Pre-kids, I thought going to the beach was the ultimate way to relax. I loved listening to the sound of the waves gently crashing in the background while I enjoyed the feeling of the sun on my face and the sand beneath my toes. Before kids, my biggest problem at the beach was forgetting to apply sunscreen.
Going to the beach with 3 kids ages 4 and under is a sharp contrast to those days. We live only a few miles away from the beach, so we go there quite often for free entertainment. No matter how prepared we are, though, it still feels like it takes hours to even get out the door with all the gear we need, and I consider hiring a sherpa to carry everything.
Then there's the matter of applying sunscreen to 3 squirmy children, carrying everything and everyone from the car, and keeping track of them all when we're there.
During my three years of living in Florida, I've developed a few systems, tips, and tricks to actually enjoy the beach with my kids. Yes, it's still a lot more work than it was in my early 20s, but I love letting them explore the great outdoors, teaching them water safety, and the crazy good naps they take when we get back.
Here are my top things to pack to make your beach day with toddlers go as smoothly as possible.
What to Pack for a Beach Day with Toddlers
As I mentioned, we live near the beach, which means we go quite often, especially in summer. I have learned to keep a small bucket in the car or near the door with all the kids' hats and sunglasses.
We keep another small bucket filled with sunscreen and bug spray to grab on-the-go. I prefer more natural sunscreens like Block Island Organics, but to be really honest, sometimes the spray-on sunscreen is just easier, especially for reapplication. I keep both kinds in my kit!
We have to climb down stairs to get to our beach, so to carry all of the gear like beach chairs, towels, sunscreen, and snacks we use Badger Gear Bottomless Backpacks. You can throw everything in the bag leaving your hands free to help the kids through the parking lot or along the side of the road, down the stairs, and through the sand.
I highly recommend the Badger Gear Bottomless Backpacks to anyone trying to manage young kids at the beach.
If you go to a beach where you can just walk straight onto the sand, a wagon might be a good option for carrying everything. We have this wagon, and it could carry a cooler, towels, beach chairs or even the kids. We like to use this when we visit other beaches without stairs.
I get it. These aren't the world's cutest shoes. However, they're perfect for little kids at the beach. They are lightweight, easy to put on and take off, and you can rinse them off. It doesn't matter if they get wet or sandy.
This is a little trick I learned from other moms. You can sprinkle baby powder on any sand stuck to your feet, legs, or hands and it makes the sand easier to brush off.
2 summers ago I got stung by a jellyfish while swimming in the ocean. Luckily, another family had a bottle of vinegar with them for just such occasions. Pouring vinegar on a jellyfish sting helps stop the stinging. I was so glad they had it! I was able to keep playing with my kids for a few hours afterward without too much discomfort.
Chances are if you're with a toddler, you won't be going out very far in the water, but you never know! You also want to be aware of jellyfish that have washed up on the shore - they can be tempting for little ones to touch, so vinegar could come in handy.
An Umbrella or Tent
If you're planning to be at the beach for awhile, it would be wise to bring some sort of shade to protect your toddler's skin. We have this beach tent which I've been using since our youngest was a baby. A year ago I was using it to nurse the baby and let him nap at the beach. Now it's a good home base for all of our things and a good spot for the kids to take a break, eat a snack, and rest for a bit.
We try to keep snacks somewhat on the healthy side and easy to grab on the go. Some of our favorites include apple slices, protein bars cut up in little pieces, applesauce pouches, dry cereal, and PB&J on whole wheat bread. If you'll be there for an entire day, definitely bring a cooler for water and anything you don't want melting or going bad in the heat.
No need to go crazy with toys and entertainment - the beach itself has plenty for your toddler to explore and discover. A shovel and pail are great, along with these inexpensive beach toys. Sometimes we'll also bring a body board, which is great for older toddlers for playing in the surf. I've even seen families bring small inflatable pools for younger toddlers to splash around in! It's really up to you how much equipment you feel like dragging with you, and also how "extra" you are.
We've done both the disposable swim diapers and the reusable swim diapers, and there are absolutely pros and cons to both. I think you just need to think about your situation and make the best decision for your family. The resuable diapers definitely hold more, especially in a dirty diaper situation, but are more of a pain to clean out. And make sure you have a backup diaper and wet bag with you!
The disposable diapers are much easier, but we all know they don't do much to keep things contained. And they're kind of expensive. Bear all that in mind, and do what works for you. We usually end up going with the disposable ones for simplicity's sake.
Another friend of ours who is experienced with kids at the beach gave us a shovel when our youngest was born and told us to use it at the beach. We were confused at first, but then she explained that when her kids were little, she used to dig a large hole for them at the beach and let them play with sand toys to keep them contained and occupied.
We finally got a chance to try it this weekend and it worked like a charm! It bought us at least a half hour of relaxing beach time. (One of us supervised the baby and relaxed in a chair while the other played with the older 2 in the waves).
So those are our must-have supplies when beachin' it with a toddler. It's not easy chasing a strong-willed child around the beach, getting sand out of their mouth and protecting them from crawling straight into an oncoming wave. However, it is so worthwhile to experience. I'll even say it's fun if you go in with the right attitude and low expectations.
So yeah. Be prepared, bring lots of sunscreen and water, and know that you won't be laying on a towel sipping wine out of a can and working on your tan. Do that, and your beach day with your little monster should be a rousing success.
Did I miss any must-have supplies? Let me know in the comments below!