A day at the beach with kids can go one of two ways. It is either a smashing success and a lovely family day, or it’s a disaster. I’ve had both…and most of the disasters happened with small kids. Now that they’re older, they’re so much easier, more fun, and less stressful to hang out with. They don’t wander off, they can all swim, they know the rules, and they stay close. We can laugh, enjoy, play sand sports, and just have a good time together, and beach days are so much better for this Florida family now. Of course, not packing correctly for a family beach day is going to cost you the pleasure of a great day. What you pack makes you or breaks you – and you cannot afford to let it break you. Trust me.
The problem is that packing for the beach is such a personal thing. I know some people who consider the sunscreen the most important thing they pack, but for me it’s the water (and the alcohol). Sunscreen is a solid third place because dehydration terrifies me (and not having a cocktail on the beach seems wrong on so many levels). I’m mostly joking – sunscreen is literally among the most important things you bring to the beach (with water). My point is that beach packing for a family day is personal, so please let this serve as a guideline for you. Add to it – but don’t detract from it.
Clothing to Pack For A Beach Day
Perhaps clothing and the beach sounds a little like an oxymoron, but it’s not. While you don’t need much more than a swimsuit as a general rule, you do need a little more. If you have kids, you need dry clothes for after the beach, UV protectant shirts, hats, and more if you have small kids. Big kids are good about their own cover-ups to wear, but you’ll need diapers, swim diapers, and loose, breathable clothing for babies. They need to be covered up at the beach to protect them from the sun, but you also want them in clothing that allows them to stay cool. An overheated baby is not a good thing.
As a lifelong Floridian raising four water babies with the ocean just a few miles away, the Springs a few minutes away, and a pool at home, there is one specific item I always recommend. Fishing shirts. I mean the kind that have built-in UV protection. They have long sleeves. You might refer to them as rashguards, but they’re fishing shirts to Floridians. They’re made of a very specific material that does well when wet, dries quickly, and keeps everyone covered and protected. Don’t forget dry clothes, towels, and hats, though.
Snacks to Pack For A Beach Day
As a mom, there are a few things I’ve come to learn over the 15 years of parenting I’ve been doing with my husband. Kids – not all of them, but our youngest three, absolutely – must eat every four minutes or they might die of starvation. Our twins wake up every morning, walk out of their bedrooms and into the kitchen, and immediately begin eating. Their eyes aren’t open, and they’re eating. They don’t even use the restroom first. Because it’s been 12 hours since they ate, and they are starving. They must eat within 30 seconds of rising (weird, weird, weird, I know). On the flip side, our teenager is so uninterested in eating immediately. She’s busy existing.
Snacks are the most important thing you will pack for the beach aside from actual sunscreen and water. Oh, water. The single most important snack you’ll pack at the beach is water. The kids – and you – must remain hydrated. It’s so easy to become dehydrated in the hot sun, and you cannot allow that to happen. It never ends well. Some good snacks to pack are of the non-perishable variety, but fruit and veggies can go right into the cooler, and they should. Here’s what I love to pack for the beach with the kids to keep everyone happy.
- Pringles or other chips
- Fruit (strawberries, blueberries, watermelon, cantaloupe, grapes, cut up and put into meal prep bowls in the cooler)
- Cookies (because it’s the beach and they’re kids and who doesn’t love cookies0
- Croissants (and if we are on the beach but not at a hotel with a restaurant for lunch, I’ll throw some deli meat and cheese and condiments into the cooler to make little croissant sandwiches at lunch)
- Animal crackers
- Popcorn chicken from Publix
- More water (stay hydrated!)
There is no right or wrong way to pack snacks for the beach as long as you pack things your kids actually enjoy eating. That’s the only rule.
Kids Need Toys At The Beach
You know your child. What kind of toys do they need? Ours need a variety, so here are a few of our favorites to pack. I’ll preface this with the fact that our kids are 14, 11, 8, & 8, and these are the items they have to have when we are at the beach.
- Boogie board
- Sandcastle buckets and tools
Items To Pack To Keep You Comfortable
There are some necessities you need at the beach whether you have kids or not.
- Towels (always bring extra)
- Nylon beach bags (I am a BIG fan of the Lilly Pulitzer zip bags that fold and zip into small squares when you are not using them)
- Large beach umbrella
- Beach chairs
- Beach blanket (the kind that also zips up and is not made of any type of cloth)
- Life vests for little kids
- Trash bags for trash (littering is gross, don’t do it)
Something else I always recommend to parents going to the beach with their little ones is a box of Ziploc bags (sandwich size, no snack size) because you’re absolutely bringing home all the things. Seashells, specifically. Your kids are going to find eleventy billion of them, and they’re all coming home with you. If you’re visiting the lovely Sanibel area here in Florida, you’re going to bring home a few sand dollars. Do not forget Ziploc bags.
Another item to keep everyone comfortable is a waterproof bag for phones and electronics. Sand and water in your electronics is a bad idea, so waterproof bags help with that. Baby wipes are also a good idea for getting sand and other unwanted stuff off of your kids.
Do Not Forget a First Aid Kit
No one (it’s me, I’m no one) ever remembers a first aid kit on the beach, but it’s always necessary. Always. Someone is going to step on something sharp. Someone is going to get hit with a football and need a bandaid to make them feel better despite not actually needing a bandaid or having any blood or cuts on their body. Trust me – necessary. A first aid kit is necessary.
Another thing to keep in mind is going to take me right into story time. Three years ago while at the Grand Beach Hotel Surfside with the twins, our two older daughters, and our oldest daughter’s friend, our daughter’s friend was stung by a jellyfish on the arm. We tried everything, and the only thing that worked was urine. TMI, I know, but we had to pour it on her arm to get the burning to stop and to get the redness to go away. It was the only thing that worked. The hotel tried many different things to make it stop, and nothing worked. So, do keep in mind that it’s absolutely disgusting, but it does work. Just be sure you sanitize really well afterward. But, safety first, so you need to know this is not an old wives’ tale. It worked instantly.
Medication for the Beach
I always recommend having some medication on hand, even though it’s unlikely you will need it. Some chewable Motrin or Tylenol for the kids, some for you, and an antihistamine. You never know what might make the kids swell up on the beach. The other thing I recommend is a good baby powder, and putting your sons in boxer briefs under their swimsuits. Our sons little legs will chafe horribly if we let him wear his swimsuit without boxer briefs. I also like to pour baby powder on his legs before we get the day started to keep them nice and dry and prevent chafing as much as possible.
Dealing With Swimmer’s Itch
Nothing ruins a family beach day faster than swimmer’s itch. If you have kids with sensitive skin – especially those who have any type of dermatitis, summer is the worst time and the beach is the worst place. Swimmer’s itch almost always hits our son quickly when we are at the beach. It’s gross, but it’s exceptionally common. Because his skin is so sensitive, it always affects him but never touches us or the girls. Cercarial dermatitis is the official name for swimmer’s itch, and it’s an allergic reaction to the parasites found in the water. You don’t want to know where the parasites come from, trust me.
The good news is that Cercarial dermatitis won’t affect most people, but it will likely affect anyone with sensitive skin. It’ll look like little red spots, itchy rashes, and more. There’s not much you can do for it, but you can bring some antihistamine to help. Give your kids a good Epsom salt bath at the end of the day, and do make sure the kids towel dry themselves off well each time they get out of the water. Corticosteroid creams also help with the itch. It might last up to a week, but it shouldn’t be too bad if you know what it is right away and treat it immediately.
Always Know What to Expect at the Beach
One of the most important aspects of a great family beach day is making sure you are at a safe beach. Everything you pack and everything you do is going to mean nothing if you are swimming in unsafe areas. For example, you want to be sure that there are no signs posted about dangerous rip currents. Stay off the beach and out of the water during a storm, and never go further than you can stand. A beach with lifeguards is always better than one without, and the water is never fully safe no matter what you think. There are crabs, stingrays, sharks, and more in the water, and you must be vigilant at all times.
Additionally, here in Florida, we also have beaches on fresh water springs and lakes, and people who don’t live here are not always aware that these are dangerous waters. If you are in Florida and the water is wet, assume there are alligators, water moccasins, and other dangerous creatures inside of the water. Stay out of fresh water and any water than feeds into the Gulf or Atlantic at dusk or early morning – it’s feeding time for gators. They might not eat you, but they will drown you. I say this not to be morbid, but to save your life and the lives of your children. A good beach day never ends with an animal attack.