Summer is usually the time of festivals, stadium concerts, and crowds packing into movie theaters to watch blockbuster films. But 2020 has delivered us a very different kind of season.
It’s wise for everyone to be careful this summer as a matter of public health, and your wallet might be hurting from the coronavirus-related economic slump. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t still plenty of purely joyful things to do at a modest expense. After all, the sunshine and ocean waves are still doing what they always do this time of year, and Hollywood is still luring our eyeballs. Here’s how to bask in natural beauty and slightly off-kilter hobbies on a budget.
Rent a waterfront Airbnb
Estimated cost*: $195 per night
The most cleansing thing about diving into a body of water these days is, perhaps, that the water knows nothing of a pandemic. A lake or an ocean also provides ample safe opportunities for recreation, exercise, and Instagram-worthy backdrops with a loved one (or several). With the travel and hospitality industries slow at the moment, you can snag a shockingly good deal on prime waterfront real estate via Airbnb. Bring or rent a kayak for a scenic weekend you’ll never forget.
*Estimated costs are based on specific listings and will vary based on place and situation.
Drive to a drive-in movie theater
Estimated cost: $10 admission
Yes, drive-in movie theaters still exist. Even in major metropolitan areas. Renting new on-demand releases on your TV for $20 a pop, after all, gets old, and even from the comfort of your car, going to a drive-in venue is a chance to commune with strangers and take in the power of cinema—and, you know, get a kitschy window into the past. The tropical-themed Mission Tiki in Southern California is playing the new Invisible Man alongside throwback favorites like Groundhog Day, which has somehow never been more relevant. You can find more drive-ins around the country at driveinmovie.com.
Binge-watch HBO Max
Cost: $14.99 per month after 7-day free trial
It’s highly likely that you’re feeling exhausted by the familiar options on Netflix at this point. The latest major streaming service, WarnerMedia’s HBO Max, couldn’t have arrived at a better time. Expanding on the premium cable network’s offerings with titles from Warner Bros. and beyond, it’s also the perfect excuse to introduce your kid (or yourself) to the magic of Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro.
Attend virtual cooking or mixology classes
Estimated cost: $96 for 6 months of classes
As restaurants and cocktail bars have been dormant, a new cottage industry has accelerated: virtual classes that help you step up your cooking and drink-mixing game. For example, while hunkered down in quarantine, chef Massimo Bottura walked his online followers through how to melt leftover Easter candy into chocolate mousse.
Host a public park cookout
Estimated cost: $9.76 for charcoal (and more for whatever you want to grill)
Large gatherings might need to be nixed, but that’s no reason to skip one of the great pleasures of summer: the cookout. Get a small group together and keep your distance at one of America’s many public parks that also happen to offer basic grills for anyone’s use. You may also be able to reserve a grill depending on your area. Light up briquets and char skewers of meats and vegetables for a complete meal that satisfies everyone, whether they’re 8 or 80 years old.
Camp out at a national park
Estimated cost: About $10 to $20, but admission and camping prices vary widely
Multiplexes might be shuttered, but America’s natural entertainment persists. Many wondrous spaces under the National Park Service are back in action, and even Yosemite is opening up. But be sure to check the rules on the park you want to visit, especially if you plan to spend the night camping, for specific regulations and prices. Many state parks and national forest areas allow camping too, but it's more important than ever this summer to check ahead about the rules and reservations.
Stargaze (with equipment)
Estimated cost: $64.99 for a beginner telescope kit
Remember being a kid, staring at stars and books to find out about the faraway constellations and planets that struck you with awe? Well, adulthood might have gotten in the way of all that, but now is a great time to rediscover the mysteries of the universe. Thanks to a slower economy, light pollution has decreased, and you can nab a starter telescope for cheaper than you might think. Even without one, the SkyView app is free.
Sail (without owning a boat)
Estimated cost: $70 monthly sailing club dues
Without a doubt, sailing conjures images of the ultra-wealthy. But you don’t have to own a boat (and you probably don’t want one, because it’s a money pit) to take up the art of sailing. There are sailing clubs and schools across the country that provide a reasonable way to take up an intricate water activity that also happens to provide a majestic connection with nature. The American Sailing Association is an essential resource in finding local opportunities for new sailors.
Go rock climbing
Cost: free in most parks
Gym closed? Many people have been feeling a bit lazy during the pandemic, but there are always more novel, creative ways to get fit. Rock climbing is by no means easy, but it will work muscles you never knew you had. You should, however, definitely join someone experienced to make sure you don’t hurt yourself. MountainProject.com is a good resource for finding routes and advice. If you want to hire a guide or get serious and buy your own equipment, you'll quickly realize that rock-climbing can be a very expensive hobby.
Ferment your food
Estimated cost: $5.72 (for a 24-ounce package of blueberries)
It can seem like everyone suddenly developed a passion for baking sourdough bread, cultivated starter and all, but the fermentation intrinsic to that process can produce so many other insanely delicious items. Imagine your own kitchen’s kimchi topping a grilled sausage. Or if you want to start small, check out this guide to fermenting blueberries from acclaimed chef René Redzepi, which only requires the fruit and salt. The funky berries will transform your morning yogurt and granola.
Learn a foreign language (on your phone)
Cost: $9.99 per month for ad-free Duolingo, after 7-day free trial
Long before universities transitioned to Zoom learning, foreign language teaching went virtual. And no, you don’t have to just rely on Rosetta Stone. Duolingo is a well-reviewed and extremely user-friendly app that applies gaming practices to the learning of many languages. It’s free, but if you want to get rid of the ads, it’s still affordable.
Rethink your home decor
Estimated cost: About $40 for a gallon of paint
If you’ve dipped into the soothing programming of HGTV or Netflix’s Queer Eye lately, it might be time to put their tips into action. The safest thing to do during a pandemic is, of course, stay inside, but you’re forgiven for wanting to switch up the environment. Sometimes just rearranging furniture, throwing up an accent wall, or repainting a kitchen can make you appreciate your home in a new way.