SUN DAY BEST
The country has waited through snow, wind, cold, and rain, and as of June 21, summer will officially be here. Can you taste the cocktails with little umbrellas, smell the charcoal burning on the grill, and hear the sound of gentle ocean waves? Whatever your summer plans, don't let the first day go by without doing something to kick off the season.
TRY A NEW FRUIT
Summer is prime time to add more fruit to a diet. Some good ones to try include mango, passion fruit, and papaya, although more common blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries have tons of antioxidants. Feeling adventurous? Perhaps a local store stocks something exotic such as dragon fruit, mangosteen, or carambola (commonly known as starfruit).
GO STRAWBERRY PICKING
One way to get in some outdoor time while stocking up on fresh fruit is to pick it yourself. Strawberries are ripening now in many places, and the season lasts only a few weeks. Search for a nearby farm with U-pick or pick-your-own fruit.
GO FOR A RUN
The first day of summer is the perfect time to start running or pick up the sport again. Check out the free Couch to 5K program to find training plans for a variety of skill levels and goals. Android and iPhone users can download a $3 app to help stay on track.
EXPLORE A PARK
An end to the cold and wet weather of winter and spring brings a welcome return to the outdoors. The National Park Service has a state-by-state list of properties including historical sites, forests, islands, and other natural spaces to check out. Or type a home address into an online map (such as Google Maps) and search for "parks" using the "Nearby" function.
TAKE A HIKE
Tired of the same boring terrain? Find a new park to visit and see if it offers hiking trails. City dwellers are bound to find walking paths nearby, perhaps on reclaimed train tracks. Step outside your comfort zone and try a new trail or follow a favorite path in a new direction.
Check out cheap hiking and camping spots -- and if there isn't one nearby, camp out in the backyard. Just don't forget supplies to make s'mores.
TAKE A RIDE
Map out an itinerary around the city, checking out beautiful summer sites. No bike? Don't worry -- in most cities it's possible to rent for a day for very little money. There may be bike tours happening nearby or groups to join. Bigger cities are experimenting with municipal bike-rental programs that can make it easy to investigate without much investment.
TAKE A SWIM
Hello, pool season! Hit up the local swimming hole or find a friend with a club or YMCA membership and score a guest pass. No pool? No problem: Hook up a sprinkler and act like a kid again.
GRILL A NEW FOOD
To avoid turning on the oven and heating up the house, fire up the grill. Go beyond the traditional hamburger and try something new for the first day of summer, such as a side dish or a meat such as swordfish. Throw some summer-ripe peaches or other fruit on the grill for a sweet treat.
PLAY AN OUTDOOR GAME
If you've got a gang to play with, organize a game of flag football or softball. If it's just you and a buddy, throw a Frisbee or kick a soccer ball back and forth.
TAKE IN A SPORTING EVENT
Major League Baseball and many minor league seasons are in full swing, and tickets may be cheap on the first day of summer; it falls on a weekday this year. If cheap baseball tickets are elusive, head to local soccer or baseball fields to catch some action.
HAVE A WATERMELON-SEED SPITTING CONTEST
While young kids particularly enjoy seed spitting contests, the young at heart do too. Get a big watermelon, cut it into slices, and chow down in the backyard, spitting out the seeds as far as possible. Competitive spirits may want to use a tape measure for judging.
FLY A KITE
Find a wide open space (to avoid getting hung up on a tree) and celebrate summer by flying a kite. Starter kites are relatively cheap; there may even be some at the dollar store. A dirt-cheap, impromptu version can be made with string and a plastic grocery bag: Just tie the string around both handles and let children run with the "kite" flying behind them. It might seem too easy and cheap to be true, but they will love it.
PLANT A GARDEN
It's not too late to start growing something, even with limited space. Pick out a few plants that do well in the local climate and plant them in a container garden or patch of soil. Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and a variety of herbs do especially well in the hot season.
PICK SOME FLOWERS
Freshen up your living space with fresh flowers. Pick a variety from the yard and create a pretty display for a table or mantel. It's small and cheap, but a great way to bring summer into a home.
GO TO A FARMERS MARKET
If there's no time or room to enjoy home-grown food, take advantage of someone else's. Hit up a local farmers market and delight in the fresh fruit and vegetable offerings. In many places, markets happen all days of the week during summer months, and good crops mean lower prices.
CATCH SOME EXTRA ZZZS
While it may be tempting to stay up late in the summer with more daylight time, it's important to keep a good sleep schedule. If bedtime has been creeping later, indulge in a nap on the first day of summer -- preferably by a pool or on a beach, or at least in a hammock in the backyard.
PICK OUT A PAIR OF SUNGLASSES
Eye protection from the sun is a must year-round, but especially in the summer months. Mark the first day of summer with a new pair of sunglasses. It's not necessary to spend a fortune to accessorize with style and protect your eyes. A good pair of sunglasses can be had for less than $50. Just be sure they are labeled as having 100 percent UV protection, or UV400.
SIGN UP FOR A SUMMER READING PROGRAM
If you have school-age kids, a summer reading program is a must. It not only keeps them engaged over the summer, but they can earn freebies. Barnes & Noble, for example, offers a free book upon completion of its eight-book summer reading program.
MAKE A SUMMER BUCKET LIST
Summer always starts with big plans, but follow-through is key. Create an index card for each item on your summer bucket list and put it in a jar. Make sure to draw from the jar regularly to cross off an item.
HAVE A FIRST DAY OF SUMMER PARTY
Invite some friends over and ask them to bring a dish to share, potluck style. Serve hot dogs or burgers as the main course, and pull out the Slip 'N Slide or set up a makeshift baseball diamond for some simple, laid-back summer fun.
Whatever you decide to do to celebrate the first day of summer, do it with sunscreen on. There are budget-friendly sunscreens that offer broad-spectrum protection to help prevent sunburn, premature signs of aging, and skin cancer.