What Is a Cabana?

Andy Sparhawk
Written by Andy Sparhawk
Updated June 18, 2021
Poolside cabana
EscoLux / E+ via Getty Images

A cabana is a shade structure that provides privacy and a comfy place to sip mai-tais

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A cabana lends shade and an element of privacy at pools and beaches. Popular for entertaining, cabanas are an excellent upgrade to a backyard, with or without a water feature. Plus, cabanas have a fun, tropical vibe that can transform any outdoor space into your own little oasis.

Picture it: You peer over the top of your sunglasses at a brilliantly blue pool, surrounded by lush vegetation at a luxury resort. Beautiful people pass by trying to catch a glimpse of who’s sipping their fruity drink in your cabana. “Is it a celebrity?” they wonder. No, you're no movie star, but in your private cabana, you sure do look the part.  

Record scratch: Back to reality. 

For most of us, fun in the sun looks more like a trip to the community pool, but after a couple of hours battling crowds in the heat, you’re ready for a retreat. It’s time to head home, fire up the sprinkler, and relax in your cabana with a good book.

What is a Cabana?

Popular at resorts and Vegas-style day clubs, cabanas are shade structures that offer privacy and relaxation, whether at a pool, beach or in your own backyard. Cabanas can be permanent fixtures or put out seasonally. 

These huts traditionally were made out of wood with thatched roofing. Their purpose was to offer a quick changing room, with the fabric or wood-paneled walls offering privacy to don bathing suits or hop back into clothes at the end of the day.  

Today, however, cabanas offer much more than privacy. High-end cabanas blur the lines between their original design and a pool house, complete with electricity and appliances to serve food and beverages. On the other hand, simple cabanas more closely resemble a tent.

Cabana Background

Despite their ultra-luxury status at hotel resorts, the roots of a cabana are simple.  

The term cabana comes from the Spanish word for cabin or hut: cabaña. Thatched roof huts allowed beachgoers to change quickly, but little else in the way of accommodations. A traditional cabana may also serve as a place to retreat in a pinch if the weather changes quickly. 

Cabana Materials

Travel to a tropical beach resort, and you may find cabanas made of palm-thatched roofs. However, it might be challenging to nail authenticity if you lack access to suitable lumber at home. No matter. Builders make cabanas with various materials, each catering to different levels of permanence or portability. Steel, treated wood, plastic, or aluminum all can provide the framing for a cabana shelter. 

Simple cabanas may have only three walls. Some may have no walls with privacy coming in the form of large sheets of fabric, such as canvas, to shield the cabana's occupants and block the sun's glare.  

Other cabanas are permanent shelters. You may confuse these cabanas with a small pool house, though cabanas usually stop short of sleeping quarters. Still, they resemble more of a hotel suite than a thatched hut, complete with furnishings, electronics, and kitchen amenities geared towards private functions and entertaining of guests. 

beautiful backyard cabana on pool deck
allensima - stock.adobe.com

Cabana Styles

A cabana can be built and decorated however you prefer. Your imagination (and budget) are the only things that will limit your cabana's style.

Pool Cabana

Pool cabanas provide privacy for changing out of wet trunks, space to lounge, or even a place to store pool toys. They can be permanent or temporary, or even swim-up if you want to get fancy. 

Backyard Cabana

Pool schmool. You don't need a pool to set up a cabana. Backyard cabanas make for excellent entertaining. Upgrades like TVs, surround sound, BBQ grills, or fire pits bring the inside out to enjoy time with family and friends.

Portable Awning

Some don't need all of the bells and whistles. A little privacy and respite from the heat make portable awning or pop-up tents excellent cabana substitutes. The best part is that you can move your portable canopy wherever you'd like, and even take it to the beach.

Cabana Furniture

Cabanas take lounging to another level. Gone are the days of vinyl beach chairs baking in the sun. Ouch! Cabanas typically include comfy outdoor chairs and a place to set some drinks. Day beds, bar stools, or hanging swings will make your cabana the place to be seen, even if the only people seeing you are your immediate family members.

How Do I Get a Cabana For My Home?

Ready to turn your home's backyard into a luxury resort? Expect to pay between $7,000 and $10,000 for a fully functioning permanent cabana, complete with electricity for appliances and room for lounging and storage. Other cabana options include simple awnings, cabana-style furniture, and fabricated structures that can double as a pergola or grill pavilion. 

For many, a day by the water is the best part of summer—minus the jockeying for a spot and lack of privacy. Instead, a cabana at home allows you to create a backyard resort of your own where you can capture the essence of summer.

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