The best for the beach
May 17, 2022 5:24 AM   Subscribe

I never liked the beach before last summer. Now that I’ve come to love the beach, I’d like to make the absolute best beach experience. I’ve got a couple of things in my beach toolkit, but wondered whether those who have a lifetime of beach going can recommend other things and practices to make my visits great.

Case in point, but perhaps obvious: a beach chair with legs. Until this past summer, I always just plopped down on a beach blanket or used a little folding chair in which you just sit on the ground. Sitting in an actual chair is so much more comfortable.

I have my chair, a little beach wagon to tote things around, a cooler, various vacuum tumblers (Yeti, etc) and a beat up umbrella. I pack plenty of water, use my sunscreen, and bring a cheap paperback.

I’m not looking for a specific fix—I have a great time. But being a beach newb I don’t know whether the pros have difffent approaches. Eg, I like the look of those shibumi shades, which seem a big upgrade from my beat up single-person umbrellas.

Salient details—assume local beach, traveling by car (not a vacation destination beach); two adults and an 8 year old. For fear purchases, I’m not worried about cost, and would pay for quality. We go to a walk-on beach—no stairs—and will have the wagon.
posted by Admiral Haddock to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (35 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
I opened this just to say Shibumi. Having shade and not chasing down an umbrella (and it light to carry!) is totally worth it.

I would also say my waterproof kindle or books I don’t physically care about.

Once something comes out of the cooler it doesn’t go back in (huge for sand management!) usually I’m a bulk buy kind of person, but individual stuff (or do it at home in your own Tupperware) is so much better.

Spray sunblock. The cream stuff is more cost effective but the reality is that once I’m sandy I don’t want to rub that in and I actually grab the spray stuff.

On that note, a rash guard and big hat means I can stay out on the beach longer (though perhaps that’s not a goal with an 8 year old?)
posted by raccoon409 at 5:42 AM on May 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

A sheet works great as a beach blanket. I've even seen people use a fitted sheet, upside down. The part that would go around the edge of the bed becomes a handy place for putting stuff. Also, lightweight beach towels that dry more quickly, like Turkish ones. Goggles, maybe a snorkel.
posted by mareli at 5:47 AM on May 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

What made my beach trips as a kid: walking around. There was a grocery near the beach where we could buy soda. And there was the aquarium just up the road. Man, if you're taking your 8-year-old to an aquarium, be prepared for some "wows" and "awesomes." But mostly, I liked walking around on the sand, scuffing my toes in the tide. I used to collect sand dollars, that's how old I am. (I'd leave them be today.) Sun, sand, some music on the radio: welcome to the beach!
posted by SPrintF at 5:55 AM on May 17, 2022

I have an old twin flat sheet that I always bring. I can use it to cover my legs, or shoulders when I've had enough sun, but light enough that it doesn't make me warm.

I hate those beach tents. I hate how they block the view of the beach when I'm behind one, and the time I did use one, I found it hard to have a chair, and be in the shade. Definitely prefer my umbrella.

I always keep frozen gatorade/juice boxes for the beach. They keep the cooler cold, and are defrosted enough by the time we leave to provide a cool drink in the car on the way home. Just a family tradition that is expected now.
posted by Ftsqg at 6:11 AM on May 17, 2022 [3 favorites]

Baby powder for your feet. It helps get stuck on sand off between toes and legs when you’re leaving to go back to your car.

No one likes a sandy, gritty car ride home.
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 6:18 AM on May 17, 2022 [6 favorites]

I lived on beaches for half the year for five years, in Spain, Santa Monica, Vanuatu, the Dominican, Australia, and Cuba. The one thing I had with me on all of them was a good, bright linen towel.

Linen because I want fast-drying, light-weight, quick to shed the sand, and easy to pack.

Bright because I travel alone and want my spot on the shore to be easily visible from wherever I am in the water, both to "keep an eye" on my stuff and to know how far I'm drifting up or down the beach.

My preferred brand is Outlier, but they don't always have bright colors in stock. My most used is safety-cone orange.

They're so good I also use them as my house towel. I have six of them.
posted by dobbs at 6:19 AM on May 17, 2022

I'm one of those who brings a microscope to the beach. Especially when it's small and less than $20! PocketMicro
posted by Don_K at 6:21 AM on May 17, 2022 [12 favorites]

Also, lightweight beach towels that dry more quickly, like Turkish ones.

This was the biggest upgrade for us. Super lightweight, packable, and they dry (both you and themselves) really well.

And if you like playing catch an Aerobie Superdisc is easy to throw on the sand and a Waboba/Waverunner type skipping ball is a lot of fun out in the water.
posted by AgentRocket at 6:30 AM on May 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

"What's best for a beach experience" varies GREATLY for each individual. For me, a chair is useless because I like going on my own and I like going on walks, and a towel or blanket is way more portable. I don't need much in the way of "games" or stuff to do because I'm there to go bodysurfing, then eat something, then maybe read and go body surfing again or do a walk. And the best requirement is SOLITUDE. For someone else, they go with the whole cooler and chair and shade and a little portable radio, and a busy beach so they can chat and make friends with people. For a kid it's a shit-ton of beach toys.

You know what I mean?

So: I guess I need some follow-up detail about what the perfect beach experience would be like for YOU - and then I can offer suggestions about that. Does sand in your shoes bug you? Do you like to be active or just lay around? Are you going alone or is there someone usually with you who can help carry things or watch your shit when you have to do a bathroom run?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:36 AM on May 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

Seconding rash guard. I started using one a couple years ago and it is so much better than having to apply sunscreen all over. And when you get out of the water it provides some nice evaporative cooling.

I have a short sleeved rash guard, but I'm seriously thinking about switching to a long sleeved one just to not have to worry about sun screening my arms. If I was more confident, I'd probably start wearing rash guard / wetsuit pants too but that's a higher hill to climb.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:40 AM on May 17, 2022

Bluetooth speaker. Soccer ball or frisbee. Upgrade to a sport-brella. Cheap strainer for sorting shells from sand.
posted by gnutron at 6:46 AM on May 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

I wore a long-sleeve rashguard (Columba PFG) to the Caribbean recently, and -- as a red-headed, freckled guy who burns like a road flare -- it was wonderful. Cool, no sunburn, quick-drying. Love it!

I also took an inexpensive, roll-top dry bag to tuck a few items away (e.g., reading glasses, phone, keys). That way my camera didn't get its lens cover ruined by sand in the gears, my glasses weren't scratched, and my phone screen survived and drips or splashes.

We also took snorkel masks for the first time, which was a revelation -- but if you're a reader and not a paddler, you might not be interested. :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 6:50 AM on May 17, 2022

If your water temp is warm enough -- Boogie boards for the 8-year-old and the adults -- we all have them in my family and we pay for quality and the correct size for adults. It is so much fun.

Less is more. I had the wagon when my kids were little for the toys and gear but now I carry everything. I don't always bring a cooler. I have one beach bag where I stick drinks and snacks, towel, sunglasses, sunscreen, etc. The umbrella and chair have straps. I carry the boogie board by its leash behind my back/shoulder, or on top of my head.

Umbrella sand grabber stand/contraption to keep your umbrella secure. My beach umbrella came with one, but you can buy them separately.

Seconding long-sleeve shirts or long sleeve rash guards when you've had enough sun. Even with sunscreen I need extra protection if I'm going to be there for a while. I'm female and I love the Land's End rash guards -- they are not too tight and skim perfectly.

I wear this hat when I am walking or sitting if I'm not directly under the umbrella.

Besides regular sunscreen for body, I always have a face stick and lip balm with SPF.
posted by loveandhappiness at 7:05 AM on May 17, 2022 [4 favorites]

And for people who like to wear skirts -- the rash guard and Rip Skirt combo over your swimsuit is easy peasy and quick drying.
posted by loveandhappiness at 7:14 AM on May 17, 2022

They are super dorky but I love my water shoes. They protect my tender lil’ feeties from rocks, shells, even just hot sand. A must!

This clip-on umbrella gets some mixed reviews but mine lasted two years and is so much easier to set up than a traditional beach umbrella or tent. It’s cheap enough that I’m fine with just getting a new one every couple years.

One thing I love to do at the beach is order a giant Italian sub before I leave, stash it in the cooler and share on the beach with whoever my beachgoing companion is that day. There’s nothing better than a delicious beachwich, I highly recommend.
posted by cakelite at 7:27 AM on May 17, 2022 [3 favorites]

No one has mentioned beach food yet! Lot's of options, but I highly recommend bringing a large water-tight container filled with ice and sliced oranges. We either bring it with us or leave it in the car to melt and it is so refreshing after a long, hot day at the beach. We also fill our water bottles with ice water, which melts through the day and bring a back up water bottle with ice water to replenish. Also, a thermos of ice coffee for adults if it is hot, and hot chocolate for the kids if it is cold.
posted by Toddles at 7:27 AM on May 17, 2022 [2 favorites]

I freeze grapes and take them to the beach for a snack. Delicious and cooling.
posted by poppunkcat at 7:50 AM on May 17, 2022 [3 favorites]

Lots of great tips above, one thing I always have is a couple of squeezable water bottles, like a cycling water bottle. I use it to hose off something that got too sandy before I put it back in the cooler/dry bag/whatever. Also useful if the beach doesn't have a way to shower off/rinse feet.

Was just thinking about the Shibumi or a Neso. The Neso might also be useful when I want shade in places where I can't be sure there is breeze.
posted by advicepig at 7:53 AM on May 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

Yes, beach food is important! Nice cold watermelon slices are a great snack and a great thirst quencher. Lemon sticks are a staple in our cooler as well. Our crowd is large and making a bunch of different sandwiches became a pain. Now we go with beach dogs - boil a bunch of hot dogs, put them in a large thermos type bottle with the water. Grab a bag of hot dog buns, tongs and condiments. It's an easy serve yourself hot dog when people are hungry. Same thermos bottle carries taco meat for taco-in-a-bag day. Never bring a big bag of chips unless you like sand in it. We always do the single serve bags of things. Even adults manage to get sand in things! I know these aren't all healthy options but a day at the beach is all about fun and treats.
posted by maxg94 at 7:58 AM on May 17, 2022

Do you actually go in the water/swim/ride waves?

And for cleaning off sandy feet, if you don't have access to a shower or similar near where you're parked, fill an old milk jug or juice bottle with water you can use to rinse your feet. Leave it in your car and when it's time to head home you've got nice warm water to clean those sandy toes. It's great!
posted by saladin at 8:19 AM on May 17, 2022 [2 favorites]

Rachel Wilkerson Miller has both written about and discussed on her podcast that she used to hate the beach/summer in general, but has recently become a beach convert. She discusses both products and general strategies she uses that have made her enjoy the beach. I highly recommend, as she talks through why she likes each specific product.
posted by bluloo at 8:27 AM on May 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

Wash-off station at the car: get a cheap yoga mat at the dollar store or Five Below and cut them about in half so you can lay the two pieces near each other. One is your wet mat and one is your clean dry mat. Bring some old dish towels and put one down on the dry mat for each person to step onto, plus a clean dry pair of car shoes.

I bring a gallon water jug with tap water (I like the ones with the a fairly narrow pourable top) that sits in the car the whole time and is probably fairly warm for rinsing off, while you stand on the wet mat. Rinse shoes/flops and then take them off and finish rinsing feet, then step onto your dry mat and little towel. Dry off, dry feet, put clean clothes on where applicable (OR, robes/coverups), put wet dirty shoes and towels in a storage bin*. After everyone's done roll up the wet and dry mats and put in the storage bin or a trash bag to get them home and hang up to rinse and dry properly.

Bring a soft dusting brush and you can brush down everybody and everything before it goes into the car.

I am also a fan of the "beachwich", or picking up burritos on the way.

*With kids, you could just bring a storage bin big enough for each person to stand in as they rinse off, which means feet can get a good proper swishing, and then dump and fill with everyone's dirty sandy items for transport home.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:28 AM on May 17, 2022 [6 favorites]

If you bring sand toys, I highly recommend keeping them in a classic mesh drawstring laundry bag. Then you can just put all the sand toys away and shake the bag to get most of the sand out.

Also a lot of fun is a very cheap lightweight drugstore kite. A big nice nylon one can be fun but they are a lot of work to get in the air, but a cheapy vinyl diamond or triangle kite can be flown in moments. On days with a good offshore wind, it's pretty cool to get a kite up and then just tie it to a chair and watch it.
posted by sleeping bear at 8:31 AM on May 17, 2022

Oh, and last time I was at the beach, I saw a couple with this kind of beach fence and I immediately wanted to get one to buffer the blowing sand from one side.
posted by advicepig at 8:38 AM on May 17, 2022

@advicepig, I love the beach and I’m in NC which means I’ve ended up with both a Shibumi and a Neso. Neso is easier to set up by yourself (in my opinion) but the Shibumi does better with higher winds. Neso holds up much better than a beach umbrella or one of those tailgate tents (or especially those half tent wind block things) in the wind, but Shibumi wins when it comes to wind.

Shibumi is also lighter and this easier if you’re carrying a bunch of stuff, but Neo isn’t that bad to carry. I recently brought it on a solo beach camping trip if that provides any additional guidance.
posted by raccoon409 at 8:57 AM on May 17, 2022 [3 favorites]

Thanks! I'm thinking a Neso with the Sideline conversion kit would mean it could be our beach shade, but also camping shade where there isn't reliable wind.
posted by advicepig at 9:17 AM on May 17, 2022

I like my pop up beach tent shelter (like this one) as it's easy to setup alone and I'm often at lake beaches where the wind may not make a Shibumi worthwhile.
I also like to have a blanket and use something like this which zips up into a bag. Mine has pockets so I can use it to carry the rest of my supplies.
If your chair doesn't have a side table, consider upgrading. I LOVE mine to help keep things like phones, kindles and sunglasses away from the sand as much as possible. I got mine at Menards, but it is essentially this.
Finally, some way deal with wet suits, towels etc for your drive home. There are fancy seat covers available at Amazon and other places. My car is old so I generally sit on a reusable plastic grocery bag if I'm not able to change before leaving and have a few other bags for dealing with damp towels and sandy stuff.
posted by thatquietgirl at 11:18 AM on May 17, 2022

The reusable plastic bag from IKEA is the best for hauling slightly too much wet stuff back home without your car getting damp
posted by advicepig at 11:42 AM on May 17, 2022

I love bringing drink holders on spikes that you plunge into the sand. No more knocked-over tumblers or having to clear off the cooler that you're using as a makeshift table. And on that note, I also sometimes bring a little folding table with a roll-up slatted top. They pack down tiny and are very lightweight.
posted by ananci at 12:48 PM on May 17, 2022

A big-ass heavy canvas beach bag. Big enough for a couple towels, food, a six pack, etc. Wide enough to stand on its own (a stiff base helps), and tall enough roll or fold the top down to keep the sand out. If this is its only job it doubles as storage in the off season - pop everything in there, roll it up and stick it on the shelf. Can't be too big!!

On the tiny-table front, the slatted ones are nice but my friend got a couple sweet ones at Costco that are a mesh fabric top that stretches tight on the legs. Even lighter! Can be expensive though.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 1:56 PM on May 17, 2022

I love my little camping tables. It feels absolutely civilized and an amazing upgrade at the beach.
posted by ReluctantViking at 5:02 PM on May 17, 2022

Echoing the recommendations for rash shirts - preferably long-sleeve and add a wide-brimmed hat made of straw-like material with a cord to stop it blowing off. Dry bags are great for keeping your phone, keys etc together and sand-free. A small bluetooth speaker if you like listening to music (get one that fits in your dry bag).

Microfibre towels are tiny to pack and great for drying yourself off between swims and keep your actual towel dryer for lying on and that final dry off at the end of the day.

A key thing for making the day enjoyable is to make sure you're not taking so much stuff that getting on and off the beach becomes a chore. The wagon is great, but don't overload it so much that it's hard to pull along.
posted by dg at 7:14 PM on May 17, 2022

I comb beaches. Kit: 35lt / 10 gallon rucksack, pocket binoculars, bypass secateurs, hobby-saw, knife, long sleeve shirt, bush-hat. Success (for fun, de-trash, re-use, re-purpose, art): rope, buoys, fish-crates, driftwood, may came home with a smooth round stone as small as a world and as large as alone.
posted by BobTheScientist at 11:04 PM on May 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

Baby wipes to get sunscreen off hands.

I brought a large plastic outdoor rug in the early days of Covid to ensure we had plenty of space, and love it. It provides lots of room to keep all our stuff out of the sand, the sand brushes off of it, and it can be rinsed off.
posted by metasarah at 7:39 AM on May 18, 2022

Small inflatable pillow, large serving spoon to dig a deep hole for your umbrella.
posted by pmaxwell at 1:37 AM on May 21, 2022

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