The easiest and least expensive way to cover a patio is to purchase one or more umbrellas. Add an umbrella to your table or attach one to a lounge chair. You can purchase large, free-standing umbrellas that cover relatively large areas.
However, umbrellas have a few cons as patio covers. You may have to purchase more than one to cover enough area to protect several people, and umbrellas only offer protection from the sun and not so much against rain. Also, umbrellas blow over easily in windy conditions, so you must remember to close and protect them to avoid damage.
A larger investment than umbrellas, patio awnings offer quite a bit more protection for your patio. You can install either a fixed fabric or metal awning or a retractable version for the days when you want to lie in the sun. Retractable awnings allow for adjustment throughout the day, so you can always leave part of the patio covered. For those on a budget, hand crank options are less expensive, but if you desire convenience, install a motorized version.
Another option is to build a simple wood structure, or pergola, and plant fast-growing vines. This attractive option will make you feel like you are relaxing in a private garden oasis. Once the vines fill in, they will block most of the sun and even some rain.
Finally, you can cover your patio by converting it into an outdoor room. Hire a contractor to build a simple enclosure with screened openings, or purchase a prefabricated patio enclosure. They are available in a variety of styles and may be finished with aluminum or wood siding, or other materials. You can determine how open or closed the structure should be, and you can even install working glass windows. Another convenience is to incorporate ceiling fans to cool your enclosed patio. While this is the most expensive option for covering your patio, it allows you to enjoy the outdoors without leaving the comforts of the indoors behind.