Looking for pool party ideas that will bring happy hours shared with friends?
Team a swimming pool with sunshine and any party is off to a great start, but a host of other elements can make it a get-together to remember, including delicious food and drink, fabulous poolside decoration, and comfortable seating.
Be inspired even if you haven’t fulfilled your pool ideas yet. These tips and suggestions are also useful if you’re gathering guests round a hot tub, your rental property has a pool, or you’re simply entertaining friends in the yard.
Pool party ideas
A pool party is the opportunity to bring color and even a touch of glamor to a poolside setting. Dive into these pool party ideas.
1. Serve colorful cocktails
No pool party would be complete without a suitably summery cocktail to offer people on arrival. Something fruity would be perfect.
Prepare as much in advance as you can. Chop the fruit beforehand and make up big jugs to store in the refrigerator (where possible) so you’re not having to be a bartender all the time once the party starts. (Also see our rum punch recipe below).
If your pool house ideas include a bar area, you’re ready to go, otherwise set up poolside ready to welcome guests.
2. Make it magical at dusk
Guests can spend long hours at a pool party, so be ready for dusk with solar stake lights in borders and to edge paths created as part of pool landscaping. ‘They’ll change the atmosphere for the evening, but they’ll also help keep guests safe marking boundaries to help them move about safely,’ says Lucy Searle, global editor in chief of Homes & Gardens.
3. Use color and pattern
Pillows are one of the greatest buys for interiors, instantly able to perk up a piece of furniture or a neutral room. And, actually, they work in a similar way in the great outdoors.
When designing a pool area, ensure the zone complements the rest of the yard, all that’s left to do is add pillows in a color palette that continues on outdoor chairs and features such as a canopy. Stripes, spots and fun geometrics are ideal to create a welcoming look for a pool party as well as bring softness around the hard edge of the pool.
4. Boost seating
Boost guest seating with outdoor floor pillows and cushions. ‘While you could use designs like these from inside your home, we’d always recommend those for outdoor use as they’ll be made from hardwearing fabrics,’ says Lucy Searle. ‘Look out for those that are water, fade and stain resistant, too, for maximum durability and lasting good looks.’
Floor pillows are light enough for guests to move around easily as they form different groups – and easy for you to tidy away into storage when the party is over, but do make room for stashing them as well as outdoor furniture when budgeting for a swimming pool.
5. Decorate with balloons
If you haven’t had balloons at a party since you were young, you’re not alone. But now is the time to try them out again! Choose cool aquas to tie in with the pool, and add whites and pinks for a little variety.
6. Add extra shade
It’s easy for guests to lose track of how much time they’ve spent in the sun at a party. The key to keeping everyone protected is to maximize shade with additional patio umbrellas. Tempt people under cover by grouping seating under shady pergolas and awnings, too, as well as under cover if, in designing a pool house, space for relaxation was created.
‘You might even want to set up a sunscreen station so guests who are starting to feel the heat can protect themselves,’ says Lucy Searle.
7. Provide towels
Don’t assume that people will bring their own towels. Make sure there’s a big pile of fresh towels that people can use after a dip.
These towels are white, but if you like, this is another chance to introduce color and pattern to complement pool patio ideas.
Store towels neatly rolled, and provide a tub for used ones to keep the poolside area tidy.
8. Serve cooling snacks
Fresh summer fruits are cooling and delicious at a pool party. Serve in colorful containers that will brighten the table – these watermelon and pineapple designs are perfect.
Food flags can have a fun message but they’re also useful with labeling that guides guests with allergies or special dietary requirements.
9. Fire up the barbecue
Barbecues are a wonderful way to cater for your pool party and with endless barbecue recipes to choose from, you can cook almost anything you like.
Having said that, we’d be inclined to go for a simple approach so that you can focus on being a great host, rather than worrying about overdoing a fine cut of beef.
10. Swerve breakages
This is not the time to get out your best tableware. Paving or decking around a pool is not kind to dropped plates. For durable outdoor dining ideas, go for unbreakable melamine, or bamboo plates and bowls in bright colors, and choose napkins to fit the theme of your party.
11. Make use of the pool house
Where to put everything can be a dilemma, and a pool house really comes into its own as an extra space for a pool party.
As well as using it for a bar, make it a serving station at lunchtime. It’ll keep your food covered and out of the sun, and stop things like napkins blowing away in the breeze.
12. Choose light fare
When you’re swimming, you don’t want to eat anything heavy or overly messy, so avoid hearty or fussy dishes. Instead, go for lighter summer recipes, chilled salads, and desserts with fruit at their core.
13. Have a chill-out zone
After a dip, barbecue and drinks, some of your guests may feel the need to lounge so make sure you've considered the best outdoor furniture that will offer a space to relax.
Comfy padded seating is ideal for this. Add a parasol to provide a little shade, and put together a mellow playlist of tunes to create a happy and sunny vibe.
14. Don’t forget the ice cream
Bathing suit or not, there’s always room for ice cream recipes, especially on a hot day. If there are any kids present, they will be very grateful to you, too. Go for cones if you want to keep cleanup to a minimum.
15. Stay warm next to a firepit
As evening descends, it might start to get a little chilly. With a range of outdoor fireplace ideas to choose from, be prepared and invest in a firepit, for example, ensuring it's ready to go well before dusk.
If you don’t have space to safely light a firepit, then you could provide blankets for anyone who’s staying after the sun has set.
What do you do at a pool party?
Aside from the obvious things to do at a pool party – swimming, chatting to friends and enjoying the sun – there are so many options!
You could have a wine or cheese tasting session, play games such as water polo (or perhaps land-based cards), or just relax on a pool float. If it’s a day you’re spending with your girlfriends, you could even turn it into a mini spa session with pampering face masks and DIY pedicures.
What do you need for a pool party?
People will be happy if they’re lightly fed and have a few nice drinks, so you don’t need as much as you think – apart from a pool.
‘Make sure there’s plenty of drinking water so people can stay hydrated and consider other things you can provide to make the day go smoothly, such as a good supply of waterproof sunscreen,’ says Lucy Searle, global editor in chief of Homes & Gardens.
If you plan to keep your pool party roaring into the evening hours, pool lighting ideas like string lights or bistro lights help illuminate the space while adding ambience.
For safety, it might be advisable to have a lifeguard, too, especially if there are kids present.
What food is good for a pool party?
To answer this question, I’ve turned to food editor Elisa Roche for some pool party food ideas.
‘You cannot go wrong with a great big watermelon,’ she says. ‘But how to pick a good one? The Turk in me can tell you that the best ones have a pale patch from their ground spot, some good, strong brown veins on the skin and a little light sun bleaching.
'Serve sliced into rough chunks with a squeeze of lime, torn mint and generous flecks of white yogurt. Or delight adult guests by going retro and turning the whole thing into a rum punch.’
Here’s how. ‘Scoop out the middle, throw out the seeds (or oven roast them for a healthy snack), pop into a blender with one small tin of pineapple in juice and purée in batches. Sieve if you prefer it smooth, then it's back into the holed-out melon.
'Now add two mugs of rum, a heaped tablespoon of brown sugar and the juice of two limes, stir and serve.’
If you'd like your pool party to have a touch of Palm Springs swagger, Elisa’s cornflake chicken pieces make lovely easy poolside bites.
‘Chop up 10 chicken breasts into bite-sized portions,’ she explains. ‘Then set aside separate bowls of beaten egg, seasoned flour and bashed-up cornflakes. Dip the chicken into the egg, then into well-seasoned flour, then back into the egg and then finally into the cornflakes.
'Bake on a lined baking tray for 20 mins at 400ºF (200ºC), turning halfway through until crisp and cooked through.’
Bon appétit and happy pool partying!
Jennifer is the Digital Editor at Homes & Gardens. Having worked in the interiors industry for a number of years, spanning many publications, she now hones her digital prowess on the 'best interiors website' in the world. Multi-skilled, Jennifer has worked in PR and marketing, and the occasional dabble in the social media, commercial and e-comme