Stop Schlepping: The Pared-Down Packing Guide for a Family Beach Trip

School is out, summer is in and the shore is calling. We'll walk you through what you need for a beach trip with kids with the goal being to keep meltdowns (kids and grown-ups alike) to a minimum.

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May 26, 2021

Even though it's been a minute, I do remember the days of walking to the beach with only a chair, a towel, a great book and a drink. Once kids entered the picture, I had to seriously rethink my beach strategy. I was suddenly a pack mule lugging all the essentials for a successful day in the sunshine.

It took a little trial and error, but nowadays, I have a streamlined packing list and know exactly what we need to hang out by the shore. I start with a cooler full of ALL the snacks and drinks. (Do not skimp on the food. Food is essential for a great beach day. Cranky kid? Hand them a pack of gummies. Cranky teen? Hand them trail mix. Cranky adult? Hand them a drink.) And then, I cover us all in sunscreen (Supergoop and Beauty Counter are my faves), gather all my must-haves for the beach — keep scrolling to see — and head to the sand and water.


I fought the wagon for a while. It seemed too bulky and over the top for a light and breezy day by the sea that I envisioned. Once I gave it a try, though, I realized it minimized my pack mule status a bit, and I was able to walk to the beach with ease instead of juggling multiple bags, chairs and umbrellas. Make sure to look for a wagon with wide, chunky wheels, like this all-terrain one, so that it'll easily roll over the sand.

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A great bag is essential to corralling all the towels, snacks and toys. I have two bags that I love, and this is one of them. It's ultra-sturdy and stands upright on its own so that it doesn't tip over in the sand. Two clear bags clip into the side for storing your phone, sunscreen and other smaller items.

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This is my other go-to bag. It's super affordable at only $10 and is made entirely of mesh so sand and water don't get trapped at the bottom. It airs out easily, making it ideal for throwing wet items in at the end of the day. I love all the outside pockets for keeping lip balm, phone and sunscreen handy.

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As much as we may appreciate sitting and enjoying the waves, kids need a little entertainment to make it through the day. This adorable beach toy set has a rake, shovel, watering can, sand molds and a foldable bucket that lays flat for storing. Pro-parent tip: If you have more than one kid, get enough buckets, rakes and shovels to go around. That way, arguing only takes place over who gets the last grape popsicle.

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For older kids and adults, have a beach game on hand. My family has always had fun playing Bocce ball. It's compact, easy to carry and has no setup time.

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We've used these chairs for four years now and continue to love them. They have backpack straps, making it easier to tote them down to the shore. Plus, they're outfitted with a bevy of must-haves: an insulated cooler pouch for drinks and snacks, a mesh pocket on the back for wet and sandy items, a zippered pocket on the side for extra storage and a drink holder that even my big YETI rambler will balance in.

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From $45.99

If you want to maximize your time in the sun, having a shady spot to take a break is a necessity. Grab a sand anchor to stabilize your umbrella and keep it from flying away in the wind. Whether little ones need to take a nap, eat a snack or let their next round of sunscreen soak in, you won't regret having an umbrella up and ready.

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From $14.99

To make the most of the storage space in your beach bag, opt for these microfiber towels. They fold down compact, are ultra-lightweight, quick-drying and sand doesn't stick to them. I still love a big fluffy or Turkish towel when the kids and I are poolside, but it's hard to beat the practicality of a sand-resistant towel on the beach.

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We've been through a handful of sun hats and landed on these as our favorites. They're breathable, so kids' heads don't get too hot, and the wide brim keeps the sun off their faces and necks. Packable without losing their shape, the hats also float so you won't lose them playing in the waves. And don't forget a pair of sunglasses to protect those peepers. I'm going to try these unbreakable ones this summer.

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This may seem strange to keep in my bag, but I never go to the beach without it. Vinegar helps take the sting and burning out of a jellyfish sting and potentially keeps you from having a truly miserable kid (or grown-up).

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