With sunshine, salty air, a warm breeze and your toes in the sand, there is nothing like taking a relaxing family beach vacation. If you are planning a beach vacation, you have many sandcastles, water games and hoppy family moments ahead of you. We frogs love kicking back in the warm sunshine and playing together on a family beach vacation. Our best beach trips are the ones where we are well-prepared with all of our important tools and toys, but also ones where we do not overpack. What we bring depends on where we’re going and if we are driving or flying to our destination. We might pack different essential items based on whether we are visiting a beach resort with all the amenities or hopping about to explore other beaches on our own. Hop along with us as we share our tried and true tips for packing for a beach vacation with kids!
Tips for Packing for a Beach Vacation with Kids
When packing for a beach trip with kids, you want to find that sweet spot where you have everything you need without overpacking. You do not want to be schlepping so much stuff you feel like a pack mule or going beyond airline luggage limitations. Knowing your destination and the types of beach amenities available there can help you plan. If you are visiting a beachside resort that provides chaises, umbrellas, towels and possibly even toys, you’ll just need the essentials. When driving by car and finding your own public beaches, you’ll want to bring more items from home. If traveling by plane, you’ll be limited to some basics and may be buying or renting some items when you get to your destination.
Sometimes we stay at a beach resort and do a little exploring on our own. For example, if we are visiting Miami with kids, we may want to explore a few different beach areas beyond our resort. Decide where you are beaching it, and do your research by asking questions about what is included at your hotel or what is available to rent nearby if you need it. I make a list of items to buy when I arrive to make sure we have everything we need and free up luggage space.
Bring Essential Sun Protection Items
No matter where you visit, you’ll need to add these items to your list when packing for a beach vacation with kids:
- UV shirts or UV suits
- Cover ups
- Reef-safe sunscreen
- Lip balm with sunscreen — so important!
You can pack these or add them to your shopping list of things to acquire when you arrive. Sometimes it's easier to purchase full-size liquid sunscreen at your destination when flying. Some beach destinations in Hawaii and Florida are banning the sale of chemical sunscreens with oxybenzone and octinoxate to protect reefs and marine life. We frogs want to protect our aquatic friends and their habitats! Octocrylene, homosalate octisalate and avobenzone may also be harmful and should be avoided, even if they appear in a sunscreen that is labeled “reef safe.” Look for safe ingredients such as mineral sunscreens with “non-nanotized” zinc oxide, titanium dioxide and natural, plant-based ingredients. And of course, apply and reapply sunscreen throughout the day, especially after exiting the water.
Our favorite easy sun protection for the tadpoles is UV swimwear. Tad wears long-sleeved UV shirts to the beach and our toddler, Lily, wears a full UV suit to protect her sensitive skin. We save time and save her from accidental burns and sun damage because we only have to apply sunscreen to her face, ears, hands and feet (well, flippers, actually). Keep in mind that wet UV suits can feel cold on the body after leaving the water, so have another protective option for the tadpoles if they need to peel out of their suits for a bit to eat a meal or warm up. You can now purchase some fashionable UV swimwear for adults, too!
We each wear a wide-brimmed hat with a chinstrap on the beach and in the water to protect our heads and faces. Although the sand and water reflect the sun’s rays, taking these steps definitely helps minimize sun damage and keeps everyone burn free and feeling hoppy.
If you are not at a resort beach that provides umbrellas, bring a beach umbrella or some kind of shelter (like an E-Z Up canopy) to help keep those rays off of you. Finding shade under a tree can work too, but this option is not always available. Setting up camp in the shade can keep your food cooler and water bottles from heating up, as well. We also like to have cover ups or clothing options with us on the beach to help protect from the sun or to cover up our swimsuits should we decide to hop into a restaurant or store.
Bring Beach Toys
The best beach toys are somewhat lightweight and easy to carry. We try to make a rule for the tadpoles: If you want to play with it, you have to help carry it. Be sure to label all toys — so many toys look alike, and a label eliminates confusion!
Our favorite beach toy essentials include:
- Buckets and shovels
- A weighty ball
- Kite (buy a solid, easy-to-assemble kite for a stress-free kite experience)
- Bodyboard with wrist strap (you may be able to rent at your hotel)
- Wetsuits (if heading to beaches with cooler water like Los Angeles or San Diego)
- Floats (depending on the destination — they are essential for a lake trip)
- Mask, snorkel and fins (if visiting a good snorkel destination)
When it comes to balls, some balls are better for the beach than others. Do not bring a beach ball. Whoever named the inflatable beach ball clearly never visited a windy beach with it! “Buh bye, beach ball.” Stick to Nerf footballs, smash ball (with paddles) or other balls that won’t blow away. Specially made water balls float and are perfect for a game of catch at the beach or pool. Bocce ball sets are a little heavier. We bring them anyway. They make for a fun game of open beach bocce the whole family can enjoy together.
Besides being fun for play, a bucket comes in handy. Fill it with water for rinsing sand off of hands at snack time and for washing flippers and feet. A bucket makes a nice carrying tool for some of the other toys or items.
You do not need a wetsuit for many beach destinations, but the California beaches have water temps in the 60s to 70s in the summer. A shorty wetsuit with short arms and legs should be fine for summer. A sleeved suit is better for winter months. You can sometimes rent a wetsuit if you don’t want to bring one or do not own one.
Are you visiting an area known for good snorkeling? If you have good mask, snorkel and fins, bring them with you if you have space for them. You might be able to rent snorkel gear at your destination if it’s too bulky to bring. Some hotels rent it out. If you go on a snorkeling tour, the company should provide the equipment. If you want to hop off on your own, bring your own equipment, which is likely to be much better than most rental equipment. (I happen to be partial to my own mask and snorkel, which never leak and fit in my suitcase, but I am fine with borrowing fins.)
Include Safety Items
There are a few health and safety items you should bring to the beach with kids:
- Life vests (if your kids are not strong swimmers)
- Swim goggles (for tadpoles with sensitive eyes — you can get UV goggles for sun protection, as well)
- Sneakers, water shoes or rugged, closed-toed shoes if exploring tide pools (flip flops are too slippery and dangerous)
- Swim diapers for babies, toddlers and newly potty-trained kids.
- Bottle of fresh water for flushing sand out of eyes (don’t rub the eyes)
- First-aid kit
Even though disposable swim diapers exist, the reusable kind with plastic lining and tight elastic around the waist and legs keep solid waste from escaping.
We carry a small first-aid kit with us on all of our water-based vacations. We always seem to pull it out for antiseptic wipes, antibiotic cream and bandages. The tweezers can remove a splinter or sea urchin spine. The medicines (pain relievers and antihistamines) come in handy should anyone get a headache, allergic reaction or other discomfort. Having a first-aid kit helps lessen the sting of minor mishaps so we can bounce back to having fun. Pack both adult and child dosages.
Bring Convenience Items
Consider including some of these items when packing for a beach vacation with kids.
These items are nice to have on the beach:
- Reusable insulated water bottles (Keep everyone hydrated)
- Cornstarch/baby powder (For sprinkling on when you leave the beach to easily remove dry sand from legs and feet)
- Flip flops
- Water shoes (Protect feet from hot sand, sharp rocks or the bright sun)
- Mesh bag or waterproof backpack/beach bag to carry everything
- Resealable plastic bags (Keep cell phone in a plastic bag or pouch to prevent water damage)
- Soft-sided cooler for snacks or meals
- Clothes for the ride or walk home (Strip off the wet, sandy clothes and dress the tadpoles in dry clothes if you have to travel some distance)
- Sunglasses straps (Don’t lose those expensive sunglasses when a wave knocks you over)
- Trash bags (Collect all of your trash and dispose of it properly so it doesn’t end up in the water or an animal’s digestive tract)
- Books or magazines (Did you know they make non-prescription sunglasses with reading glasses built in? You can read on the beach!)
- Camera (Capture those great family beach shots!)
These items are nice to have in the hotel room on a beach trip in case you need them:
- Aloe Vera gel — in case of burns (despite best efforts)
- Surfer’s Salve stick — a natural balm that works wonders for soothing sunburns, bug bites, rashes and dry skin. We don’t travel without it.
- Bug repellent or bug bands (if necessary for your location)
- Swim suit cleaner for rinsing out suits
- Sea sickness medicine for boat trips
- Hand wipes or sanitizer
- Drying ear drops to get water out of ears
- Sweatshirts for after sunset, especially when visiting California, which cools off at night
Consider these comfort items when packing for a beach vacation with kids only if you are driving and not staying at a beachfront resort:
- Beach chairs — My husband Leap and I can sit for hours in a beach chair under our beach umbrella, preferably with a refreshing drink in our hands. Plus, it makes it easier to watch the tadpoles from our chairs.
- Beach umbrellas or other shelter
- Towels, blankets or sheets
- Collapsible all-terrain wagon — If you have a lot of stuff and little tadpoles, this can come in handy.
- Bonfire materials
If your hotel does not provide beach towels, bring a beach towel for each person, plus a large flat sheet. Even though beach sheets and blankets that sand does not stick to are nice, a bed sheet works just fine. We try to keep the beach sheets for sitting on and the towels for drying.
With a little preparation in packing for your beach vacation with kids, you'll be well-prepared for the beachin' fun to come.
We hope you found our tips for packing for a beach vacation with kids hopful. Have any additional tips to share with the Frog Pond? Be sure to hop down to the comments below!
Related: What to Do and See in Los Angeles
Related: Top Things to Do in Miami with Kids