My Family Has Been Going to the Beach for 10 Years — Here Are the Products We Swear By

published Jul 6, 2022
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One of the best parts of living in Florida is having relatively easy access to its lovely beaches. Our favorite ones are about two hours away: Far enough to make the outing special, but close enough for a spontaneous day trip every now and then. 

Through a decade of going to the beach with our children, from newborns all the way up to 12 years old, we’ve been able to narrow down the must-haves for a perfect beach day. Packing for the beach well is a dance between bringing enough to keep everyone busy, happy, and fed for a long day in the sun without bringing so much that your partner gets heat sickness carting it all to your spot on the beach. 

Here’s a list of beyond-the-basics items to pick from: 

Small microfiber towels

Once you try a good microfiber towel, you’ll rarely go back to the other kind. Microfiber towels are great for several reasons: First of all, they work well. They’re super absorbent even though they’re far thinner than traditional beach towels. Secondly, because they’re thin, they’re so much easier to pack; some take up only half the space of a typical beach towel. In addition, you can get them in smaller sizes, which is great for wrapping up small children without swallowing them in terrycloth. Lastly, these towels dry quickly, making them a pleasure to use even after many dips in the ocean. 

A shelter for shade

Whether you prefer the classic umbrella or the newest rage in sun shelters, definitely bring portable shade. Not only do you want to protect tender skin from sunburns, but you also want to provide enough respite from the heat that your kids won’t tire out from just being outside. Another nice thing about a shelter is that it defines your family’s “zone.” 

A kiddie pool

If you have children under five, an inflatable kiddie pool is a must for the beach. But even my older elementary school-aged kids have fun with it. A kiddie pool filled with ocean water, placed under your shelter in the shade, provides a safer alternative to the waves crashing under the blazing sun. Bring some bath toys to toss in there and you’ll have happy, occupied little ones.

An air pump

Speaking of kiddie pools, you really don’t want to blow one up yourself. Invest in an air pump, either a battery-operated one or a manual one. You might use it for floats, rafts, and beach balls too.   

Must-Have Sand Toys

Having too many beach toys is overwhelming, both to bring to the beach and to play with, as well as to gather and pack up at the end of the day. I’ve found that the best beach toys, the ones that are the most versatile and most played with, are the simplest ones. Specifically, shovels (one per kid, trust me) and buckets are the most important. Then include a few more novelty items, like maybe a small beach toy set that includes sand molds, rake, and sifter. Just don’t go overboard. 

A “surfer dude”

This surfer dude toy is the best recent beach purchase I’ve made. I saw it when we joined our friends for a beach day and the kids played with it multiple times throughout the day. The concept is simple: You toss the surfer dude into waves near the shore and watch him flip upright and “surf” back to you. It’s like a wave-riding boomerang and it provides hours of fun for little ones who may not be comfortable in the water and also for older siblings and parents!

Single-serving food and bento boxes 

When it comes to food at the beach, the most important thing to keep in mind is how to keep wet and sandy hands out of the food. For this reason, I usually opt for single-serve snacks, such as cheese sticks, individual chip bags, and applesauce pouches. This last option doesn’t require any touching at all! For food that isn’t single-serve, bento boxes are great for making everyone’s food separate and easy to pass out. These lightweight plastic ones are great for the beach. 

Shell bags

Collecting shells is a beach day’s treasure hunt. A special bag to collect them in makes gathering them even more fun. It also gives your kids a way to carry their shells and keep their finds separate from their siblings’ so you don’t have to referee at the end of the day. 

A waterproof camera

The kids will love capturing their fun in and under the water with their own waterproof camera and you’ll love seeing the memories they capture from their perspective. When you go to make a little Chatbook or slideshow of your family beach vacation, everyone will appreciate having the kids’ contributions. 

A sand-proof beach blanket

Lightweight, ultraportable, and large enough for the whole family, a sand-proof, waterproof beach blanket is the perfect spot to set down your bag and spread out your beach towels. This one comes with stakes for keeping your blanket in place and zippered pouches for keeping electronics and valuables protected. 

Beach games and activities

If you have older kids, make sure to have some beach games and other activities on hand to keep them entertained and happy. Some favorites are paddle ball, Slammo, and a skip ball. Another really fun, iconic, memory-making activity that’s perfect for the beach is flying a kite!  

Pro tip: make yourself a ready-to-go beach bag

One practical note: once you have this awesome stuff, stay organized! Thinking through what you need and how you’ll pack it helps you squeeze all the joy out of your beach vacation. For example, hook your puddle jumpers on to the straps of the same beach bag and always stash goggles in the same pocket of your beach bag. (No more frantic searches at the last minute!) Try to rinse what you can before walking back to your car. 

When you return from the beach, spend some time reordering all your beach bags and replenishing items (for instance, dry towels) so you are ready to go for your next beach day. Between getting everybody in their swimsuits, finding flip-flops, and applying sunscreen, you’ve got enough to take care of. Happy swimming and sunning!

This post was originally published July 7, 2021.