Packing Light for the Beach with Kids

I’m laughing on the inside at that title because…please. Kids just have a lot of junk, especially at the beach. Still, since we live about 35-40 minutes from several beaches, we’ve had to get our act together and figure out how to a) get out the door quickly and b) pack light enough that we’re not all losing our minds with frustration as we walk to and from the car, especially since a few of the beaches we like don’t have a parking lot right next to them.
It’s always helpful to me to see what others pack for any sort of adventure, so here’s what we bring with us:
1. One regular backpack. I have one backpack set aside as a beach backpack that always has sunscreen and baby powder in it. That way, I’m not emptying out a different bag, or repacking things in it every time that I don’t need on an everyday basis. It’s a cheap nylon backpack to minimize weight and maximize ease of cleaning. Since it’s nylon, sand doesn’t stick to it and it’s perfect for holding our basic beach necessities.
2. Speaking of sunscreen and baby powder, these are, of course, absolute musts. For anyone who isn’t familiar with the baby powder trick, if you rub it on sandy hands/feet/baby bums, the sand literally falls right off. It’s magic.
3. Water. We all tend to feel parched at the beach, even when it’s not that hot out. And you definitely don’t want your kids (or you!) to get dehydrated. If someone has the sniffles, I’ll pack them their own bottle. If not, I just pack one or two bigger ones and let everyone share. No sense in carrying around a million of them. I love my water bottle because it keeps drinks cool for forever, I can drink it one-handed, it doesn’t sweat and get a bunch of sand stuck to it, and it has a snap cover over the spout so it doesn’t get all sandy.
4. Food. It’s easy for me to think I need a million snacks at the beach. But honestly, when we’re only going for a few hours (as we often do here, since it’s so close), we just don’t need that much food. I tend to pack one meal so that I don’t have to feed my kids when I get home. 😉 I’ll take either lunch or dinner with us. I almost never put it in a separate cooler because that just takes too much space, and we usually eat within a couple of hours of me packing whatever it is so it’s fine. Or if it’s going to be longer, I’ll pack something that keeps well so I don’t need a cooler for it.
I only pack enough for the meal to actually finish and not bring home. In addition to that, I’ll throw in some fruit, nuts, cut up veggies, or maybe some Kind or fig bars to supplement if someone is extra hungry. Done. No chips and salsa, no tortillas and hummus, nothing fancy. Maybe if we’re doing a big beach day with Dad along, then we’ll do a bigger and more diverse spread. But honestly, my kids rarely care about food at the beach, anyway – they’re too busy playing to eat more than they need to sustain life. And plus, if I don’t pack a bunch of fun snacks, they’re more likely to sit and eat an actual meal, which means I don’t have to feed/clean up after them at home.
5. Turkish towels. I always used to take big, fluffy “beach” towels to the beach. But then I realized that their fluffiness only makes them attract sand like water does fish. Plus, their fluffiness makes them bulky to transport, and they take forever to dry. So I started taking Turkish towels with us and it’s been perfect. They’re so thin but super absorbent, and fold up to fit easily in my backpack. I typically only bring a couple towels to dry kiddos off if they get wet (although sometimes they just dry off by playing more in the sun, anyway).
6. Beach blanket. Instead of bringing a bunch of towels on which to sit, I much prefer bringing some sort of sand-resistant beach blanket. I like ones that are just slightly thicker but still fold up, like this. I prefer those to the ultra-thin ones that fold up into pockets smaller than your hand, since these provide a bit more comfort and stay in place on the beach a bit better. Ours has a strap, making it easy to carry.
7. Sand toys bag. I always leave a bag in my trunk that carries all the sand toys. Again, I like something made of nylon and super lightweight so it resists sand and so one of my kids can easily carry it. We have probably 15 or so assorted shovels, rakes, sand castle shapes, a bucket, a water shooter, and a mini fold-up frisbee. It’s light enough that even my 3 year old can manage it, or I can easily sling it over my shoulder. I use one of those mega cheap mesh & nylon backpacks that they give out for free when you run a race, which I like so that sand can fall out the mesh and not build up inside. But then somehow the last time we went to the beach, I must not have shaken it out before leaving and there’s now a pile of sand in my trunk. So proceed at your own risk. 😉
8. Baby things. Of course. Diapers, wipes, hand sanitizer. Actually, I think I’ll likely carry wipes for the rest of my life, regardless of whether I’m with small children. They’re just perennially useful.
In terms of logistics, I’ll almost always carry the main backpack, one kid will carry the sand toys backpack, and one kid will carry the beach blanket. Easy peasy. I’ll wear the baby and have both hands free to hold hands with the walking kids. If my oldest wants to bring his boogie board along, he’ll carry that, as well.
Finally, this is entirely personal preference, but I typically DON’T bring extra clothes. For us, they usually end up just getting sandy, and I have no desire to do even more laundry. I know I’m going to need to bathe them when we get home, anyway, so I just have them leave their swim suits on for the car ride home and don’t bother packing spare clothes. We use baby powder to do a thorough de-sanding of all extremities just outside the car, and I’ll usually have the boys take off their rash guards. Then they just wear their swimsuits home and jump in the shower right when we arrive. If they’re truly sopping wet (rare – they usually end up drying off a bit while playing before we leave), then there’s usually some sort of cover up or spare shirt they’re worn there that they can stick on.
I always love hearing what others’ necessities are. So what are your must-haves for the beach? Do you prefer to pack light? Or be extra prepared?

One Response

  • Nice, but I live in Ireland. 🤣 Bringing them home in their swimsuits is very rarely possible.
    I’m trying to streamline the process of going to the beach but it’s hard when you need raincoats half the time too.
    Windbreaker has also turned into an essential lately.

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