Family Beach Day Essentials: Packing For Summer Adventures

When the first hints of warm weather come, I’m immediately thinking about 2 things:  the backyard garden and the beach.  I know, I know.  It’s not nearly warm enough to put your feet in sandals much less sand, but we are an outdoors family come summertime.  You can find us at the beach almost every weekend between Memorial and Labor Day!  Pre-kids, we took a train, bus and a ferry (whew!) and our motto was ‘you could only take what you can carry’.  Everything was light weight and compact.  Now with 2 young kids and a car, our motto for family beach day essentials hasn’t changed.  The list just includes sand toys and diapers now :).

Here are our absolute must-haves for the beach that we use weekend after weekend!  Light weight, durable, compact and reasonable!  Oh, and everything must be able to be set up and taken down by one person!  The majority of the time my husband and I divide and conquer by one watching the girls and other dealing with the stuff.  Also helps with the rare occasion I take the girls to the beach by myself.

I’ve added a FREE DOWNLOADABLE PACKING LIST at the end of the post.

Family Beach Day Essentials

Family Beach Day Essentials

Outdoors Sports Shelter

We have tried numerous beach umbrellas over the years before finally landing on this beauty.  The shelters and tents from Lightspeed are super durable and easy to put up and take down.  Unlike an umbrella, you always get a consistent shady area that protects from sun, wind and the occasional rain.  We’ve weathered a few storms in ours.  There are a number of sizes they sell (and we’ve had a few), but we stick with the large sport shelter because it comfortably fits 2 adults, kids, and our stuff inside.  It also has screen windows on all three sides with shades you can pull up and down for more shade or breeze.  I can’t say enough good stuff about this shelter except that we never leave home without ours!

Sports shelter
Sports Shelter


We finally bought our windscreen a few years ago and I wish we had done it sooner.  It’s multipurpose although you’d never realize it if you didn’t have one.  On windy days, it shields the shelter, your food and anyone laying down from flying sand.  On super packed beaches, it’s a great privacy barrier between you and the next family.  And if you have a little one, it helps turn the shelter into a playpen.  It rolls up nicely and for easy packing, we store ours in the same bag as the shelter so there’s only one thing to sling over your shoulder.


This one seems a bit odd, but it makes putting the stakes (for the shelter) and posts (for the windscreen) in the sand SO much easier!!  It also tends to make you popular at the beach given no one else thought to bring one for their stuff.  Just make sure you get it back.  🙂  We like to store our mallet in the shelter bag, so we never forget to pack it.

Waterproof Picnic Blanket

We have had our waterproof blanket since our wedding and it looks the same as it did the day we got it, 9 years ago.  It’s comfy to sit on and always stays dry in wet sand or grass.  This blanket, in particular, zips into a small rectangle with a strap which I love for hands free carrying.  Probably the best feature though, in my opinion, is the ease in which you can sweep sand off it.  I know we’re at the beach, but I’m not a fan of sitting in a blanket full of sand.  With my $2 brush from Ikea, it takes 30 seconds to keep it sand free!

Soft-side Cooler

Beach trips always need munchies and this cooler is perfect for hauling them!  It’s extremely light weight and keeps everything cold if you add ice or an ice pack.  It’s large enough to hold a 24 pack, so it’s big enough to store food for a family of 4.  The front zippered pouch is also great for utensils, plates, napkins, etc.

Boat and Tote Beach Bag

All of the totes at LL Bean are durable and cute in a nautical sort of way (we have several).  This one in particular has great features for beach trips.  It’s large enough to hold all of the towels, extra clothes, sunscreen, etc that we pack.  The long straps allow me to carry it on my shoulder and the zipper keeps everything safe and secure (and sand out).

Weatherproof Bluetooth Speaker

I know some would say that music isn’t a necessity, but this speaker might change your mind.  It has such great sound for it’s small size that it’s hard to pass up.  Besides, who doesn’t have music on their phone these days.  We love it because it sounds great, is light weight, and durable (weatherproof).  Also, it won’t break the bank and holds a charge well.

Additional Things To Pack For The Beach…

We have certain beach day essentials that we rely on week after week because of how well they function, but there are other additional items we pack as well.  Definitely worth mentioning, but really a personal preference when it comes to brand and such.

In addition to the speaker, we pack the following in our beach tote:

  • Towels
  • Ziplock Bags for suits and shells (They help keep the bag dry and relatively sand free)
  • Change of clothes OR Swimsuits/Cover up (Wear one to the beach to save space)
  • Sandals/water shoes
  • Hats
  • Sunglasses (Or just wear them 🙂
  • Waterproof bag carrying sunscreen, lip balm, comb, hair ties, and compact mirror
  • Wipes (Great for wiping hands before eating or after sunscreen application)
  • Few diapers/swim diapers (if you have little ones)
  • Smaller zippered bag carrying wallet essentials (ID, cash, and a credit/debit card), cell phone and keys. TIP:  Keep your wallet in your car. Accessible if you need it, but won’t get lost or stolen)

If you have kids, or are a kid at heart, pack your sand toys in a reusable light weight bag.  We use this one from the Container Store because it’s so light and durable.

Now onto the Etc…

In keeping with the pack only the essentials motto, we tend not to bring these, but they are worth mentioning:

  • First Aid Kit and Bug Spray (We keep these in the car as they are rarely needed.  If you are not bringing a car or are walking a ways from the car, pack travel versions of them to maximize space.)
  • Book/magazine (I rarely have time to read one these days, but definitely packed one pre-kiddos)
  • Kite (We occasionally bring one and pack it in the shelter bag, assuming the beach allows it.  Fun for the kids and makes it easy to spot your stuff from far away.)
  • Frisbee/Paddleball (Great stuff pre-kids.  Hopefully, when they get older we can add them to the list again.)

Family Beach Day Essentials Packing List

So here is the complete list of our family beach day essentials along with a downloadable packing check list, as promised.

I hope this inspires your beach day with the family and saves you a bit of time and sanity.  And for those of you shell collectors like me, here’s a great project for keeping those shells for years to come:  Creating A Beautiful Serving Tray From Beach Shells. Stay tuned for more fun shell projects this summer!

Happy soon to be summer!    Nikole

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