From sandcastles to swimming, there’s nothing like a summer day at the beach. If you’re just popping down for a quick swim to cool off, you don’t need much more than a bathing suit and towel. But if you’re going for the day, planning can make or break the trip.
Here are seven things to consider, from getting there to getting home, for your best beach day yet.
Plan for parking. Is there ample parking? Do you need to get there early to get a spot? Will you need to pay for parking? You don’t want to show up at the beach with a car load of kids and find that you’ll have to schlep your stuff five blocks or start to pull into the parking lot only to find you have no cash.
Feed the troops. Even if there is a snack bar or other food available at the beach, it may be cheaper and easier to pack a lunch. Set expectations for your kids ahead of time. Letting kids know “We’re bringing a lunch and drinks, but we can all get an ice cream in the afternoon” can cut back on repeated requests.
If you’re getting an early start, packing lunch the night before keeps the morning running smoothly. Have a list of everything that has to go in the cooler so you don’t forget essentials. Bring an extra sandwich in case somebody is really hungry or a sandwich falls in the sand (it happens).
It’s easy to get dehydrated during a long day at the beach. Everyone will be happier if you make sure they’re drinking enough. Freeze water bottles over night to help keep drinks cold. Fruits, like grapes or watermelon chunks, help hydrate too.
Add some napkins or wipes, cups (if you’re bringing a jug of drinks), and a trash bag to your lunch stash.
Prepare for the sun. Apply sunscreen before you leave. You’ll want to reapply after swimming or after a few hours, but getting that first coating on before everyone is sandy is a good starting point. It also makes it less likely that you’ll forget in the chaos of setting up when the kids are begging to go in the water. Don’t forget to put the sunscreen in your bag after applying at home. You’ll want it again!
Sun hats and light long-sleeve t-shirts or swim shirts help protect against sun too. Consider an umbrella or beach tent, especially if you have little ones who might nap.
Sit and play. Bring a towel for each person for resting or drying off after swimming. A larger blanket for lunch or to put a baby on can be handy. Chairs are bulky but worth it for the comfort factor.
There are lots of great beach toys out there. Bring enough to keep it fun without getting overloaded. A bucket and a shovel for each young child cuts out fights. Older kids may want boogie boards, skim boards, or masks and snorkels. Games like paddleball or Frisbee are fun and don’t take up a lot of room. A book or travel game can be good for down time.
Get it onto the beach. That’s a lot of stuff, right? If you go to the beach often, a beach buggy that you can load up with all your gear might make sense. If you get there once a summer, it’s probably not worth it.
Instead, divide and conquer. If you want kids to carry things, make sure you have kid sized bundles. Maybe each kid carries their own towel and bucket or an older child gets the drink cooler while you grab the food and chair. Maybe one adult takes a load of stuff and the kids, while the other parks and schleps the remaining gear.
Potty preparedness. If you’re going to be at the beach all day, everyone will need to “go” at some point. If you have young kids who need a potty when they need it, make sure you know where the bathroom is (hopefully it’s not too far away). Have a plan for if you need to go to the bathroom. Does everyone go? Is there another adult to watch kids who don’t need the potty? Do you have rules—everyone out of the water—while adults are limited?
If you have kids in diapers, make sure you have plastic bags to tie up dirty diapers—and don’t forget to take them with you. Nobody wants to find dirty diapers on the beach.
End of the day. Consider staying late. Some of the most pleasant hours at the beach happen in the late afternoon and early evening when the crowds are leaving. You might save yourself some time sitting in traffic, too. Just make sure you have enough snacks or a dinner plan—and maybe a long sleeve t-shirt for everyone in case it starts to cool off.
You’ve had a great day at the beach, but everyone is tired and maybe a little crabby. It’s time to pack it up. If you’ve got a long drive, try to make everyone more comfortable. If showers are available, rinse off sand, salt, and sunscreen before the ride home. If not, try rinsing feet in a bucket of water. Sprinkle a little baby powder to help brush off sand. Get out of wet bathing suits and into dry clothes.
Take a deep breath of that fresh, salty air and enjoy—you’re a beach pro now.