Summer’s here and the beach is calling! When I was growing up, my neighbors would load their kids and friends into an old station wagon, grab some bags of chips and head to the beach. I loved going on their beach trips. It was fun, teenage fun. Climbing on rocky jetties, discovering stingrays and horseshoe crabs, and coming home crispy fried and tired. Those were the best memories ever. But after years of living on an island and one too many beach-burn experiences, those sunburns don’t feel so hot, and being the parent has kinda flipped the tables, but I still love our beach days, and with a little planning, they can be your best memories ever (without the crispy-fried skin!). Check out these 10 tips to help you plan the best family beach day ever.
10 Ways to Have the Best Family Beach Day Ever
1. Beach Time
Plan your beach time. The sun is the hottest midday. Go early and then take a break- a long leisurely lunch, or sightseeing, or even head back to your hotel for a nap or movie. Then return to the beach after 3 pm. The crowds tend to die down (and it stays light until 8!) and the temperatures are not so blood-boiling.
2. Leave the Toys at Home
Leave the favorite toys at home (or in the car). Salt water can corrode metals and I’ve seen many a favorite toy get washed out to see with an incoming tide. Instead, think beach. Sandcastles, crabbing, collecting shells- writing and drawing in the sand.
Bring some shovels & buckets and make a huge sandcastle, or let the kids dig with their hands or with seashells (saves on carrying stuff) and the less stuff you have at the beach, the better!
3. Go Undercover
Bring your own shade. I went to a beach in India with palm trees actually on the beach! But shade is a rare commodity on all beaches- and unless you have that spot under the pier set up before dawn, it’s best to plan to bring your own shade.
Umbrellas are lightweight, but keeping kids under them can be difficult. Shade tents are a nice option- make sure to stake them down properly. This weekend I saw many families erecting those 10 x 10 canopies over their beach area, many with drop-down side shades, making the perfect family cabana!
4. Keep the Burn at Bay
Sunscreen- sun cover. We go to the beach to get the sun and then cover up to stop it from burning us. Such weird humans are we. Bring suntan lotion and don’t forget to apply it – often! I often use a higher SPF for faces and noses (they use zinc in Australia). For kids who love to stay in the water- a hat and a t-shirt to throw over their swimsuit works well too.
5. Keep Hydrated
Bring water. And drink it. Sure, you are surrounded by water- but at the sea, it’s just salty. You can become dehydrated fast in the summer heat. Pack some water to take along. I often freeze water bottles and use them as ice packs the next day- in the sun they will melt fast, but you’ll have nice cool water for drinking!
6. The Truth about Swim Trunks
You know those boys swim trunks? Take a scissor to the netting inside and cut it out! The only thing that mesh seems to hold in is sand- buckets of it, causing chafing, redness and very sore little (and big) boys. I’m not sure why they even made them that way! ! If your son feels weird without it- let him wear a pair of underwear underneath.
And the sand in the swimsuits? It’s from the kids sitting in the surf. Been there. Done that. If you see your little kid’s drooping swimsuit- clean the sand out- a little extra care will prevent sand-soreness at the end of the day.
7. Eating Food on the Beach
Food. If you are planning a whole day at the beach, food is always good. Think finger food. If you bring anything cold be sure to keep it in a cooler on ice so it doesn’t spoil. Cold food needs to stay colder than 41°F to keep bacteria at bay. We usually take a bag of chips- for some reason all that salty air makes you crave salty food. But chilled grapes, oranges & apples make good beach snacks too.
Sometimes it’s better to use hungry kids as excuse to leave the beach for a while. You may not want to change into other clothes, but you can always go through a drive-thru- or send one parent into a grocery store to pick up lunch and then have a picnic in a park – in the shade.
Haha, I’m not advocating booze here- but bring your own bags! Ziploc bags are great for wet bathing suits, seashell collections, and even those sandy flip flops that the kids love to hand you. I always carry plastic bags- very handy. Make sure you take them away with you too! A recent news story reported scientists finding plastic bags in the deepest part of the ocean… Choose to become a solution, not part of the problem.
9. Beach Shower
Take advantage of those beach showers. Yes, your car will end up a sandbox anyway, but wash the bulk away BEFORE you get into it! Sand loves to accumulate in everyone’s swimsuits, and when that salty water dries on your skin it feels like it’s pulled tight. Wash it all away! Wash those flip flops off too. That’s why these showers are there. Take advantage of them. You may want to bring extra towels that you keep stashed in the car for after the beach. Something to keep your seats dry without sand on them.
10. The After Burn
If, by chance, you or your wee ones do end up burned- ALOE is your new best friend. You can pick it up in any drug store and even grocery stores by the beach and in summer. It comes in gel form and is even used by to treat burns from radiotherapy!
The aloe gel, derived from those succulent aloe plants, will feel cold on a sunburn. Almost every brand who makes a sunscreen also makes an aloe cooling gel for those sun burns. Just don’t place the gel around your eyes or mouth. If you have allergic reactions or a family history of them, you may want to do a test patch first. We’ve used aloe gel on burns for years- until we took that timing & taking cover thing to heart 😉
Beach Day Things to Consider
Looking for that perfect beach? What kind of beach-goer are you?
If you are looking for peace and quiet you may want to head farther down the beach. The main crowds tend to gather nearest the beach access and facilities, but half a mile away it can thin out- this is especially true on beaches with no vehicle access.
Will it be swimming or fishing or both? If you want fishing, the beaches with the fishing piers are great, but of course, you can fish straight from shore anywhere. Some beaches are strictly fishing though. When we went to Amelia Island State Park, everyone was fishing and no one was swimming! Same with Indian Pass Beach in Port St. Joe. Good for the anglers in the family, but not so hot for wee ones who just want to splash in the water.
Are sand and sea enough? Though I may have happily sunbathed with a good thriller novel in my youth, I actually can’t stand sunbathing now- and neither can the kids. We wander, make sand sculptures and explore. If your kids are older, you may want to consider a rocky beach- tidal pools to explore, rocks to climb. We had a great day exploring Black Rock Beach at Big Talbot Island State Park.
Would you rather have someone else doing the cooking? Maybe a beach with restaurants would be more your style. Frenchies in Clearwater, Florida serves up some fantastic seafood. Afterward, you roll out to the white sandy beach for swimming. Cocoa Beach in Florida is also well-known for it’s beach-side restaurants, as is Daytona Beach and Fort Myers Beach.
Are you a seashell or shark teeth hound? I’m always in search of pirate gold myself (one day I’ll find some!), but if you are looking to add to your seashell collection or hunting sharks teeth, there are beaches just for that. Casey Key near Sarasota is a good shark teeth area, as is Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island. Shell Island just off of Panama City Beach is notorious for fantastic shell finds. Plan accordingly.
Things to Know Before You Go:
- Check the tide times.
There are two high tides and two low tides each 24 hours. When the tides are low, you’ll have more beach and can also have tide pools, which are perfect places for little kids to play. Low tide is also the best time for finding seashells and hunting for shark teeth.
In high tide, the water levels rise and there will be less beach area- sometimes no beach area in places. This also happens twice a day. Be aware of the tides. If you are parked on the beach you may have to move your car. If you leave your shoes and towels on the beach, you may have to move them back. The high tide level mark is indicated by the wet sand.
- Beach Flag Warnings
Pay heed to the beach flag warnings. The colors match the stop light colors: green for good, yellow for proceed with caution (high surf, possible undertows) and red is no go- dangerous. There is usually a sign posted telling you what the beach flag colors mean as well.
- Beware the Rip Tides
Rip Tides are sneaky undercurrents that can actually pull you under and sweep you out to sea. There are many beaches posted with “no swimming” due to rip tides. Pay attention to the warnings.
- Watch your Kids
Last word of warning: always watch your kids by the water. Even right beside me, my daughter got tumbled by a wave that knocked us both down. I remember grabbing her arm and pulling her up as her face mask was swept away up the coast to Georgia. Stuff happens. That fast. Have fun, but watch those kiddos!
Where is your favorite beach? Feel feel to leave a comment in the section below.
- Accidental Adventures: Canaveral National Seashore
- Anastasia State Park
- Apalachicola with Kids
- Snorkeling on the Gulf Coast at Panama City Beach
- Big Talbot Island: Florida’s Natural Playground