We live in coastal Maine and have a ton of beaches within walking or biking distance, which is awesome because I LOVE the beach.
I love the sand, the smell, the water, everything, so when my husband and I were getting ready to take our firstborn (James) for the first time, I was SO excited.
I donned my best sunhat, lathered up in sunscreen, grabbed my favorite beach tote and stuffed it with all the essentials: a novel, my crossword puzzle book, a towel, a container of watermelon cubes, a bottle of wine… oh! and a bunch of sand toys for James — you know… for him to play in the sand while I bronzed, read, relaxed, imbibed.
Ohhhhh, was I clueless.
Here’s the plain truth about going to the beach with a baby or toddler: it’s nothing like going to the beach on your own.
Time Magazine nailed it with this image for its cover story on “The Childfree Life” in the summer of 2013:
Don’t get me wrong, it can be fun, but in a totally and completely different kind of way and with a little bit (lots?) of preparation. That’s why we’ve put together this run-down of top tips and tricks, as well as a packing checklist, to help you thrive on a beach day with a baby and/or a toddler.
Whether you’re a minimalist or prefer to bring along absolutely everything you may end up needing, there are definitely some tips you’ll find useful. Good luck!
Beaching it With Baby: Tips and Tricks
Lower your expectations. That’s right: you — ahem, baby — will probably not “last” that long. Your beach “day” probably won’t really be a whole day. It may be a few hours or 45 minutes, so be prepared to leave the beach earlier than you had planned.
Also, forget about books, adult beverages, or other such beachy self-indulgences. You’ll be too busy chasing after your baby/toddler, trying to stop her from eating sand (pro tip: it’s a lost cause), or changing sandy diapers to even think about diving into the ocean or escaping into that new beach read your neighbor just loaned you. You may have a baby or toddler who wants to do nothing other than lie on top of you (or nurse) the. entire. day. Totally normal.
Designate an oversized bag as your eternal beach bag. Keep it stocked with essentials so it’s always ready to go. This way you don’t have to constantly pack and unpack a beach bag every time you set out.
A good beach bag should last you for… ever? Our team has various favorites, from L.L. Bean to Land’s End. For travel, anything that collapses into your suitcase will work. I personally love Seabags – they make beautiful totes out of recycled sails. They do have a hefty price tag, but we think they’re totally worth it – these things are indestructible, waterproof and literally repel sand, and they’re machine-washable.
Figure out where your baby is going to “live” at the beach (where will she sit/rest/play/eat?) and make sure you have a good spot or two lined up. (This is less of a concern for a toddler.) Our go-tos are: a carrier, a spot on a towel, or a true play area, like a pack ‘n play. You could also bring a travel crib. Whatever you choose, just make sure it’s shaded.
We also love the Summer Pop ‘n Play portable playard with the canopy (even better if you can double your sun protection with a beach tent, like this bestseller by Pacific Breeze).
Create a home base: You can use a fitted sheet, upside down and secured at the corners with bags or a cooler, instead of a traditional beach blanket. It will offer a more “secure” play space (but let’s be honest, we already told you: sand will still get everywhere).
You can also bring a waterproof outdoor blanket, like this one.
Speaking of fitted sheets… here’s a bonus tip: if you decide to bring a Pack ‘n Play and don’t have a shady area to put it, you can throw a crib-sized fitted sheet over the top for some shade. With the breeze provided by the mesh sides, your little one is sure to relax (and maybe even nap) while staying cool.
Do as much as you can before you leave the house. Apply sunscreen, get swim gear and other beach attire on, etc. The less you have to do in the sand and the sun once you arrive, the better. Just hold off on the swim diaper until you get to the beach because they do not contain pee.
Know this: sand will get everywhere. Your kiddos will eat some sand; it will get all over their bodies, into their hair and all their crevices. We all agree it’s better to accept this at the outset than fret about it for the whole day. It’s easier to accept that it’s just a battle you can’t win.
Which takes us to our final two tips:
Use baby powder (or corn starch) to clean sand off your little ones. Baby powder works like magic to get sand off little legs, butts, feet, you name it – just sprinkle some on and gently wipe off the sand. You’re welcome.
Keep your smartphone in a safe place. Ziploc bags work perfectly (you can even use your phone through them).
Beaching it With Baby: Packing Checklist
Here are some other essentials we suggest packing up too:
- A tent or an umbrella (even better if it’s UPF) – those babes can’t be in the sun too long! The L.L. Bean Sunbuster Folding Shelter is a fan favorite ($129), and the top-rated Coleman Beach Shade ($54) and the Pacific Breeze Easy Set-Up Beach Tent ($74), which we mentioned earlier, are more budget-friendly options. If you have a teeny baby and would like to keep your load light, you can opt for a baby tent like this one from Sunbayouth ($45).
- Towels. If you’re planning on beaching it a lot this season, you might want to invest in some compact microfiber towels – these bunch up to fit in your hand or pocket and really lighten your load; we love these ones from L.L. Bean.
- Sunscreen: We suggest applying a lotion at home (our go-to is Thinkbaby), and bringing along a spray (like All Good’s new product for reapplications). If you have one in your area, Trader Joe’s also sells a mineral sunscreen stick that’s super easy to use. I always keep one of these in our beach bag.
See also: Best Sunscreens for Everyone
- Snacks (so many snacks). Everyone has different preferences here, but in general, we suggest choosing things that are easy – we love fruit, nuts, cut veggies, and cheese. This is also one time where I personally make an exception with packaged foods… James thinks applesauce pouches and goldfish are “beach foods” (and “airplane foods”). Don’t forget some cold drinks. We love this super-portable cooler ($29) and these stackable containers are top-rated and very affordable. If you’re packing lunch, we’ve previously raved about these bento boxes in one of our Love Lists!
- Hydration! As adults, we all know how important it is to stay well-hydrated, especially when we’re out in the sun. Babies and toddlers aren’t always aware of how thirsty they are; and if they are, they may not communicate it (whether because they can’t yet or because they are too busy having fun). To prevent dehydration, make sure to offer fluids frequently.
See also: Our Favorite Insulated Cups for Summer
Babies can easily become overheated and/or dehydrated — and it can be a little scary if you’re not ready for it. If your kiddo starts to look like he’s fading, think about taking him somewhere with air conditioning and offering a bottle or sippy cup, or nursing. This happened to us one time — once we got into an air-conditioned space and offered James some fluids, his turn-around was incredible. You can read more about the signs of dehydration here.
- Hats (and anything UPF!). Sun protection is best done in layers, friends — adding sun-protective clothing and headwear to your arsenal will help protect your family from sunburns and over-exposure.
See also: Our Favorite Sun Protection Pieces
- Sunglasses. Another layer! Babies and toddlers don’t know how to “look” so the sun doesn’t get in their eyes, so this is a great time to start getting your child accustomed to wearing baby shades.
See also: Our Favorite Baby, Toddler and Kids Sunglasses
- Beach toys. You don’t need anything fancy here – good old-fashioned buckets and shovels are great, and keeping everything in a mesh bag also helps limit your load.
- Beach shoes. You probably want something that’s waterproof, light-weight, and breathable. (Check out our favorite summer shoes for kids.)
- Baby powder (or corn starch). Again, it’s such a good trick to remove all the sand off skin that you may even use it on yourself before putting your shoes back on.
- A baby carrier. If you have a baby, a carrier is a must at the beach. I’ve used mine virtually every time I take our kids there — it’s perfect for soothing (and shading) cranky babies, and it can double as a backpack for a toddler too. If it will be seriously hot, we have specific recommendations for summer carriers, too.
- Did we mention sunscreen?!
- A beach wagon. For heavier packers, it will really come in handy when you need to lug all your stuff around. If you frequent the beach a lot, you may want to invest in one of the newer stroller-wagons.
- Diaper changes. If you’re trying to pack light, consider bringing a freezer bag with just one or two diapers and a small travel pack of wipes so you don’t have to bring your full diaper bag. *Bring along a few extra plastic bags for wet clothes, dirty diapers, or trash.
- Puddle jumper. Depending on your kiddo’s age, you might want to bring along a puddle jumper or a life jacket. Puddle jumpers can work for kids over the age of 2.5 (give or take — depending on your kiddo’s maturity level and ability to stay upright in the water).
- Swim diapers. These aren’t 100% necessary, but if your toddler likes to play at the shore, they’re great to bring along.
Now that you know the scoop on what to pack for your beach day, don’t forget – try to enjoy it! We know it’s cliché, but even if beaching it with baby can drive us to drink right now, we’ll probably look back on these outings wistfully when our kids are older (right?). Let us know how it goes!