July 8, 2010 at 1:52 pm EDT | by Andres Morinigo
Mediterranean vibe close to home

If you’re anything like me, the oppressive heat we’ve had in D.C. this summer has caused you to sweat like a wild animal the instant you set foot outside the confines of your air conditioned apartments.

Sure there are rooftop parties and barbecues to attend, but who wants to be constantly wringing out the pools of sweat and reminiscing about the fond memories of “Snowmageddon”?

If you’re looking to escape the heat or relax without spending buckets of dough, there’s a plethora of great options to explore within the greater D.C. area. After all, let’s not forget we’re still in a recession, and a trip to Europe in the summer can leave you eating beans and rice until Christmas.

One of my favorite summer activities is river tubing. Just a short hour’s drive from D.C., you can find BTI’s whitewater rafting and river tubing adventure in Harper’s Ferry, W. Va. (www.BTIwhitewater.com). For just under $30, you can rent a tube and get a day pass for unlimited river tubing down the Potomac River. If you happen to have your own tube, just $15 will get you an unlimited shuttle bus pass with lifejacket for an entire day. My recommendation: scour the aisles of Walmart or Target for a sturdy tube.

Another great summer activity that gets you out into the water and away from the urban heat is sailing. Who needs the French Riviera when we have Annapolis, Md., at our disposal? While prices are significantly steeper than river tubing, it can be a great bargain if you’re popular enough to enlist a group of friends to join you. Typically, a boat rental (and in this case, size DOES matter) can cost anywhere from $160-$400 for a half a day, and $250-$800 for a full day. The more expensive of those is a 37-foot sailboat, which, if you’re waking up in the morning and feeling like P. Diddy, would make for an unforgettable all-day yacht party. For an extra $200, you can enlist a captain and instructor so you and your party boat can sail responsibly and fist pump all the way into the sunset. For more information on boat rentals, visit South River Boat Rentals at http://www.southriverboatrentals.com/rates/.

If you’re not feeling all that adventurous, there are plenty of great restaurants to explore within D.C. One of the best is Cava, a Greek Mezze restaurant owned by two young Greek friends that used to wait tables in Bethesda, Md. Cava first opened its doors in Rockville, Md. in 2006 and quickly became a hit, spreading mostly by word of mouth and customer reviews. The Rockville location is teeming with young professionals and wino house moms that are adamant about enjoying half-price wine on Tuesdays and downing small plates of spicy hummus and lamb souvlaki. Those of us that enjoy a cocktail or 10 can set up shop at the full service martini bar that reminds me of some rustic, underground restaurant that seems more suitable for the alleyways of Athens than suburban Washington.

The soft lighting and dark, wooden furniture create a very simple yet intimate setting that leaves me half expecting an elderly Greek grandmother to emerge from the kitchen while waving a leg of lamb at me and forcing Ouzo and feta cheese down my throat. It’s fantastic. Moreover, it’s easy to feed off the ambiance at Cava, where the great drink specials and free pita dip leads to endless conversations with attractive, young and middle aged patrons from all over.

Cava has just opened its second location in Capitol Hill. This location is slightly larger, but features a very similar menu. Long-time Cava server, Kyle Swanson, explains just how extraordinary Cava is.

“The fact that the owners are two young Greek professionals and have been in the restaurant industry for so long creates a really laid back, Mediterranean feel to the place,” he says, as he leans over and pours more Pinot Grigio into my eager glass. The relatively new Capitol Hill location offers more space and a quieter atmosphere. Still, things tend to get crowded at Cava, so plan to make a night of it and strike up a conversation with the surprisingly attractive bartenders. For more information on Cava, visit cavamezze.com.

Summer doesn’t have to be expensive. You can get a great tan, party with your friends, and eat great Mediterranean food without setting foot on a plane. Just get creative, and let Europe come to you.

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