eat from it. Plus, it’s a sticky-sweet way to give back to nature.
- Storytelling: Some would argue that this isn’t a game, but camping is about unplugging, getting back to the world, and letting your mind wander unfettered by technology. So sit around the fire, and create a story together. Pass it around sentence by sentence, grownups and kids alike. Where you go could be as distant as the most remote campground on the furthest continent.
Summer Outdoor Night Party Ideas for Stargazing
Huck Finn and Jim, while floating down the Mississippi, would see the sky “all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made or only just happened.” You don’t have to get that philosophical to recognize that the silence and grandeur of a star-filled night is one of the great joys of summertime.
Decorations for this party could include hanging planets, star-themed plates and napkins, and maybe lights strung around the trees in your yard, for the dusk and early evening before the actual show. If you aren’t in an area with stars, outdoor LED lights can evoke that bright and endless majesty as well. Because the point isn’t just to see stars. It’s to feel them. Here are some summer outdoor night party ideas for a stargazing soiree:
- Dippin’ Dots: It’s the ice cream of the future! But if you want to be a little more creative and astronomical, planet-shaped cake pops are beautiful and fun. Every kid wants to eat Jupiter! Whether or not you include Pluto is up to you. I’m not getting involved in that debate.
- Cosmic Swirl: Pink lemonade. Blue Hi-C. Tonic water. Over ice. Served in front of a black light. The colors swirl and mix like the dawning of the universe.
- Build a telescope: Paper towels, scissors, and a pair of convex lenses (only $5) can bring your kids closer to the night sky. They might not see as far back as the Hubble with your homemade telescope, but they’ll have a better appreciation for what’s up there.
- Create constellations: When looking at the sky, come up with new constellations. The old ones are pretty played out. This is a great imagination booster.
Summer means so many things to so many people. Your party should celebrate what it means to you, whether that’s camping, being at the beach, tailgating with friends, or just gazing up at the sky. Let your imagination rise with the temperatures. Your summer party can be whatever you want it to be.
It’s getting hot out here, so Elfster wants to hear your favorite summer stories. Tell us about them on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired gifting ideas, browse our Outdoor Fun Gift Guide.