24 Incredible Summer Bucket List Ideas
No summer blahs here! Whether you're adventurous, a traveler, a foodie, or just like to have fun, we've got you covered.
Take a graffiti tour
Chances are there are some talented street artists in your city and summer is the perfect time to take a stroll after dinner and appreciate all the art around you. If you’re out west, check out the Denver Street Art Tour. East coasters will love the NYC Graffiti Art Tour. For more, check Free Tours By Foot to find one in a city near you or, better yet, make up your own by walking through your own town.
Play night games
Remember the warm summer nights when you and all your friends used to run around the neighborhood playing capture the flag, ghosts in the graveyard, sardines, kickball, and hide-and-seek? There’s no rule that says you have to be a kid to play! Round up some of your adult friends, head to a nearby park, and remember those days when running around was just for fun and not exercise! For added giggles, bring some light-up sticks or glow-in-the-dark body paint.
Watch a fireworks show
Sure, fireworks happen on New Year’s Eve too, but it’s much harder to enjoy the wonder of watching them outdoors. Take advantage of Fourth of July celebrations by scoping out the best piece of grass, bringing some blankets and snacks, and then revel in the magic of watching fireworks explode over your head. While you’re waiting for the show to start, quiz your friends on the real reason we set off fireworks on the Fourth.
Catch a midnight meteor shower
Meteor showers happen year round but the warm nighttime temps and clearer skies make summer the ideal season to play amateur astronomer. To learn when and where the meteors will be sparkling through the sky this summer, and to get tips on how to watch, check out the American Meteor Society’s meteor calendar. Then bring your lawn chairs, pop some popcorn, and wait for nature’s show to begin. Pass the time by brushing up on these 24 astronomy facts you never learned in school.
Have a water balloon fight
Who needs a pool, lake, or ocean when you can have plenty of soaking-wet fun with water balloons? Divide friends and family up into two teams. Assign them each a home base with a laundry basket full of water balloons. Load up your super soakers and…attack! Who’s the winner? Whoever has the most fun!
What is summer without the smell of a bonfire and melted marshmallow stuck to your fingers? Bring on your favorite childhood memories with this classic summer treat. All you need are graham crackers, marshmallows, chocolate bars, and something to toast the marshmallows over. (No fire? Your stove or microwave will work too!) If you’re feeling fancy, try one of these 10 tasty recipes inspired by S’mores.
Take a swing over a canyon
Calling all adrenaline junkies! Giant canyon swings are popping up, well, wherever there are canyons and people are raving about the experience. Not only do you get the fun of an amusement park ride but you get to see nature from a vantage point you never would otherwise. For the most intense ride, try out the Screaming Canyon Swing at Glenwood Adventure Park. Or go for a giant rope swing, like this one in Utah.
Catch a wave
Summer’s all about enjoying the water! If you’re lucky enough to live by an ocean, take advantage of the long, hot days to swim, surf, boogie board, or just lay on the beach and listen to the soothing crash of the waves. If you’re not on the coast, don’t worry, you can still get a little taste of the ocean by heading to the nearest wave pool. They’re found at many water parks and are fun for the young and young-at-heart—these are our favorite water parks across the United States.
Get a treat from the ice cream truck
The Billboard charts may not recognize it as such but tinkly ice cream truck music is the official song of summer—after all, even as adults, we still perk up when we hear the signature tunes. This summer treat yourself to a cold ice cream cone, chocotaco, or weirdly shaped cartoon popsicle. Sure you could get them cheaper at the store but then you’d miss the fun of digging out your spare change, choosing the perfect dessert, and enjoying it while watching the sunset with the smell of fresh-cut grass around you.
Participate in a historical reenactment
Dig out your prairie bonnet, colonial wig, or chainmail armor (or all of the above?): Summer is prime time for historical reenactments. What type depends on where you live but these programs are a great way to discover more about your community and your shared history. Plus you’ll get to do fun old-fashioned things like candle-wicking, churning butter, folk dancing, or even immerse yourself in the experience and do a little acting. To find one near you check out the Recollections list of Historical Societies.
Test your skills on a high ropes course
Hiking through nature is fun but to get a totally different view of the forest, try taking the family on a ropes course or zip line tour. Channel your inner monkey by climbing, leaping, and swinging through the trees. Heights not your thing? Keep it closer to the ground with a low ropes course; they’re just as fun—minus the vertigo.
Scream it out on a roller coaster
Summer and theme parks are a perfect match, so scout out what’s new to ride and get ready to scream. Families will get a kick out of the best amusement parks in every state.
Stroll through an arboretum
For folks looking for a more chill summer experience, arboretums and gardens provide a great way to learn about your environment while enjoying the summer weather. If you’re visiting another state, arboretums are often a great place to start to get a feel for the local culture and traditions. Bring a hat and a water bottle and make sure you know these 30 dos and don’ts of sunscreen.
Get a wicked brain freeze with a snow cone
Shaved ice. Snow cones. Slurpees. Icees. Whatever you like to call it, nothing beats the summer heat like a cup full of flavored ice. It’s the perfect snack for the beach or park or you can just get a little taste of summer by enjoying one in your car on your way home from work. Or you can make your own with a shaved ice machine.
Attend an outdoor concert
There’s just something about an outdoor venue that makes music sound even better. Whether you prefer country, rock, jazz, classical, or EDM there’s an outdoor music festival for you. Forget the big names like Coachella and aim for local shows that feature newer or lesser-known artists—you might discover your new favorite band. Even better, many of them are free! Google outdoor concerts near you or look for fliers at the coffee shop or grocery store. For kid-friendly ideas, check out these 10 outdoor festivals for children.
Enter a sandcastle contest
Building sandcastles is a time-honored summer tradition but this year try taking yours to the next level by coming up with a design and entering a sand art contest. Not feeling so artistic? Bring a picnic and make a day out of watching others craft dreams out of sand and then take a walk through the finished creations. Hint: Many land-locked cities still host sand art shows and competitions or look for a chalk art show for a similar vibe. It’s also the perfect time to try out a new brew, food truck, or ice cream flavor.
Watch a movie at a drive-in theater
Another must for your list of summer bucket list ideas: Before drive-in movie theaters go the way of the CD player, plan to pile the family into the car for a night at the drive-in watching flicks on a 50-foot screen. And it’s not just oldies playing! Many drive-in theaters feature first-run movies. According to Nerve, just 338 drive-in theaters are still operating in the United States. Fortunately, they’ve got a list of all of them, so find the nearest one, get in the car and go.
Go whitewater rafting
Kids and adults alike will love the thrill of white water rafting. You can find companies any place that has a fairly big river but popular spots include Colorado, Arizona, Utah, West Virginia, and Washington. Tour companies can take you through everything from a gentle float to serious brag-worthy rapids. Whitewater rafting even made our list of the 11 best vacation destinations for adrenaline junkies.
Head to a new state to try its signature treat
Planning an out-of-state road trip this summer? Make sure you make time to sample some of the tasty foods unique to the states you’ll be visiting, like chislic in South Dakota, pepperoni rolls in West Virginia, or bison burgers in Wyoming. (And Rocky Mountain Oysters in Idaho?) There’s just something about trying the local foods to give you a deeper experience when exploring a new city or state.
Enjoy a soak in a natural hot spring
After an active, nature-filled day, relax and enjoy a soak in the healing mineral waters of a hot spring. Nevada boasts more hot springs than any other state (more than 300). Some worth checking out include Spencer Hot Springs, located just off “America’s Loneliest Road” in Austin, Bailey’s Hot Springs, just outside Death Valley National Park, and these other gorgeous natural hot spring in the United States.
Go tent camping in a National Park
Everyone should go tent camping under the stars at least once, if only for the campfire and roasting s’mores. National parks are a great option or try one of these 15 of the best camping spots in America. Go online to book a campsite reservation and make sure to book early as spots fill up fast. If your favorite campgrounds are booked up, look for those with first-come, first-served campsites, but plan to arrive early since these can fill up by noon each day. Another option is a KOA, which has campgrounds within a few minutes of many national parks, including Yellowstone and Yosemite.
Stroll along a classic beach boardwalk
Beach boardwalks combine the nostalgia of childhood summers with the excitement of new rides and food. Most coastal towns will have a boardwalk and many landlocked ones will have a river walk. But if you need ideas, there’s a lot more than the famed Santa Monica Pier. Start with the Myrtle Beach Boardwalk in South Carolina, which has sugar shops, arcades, multiple Ripley’s attractions, and the 200-foot Myrtle Beach SkyWheel. Or, head up the Jersey Shore to Wildwood, which has a wooden boardwalk boasting three amusement piers (think roller coasters and every ride you can imagine). Midwesterners can get their fun fix at the Navy Pier in Chicago.
Go on a photo safari
Given we all have cameras with us at all times (hello, iPhone), why not put your camera to good use by signing up for a photo safari either in your town or in a new city. Washington Photo Safari in Washington, D.C. offers organized photo walks of the monuments and memorials. While most photo walks require you to have an actual camera (not just a phone), you’ll be surprised by how much you learn about angles, lighting, and storytelling that you can apply to iPhone photography.
Climb a tall mountain
It may sound challenging but nothing gives you a feeling of strength and satisfaction quite like summiting a mountain. Many even allow you to earn a patch or a bumper sticker, not mention major bragging rights. In the Adirondacks of New York, climb the six peaks around Saranac Lake to become a Saranac Lake 6er. Not up for all six? Start with Mount Baker, which is well-suited for families and novice hikers. In Colorado, climb one of 54 fourteeners (peaks with an elevation of at least 14,000 feet), a summer bucket list must-do. Start with Grays Peak or Mount Bierstadt, both of which are good for beginners.