Toddler Beach Essentials: 50 Tips for Enjoying the Sand and Sun
Even if you’re a seasoned beach bum who could spend carefree days on end in the sun, preparing for beach time with your toddler is a whole new adventure. When we first started heading to the shore with ours, we quickly learned what we needed to bring make the day a success.
Here are 50 quick tips that have helped our family of four tackle beach vacations across the States:
Let’s Start with the Basics
1. Head out early
Take advantage of your toddler waking up at the crack of dawn and head to the sand in the morning. Getting there early gives them plenty of time to play before they tire out for a nap, and it lets you choose the best spot for your family to camp out for the day. Plus, there’s nothing better than coffee on the beach.
2. Bring swim diapers
If your toddler isn’t potty trained, buy disposable or reusable swim diapers. We love these cute snap and pull-up options from Green Sprouts. Pack extras!
3. Pack up your travel potty
The My Carry travel potty comes in every style, from simple solids to a cow or a penguin. It’s small and discreet, and it has a secure seal for when you can’t clean it right away.
When we were first potty training my son, we even brought our very realistic Summer Infant musical potty to the beach (if you’ve potty trained, you know the dedication is real!). Although it made for a hilarious sight and some excellent photos I won’t include here, the My Carry potty is a huge upgrade for when we’re on the go. Click here for a full review!
4. Sometimes you just gotta dig a hole in the sand
When your toddler needed to pee five minutes ago and your partner left the potty at home — even though you discussed it seven times — you do what you can.
5. Pack baby wipes
Diaper changes aside, wipes are essential for sandy water cups, messy hands, and sticky faces (see tip #28 about ice cream). A portable wipes container can lighten your load and let you reseal your wipes on the go.
6. Bring baby powder (mom beach hack!)
A mom friend clued me in on this clutch beach tip. When sand is stuck on wet skin or in tiny crevices (like between toddler toes), coat the area generously with baby powder. The sand will rub off easily without any scratching or scraping.
7. Use sandals or water shoes for hot sand
Even if it’s mild in the morning, sand gets hot as the day goes on. Make your little one’s feet comfortable trekking back to the car with protective sandals or water sneakers.
8. Bring an extra swimsuit
All parents know that bringing a spare outfit is a must when going anywhere with a baby or toddler. The beach is no exception. Target has great value toddler suits for boys and girls.
9. Bring some dry, warm clothes
Even though beach days can be some of the hottest, the shore can get breezy and cool. Pack some sweatpants and a long-sleeve shirt to keep your kiddo warm all day. If you’re planning on a beach nap, you might also want to change them into dry clothes beforehand.
10. Pack some towels (including a large one for the ground)
A big beach towel or family towel makes a nice spot to play or snack. You can also opt for a waterproof blanket — we love the roomy Lowlands Outdoor Blanket from Yeti.
11. Also bring a toddler towel
Look for a cute one with a hood or a cover-up that will stay put.
12. Remember a clean towel for the ride home
Have a clean towel ready to drape over the car seat to prevent sand from getting stuck in every nook and cranny.
13. Bring those toddler beach toys
Molds to make sand castles, rakes and sifters to find buried treasure, and even this sand ice cream set are all great beach toys for toddlers. This beach toy set from Hape comes with everything you need and a mesh bag to hold it all together.
My toddler son loves anything with wheels, like dune buggies or dump trucks to transport sand. He’s also amazed by these self-propelled Surfer Dudes that run on waves alone.
If you’re looking for a sand activity to keep your child occupied, you can bury small toys like these miniature dinosaurs for your toddler to dig out and rescue.
14. Don’t forget the shovels
Bring a small one that your toddler can use safely and a large one for Mom or Dad to dig that giant hole they’ve been dreaming of.
15. Use big buckets
If there’s one thing we’re constantly doing at the beach, it’s lugging water from the ocean to our spot in the sand so my son can play with it. Do yourself a favor and bring some larger buckets to make the job more efficient.
16. When it comes to beach games, think toddler-friendly
If you’re used to playing horseshoes on the beach, you might need to change it up. Swap the metal out for rubber or rope that won’t injure tiny feet, or bring a kid-friendly toy version.
17. Bring your toddler their own beach game
We love Melissa & Doug’s reversible Bean Bag Toss game.
18. Bump those party tunes
Beach days can be long and tiring for toddlers, so bring something along that gives them joy at home, like their favorite songs. If there’s one thing that makes our son happy nine times out of ten, it’s hearing “Baby Beluga” by Raffi on the stereo.
19. Bring an extra beach chair…
My son never fails to steal someone’s chair as soon as they stand up.
20. Or a toddler beach chair
There’s no guarantee your toddler will sit in it, but one with a tray attachment is best. I like our folding pop-up chair, because we can use it at the beach, by a backyard fire, or for a picnic in the truck bed.
21. Get yourself a giant beach bag
We’re only at tip #21? You’re gonna need a bigger bag. L.L. Bean’s Boat and Tote is a classic, or splurge for one of Yeti’s waterproof Camino carryalls that never lose their shape.
Food and Drink
22. Pack lunch
Getting out of the house for a toddler beach day can be a lot. Make the most of your hard work and be prepared for a whole day out.
23. Bring lots of snacks
Anyone who knows me as a mom knows that this is my general rule of thumb anywhere I go with my son. Pack snacks, and then pack extras. You never know which ones you’ll drop in the sand as soon as you open them.
24. Pick an insulated water bottle
Keep your toddler cool with an insulated bottle like the Yeti Rambler Jr. or Hydro Flask Kids Wide Mouth.
25. Bring some juice boxes
We all know juice isn’t the most nutritious drink for kids, but a little bit of 100% juice can be better than no hydration at all. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) even recommends giving kids a serving of pure fruit juice to replace lost fluids from mild sunburn.
Small juice boxes are convenient because toddlers tend to finish them quickly, and you don’t have to worry about keeping them sand-free when they’re finished. Reuse your sandwich bags or bring a separate trash bag for the empties.
26. Load up a cooler
Go for a tote or backpack option for easier carrying, and pack extra ice to keep your food and drinks cold all day long.
27. Yes, bring cash for the ice cream truck
My family always used to say that anything goes on vacation, within reason. It’ll be hard to keep your toddler away from the ice cream cart if they see it, so you might as well give in and treat yourself too.
Safety and Sun Protection
28. Pack sunscreen
Protect your toddler from painful sunburn and reduce their risk of skin cancer. Choose a broad-spectrum option and apply liberally, even on a cloudy day.
29. Buy a sunscreen stick
Kids sunblock sticks with an SPF of 50 or higher are great for scars and for little noses and lips that are prone to burning.
30. And don’t forget that aloe lotion for when the day is done
Made for babies and little ones with sensitive skin, this Baby Bum moisturizing lotion has coconut oil, aloe, shea butter, and cocoa butter to soothe post-sun skin.
31. Sport a sun hat
Choose a soft, wide-brimmed hat like this one from Green Sprouts to protect that precious face and neck from UV rays.
32. Even a regular hat will do
If your toddler won’t wear a sun hat, any cap will help protect their scalp from overheating and sunburn.
33. Find good sunglasses
Look for sunglasses that fit your toddler well and stay in place without squeezing too tight. We’ve had success with these shatterproof toddler shades and these polarized kids sunglasses by Speedo.
34. Always bring bandaids and antibiotic ointment
Be prepared for anything, and don’t let a sharp shell edge ruin your day!
35. Let’s talk water safety
The medical professional in me can’t talk about kids at the beach without discussing the importance of water safety. In the United States, more kids between ages 1 and 4 die from drowning than from any other cause.
It’s important to keep your child in sight at the beach and at an arm’s reach in the water (known as touch supervision). The AAP also encourages parents to learn CPR to help prevent drowning fatalities.
36. Communicate safety precautions with other adults
If you’re headed to the beach with friends, aunts, uncles, or grandparents, make sure everyone is on the same page. If another adult is taking your toddler into the water, be clear about what you’re comfortable with and what water safety precautions they should follow.
37. Avoid floaties
Inflatable swimming aids like floaties or water wings are not a safe alternative to life vests. They place children in an upright position and give them a false sense of security, which may contribute to drowning incidents.
38. If boating, use a life vest
Children on boats should wear a well-fitting personal flotation device like a life jacket or life preserver at all times.
39. Enroll in swim lessons!
Swim lessons are one of my favorite activities to do with my son. They can actually reduce the risk of drowning for kids over 12 months. I love seeing my son improve each week, and I can’t wait to get started with our baby girl.
Make That Beach Nap Happen
40. Reapply sunscreen before they fall asleep
If you haven’t already, put a second coat of that sunscreen on. The AAP recommends reapplying every two hours, so if your child is going to be sleeping, make sure to reapply before they doze off.
41. Bring some children’s books
Parents who are hoping to have their child nap at the beach should mimic their pre-nap routine as much as possible. If your child normally reads a few books before going to sleep, a nap at the beach should be no different.
Even if the nap isn’t going to happen, books are a great way to help your toddler unwind in a stimulating environment. Bring extra copies of your favorites that you don’t mind getting wet, or opt for waterproof bath books.
42. Use an all-terrain stroller
I’ve found the easiest way to get my son to fall asleep at the beach is to put him in the stroller and go for a long walk. The Thule Urban Glide 2 is great for navigating the sand.
We’ve also brought our UPPAbaby VISTA so we could have both our kids sleep in it at the same time (see baby #2 in the photo above). We did need to carry it over the deep sand, but it rolled without trouble once we got to the hard-packed sand by the water.
43. As an alternative, bring a wagon
The Veer Cruiser tackles sand without a problem.
44. Bring a clip-on fan
A simple clip-on fan can help keep things comfortable, whether your child is sleeping in the stroller or on a beach chair.
45. Use that mini sound machine
If your child sleeps with white noise at home, bring some to the beach! Crashing ocean waves make for great white noise, but some bay areas are calm and quiet. A sound machine can muffle nearby conversations and lifeguard whistles to keep your toddler snoozing. We love our Yogasleep portable sound machine.
46. Set up an umbrella
Have your child sleep in the shade to reduce their UV exposure.
47. If you want to go big, buy a beach tent
L.L. Bean’s Sunbuster Folding Shelter or Pottery Barn Kids’ Sunshade are great spots to rest, especially if you have more than one tot who needs a break from the rays.
48. Pack a book for yourself
Remember, your toddler might be sleeping on top of you for that beautiful beach nap! Soak up the cuddles and bring some reading material for when your little one is sleeping — or just sit back and take in those ocean views.
49. Don’t forget to slip a beer into the cooler!
The toddler is sleeping! Quick, time to relax! (Yes, there is a toddler under there.)
Planning for the Unplanned
50. Be flexible
Parents with young ones know that days don’t always go as planned, even on vacation. When your toddler is being, well, a toddler (see above our attempt to walk on the Strand at Manhattan Beach), sometimes you just have to go with the flow. If the weather fails you, or if your kid isn’t feeling great, cherish that special time to watch a movie snuggled up together on the couch, and postpone your beach plans for a brighter day.
(Before flying or driving to your beach destination, check out our helpful tips for taking your toddler on a flight or on a road trip.)
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