Ahhh the beach. A place of sunshine and relaxation for adults without children, and a place of stress and wishful thinking for parents.
My husband's family are big beach people. They typically do a big beach trip every year, and it always sounds like such an amazing time. Until you have young children that is - and the idea of what a beach trip should be and what a beach trip often is are often at odds. One kid wants to run straight for the water, one kid has sand in their eyes already, one kid started screaming as soon as their feet get dirty and they want that sand off of them ASAP. There isn't much relaxing going on half the time, and the book you brought is sitting there in the chair you still aren't sitting in. Last year I was determined to master the beach with young kids though. We were coming out of essentially a year plus long stay in the 4 walls of our house where we holed up during the pandemic, we had just spent 4 months not really going anywhere while Asher had his halo on, so frankly we needed an extended getaway with plenty of sunshine, outdoor time, relaxation and just something fun. So on a whim I booked a 3 week stay down on the Florida coast. Then panic set in - how was I going to survive 3 weeks at the beach with a 1 year old and a 4 year old? So I researched and I researched and then I researched some more, until I had my minivan loaded down with a husband, 2 kids, and all of the beach hacks you could possibly imagine (along with my mom, just for sanity's sake). So here are my tried and true survival tips for any parent looking to take young children to the beach this summer:
Ok this sounds weird - why would baby powder be the number one tip for a beach trip? But hear me out: SAND. When your skin is damp, sand will stick to you and cling to you and nothing short of a full blown shower seems to get it off. Except for baby powder. Baby powder is made to dry up any moisture on a baby's skin - so when you are covered in that sticky fine dusting of sand that just won't come off, sprinkle baby powder on and rub it in. This will dry your skin out and the sand will brush right off. Asher is convinced it is magic, and I'm not going to lie - he might be right. This is the easiest, yet one of the most impactful tips I can give you. Especially if you have a child like Ollie who HATES being dirty and as soon as she would get sand on her hands she would freak out. Here is my favorite kind to get for this purpose, which is cornstarch based (for health reasons I avoid any talcum based baby powders), and is inexpensive. Another quick sand tip: take a dry, clean painbrush (one with soft bristles). Works wonders to brush sand away, especially off the face and near the eyes.
2. Baby pool.
If I was an hour away from my house on the way to the beach, and realized I forgot to pack out baby pool (and there wasn't a way for me to buy another one once we got there), I would still turn around and drive all the way back home to get it. But the ocean is right there, why would you need a baby pool to sit next to it? Because it is easier, Karen, that's why! But all snark aside - this is the most brilliant beach hack for little kids, and again - an incredibly cheap one. The ocean is fun and all, but when you have kids too young to go play safely at the edge of the water without you being right there next to them - it can be exhausting. And sometimes mama wants to sit in her beach chair under the umbrella and chill in a relatively controlled environment.
We have been using the same little $10 inflatable baby pool with the kids for 5 years now (we have the small one that is about 3 feet across, but they do have one that is larger for just a little bit more). I love this little pool since the bottom inflates just enough to be slightly padded. We also used this thing when Asher was a baby and couldn't sit up whenever we were sitting out on a patio, in a hotel room, or really anywhere with a hard floor surface - almost like a travel playpen for him so he didn't roll away and get into mischief. But the beach is by far its best use. We take it down next to wherever we are setting up, inflate it (you can inflate this one by mouth without a pump in just a couple of minutes) and use buckets to fill it with however much water the kids want. They would spend 75% of their time at the beach playing in this little pool with their sand toys, they were in the shade in the heat of the day when we placed it under the tent, and I was able to sit and relax for a while.
3. Portable fans.
Ok, call it bougie if you must - but we love ourselves some portable, battery operated fans. So we always bust out the stroller fans for a beach trip, and usually hang them from the tent poles. Asher is prone to overheating a bit because of his dwarfism, and I'm prone to overheating because I'm high maintenance, so we get our monies worth out of these. They also come in handy when we aren't at the beach, at the park, on walks (we live in Texas, so anything that keeps us remotely cool is clutch), or even just in our backyard. We have had a variety of these over the years, but I found these specifically for our beach trip last year and they are by far my favorite (the legs that wrap around things work much better than the kinds that clip on in my opinion).
The battery life was good, they were rechargeable so we weren't having to stock up on a ton of batteries (you just have to remember to charge them), and you can use an extra power bank if you need to keep them going for an extended period of time (or fun tip, use it as a reverse power bank if your phone dies while you are out at the beach and need to give it a quick charge).
Ok this is not a hack, and yes, this is equipment - and no one wants to bring even more baby/kid crap into their house than they already have. But you know what is worse than that? Trying to physically haul all of the crap down to the beach that will prevent you from making five million trips. And if you think your standard wagon or stroller is going to cut it, try wheeling it through the sand for 15 seconds and you will quickly realize you have made a huge mistake. Wheels made for sidewalks and wheels made for sand are NOT. THE. SAME. So I did cave and buy a beach stroller and a beach cart, but I was also thankful for it every single day that we went down to the beach. I have one child who cannot walk long distances on flat, hard surfaces much less through the sand. And one child who is two and her life purpose is to go the opposite direction of where I want her to go, and she weighs as much as a bag of bricks it seems, so carrying her is not for the faint of heart. So there are a couple of ways you can go about getting this equipment. If you do not go to the beach often, and you are only going for a short period of time, you can look and see whether there is a beach equipment rental place where you are going (these places also rent things like cribs, highchairs, etc. in case you ever have need of that - we used them for a crib when Asher was a baby and we flew to the beach and didn't want to have to check a playpen and haul a ton of equipment through the airport). Here is an example of a place that you can rent from that is similar to who we have used in the past. You will just want to do a Google search for beach equipment rentals for the location you are going to see if that is an option. For us, we were going to be at the beach for 3 weeks - so the cost to rent equipment for all of that time would have surpassed the cost to simply buy the equipment ourselves. And since we were driving, it was just as easy for us to load the equipment into a rooftop bag on the top of our minivan. So whether you rent or buy, it is definitely worth it, especially if you have kids that still rely on strollers for any sort of distance. Note: I used this double stroller, which is not technically a beach stroller, but worked well for both of my kids and cleaned up easily. A year later it still has sand in it though, so think about that before you take your everyday stroller to the beach. The beach stroller that we rented when we only had Asher was definitely easier to maneuver in the sand, but it was harder to find something like that for two kiddos. But essentially you are looking for a jogging stroller that has large wheels, and if you are looking for something reasonably priced to use at the beach, the Baby Trend ones are hard to beat.
Ok this one is extremely obvious - but for the sake of being a comprehensive guide, I could never leave out the options for shade. We have used a variety of types of shade over the years. From the basic beach tent that you get at Academy, to an actual camping tent. This past year we used the Veer gear and absolutely loved it. We had the large basecamp tent for the entire family as well as the small one that we put the kids pool in. At least a dozen families stopped and asked where we got them since they just worked well and were super easy to pop up.
For the small one that we used for the kid's pool Veer Gear Basecamp - this one works great out in the backyard as well. We have almost zero trees in our backyard and that hot Texas sun doesn't quit, so it provides some manufactured shade wherever we want it. The sides also open and are screened so they vent the air and allow the breeze to come through.
I also have the California Beach Co. Pop n Go tent that I LOVE, and I used this one in the VRBO room essentially as an oversized playpen for Ollie, but I didn't take this one out of the condo since I didn't want to get sand all in it since we use this one indoors and at home quite a bit. BUT you by no means have to have both, and it's slightly excessive that I do TBH, but at this point I was ready to throw money at the problem to have a relaxing trip after everything we had been through that year. The main differences I would say there are between the two, the Pop n Go is a little bit larger, but the sides are pure mesh and it only has shade from the top down when you put the sun shade on. So if the sun isn't directly overhead, you might struggle to keep them in the shade a bit. The opening is also slightly smaller so getting the pool in wouldn't be quite as simple, BUT it will 100% work. Keep an eye on their socials and their site as well since it often goes on sale (right now it is 50% off for example).
For the larger shade we used the VEER Family Basecamp.
As I am sure you can tell, I'm a shade enthusiast. And it was very nice to be able to pop this thing up, and open or close the sides depending on where the sun was and make sure that there was plenty of shade for the kids and myself. But a standard beach tent also works great. As long as I have shade, I'm a happy camper. This one works well since you can fill the sand bags at the corners to keep the wind from picking it up and knocking it over.
6. Sand Blanket.
This was an unexpected find that I didn't plan on getting, but we were gifted it so we went ahead and used it. And Matt still swears this was his favorite thing we took. Sand blankets/mats are not like standard blankets - so don't think you can substitute a quilt or an oversized towel and get the same effect. These are mesh and multi-layered, generally made of polyester or a PVC weave so they don't get/stay wet, and the sand simply filters through them. This is a complete luxury, not a necessity - but if you frequent the beach, it was a very nice thing to have. Ours was the VEER Gear one which clipped right to the bottom of our Family Basecamp, but there are a lot of great alternatives out there as well. Here are a couple with the same features: CGEAR Sand-Free Outdoor Sand Mat (available in multiple sizes)
CGEAR Sandlite Beach Mat 7. Toddler chairs
We have used these Summer Infant pop n go chairs for years since they work SO well with Asher, especially as a baby when everything else was way too big for him. We love this chair so much that at one point before he was able to sit in typical chairs we had like 5 of them, one in each car, one upstairs in the house, one downstairs, and one in reserve just in case they discontinued them. As an LP parent, when you find something that works, you stock up. As for the beach trip, the trays that snap on make them great alternatives to portable highchairs, and we found that they were absolutely perfect little beach chairs for the kids. Snap on the tray, they can eat their snacks out of the sand, but also low enough to the ground that they can get in and out themselves, and even play in the sand while sitting in them. We used these as their highchairs while in the condo as well, so they served a dual purpose. And they collapse up really small and are extremely easy to pack. Note, I prefer the original style (the blue one Asher is sitting in) as opposed to the Sweet Life version (the one Ollie is sitting in), since the strap in between the legs is longer on the original version, and it doesn't have the plastic bar between the legs on the tray like the newer one. But both work great.
8. Makeup sponges. If you have a kid that will sit calm and still while you carefully and meticulously apply sunscreen to their face, then please accept my sincerest congratulations. Because my childs are like NOPE. So this is one of my favorite hacks that if you haven't heard of yet, you will thank me later.
Makeup sponges. I use a beauty blender knockoff set that I got on Amazon (5 pack for $9.99), and used those to apply sunscreen to the kids faces. SO much easier than trying to use my hands, they tolerated it, and I was 10000% more effective with the application, and in 3 weeks they managed to not get even the slightest sunburn on their faces. This was crucial for us too since Asher had some relatively fresh scar tissue on his forehead where the halo pins were removed from.
And there you have it! Some of my tried and true tips for surviving the beach with toddlers. Leave a comment below if you have any that work well for you that I failed to mention, or if you try any of these and want to share your thoughts!!