We currently live in Philadelphia, and I’ve learned over the years that no one does Serious Beach Setups better than families at the Jersey Shore. It’s the Big Leagues, Gang. Families roll in with umbrellas, beach chairs, coolers, grills, kites, volleyball nets, sandcastle-building equipment, surf boards, boogie boards, and tents (to name but a few of the usual items we see).
Many of these Jersey Shore families manage to make the schlep look almost effortless too, thanks in large part to an army of transportation wagons specifically made for this purpose. The two most common modes of transport I’ve seen are this cart (for hauling chairs and umbrellas, primarily) or this wagon (best on sand, but can tip if you fill it too full), but there are always a few enterprising souls who have built themselves a custom(!!) beach hauler, and man — people flock to them with questions (myself included).
So. If you’re looking for an all-day beach experience in full comfort and style, talk to some Jersey Shore parents. They’ve got it down to an impressive science.
I, however, did not grow up on the Jersey Shore. I’m from a tiny little beach town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and while I love the beach (and am always amazed by the ingenuity of transport), I’ve always taken a drastically different approach to beach time — especially when the kids were little. Instead of planning all-day beach excursions…I much preferred shorter, easier bursts.
What To Bring For A Beach Day With Baby: Pack Only The Essentials
I realize that this is all well and good to say, but hitting the beach for 30 to 60 minutes and then unpacking beach chairs, towels, umbrellas and toys only to repack them less than an hour later is an exercise in frustration.
Instead, I treated beach time *almost* like a quick walk around the block. I had my diaper bag with me — with a few key essentials to get by — but I didn’t expect to stay long. Low expectations was the key.
As a new mom, I found that this idea of low expectations was the secret to my own happiness. Babies and toddlers are daunting little creatures, and mine rarely responded well to pressure of any kind. And if ever I set out on a mission to have fun for a whole day somewhere? Whoa. It was almost always a disaster.
High expectations on my part too often resulted in an absolute meltdown on theirs.
So, my new-mama, beach-going ways became very, very simple: I’d go often, typically when the sun wasn’t at its height (early mornings and evenings were my jam), and bring only what was absolutely necessary. And those “absolutely necessary” things had to fit into my existing diaper bag. If it didn’t fit into my bag, it didn’t come to the beach with us. Period.
This allowed me some mental space to just go and enjoy, without any sort of packing or readiness pressure. And if my kids weren’t feeling it that day, we could easily leave (or, ya know, as “easy” as it is to leave anywhere with a kicking, screaming kiddo).
With Raines, my oldest, I barely brought anything at all. He wore his diapers and the sunscreen I threw in my bag, he dug in the sand with the single plastic shovel I’d bring, and refuse to wear the sun hat I packed. As Raines got older, I refined my list a bit, and finally found a balance between just enough and too much. This refined list was needed when I was managing both toddler Raines and baby brother Pax, yet everything still fit into my backpack.
12 Must-Have Baby Beach Essentials For A Stress-Free Day
So. If you’re looking for the ultimate in beach-going comfort…this is not your list. But if you’re looking for an easy way to make some beach time with babies & toddlers feel a little less daunting, this is what worked for me.
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1. aden + anais Swaddle Blanket
I used these 100% linen swaddle blankets for everything — swaddles, impromptu nursing covers, a scarf, and as a towels for the kids whether we were heading to the beach or pool. They actually absorb water pretty well, yet will dry quickly when laid out flat on the sand (or hung at the pool). And sand shakes right off of them. They also take up very little space in the diaper bag. (And I almost never packed all four; I primarily just brought one per kid.)
2. Copper Pearl Baby Beanie
Raines was a bald little guy who also hated (hated!!) wearing a traditional brimmed sun hat. But for some reason, he’d tolerate these soft little cotton beanies just fine. These obviously didn’t protect his face from the sun, but at least his bald head was covered.
3. Maisonette Stripes Away Bucket Hat
I faithfully packed a cute bucket hat like this in my diaper bag every. single. day. for years. Sometimes Raines would actually wear it (and I’d feel like Mother of the Year), but mostly it was just there in my diaper bag so I wouldn’t be judged for bringing a hatless baby on the beach. “Oh, my gosh, I keep trying to put this hat on him — Raines! Come here, buddy….”
P.S. Pax happily wore the hat.
4. Mustela Baby Mineral Sunscreen Stick
I always had some sort of sunscreen stick in my diaper bag. I’ve found that these dry out quickly and need to be replaced often, but there was really nothing better for quick, spontaneous visits to the beach.
5. Thinkbaby SPF 50+ Baby Sunscreen Lotion
This Thinkbaby SPF 50 lotion is still my favorite sunscreen for babies and kids. If a beach day was going well, and it looked like we might be there for a bit, then I’d commit to slathering this on all exposed skin. It goes on white but does settle in after a while.
6. Supergoop! (Glow)setting Powder
This Supergoop! SPF 35 mineral powder was always in my diaper bag, primarily for me. That said — and this is definitely NOT endorsed by Supergoop! — if either kiddo was ever having hat problems, I’d pouf this onto their dandelion-fluff head (Raines) or along their part (Pax). It worked great. I’d also use this to touch up sunscreen application on their noses, cheeks, even arms sometimes, if they were busy/running/giving me grief about normal sunscreen. Is this stuff OK for babies? I have no idea. But I definitely used it when desperate.
7. Hanna Andersson Baby Rash Guard Suit
If I ever write a memoir (haha), I’d call it, “Always Pack a Swimsuit.” I’m forever optimistic, and I do actually pack a swimsuit on every trip (even boring work trips). And, as it turns out, I took the same approach to packing a diaper bag: This baby rash guard was always there. There’s really nothing that makes sunscreen application easier than…not having to do it. That said, the long-sleeve/short-pants rash guard seemed to be the right compromise between sun protection and not overheating my (already hot) kiddos.
8. i play. Reusable Absorbent Swimsuit Diaper
Most beach trips I played things fast & loose…which means my kids just wore regular diapers. But I was one of those hippie moms who exclusively nursed my oldest until he was almost three (less with Pax, I think — can’t remember, haha), so the pooping situation wasn’t nearly as terrifying once they started eating real food. And I NEVER let the kids swim in a pool without an official swim diaper.
Anyway, swim diapers really do make a difference, and this brand (i play.) is the best. The only downside is that if you have a kiddo with chunky thighs, you’ve really gotta stuff them into it (which is why it sat, unused, in my diaper bag on most beach trips).
9. Baby Sunnies Baby Sunglasses With Strap
Oddly enough, my little guys didn’t seem to mind sunglasses (especially in bright sun), and the back strap helped them stay put. Also…they’re ADORABLE.
10. Bumkins Waterproof Wet Bag
I always carried a wet bag in my diaper bags, but during the summer, it was especially important. This wet bag from Bumkins is big enough to for all of the wet stuff listed here (including the muslin “towels”).
11. BraveJusticeKidsCo. Silicone Summer Beach Set
I used to only carry a single plastic shovel in my diaper bag, but I would’ve LOVED this soft, silicone beach set. I can’t imagine that the shovel actually works well, but scooping sand into that bucket would’ve been the big win here.
12. Kule Baby Tote
As I’ve mentioned, most of the time I simply filled my existing diaper bag with these summer add-ons for easy beach going. But if you happen to be looking for a seriously cute beach/baby bag…wow. I LOVE this one from Kule.
Cheers to low expectations.
Lifelong west coast beach mom here. Excellent list. The more you go to the beach, the less stuff you actually want to shlepp down to the sand. Bare minimum is the way to go unless it’s a long day, then we pack a little extra. The people who visit from out of town are always dragging a ton of stuff down to the beach for an hour long visit and they always look miserable when it’s time to pack up all that gear.
My only advice is to choose a different sand toy set. Those sandy-colored toys are guaranteed to get lost forever in the sand first day.
Yes to everything you said but I found an even better hack. Garden shovel instead of beach toys. While these ones are cute, a garden shovel will work better and wont break from the weight of the sand.