I’ve been traveling to the beach with kids for about 12 years now, and have gone from stressed out mom of one, to a relatively stress-free mom of six on these beach vacations. Since there are so many health benefits of the beach it can be a great place to visit and relax, but as a mom, it isn’t worth it if it causes more stress than it alleviates.
I’ve found that a little advance planning, some inexpensive essential beach gear, and a few ground rules greatly increases the fun and reduces the stress on any vacation, but especially at the beach. Of course, if a big vacation isn’t in the timeline or the budget for you (as it wasn’t for us for many years), a staycation can be another great way to explore your local area and spend some time together as a family.
Plan Ahead for the Essentials
This list really applies anywhere you might vacation, but is especially applicable to the beach. In my experience, planning almost always reduces stress, and vacation is no exception (so you don’t end up like this!). Now that we live close to the beach and visit it more regularly, I’ve developed a simple system to make sure we’re covered (literally and figuratively) when we hit the sand.
I always start with the essentials and work backward in order of priority. Start with the things most likely to cause the first discomfort and work down to more minor issues. Basically, I think of the complaints I’ll most likely get from my kids and start there… “I’m hot!,” or “I’m thirsty,” or “I’m hungry,” and “I’m bored” can kill the fun so we plan for them.
Beach Gear for a Sun-Safe Time
When it comes to the beach, the sun is the first and most important factor to address. Not only does it have the most potential to cause serious discomfort (hello sunburn), but it can be dangerous and cause problems even before lack of food or water will (see below for tips on those). Plus, a hot and sweaty baby or toddler is not a happy baby or toddler!
My rule is to have multiple options for shade and sun protection, including:
Beach Tent or Awning
Or both. Preferably both. When in doubt, add more shade, especially for kids!
I bring both a smaller beach tent for the kids and a larger beach sunshade that can be positioned against the sun for the most shade. (Check local rules wherever you are to make sure these are allowed first.) These are great for picnics and outdoor events when we aren’t at the beach too, and they’ve been a good investment for our family.
I prefer not to use sunscreen (here’s why) and choose shade, hats, and clothing over sunscreen whenever possible. This is why I bring multiple shade sources and make sure we take sun breaks.
Beach Coverup and Hats
As I said, we don’t slather on the sunscreen unless absolutely necessary, but we do use rash guards, hats, and shade to make sure we don’t get too much sun!
Each of our kids has a long-sleeve rash guard (I recommend white since it stays cooler) and a good beach hat that can be used when the sun gets too intense.
Investing in a nylon beach blanket like this has saved so much laundry, as instead of throwing towels on the ground to lay on, everyone can lay on an oversized beach blanket that doesn’t hold sand.
The second biggest factor to consider is water. The sun can cause damage in under half an hour but within the first hour at the beach, hydration becomes really important. We make sure to bring more water than we think we need and I remind the kids to stay hydrated throughout the day.
I reviewed all of our favorite plastic-free water bottles in this post. You may already know that I really, really, don’t like plastic. I’m especially careful to avoid plastic in the heat and sun since these cause excess plastic chemicals to leach into the water.
On the beach, I stick to stainless steel vacuum-insulated bottles (and these keep water ice cold on the beach all day!).
What to Eat at the Beach
Vacation food requires some advance planning. It is really hard to find good options for eating out, and it gets expensive fast with eight of us. I also don’t enjoy spending all of vacation cooking, so over the years I’ve developed systems for keeping us stocked with delicious and healthy food without me spending much time in the kitchen on vacation.
I often bulk cook at home but I always do before vacation if we are driving. This post explains my entire system but in short, I pre-make many of our favorites and put them in metal or glass containers, cover them and deep freeze them. Then, since we are typically a day’s drive or less from our vacation destination, I wrap each one in a beach towel and stack them in a laundry basket. This gets packed in the back of the car and keeps them cold for a good 8-10 hours.
On a side note, this is the most time-saving method I’ve found to pack food and it also means I have a laundry basket in the rental house or condo and that always comes in handy too!
Generally I think it’s a good policy to eat before you get to the beach (that is, if you like your food without sand in it) but of course no beach visit would last long without a few snacks in tow. Our stand-bys are good old fruits and vegetables, cut up and packed in silicone bags or mason jars. We also throw in some grass-fed beef or turkey sticks for protein.
If we head to the beach for a longer day, we take some pre-washed romaine lettuce leaves and add homemade chicken salad (this one is especially yummy) or leftover fajitas to make wraps. It’s easy for the kids to make one up when they get hungry, plus there are no dishes to throw away or wash.
Another great snack for the beach are these Phat Fudge snacks. There’s no prep at all, they taste like chocolate, and they keep hunger away for hours with plenty of healthy fats.
Beach Toys, Adventure, and Fun
My philosophy is, even if you bring nothing, there is plenty of fun to be had at the beach! Play in the surf, catch minnows, build sandcastles, and of course… swim!
If you want to bring toys to the beach, I find the best ones are simple tools you already have in the kitchen. We keep two empty 1 and 5-gallon buckets (leftover coconut oil containers, actually) in the garage and put a paintbrush, a rubber spatula, a melon baller, and a few stainless steel straws from the kitchen in them. Nestle the buckets inside each other, fill with kitchen implements, and you have a deluxe sandcastle-building kit to take to the beach! This post explains how to use them to make the best sandcastle you’ve ever built.
We do have one set of these biodegradeable beach toys and I definitely reccomend them since (unlike plastic toys) they haven’t broken or cracked after a lot of hard use and the kids never seem to get tired of them.
Last but not least, skip the giant inflatables and opt for snorkeling masks. They’re lightweight, don’t take up much room, and can be adjusted to fit whichever kid is using them. We have two and the kids take turns using them.
The Long Haul
Cooler, toys, sun shade, changes of clothes… dragging it all down to the beach is never an easy feat. Now that I don’t have a stroller in tow, I find it easiest to use these backpack chairs with our smaller beach items in the storage pocket.
We usually don’t need more stuff unless it’s going to be a long day trip, but if we do, one of the kids pulls this collapsible wagon (which we use for all kinds of outings) with the rest. The wagon can haul not only stuff but also a kid or two at the end of a long day of fun in the sun.
Beach Gear for a Family: Bottom Line
Remember the days when the only things on your beach gear list were a blanket and a good book? It’s true going to the beach with kids is
a little a lot more complicated and definitely not close to as relaxing (since kids + water = vigilance at every moment!). Still, the scenery is amazing and the memories are priceless. “Practice makes perfect” is true with most things and definitely true when packing for the beach. So get out there, soak up some sun, and enjoy every second of summer!
Do you have tips for enjoying the beach with kids? What beach gear makes it easier for you? Please share!