The Ultimate Family Beach Guide. 37 Sanity-Saving Tips & Tricks For An Epic Beach Day With Your Kids.
Remember the days when you went to the beach and your only worry was what bathing suit to wear? You were able to read a book, relax in the sun and even (gasp!) take a cat nap. With little ones now in the equation, that carefree lifestyle is a distant memory, and your day at the beach has become, well, not such a day at the beach.
But don’t fret mamas. It may not be quite as relaxing, but a day at the beach with your kids can still be a blast. You just need a little extra planning. Okay, who are we kidding, you need a heck of a lot of extra planning. But don’t let that deter you – simply follow our tips and tricks, and you’ll be beachin’ it like a pro in no time.
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BEFORE YOU GO
1.) Pack Your Beach Bag The Night Before
If you’re attempting to get an early start to your epic beach day (and we certainly suggest you do – see #33), you’ve got to bite the bullet and get as much of your packing done the night before. Once your kids are tucked in for the night, push through that urge to immediately put your feet up and turn on Real Housewives. Take 10 minutes to prep and it will ultimately save you ½ an hour in the morning, as once your kiddos are up, everything will take at least 3 times as long.
2.) Dress Your Kids in Sun Protective Clothing
Let’s face it, the less skin exposed to the sun’s powerful rays, the better. That’s less skin to potentially get burned, and less skin you have to worry about re-applying sunscreen to all day long. There are plenty of stylish sun protection swimwear options for babies, toddlers and big kids out there, just make sure you get one with UPF 30+.
3.) Apply Sunscreen BEFORE You Get To The Beach.
Guys, this one is a must-do. We know it’s just one more thing to think about as you frantically try to get out the door, but if you don’t do it before you hit the sand, you’re going to start your beach day totally frazzled by trying to chase excited we’re-finally-at-the-beach-mode kids to stop and get covered in white gunk. Not. Going. To. Happen. Well, not without major bribes or consequences that is, and who wants to start off your enjoyable day at the beach like that. Plus, rubbing in sunscreen on sandy legs is a lesson in exfoliation your kids aren’t interested in learning.
So, practice those wrestler-like holds before you hit the road – or, try this sneaky trick: buckle them into their car seats, then say “oh, I almost forgot the sunscreen!" Break it out and lather away while they can’t escape.
4.) Check the Tides
Visit the NOAA website and look-up your area to see what time high and low tide will be. Knowing if the tide is coming in or going out will ultimately help you decide where to set-up “camp” for the day. You don’t want to be those people who get all settled only to realize they’ll eventually be washed out and have to squeeze into a tiny spot on the now-crowded beach.
WHAT TO PACK IN YOUR BEACH BAG
Well the hardest part is over, right? The initial application is on, so you’ve got approximately 60-80 minutes until it’s time to touch-up. Carry a small-sized tube of SPF 30+ sunscreen in an easy-to-access pocket of your beach bag so you’ll be ready when it’s time for the next layer.
RELATED: Our Top Safe Sunscreens For Babies and Kids That Won't Leave Them With
That Ghostly White Residue
6.) One Towel For Each Person (Yourself Included)
Kinda goes without saying, but you can’t assume your kids will “share” a towel, or that your youngest won’t get wet. It’s gonna happen, so plan ahead and bring enough towels so everyone can “own” them for the day.
Put older kids in charge of their own towel, which means “hanging” it somewhere to dry after they use it (instead of leaving it in a crumpled wet heap on the sand, which is what will inevitably happen if you don’t instruct them beforehand). We love these Umbrella Hooks which you can slip around the top of your umbrella pole to create a great spot to hang towels.
Our favorite towels for kids are these Hooded Beach Wraps from Pottery Barn Kids, which will not only keep them warm, but will stay on while they play much better than a traditional towel.
7.) Full UV Protection Hats and Sunglasses
Even with Rash Guards and sunscreen, if you’re spending the whole day at the beach, you need to protect your child’s eyes. The glare and reflection off the sand and ocean is so strong and can do major harm with constant exposure.
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8.) A Change of Clothes
Your kids will get wet. Your kids will get sandy. Your kids will get fed up of being wet and sandy. So when that time comes (and trust us, it will sneak up on you), make sure you have a fresh change of clothes on-hand. It can be another rash guard and swim trunks/bottoms, or a loose-fitting, easy-on outfit.
Once they’re into fresh clothes, don’t just shove the wet, sandy ones away in your bag just yet. Hang them over your beach chairs to dry. This way you’ll easily be able to shake off the sand when you are ready to pack up, and, if your little one decides they want to go for one last dip, they’ll at least have a semi-dry outfit to change back into.
9.) Wet Bag
Speaking of wet, sandy clothes – who wants to put that hot mess directly into their beach bag? Instead, take along a gallon-sized Ziploc baggie, a plastic grocery bag, or one of these handy-dandy re-useable wet bags to cart your wet clothes back home.
10.) Bag for Trash
Ever seen a conveniently placed trash can near your beach spot? Us either. Save yourself several trips to the garbage by bringing along your own trash bag that you can easily dispose of on your way out.
11.) Baby Powder
By the time your beach day is over, your kids will be covered in sand. It will be stuck in every crevice on their sweaty little bodies, and ready to make its way back home with you – dropping off grains in your car, in your house, and in your kids’ beds. Ugh.
But fear not, there is an easy solution for this. Sprinkle your kids with baby powder and that once-sticky sand magically turns into a dry dust that simply brushes off. Seriously friends, this one is a total life saver. Even more so if your kids are in diapers and you want to get their little tush sand-free before the long car-ride home.
12.) A Zip Lock Bag for Your Cell Phone
Even if you keep your cell phone inside your beach bag, sand will mysteriously find it and stick its teeny tiny grains into any nook and cranny it can find. Protect it from the sand (and water for that matter), by slipping it into a small plastic baggie, along with your keys and wallet.
13.) Bug Spray
You probably never thought you’d need bug spray at the beach, but every year, a new pesky sort of biting beach bug seems to come out of no-where to try and put an end to our happily playing children. And mosquitos will come out and hunt you down before you can say “dusk”.
So carry bug spray in your beach bag and you’ll always to be ready to fend off any insects before they can ruin your fun. We recommend this travel-sized Natural Repellant by California Baby.
14.) Baby Wipes
Whether you have stinky diapers to change or not, having a pack of baby wipes on-hand is never a bad idea. From sticky fingers to runny noses, you’ll have a wipe for that.
15.) Floatation Device
If you have young kids who aren’t fully capable swimmers, and you want them to be able to enjoy the water without you necessarily being by their side the whole day, bringing a floatation device is a wise choice. Whether it’s a full lifejacket, or a Puddle Jumper (which, by the way, are totally awesome), clip one of their buckles around the strap of your beach bag and you’ll be smooth sailing.
And what, you may ask, is possibly ever going to hold all of this “gear”?
16.) Invest in an Extra-Large Beach Bag
Having tried countless different bags, after years and years of summers at the beach, we have finally found the perfect one.
This Extra-Large Canvas Tote from Lands’End is the only bag you’ll ever need. It has tons of interior pockets so you can keep your essentials at-hand, a zip-top, is made from sturdy canvas that stays opens for easy packing, and it can easily fit everything you need for a day at the beach for a family of 5.
WHAT TO PACK IN YOUR COOLER
17.) Water, Water and More Water!
Staying hydrated is essential for a long day in the hot sun, so pack a re-usable water bottle for each family member with plenty of ice. Throw in a couple frozen water bottles that can act as ice-packs, but can also re-fill your re-usable bottles once they start to melt.
RELATED: 5 Safe, No-Leak, Easy-to-Clean Water Bottles For Big Kids (Yes, They Do Exist!)
18.) Healthy Lunch
The combination of sun and salty air make for particularly ravenous kids at the beach. Ours will generally eat anything they can get their hands on, so we make sure to capitalize on this by packing a healthy lunch they can eat at the first signs of hunger. A sandwich with some form of protein, plus some cut up veggies and fruit will do just the job.
19.) Fun Snacks in Small Portions
Once you’ve got a healthy lunch in your kids’ belly, you can relax a little about their snacking for the rest of the day. Because really, what’s a day at the beach without some fun snacks – chips, popcorn, pretzels, cookies – do it up! And unless you like sand on your chips, we suggest bringing individual portions for your kiddos so their sandy fingers don’t go into the Costco-sized bag.
20.) Don’t Forget to Choose a Shady Spot for the Cooler
Don’t just plop the cooler down on the sand when you arrive without some strategic thinking. Find a nice shady spot for it – whether it’s under an umbrella, a beach tent or simply in the shadows behind your chair – that way your precious food and beverages will stay cold for the long haul.
WHAT ELSE TO BRING
21.) Backpack Chairs
These Backpack Chairs are an absolute lifesaver when it comes to toting all the aforementioned stuff onto the beach. They slip comfortably onto your back so both hands are free to carry your cooler, beach bag, umbrella, and any small, exhausted children.
22.) Wonder Wheeler
If you’re an avid beach-goer, you might want to invest in one of these fantastic carts that will make the task of schlepping all your stuff from the parking lot to your beach spot much easier (especially if you have less adults than kids). The cart’s large wheels can be easily pulled through the sand, the enormous mesh basket fits a ton of gear, and there’s even a special spot for that awkward umbrella.
23.) Umbrella with Sand Anchor
Bringing an umbrella to the beach is a no-brainer, but many people don’t bring the right “tools” to keep it safely in the sand. With only as much as a little breeze, your umbrella can easily be lifted up and transformed into a dangerous impaling weapon. But with this handy-dandy Sand Anchor, you can safely secure your umbrella’s pole into the sand with just a few twists.
24.) Beach Tent
You always, always, want to make sure there will be enough shade for everyone throughout the course of the day. Sometimes an umbrella only casts enough shadow for 2 people, and the battle for those spots ain’t pretty.
Forget bringing multiple umbrellas and instead create a cool area for your kids with a small pop-up tent. It becomes a fun spot for them to eat, take a break, quietly play or better yet, take a nap!
25.) Variety of Sand Toys
Pack some awesome sand toys and your kids will stay occupied all day. You don’t need a ton, just a carefully chosen selection that will allow their imaginations to go to work. We love the engaging choices from Melissa and Doug, but have also found that measuring cups and spoons can be a big hit!
And try having your kids pack their own ziploc baggie of smaller “figurines” like army guys, matchbox cars, animals or Little People which can inhabit their sand creations - think army bases, race tracks, zoos or castles!
26.) A Tennis Ball
There are so many fun things you can do at the beach just with a simple tennis ball. Try making a “ball run” where you carve out a path along the sand and try to have the ball roll from top to bottom. Or how about Sand Corn Hole where you dig a hole and try to throw in the ball from a distance. You can even create your own Skee Ball game, or simply use it for an ol’ fashioned game of catch.
27.) Big Shovel
If you have older kids or love to build things in the sand with your little ones, try packing a sturdy, larger shovel. Use it to build epic sand castles with large moats, bury people, or create your own baby “tide pools”. The possibilities are endless with the right tools!
28.) Mesh Bag for Sand Toys
You’ll want an easy way to tote your beach toys, and we highly recommend a mesh bag so the excess sand can slip through the holes, lightening your load, and keeping the trunk of your car from turning into a sand box.
29.) Large Beach Blanket
You’ll want to set-up an area where your group can sit to eat, relax or play that’s not directly in the sand. Sure you can try and lay out your towels for this purpose, but they’ll ultimately end up a sandy, scrunched up mess.
30.) Boogie Boards/Skim Boards
If you’re heading to the ocean with older kids who want to ride the waves, a Body Board is a must-have. Alternatively, if there aren’t many waves, try a Skim Board. Kids can “carve” out turns with them in just a few inches of water. This one from D6 Sports has a detachable handle and is perfect for younger kids who are just starting out. Both are super fun and will keep your kids active and enjoying the ocean.
WHAT TO KEEP IN YOUR CAR “JUST IN CASE”
31.) Long Sleeve Shirts
I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve arrived at the beach and the temperature is 15 degrees cooler then when we left our house. Depending on the ocean breeze, the difference can be drastic, so make sure you’re prepared by throwing in a few long sleeve sweaters or cover-ups for each person into your car. That way if the wind shifts, you won’t have to huddle together wrapped in towels.
32.) Portable Potty
You never know what the bathroom situation is going to be like at the beach, and often times they are quite a far walk. If you have toddlers who can’t “hold it” or are in the midst of potty training, a small folding travel potty will be a life saver. Keep it in your car (or even bring it with you on the beach if the parking lot is far away), and you’ll always be ready for when they are.
WHEN YOU GET THERE
33.) Go Early & Claim Your Spot
Try and get to the beach as early as you can. You’ll get the closer parking spots and can pick your plot of land for the day. You’ve already checked the tides (see #3), so once you arrive, you can easily determine your best placement. If the tide is going out you should sit as close to the edge of the water as possible, and if the tide is coming in, you should sit further back (try and look at the sand to see if you can tell where the water line will come up to).
34.) Spread Out to Give Yourself Some Breathing Room
Once you’ve found your perfect spot for the day, set-up your gear and create a “buffer zone” around you so no one encroaches too close to your personal space (trust us, it’s for their own good). Sprinkle some of your sand toys on the outskirts of your chairs, and lay out beach blankets in front and behind your main area. This will give your kids some open space to play and build, and protect you from those groups who haven’t checked the tides and inevitably end up having to squeeze their way into the crowded beach once they realize they sat too close to the water’s edge.
35.) Set-Up a Hand Rinsing Bucket
Grab a large bucket, fill it with water and half bury it in the sand by your cooler. Designate it the “hand washing” bucket which all sandy-fingered children (and adults!) must use before accessing the cooler.
36.) Set-Up a Baby/Toddler Splash Bucket
If you have a baby or toddler who are drawn to the water, but you don’t want to be chasing them to the water’s edge all day, try burying a large bucket of water in the sand for them to splash in. It creates endless entertainment for our little ones, and the older kids even like to play with it too.
Alternatively, if large waves have you concerned, try bringing a small pop-up pool that you can fill with a few buckets of ocean water for a great, contained splash zone. This one from HearthSong folds up small and even has its own sun shade!
37.) Think About Winter and Soak It All In
At some point during all the craziness of your beach day, try and take a moment to think about the beauty that surrounds you. The water, the sand, and that glorious sun. Imagine what you would be doing with your kids if it were the middle of winter – cooped up indoors, or piling on layers upon layers of snow gear. And here you are, basking in the sun with your (hopefully!) happily-entertained children. Ahhh, this is the life.
Bonus! checklist to a meltdown-free beach day
Getting your family out the door for a day on the sand is no easy feat, so to make your life easier, we've put together the ultimate Day At The Beach With Kids printable checklist. Simply print and go down the list which includes:
- What to put on before leaving
- What to do before leaving
- What to pack in your beach bag
- What to pack in your cooler
- What to pack in the car
Check the actionable items off as you go, and you'll be prepared for whatever situation is thrown your way. Simple tell us where to send your checklist below:
Say no to beach meltdowns. Download the ultimate beach checklist:
Tell us where to send the link to instantly download your checklist.
What tips, tricks or hacks do you use at the beach? Let us in on your best ideas in the comments below.