IF THE ISLES and miles are too much for you, here are 10 quick ways to recapture the wayward sun for under $50:
Throw a Beach Blanket Bingo party. Classic Tents of Rockville can set you up with a 40-by-40-foot backyard tent, enclosed and heated, for about $1,260; add "beach lighting" and a six-foot-wide boardwalk through the middle for $360 more. Bob Guir of Guir Construction, who catered the sand for the Departmental Auditorium when King Fahd of Saudi Arabia was visiting, will dump six truckloads of sand and then retrieve it the next day for about $1,200. Amusements Unlimited Inc. in Silver Spring will supply boardwalk-style concessions -- cotton candy wagons, soft pretzel hot dog carts, ice cream pushcarts (complete with umbrella) and even juke boxes stocked with beach-theme music -- for $175 each. That may sound like a lot of money, but not if you divide it among 100 of your closest friends.
Start diving or snorkling lessons; it takes about 30 hours to get certified to dive, anyway. Bob Landers' Scuba Shoppe in Rockville offers once-a-week classes and a final exam trip to a quarry in Pennsylvania for about $300. (Okay, that's over budget, too, but think of it as $10 an hour.)
Have a fillet of Sol. Ristorante Primavera (formerly La Fleur) at Wisconsin and Massachusetts has a glass-fronted courtyard, with fountain, that's the best thing north of the French Quarter. Garrett's Terrace Restaurant in Georgetown has replaced the old Jour et Nuit, but the little conservatory on the roof is bon marche' as ever. Le Jardin on 23rd Street NW has skylights the length of the room and copious greenery that combines with the mirrors and white marble for a near-tropical glare. The Hamburger Hamlet off Old Georgetown Road in Bethesda has a mini-greenhouse of a bar; the American Cafe Market near Tysons Corner has an eastern exposure that could give you a sunny new outlook on morning rush. The National Clarion Hotel in Crystal City has a rotating rooftop lounge, but the Skydome, as it's called, doesn't open until 4:30. Ah, sunset over the skyscrapers . . .
Take hula lessons. If it worked for Miss America, it'll work for you. Donna's Dance-a-Studio in Fort Washington offers weekly half-hour classes for $20 a month. If you think it's too late to go hippy, consider a little mambo-samba mumbo jumbo instead.
If you're tired of seeing the sun through the barest branches of winter, the glorious old U.S. Botanical Gardens at the foot of the Capitol is a bloomin' paradise from a bygone era. The National Zoo has a rainforest room for the exotic birds (whose breathtaking colors themselves seem hot), and the National Aquarium in Baltimore's Inner Harbor has turned its top floor into a tropical jungle. Ballston Common is a bright spot in the Arlington building boom, and a number of hotels, including the Westin, the Vista International, the Park Hyatt and the Four Seasons, have glass-sided alcoves or atria.
Try a Mai Tai. Or a Blue Lagoon, a Shark's Tooth or a Tiki Puka Puka (if you can't pronounce it anymore, you've had enough). Disingenuous and deceptively sweet Polynesian drinks are on the way back in, according to gourmand magazines. Not only are these drinks evocative of soft South Sea breezes, they're often served in "exotic" containers: At Trader Vic's in the Capital Hilton, a hot buttered rum comes in a skull's head mug and a Samoan Fog Cutter in a hula girl vase. Some are even served up for as many as four imbibers. Toss in a lei, and it's a real icebreaker. At the Aloha Inn in Gaithersburg, the haute hut decor even comes with live entertainment on weekends: the Royal Polynesian Band and terpsichorean arts of Hawaii, Tahiti, New Zealand and Samoa. For other aloha-ha's, check out the Kona Kai restaurant at the Bethesda Marriott and Herndon's Luau Garden.
Alternatively, drink hot -- perhaps a Cajun martini at the New Orleans Emporium, based on the Paul Prudhomme shooter that starts with jalapeno-marinated vodka and ends with a garnish of brine-boiled onions, olives and green Tabasco peppers. Just remember: it's Lent.
Stand next to the sunniest art in town. Gaze into the glory of Monet's "Artist's Garden at Ve'theuil" at the National Gallery, and then step into the next room and promenade into Renoir's "Pont Neuf," where the sun is so bright over the bridge that the women need parasols. Head over to the Phillips Collection and bask in the brilliance of Lee Gatch's "Bird in Hand." Or buy a book of Van Gogh, and watch the wheat fields swelter. (Sad to say, the hammered tin Sol that used to gleam out over 18th Street from the Sun Gallery is no more.)
Looks aren't everything -- but they help. Sunstreak your hair. This is not just for women: Look what a little dab did for pop star George Michael. You could do-it-yourself with a packaged product, but their sometimes brassy blonding is not flattering to the skin tone. Professional highlighting is more expensive, but more effective. Expect to pay from about $25 at a Hair Cuttery up to "$45 and up" at Piaf or about $60 at Daniel's. Now hit the tanning parlor (carefully, please) and practice laughing with an island lilt.
Buy new jams or a new swimsuit . . . and if the mirror doesn't get you busy enough to forget February, nothing will. Among the splashiest selections: the Bikini Shop downtown and Sunshine House in Lake Forest Mall, which also sells surfboards (get that wax out).
Buy yourself some cheap sunglasses.