How to beach?
June 29, 2017 8:04 AM   Subscribe

My town has a beach at the local pond. I've been a couple of times this summer, which is already more time at a beach than in the prior, oh, ten years combined. I'm not a beach person, though I'm enjoying these beach visits well enough. I'm just not very good at it--either maximizing my enjoyment, or efficiently getting us and our junk there. Do you have beach tips?

In the two visits, I've forgotten multiple items at home (toys, snacks, hat). I've been using my beach towel as a beach blanket, which leaves me sandy and chagrined. I use my daughter's toy wagon to schlep stuff to the beach, but it's heavy (though more than sturdy enough for all the stuff we bring).

My daughter and I have Keen-type water shoes, which has been helpful getting to and fro.

Daughter is 3, and likes splashing in the water and playing on the playground, but we haven't figured out what else to do.

If you're a beach person, what makes going to the beach a really great experience? Not what do you like about the beach, but steps do you take (pre and post trip) and what do you bring/do that make it a great visit--esp. with a little kid?
posted by Admiral Haddock to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I pack: sarong to use as a blanket, a few thin beach towels, a cooler with healthy snacks, and use water bottles filled with ice (and a bit of water) to keep my food cool. I wear my swimsuit, and make my kids wear theirs, but I have a bag with underwear for later. I try to wear a loose sundress. Bring extra sunscreen, and minimal toys. I try to make do with a backpack and big bag... but it doesn't always work. Oh! Plastic bags to pack damp stuff after, and I have a plastic waterproof cosmetic bag where my phone, keys and wallet live. When my kids were little I loaded up the stroller, but that doesn't work so well on sand.
posted by Valancy Rachel at 8:17 AM on June 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

A visit to the beach can be just an hour or so, especially with a 3 year old. I keep a "swim bag" ready to go - a little string backpack with sunscreen, goggles, etc. A child can wear that. THe parent carries a tote bag with towels, etc.
posted by heathrowga at 8:22 AM on June 29, 2017

I have a couple of huge plastic bags filled with toys. We have a designated beach blanket (actually just picked up a new one from Ikea of all places. It's a tablecloth, so flicks sand off easily. I got it for $3 in the as is)

We bring chairs for adults and a sunbrella. And I keep an old milk crate packed with stuff- sun screen, crackers, plates, knives etc. I pack a cooler with kielbasa, cheese, fruit, drinks

I have older kids 9 and 11. And the beach we go to is 2 hours away. We leave home around 9 am and stay until 6ish.

The toys are important. We've collected a pile of stuff to make sand castle. Old spoons, and plastic water jugs, trucks, cars etc. It's all about the sand play.

I always make them bring books. An hour of reading in the hot sun is a true luxury.

The age difference (3 to 9) makes it hard. My kids entertain themselves now and while I watch them swim, I also don't have to WATCH them. Our beach also has a very shallow entrance. You have to walk a long way to get deep.

Anyways, dedicated toy bags, prepacked beach box.
posted by Ftsqg at 8:32 AM on June 29, 2017

Keep baby powder and a jug of water in the car. Use both to get sand off before climbing in the car. Look for a beach bag with a small zippered pocket inside. This should keep your wallet and keys secure. In the house, keep a bin with clean beach stuff by the laundry - when you walk in the door, pull out dirty stuff to throw into the laundry, throw in clean towels, extra suits, hats go in the now empty beach bag. Look for a cooler that doubles as a back pack.
posted by IndigoOnTheGo at 8:36 AM on June 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I grew up on the beach and still live on the beach. Buy a boogie board that you can pull your daughter on in the shallow end. That's fun times for little kids. One large nylon bag with pockets on side. This one is expensive. You can find them for less. Get a lightweight beach chair with a handle built into one of the arms. Your daughter can sit on the boogie board. A few toys and a good shovel is all that is needed. I always bring an umbrella. The beach for me is about relaxing and dreaming -- I do boogie board a lot but there's a lot of relaxing and lazing. With a 3-year-old I would build sandcastles, play in water. Buy a minnow net and try to catch creatures. Nets are a hit and keeps little kids occupied.

Also to make life easier I always apply sunscreen at home head to toe before we leave and then apply more when needed.
posted by loveandhappiness at 8:38 AM on June 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

I did Walden Pond for 20-something years with my 3 kids; here are some tips I picked up along the way:

* Have the dedicated beach bag, which should consist of flat sheet to sit on (never a towel!!), towels to dry off or use as pillows, books/magazines, 2 sunscreens, multiple water bottles, snacks, hats, change of clothes, plastic garbage bag for wet stuff, baby powder to sprinkle on and rub off sand, cash, bucket and shovel. When you return from the beach, take the 10 extra minutes and repack the bag so you're ready to roll.

* Amen to the short beach visit idea! Sometimes saying we're just going to cool off then we're splitting to get ice cream is enough of a day.

* Can you walk around the pond and do a nature hunt?

* Make beach friends! Over the years, I ended up chatting with other parents and we'd make informal dates to hang together, which made the time pass much more pleasantly.

* I used to have my kids practice relaxation on the beach. They'd lie down or sit cross legged, close their eyes, and listen to the sounds of the pond. Later on in the year they'd remember their beach relaxation which was nice.

* It was all about the ice cream for my kids. I spent a lot of pre-internet time finding ice cream stands in the area and we'd drive around, tasting everywhere and comparing. I recently found my now-25 year old's ice cream comparison chart (Dairy Joy in Weston was the best).

* Bring books and teach your kid the joy of laying on the beach, reading and relaxing.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 8:40 AM on June 29, 2017 [5 favorites]

In my experience (and this is why I'm not so much of a beach person), there isn't that much to do at the beach. If you're a kid, there are sand toys, there is collecting shells, and there is swimming; which you can also do as an adult, but other than that it seems most people just sort of....lie there and bask. And hell, I can do that in a hammock in the back yard.

The kid is going to give you more options, though - the beachcombing angle is something I really dug as a kid, and even though you're not at an ocean beach, there are still pretty rocks and interesting plants and frogs to go look for and things like that. Check out the environment!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:43 AM on June 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

Agree with the beach bag and the dedicated beach blanket. Our beach blanket is a zip up kind that has a layer of plastic between the cloth that touches the sand and the cloth that touches our bodies, which is a barrier when the sand is slightly damp.

Also, using a mesh laundry bag for sand toys is a life changer. You can load it up and just shake it and all of the sand comes out.
posted by sleeping bear at 8:53 AM on June 29, 2017

Roll-up straw beach mats are great. The OP here mentions a beach wagon.

A lot of kids enjoy snorkeling even if there isn't that much to see.

I always loved the picnics my grandma made for the beach-- not super elaborate, just different food than we had at home. Potato sticks and stuff like that. Takeout sushi is good these days.
posted by BibiRose at 8:53 AM on June 29, 2017

They make special beach blankets now which tend to shed sand very easily for packing back up again, and sometimes are, for example, weighted at the corners to help keep them down if there's a breeze.

Nthing having a special "beach bag" where everything lives. LL Bean makes very nice tote bags that hold up basically forever that our family has traditionally used for this, to the point where buying my own when I was in college felt like a rite of passage. (I'm 35 and that's still my beach bag, as well as occasionally getting repurposed for other outdoor activities since I don't beach much from Nebraska.) As a kid, we went so far as having separate sunblock bottles for other activities so that the one in the beach bag wouldn't get removed for some other purpose and forgotten.

Take a set of extra towels for the car seats on the way home so it's not a big deal if the other towels are still damp or if you are. I wouldn't worry about changing to drive home unless you live like an hour or more away.

Even if you're not intending to take it anywhere near the water, it's a good idea to get a waterproof case for your phone. I got a cheap one off of Amazon this year where I was still able to get decent pictures through the plastic, and it'll also protect against sand. I was able to actually take pictures from IN the ocean this year and that was delightful.
posted by Sequence at 8:55 AM on June 29, 2017

The $2 blue Ikea bags are also really awesome beach bags. We actually leave one with toys in the trunk all beach season, along with hats.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:58 AM on June 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Nthing having a special "beach bag" where everything lives. LL Bean makes very nice tote bags that hold up basically forever

Fun anecdote: my three adult kids were all home recently and we were going grocery shopping. When pulling out the red LL Bean tote that was always the beach bag, my two eldest both got super excited because it meant we were going to Walden. You don't do this stuff purposely at the time, but it's amazing and beautiful to see the deep memories that form with kids. Red bag=Walden=great day!
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 9:01 AM on June 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

In summer mode, I tend to leave most "beach stuff" in the car - my chair (with carrying strap), beach toys (grownups have them too) and basic beach bag, which contains a tapestry "blanket," beach towels, stakes to stake the blanket down against the wind, sunscreen, and bug spray. Then before a beach outing I change into swimsuit and cover-up, grab any food and water we're bringing, grab my reading material, and add those to the beach bag. A recent hack that I'm proud of is to leave a small travel bottle of hair conditioner and a small travel brush in the beach bag. At the end of the day, I can put a dollop of conditioner in my hair and brush it out, which leaves it in much better/more presentable shape for heading back home. The towels, if dry enough, and beach blanket don't need laundering after every visit.

As far as carrying stuff, these beach carts have been all the rage for families on the Jersey Shore in recent years.

3 is young and splashing and sand play is probably enough. As she gets older, collecting shells and/or stones, seining or netting to find small marine animals, and beach games like paddleball or bocce will add more fun options.
posted by Miko at 10:54 AM on June 29, 2017

Our beach trips are infinitely better when we bring along a friend for my son to play with. Then they run around happily for hours! He's 5 now but we did this some times when he was 3, all kinds of fun.
posted by wyzewoman at 1:22 PM on June 29, 2017

Good tips above. I bring one GIANT natural reed bag and a small cooler always, sometimes a beach chair or hammock. I feel like it takes me forever to pack even though I go there a lot and know exactly what to pack. I am much faster when I am going without children or without guests to pack lunches for. Carry no more than one chair and one big bag.

I bring lots of towels, both one or two big sheets to lay on and smaller ones for drying off and to fold up as pillows.

One unmentioned thing is a cooler. I have a small soft-sided cooler with a strap, and it fits 1-2 drinks, a couple pieces of fruit, and some chocolate. The front pocket on it is good to keep my phone out of the sun. A bag of nuts, maybe another small pack of salty snacks.
If you need a full lunch make your life easy and pick up something at the deli or quick sandwiches and eat before they get warm.

We always wear suits under clothes.

If it's your thing, a frozen water bottle with the gel in it is great cover for gin and tonic. Freeze tonic and lime juice ice cubes as well. My beach doesn't allow alcohol so this is my go-to. Others just bring weed.

Tons of magazines. Kid's sand kit with bucket and shovels and molds that all fit in the bucket to travel. Beaches here have different policies on inflatables but they are mostly not allowed, but coast guard approved lifejackets and noodles are allowed. A kite is so fun. Beach umbrellas are hit or miss in quality but are pretty needed on a clear day with no shade.

Beach chairs that fold down and have backpack straps are fantastic. Some even have built in insulated coolers.
One of my beaches has lots of trees and a hammock is delightful. I have a great cheap one from IKEA or get a pretty Mayan string one.
posted by littlewater at 7:59 PM on June 29, 2017

It's really nice to use a big sheet to go directly on the sand, then lay towels on that. Then you can use towels for drying off and laying atop, without them getting super sandy.

A plastic bucket and shovel combined with wet sand was amazing to me as a kid. I could play for hours by the shore.

I find applying the sunscreen at home before leaving really helpful. It's just easier to be more thorough. Then you bring it and reapply or touch up as needed.
posted by Cranialtorque at 9:33 AM on June 30, 2017

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