Beach trips can be a snap if you have a system and know what to bring whether it’s for day at the beach or part of a full-on beach vacation.
A big part of my What-to-Bring-to-the-Beach system is having all my beach things pre-packed so that when I decide to take the kids to the beach – we just load up the car and go.
We go to the beach year round so I have our routine down. I even made my packing list into a PRINTABLE PDF CHECKLIST for you — just scroll to the bottom of the post to find the download!
Sunscreen the kids before you go and bring some to re-apply.
Top 15 Things You Need for a Day at the Beach
Here are my top 15 ideas on what you should bring on a beach trip.
For 2020, things look a bit different than the original intent of this post when I first wrote it in June 2010. As summer approaches, different beaches are allowing different uses. Make sure you research parking, whether the beach allows sitting on the sand or if it’s active use only, and make sure you recreate responsibly by maintaining physical distancing and, for Orange County, having a cloth face-covering to adhere to OC Health Officer orders.
If you read on past this simple list, I’ll let you know details and exactly how to pack your beach items so one person can carry it all!
- Sand toys
- Picnic blanket and beach towels
- Beach umbrella
- Camp chair or beach chair for mom
- Flip-flops for all
- Beach lunch and snacks
- Change of clothes + hats
- Travel size baby powder + rag (for sand removal)
- First aid items
- Wallet, phone, camera, keys
- Sunscreen and SPF chapstick
- Reusable water bottles
- Spare change for feeding the parking meter
- Read on for more items + how to pack + my PDF Checklist (packing list)
What to Carry With You to the Beach – IKEA Bag Essentials
This IKEA bag (the waterproof blue one that you can buy at checkout for under $1) is key to beach success. I love it. It’s okay if it gets wet and sandy. It’s indestructible. Plus, it holds A LOT OF STUFF! Here’s what goes in your IKEA beach bag:
Sand toys — with EXTRA shovels. Always have way more shovels than you need. Kids will flock to your toys and you don’t want fights over who gets to use the shovel. Shovels are also known for handle breakage – so extras never hurt.
Picnic blanket and/or beach towel. I always bring one picnic blanket for all of us to share, plus one beach towel per person.
Beach umbrella. My umbrella is light and it rests perfectly atop the toys and towels. It doesn’t really fit inside the bag, but it balances there pretty well.
Mom gets a camp chair (preferably one that folds and has a case with a handle that fits over your shoulder). You might not get to sit in it much, but it gives the illusion of relaxation. I even have mine fitted with zip ties to hold the umbrella in place.
Flip-Flops for All
Don’t struggle with shoes you can’t just kick off. When you get to the sand, you’ll want to take off your shoes.
These are the easiest way to go. Plus, they protect the bottom of your feet from the hot sand on the way off the beach.
Beach Picnic Lunch
The rest of the stuff I can already have packed. The beach picnic lunch is the only real chore I need to do to get us out the door.
We usually have simple PB&J, with apples or carrots, and a few snacks thrown in. I don’t know what it is about the beach – but everything just tastes better.
Your water bottles should already be packed in your backpack. I only bring what I can fit in the backpack.
If it’s a family day at the beach and I have help — then I might consider a cooler.
What to Bring to the Beach – THE Backpack
THE Backpack is an essential item for your BEACH TRIP! It’s important that it’s a backpack or you’ll never make it from the car to the sand.
I call it THE Backpack because it accompanies us everywhere we go and holds everything I otherwise might forget. I’ve been known to shout “Do we have THE backpack?” or “Where’s THE backpack?” or “Did we forget THE backpack?” I panic if I open the trunk and it’s not in the car.
It has all the things I normally forget to take to the beach like: Band-Aids, snacks, and hats. It take it to the park. I take it to the beach. When I go to the mall once a year (since I hate shopping) — it’s in the car — but I still have it with me ’cause you never know when you’re gonna need a baby wipe.
From years of outdoor adventures with kids, I’ve figured out exactly what I need to bring with me. No more, no less. Ditch the diaper bag and the stylish tote! Get practical and put all those goodies on your back, so you can run around and join the fun.
Picking THE Backpack: I didn’t set out to pick the perfect backpack. But the one we use is designed for everything we need.
- You must be able to wear it on your back so you have both hands free!
- It’s BLACK (which strategically means men like Mr. PlayParks will carry it).
- It has a padded back and padded straps.
- It has 2 pockets for water bottles on the sides.
- It has 3 compartments (BIG, MIDDLE, SMALL).
What’s in the BIG pocket?
The big pocket is not always full, since I leave a ton of room for snacks or even a full-on picnic for trips to theme parks.
Change of clothes, including undergarments. These don’t have to be fancy, just enough to get you to the car or home when you’ve let them get dirty and messy on your adventure. You know it’s okay for kids to get dirty and messy, right? (Especially if you have a change of clothes.)
Hats for everyone, adults included. I like the floppy, fisherman-type hats because they cover our ears. We don’t look so cool, but it’s better than a huge scar from skin cancer (I’ve got one of those already).
Snacks that can stay in the bag even if I leave it in the car. Pretzels are a good one. Granola bars. Anything that can’t melt. Again, you don’t need a lot. Just enough to tide them over until you can properly feed your youngster before they beg snacks from everyone at the park. (Almonds are a good one to tide mom over, if you’re not allergic.)
Babies: The diaper changing kit, bottles, or breastfeeding blanket can go here.
What’s in the MIDDLE pocket?
Baby wipes AND antibacterial gel (I have both – the wipes for muddy, gooey messes – the gel for washing hands before we eat).
A pen and small notepad (never know when you’ll need it for entertaining the kids or jotting your phone number).
Band-Aid/First Aid kit (they have some cool ones with all sorts of extras for kids).
Spare change (for throwing in a fountain or feeding a parking meter)
Extra rubber band for my daughter’s hair.
Gatorade or Crystal Light single-serving powder packets. You can mix it in your water bottle for especially hot days or extra hard hikes.
Travel size baby powder and rag in a Ziploc bag is an amazing trick to remove sand. I never pack this myself since my car has a dark interior, I would rather deal with the sand than the powder. Just powder it on your child’s sandy feet and legs – then brush off with the rag. No more sand!
BEST TIP: I also transfer my wallet and camera (if I have an extra one) from my purse to this pocket, so I don’t have to carry my purse separately. My phone and keys go in here, too, when I go on theme park trips.
What’s in the SMALL pocket?
- Sunglasses (for kids). I’m usually wearing mine.
- Gum for mom and good breath:)
It’s a small pocket, nothing else fits.
Water Bottle pockets on the side
This has probably saved us the most $$$ over the years. You can refill your water bottles at drinking fountains throughout the day. We’ve even been at some amusement parks where the soda vendors will refill our bottles with water AND ice! For free.
- Our water bottle pockets hold two 16 oz. stainless steel water bottles. I think we got ours at Kohl’s for a pretty reasonable price. You can pack small cups inside the backpack if your kids can’t manage the big water bottle.
What else to include in the backpack?
- I used to put a thermometer in here for those “Does he have a fever?” moments. But now we’ve outgrown those. I also used to put Tylenol in there. Just be careful, because this bag is pretty much accessible to the kids.
- Picnics for lunchtime beach trips go in the big pocket. This is where I squeeze a small cooler with sandwiches and fruit.
Don’t forget to print out your PRINTABLE PDF CHECKLIST for easy packing.
What Else Do You Need to Take to the Beach?
- Boogie boards – which the kids carry or drag themselves
- Extra umbrella
- The extra beach bag in the photo is full of toys my daughter chose to bring in addition to the sand toys, but she had to carry those herself.
How to carry it all?
- I have the backpack on my back. Then the camp chair over my right shoulder. The IKEA bag goes over the camp chair strap and I can balance the umbrella laying on top of that IKEA bag with my right hand. Beach picnic lunch should be inside the backpack and the flip-flops are on my feet. That leaves my left hand free for holding little hands.
- Or – get one of those collapsible folding wagons to lighten your load.
What do I bring to the beach if I have a baby?
- Bring help! And waaaay more stuff like sun shades and a pack & play.
Wondering where to go to the beach?
My blog provides general information, but for official guidance (which changes day-by-day) make sure you ALWAYS check official sources before you go.
- Laguna Beach beaches (scroll down to click on descriptions)
- Newport Beach beaches
- Best Toddler Beaches with No Waves
- Explore my BEACHES category on this blog
Originally posted in June 2010.