What Is a Cabana?

Thatched cabana on the beach.

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A cabana is a type of shelter, similar in size and appearance to a gazebo, commonly found on or near beaches and swimming pools. If you’ve been to a luxurious hotel in a city like Las Vegas or Miami, you’ve likely seen a poolside cabana. Hotels often reserve them for private parties and they're popular on beaches around the world, but you can also buy or build one to put on your own property.

Unlike a gazebo, which is typically open air on all sides, cabanas have three walls and one open side facing the water. These freestanding structures act as shady refuges for folks looking for a private place to change into their swimsuits or hide from the sun. 

You don’t have to be near a beach or a pool to find a cabana, though. Build a cabana in your backyard for a cool place to relax on hot summer days or for a romantic getaway just steps from your back door. Decorate it to match your home’s aesthetic and add accents like a hammock, grill, or even an outdoor shower.

The word cabana is derived from the Spanish word cabaña. Translated to English, cabañas refer to lightweight cabins, huts, or shelters, usually with a roof, three walls, and an open side facing a beach or swimming pool. In North America, they are common at poolside resorts and hotels.


Swimming in lakes, rivers, creeks, and ponds has been a common activity among humans of all ages for thousands of years. The first known organized swimming events took place in 2500 B.C., and the first swimming pools were invented by the Romans in the first century B.C. Then, people mostly used pools for bathing.

Historically, bathing was a communal and relatively public activity in bathhouses made from stone and tile. Bathhouses had dressing rooms where people could change privately.

As recreational outdoor swimming pools became a hot commodity across the world in later years, people were missing the refuge of a bathhouse. So, they built small huts to use as dressing rooms. They modeled these after indigenous structures, known as cabañas in Spanish.

Today, cabanas line pools and beaches all over the world, offering a space for relaxation and privacy to anyone who needs it.

Thatched cabanas with fabric walls on the beach.

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Common Materials

Cabana frames can be made of metal (typically aluminum or steel), wood, or composite plastics. Roofs or walls can be made of thatched materials, wood, plastic, or fabrics suitable for outdoor use.

When choosing the material for your cabana, consider the weather where you live as well as the cost and maintenance associated with each material type. Wood, metal, plastic, and exterior grade fabric all have their pros and cons. While plastic and fabric are cheaper upfront than wood and metal, they may not last as long when exposed to the elements. Wood and metal may also need occasional maintenance, while plastic and fabric may not. 

Modern cabana near a pool.

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Cabanas are not only functional as serene hideaways, but they can also act as stylish accents to any pool or beach area. Many upscale hotels add cabanas to their outdoor lounge areas for visitors to enjoy, but homeowners also love adding them to their personal space to add a touch of tranquility to their backyard. They offer a great place to relax, have breakfast, or curl up and read a good book while occasionally gazing at the water. While you can decorate your cabana however you’d like, many cabana owners go with a natural vibe as a nod to the structure’s indigenous roots. Historically, cabanas were made with natural materials that could be found near a beach or jungle, like palm fronds.

Thatched roof of a cabana looking out at the ocean.

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If you choose to go the traditional route when you decorate your cabana, choose light-colored walls in white, sky blue, seafoam green, pale pink, or a sandy color. This will give the structure its signature beachy vibe. To keep the tropical theme going, add potted plants as decorations and stick to natural materials for the structure of the cabana—wood or bamboo work well. Wicker furniture is well-suited to cabanas. Add a wicker chair or bench inside to act as a comfortable place to relax or change clothes. 

If you want your cabana to be more of a hangout space instead of just a place to change clothes, consider adding amenities like an outdoor stove or sink for backyard barbecues on the regular. 

To make the space more dynamic, use exterior fabric for the cabana's walls. When privacy isn't a concern, you can tie each piece of fabric to one of the four exterior poles to keep it out of the way. This really makes the space more seamless.

Need a private spot to rinse off after a swim? Add an outdoor shower to your cabana (just make sure there’s a drain in the floor to catch that running water). There’s no limit to what you can do with your cabana. You can even give your structure a modern twist to fit your backyard.