A summer staycation doesn't mean giving up destination doings. Make home feel like the ultimate escape with fun themes that can take you away without going anywhere.
Woman reading book while relaxing on deck chair
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Summer vacation — it's what we've all been waiting for through the gray days of winter and the rainy ones of spring. Those two words together easily bring a glint to one's eye, no matter how long it's been since you packed up you book bags and declared yourself officially "off" for the season. Indeed, a real sense of anticipation builds as people gear up for their annual family trip, visits with friends afield, and road trips to nearby coasts, crests, and forests.

But this summer feels a bit less, well, vacation-y. Sure, the weather's fine and looking to get even better. Businesses have begun opening up, and options for outdoor activities are once again available, but for many of us, staying closer to home is a bit more in the cards than venturing out, whether by plane, train, or automobile.

So this year, if you can't get to your vacation, why not just bring a dream vacation to you? With just a little imagination, you can celebrate summer vacation right at home, with a staycation or even daycation theme that can take you as far as you need to go to get away — without going anywhere at all.

Slip Away to Some Coastal Comfort

Credit: Allrecipes Clambake

There's something about summer on the East Coast. Tall, swaying beachgrass ripples on dunes that hide swathes of sand and sit transfixed at the endless wild Atlantic beyond. The smell of salt in the air, hair in tangles from a sea breeze, blues in every hue, and distressed whites are its hallmarks. The good news is, these subtle cues can easily be recreated with just a few steps.

Smell is one of the strongest senses for memories, so start the day with a few spritzes of beach-hair texturizing spray. You'll be surrounded by the scent of ocean water every time you turn your now artfully tousled head. Light a water-scented candle — they're often blue and have fresh top notes with warmer, sweet bases. For a truly East Coast feel, eschew the coconut ones, and save that for your tropical beach escape vibe.

Make dinner an early affair with a New England clam or lobster bake. Three Ways to Throw a New England Clambake gives you plenty of options and how-to tips, as well as dessert and drink options to round it out. Linen napkins reminiscent of the pants and summer dresses that populate beach clubs along the shore make the meal feel casual and authentic, but eating it on a picnic table, whether it's on the patio or your neighborhood park, is what can really bring that feeling home.

Feel the Island Breezes

Classic Daiquiri
Credit: Deb C

Let the scent of coconuts, pineapples, or perhaps both lead your thoughts to an island in the sun as you channel some piña colada flavor into your mental escape — or into your mouth with this Tres Leches Pina Colada Cake. Tropical scents are easy to come by, as Caribbean beachfronts are many people's happy places. Light some tropical-scented candles with hints of mango, passionfruit, guava, and other fruits to round out the olfactory cocktail, and switch out to tiki torches at night.

But first, as the sun rises higher into the sky, set up a hammock underneath it, armed with your biggest set of shades, a healthy layer of sunscreen, and a good old-fashioned beach read. We recommend a book that goes well with something icy, like a classic daiquiri, sipped lazily as you catch rays in breezy cotton cover-ups.

Fire up the grill for dinner, and put jerk chicken or fish on the menu with your own jerk seasoning rub, or keep it clean and simple by choosing a fish native to Caribbean waters, like grouper or snapper. If you're feeling ambitious, fry the latter Jamaican-style.

Soak Up the Big Easy

Mardi Gras King Cake with purple, yellow, and green icing
Credit: Allrecipes

New Orleans is all that jazz and more, but really, it's the big brass sound that will transport you right to the Crescent City. Set your favorite streaming music app to "New Orleans brass" and, while sipping on a Sazerac, the city's official cocktail, make today all about cooking. There's no better way to feel like you're in New Orleans than to center your day around food; it's consistently named one of the best food cities in the U.S. and even the world according to various travel and dining experts.

Start with simple with a slow-cooker, vegetable-driven gumbo, or go for the real deal, roux, file, and all, with this family recipe that traces its roots back to the city. Another alternative is to go down the jambalaya route. The authentic ones are drier and closer to risotto than they are to stews and smothers and call for Andouille sausage, although smoked sausage will do in a pinch.

You can also go upscale Creole, which marries French, Italian, African, Native American, Spanish, and Caribbean techniques and ingredients in something unmistakably special. Time-consuming grits and grillades are well worth the effort, or you can try your hand at a variation of trout meuniere or stuffing a mirliton.

But since you're in this destination only in spirit, you may as well toe the line of reality and celebrate summer with a winter treat: king cake. This Mardi Gras dessert is not typically available out of season, which makes being at home actually better than being there … for a change! Not feeling up to rolling all that dough? Channel that festive spirit with cupcakes that tap into its flavors.

Kick Back in Wine Country

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Whether it's the East Coast or the West, there are a few things wine country in America have in common: a sense of upscale bourgeoisie calm, a feeling that life is all right, right here in the middle. Bring that feeling of a vineyard escape to your staycation at home with just a few decorative elements and well-planned meals.

For instance, rustic elements like raw wood, surrounded by greenery and accented with black, tend to provide that feel. Furnish your deck, patio, or balcony with Adirondack chairs — plastic ones have become widely available at local hardware stores, making them easily affordable. Then string up fairy lights in anticipation of the evening, and set up a fire pit if air, space, and safety allows.

Most importantly, have on hand wines you love and wines you don't know anything about. Use real, traditional wine glasses with stems to make the tasting experience feel more "real." The practical benefit is that they'll allow the wine you're sipping on to maintain their correct serving temperature better — room temperature for red, slightly chilled (but not refrigerated!) for white.

For fun, decorate wine charms, download a tasting notes activity sheet, or do blind tests with your family members to see if anyone can match the sip to the bottle, type, or even label. You might be surprised at what your tongue tells you as opposed to your eyes.

Or, visit a different wine region or explore a different type of grape each time. We have a deep library of food and wine pairings. This gives you plenty of opportunities to make this mini-escape a recurring series, and more than enough to take you away for a summer's worth of staycations!

But of course, nothing feels more like a proper day at a winery than a nice cheese board. Learn how to pair them with with this excellent reference of recommendations, and add onto your display with cured meats, dried fruits, and interesting dipping sauces along with nice olive oil, balsamic vinegar, or an herb blend of both. Make a loaf of crusty Effortless Rustic Bread to go with it all, or make it gluten-free and multigrain to impress. Fresh grapes bring the entire board full circle to the reason for it all.

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