A day (or more) at the beach is a key part of many family vacations. But dealing with a sunburned, hungry, and cranky crew totally kills those family beach vacation vibes. To make your time on the sand the fun get-away-from-it-all experience you want, you need the right beach gear to keep everyone happy and refreshed.
The Essential Beach Packing List for Families
A great day at the beach begins before you even leave your house, hotel, or vacation rental, and it requires a little bit of planning on what to pack for the beach, especially when you’re bringing kids. Here are the must-have beach essentials to make any beach day complete.
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☐ Beach Bag
☐ Beach Cart or Wagon
☐ Beach Tent or Shade
☐ Beach Towels
☐ Folding Beach Chairs
☐ Beach Mat or Blanket
☐ Waterproof Speakers
☐ Beach Hat
☐ Beach Games
☐ Sand Toys
☐ Wind Breaker
☐ Beach Safe
For the Water
Beach Essentials on Land
1. Beach Bag
You need a dependable beach bag (or two) to carry all your necessary gear down to the sand. You’ll want to look for options that are big enough to stash all the beach essentials but not so large that they become unwieldy.
You can go for classic canvas, a bag made of neoprene or other materials that can withstand stray splashes, or mesh bags that make it easy to shake out any sand that found its way inside. Look for sturdy and comfortable handles so the bag’s easy to carry or throw over your shoulder.
FamilyVacationist recommends: We love the beach bags from L.L.Bean, Lands’ End, Scout, Aloha Collection, Bogg Bag, and Sea Bags. You can find bags from these and other brands at Amazon, Target, Kohl’s, and Walmart.
2. Beach Cart or Wagon
A family beach day requires a lot of gear, and sometimes you need more than just a bag in which to carry it all. A beach cart or wagon helps you get everything to your spot by the shore without throwing out your back or making multiple trips to and from the car.
A good beach cart or wagon should be simple to set up and break down and move easily across the sand, beach boardwalks, and other surfaces. Look for features like carrying bags, adjustable handles, and all-terrain wheels, and make sure the hauling capacity and weight limit match your needs.
FamilyVacationist recommends: You won’t go wrong with a beach cart or wagon from names like MacSports, Radio Flyer, Timber Ridge, Beau Jardin, and Rio Brands. Find options from these and other brands at Amazon, Walmart, and Target.
3. Beach Tent or Shade
Beach umbrellas can be unwieldy and hard to secure in the sand on windy days. Try a beach tent or shade instead to protect yourself from the sun’s rays. You can find these beach essentials in a variety of sizes, from smaller options for the kiddos to tents big enough to fit the whole family underneath. The best beach tents and shades are lightweight, easy to transport, and a breeze to set up; reading reviews can help ensure the one you choose checks all those boxes.
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FamilyVacationist recommends: Beachgoers love the tents and shades from Sun Ninja, Shibumi Shade, Pacific Breeze, and Oileus. Walmart, Target, REI, and Amazon carry options from these and other brands.
4. Beach Towels
Whether you take a dip in the cool waters off Cape Cod or the balmy seas surrounding Florida, you’re going to want a beach towel when you’re done swimming. And the best beach towels come down to a matter of personal preference.
Some people like a traditional, thick, terrycloth towel for drying off after a swim. Those towels can take up a lot of room in your beach bag, though, and they aren’t known for drying quickly. Other people prefer a thinner Turkish-style towel or a towel that helps repel sand. Whatever you’re a fan of, there are lots of great options out there.
FamilyVacationist recommends: We like the towels from Sand Cloud, Teema, Lands’ End, Pottery Barn Kids, BeachTech, and Dock and Bay. You’ll find a wide range of choices at retailers like Target, Walmart, Kohl’s, Wayfair, and Amazon.
5. Folding Beach Chairs
Kids and teens might be fine sprawling out on the sand, but for grownups a good folding beach chair is one of the most important beach essentials. The name of the game at the beach is comfort, and you’ll find a beach day to be much more comfortable with a good beach chair.
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Look for a beach chair with a carrying bag or straps for easy transport to your spot along the shoreline, pockets and cup holders for corralling essentials, and reclining capabilities in case you’re lucky enough to squeeze in a quick seaside snooze. And be sure to choose a chair height that works for you, whether that’s a chair that’s close to the sand or one perched up a little higher.
FamilyVacationist recommends: Folding beach chairs from Tommy Bahama, L.L.Bean, Oileus, and KingCamp all rate as popular choices for beach lovers. Retailers like Amazon, Wayfair, Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Target carry options from these and other brands.
6. Beach Mat or Blanket
Whether your kiddo hates the feeling of sand on their feet (or anywhere else) or you just want a place to stretch out for a nap under the sun, a beach mat or blanket is a must-have for spending a day by the shore.
A beach blanket or mat that repels sand is a good choice for both your hours at the beach and when it’s time to pack up at the end of the day. Look for one that’s big enough for your family and can handle getting wet but isn’t super bulky or heavy when you’re toting it around. Options with sand anchors or pockets help keep everything in place if things get breezy at the beach.
FamilyVacationist recommends: Beach blankets and mats from L.L.Bean, Seaview, Matador, CGear, Wekapo, and Aquatus are all well-rated and well-reviewed choices. Amazon, Target, REI, and Walmart carry options from these and other brands.
7. Waterproof Speaker/Headphones
Good tunes can make a beach day even more enjoyable. And a waterproof speaker can help provide the soundtrack whether you’re lying under an umbrella on the sand or floating in the sea. Just be considerate of your neighbors, or use headphones if the beach is crowded or your musical tastes aren’t shared by everyone around you.
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A good waterproof speaker for the beach not only survives getting wet but also offers decent audio quality. You also want to look for waterproof speakers that are easy to transport, durable, and have good battery life.
FamilyVacationist recommends: We love the waterproof speakers from JBL, Soundcore, Bose, and Ultimate Ears and the headphones from Bose, Sony, Apple, Soundcore, and Beats. You can get wireless speakers and headphones from these and other brands at Amazon, Best Buy, and Walmart.
8. Sandals/Beach Hat/Sunglasses
Sandals, a hat, and sunglasses rank high on the list of beach essentials to help protect you from the sun and the hot sand. But you can definitely mix fashion with function if that’s your thing. Flip-flops are a beach classic for a reason; they’re inexpensive, easy to kick off, and can handle getting wet. A baseball hat works, but a wide-brim hat can be even better for preventing sunburn and keeping you cool. And opting for polarized sunglasses helps reduce glare from the sun and water.
FamilyVacationist recommends: We’re fans of Reef, Teva, Sanuk, Crocs, and Havaianas for easy-breezy beach flip-flops. Coolibar, Athleta, L.L.Bean, and Columbia are great sources for sun hats, while Oakley, Ray-Ban, and Maui Jim are go-to’s for polarized sunglasses. You can find options from these and other brands at retailers like at Amazon, REI, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Old Navy.
9. Beach Games and Sand Toys
Beach games and sand toys help keep the whole crew entertained, whether they’re building imaginative sandcastles, searching for shells and other ocean treasures, or enjoying a little friendly competition on the sand.
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Look for beach toys that are easy to carry and pack up when the day’s over. You also want toys and games that can stand up to the sand and surf and that the kids can play with on their own when you need a little break from all the activity.
FamilyVacationist recommends: Green Toys, Fat Brain Toys, B. Toys, Wave Runner, and Funsparks are good sources for beach games and sand toys. Retailers like Amazon, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart, Target, and Wayfair offers toys and games from a wide variety of brands.
10. Book or E-Reader
There’s a reason why “beach reads” are a thing. There’s nothing better than reading a book while listening to a soundtrack of wind and waves. Whether you toss a paperback in your beach bag or bring along an e-reader depends on personal preference. If you do opt for an e-reader, you’ll want one that isn’t too big and bulky, performs well in sunlight, and has some ability to handle getting wet.
FamilyVacationist recommends: We like being able to support local independent bookstores by ordering our beach reads from Bookshop, but we know many people also prefer the convenience (and discounts) of getting the latest literary hit in a hurry from places like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. For e-readers, the Kindle, Nook, and Kobo earn praise from beach bookworms. Other retailers like Walmart and Target carry both books and e-readers to suit your reading style.
Despite what we all wish for, the weather isn’t always perfect at the beach. And if you visit a beach destination outside of the summer months, things might get a little cool and windy at the shore.
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That makes a good windbreaker essential for enjoying a stroll at the water’s edge or some time on the sand no matter the time of year or weather conditions. Look for a jacket that’s lightweight, breathable, and easy to pack so you’ll have it handy if you need it.
FamilyVacationist recommends: We like the windbreakers from Patagonia, L.L.Bean, Athleta, and The North Face. You can also find a range of options at retailers like Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart, Target, Amazon, and REI.
12. Beach Safe
When you’re frolicking in the waves, you don’t want your car keys, wallet, and cell phone to get into the wrong hands. That’s why having some kind of safe or lockbox among your beach gear is a good idea.
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Consider what and how much you want to stash to determine the best size, and decide if you’d prefer a key or a combination lock. Look for beach safes that are easy to transport and durable to withstand the hot, wet, and sandy conditions at the beach.
FamilyVacationist recommends: Safego, Master Lock, Pacsafe, and FlexSafe all offer good options for storing your valuables at the beach. Find beach safes from these and other brands at retailers like Amazon and Walmart.
Beach Essentials for the Water
There’s no one-size-fits-all for swimwear, and what you choose might depend on whether you plan to splash around in the surf or just lounge on the sand. Options abound, from barely there bikinis to trusty tank suits to board shorts and swim skirts.
Look for materials that can stand up to saltwater, and if they offer any UV protection that’s a bonus. A swim shirt or rash guard is also a good idea to help shield you from the sun a little more.
FamilyVacationist recommends: We love swimsuit shopping at Lands’ End, Speedo, Summersalt, Athleta, Old Navy, Boden, and Title Nine. Retailers like Target, Walmart, Amazon, and Dick’s Sporting Goods also carry a wide range of swimwear options for the whole family.
14. Water Shoes
Water shoes come in handy for navigating rocky beaches, hot sand, or the whims of a kiddo who’s not crazy about walking on squishy, wet surfaces. Whatever the reason, they’re never a bad thing to keep among your beach essentials.
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You’ll want to look for water shoes that offer support and traction on their soles, fit snugly so they won’t fall off, and are made of materials that drain easily after they get wet. You and the kids can even wear them to and from the beach to keep things simple.
FamilyVacationist recommends: We like the water shoes from Reef, L.L.Bean, Body Glove, and Merrell. Find options from these and other brands at retailers like Zappos, DSW, Target, Walmart, and Amazon.
15. Wet Bag
If you plan to change out of your bathing suit after a day at the beach, bring a waterproof bag to keep damp swimwear away from the rest of your gear. After all, no one likes to unpack soggy snacks or a waterlogged paperback. A zipper or drawstring helps keep everything where you want it. You can go for something basic or a bag that expresses your personal style.
FamilyVacationist recommends: Find great options for wet bags for the beach at Aloha Collection, Etsy, Wander and Perch, Covella, and Bumkins. Retailers like Amazon, Walmart, and Target offer a range of options from these and other waterproof bag brands.
16. Body Board/Swim Goggles/Snorkel Gear
When the water is calling, bringing along beach gear like a body board, swim goggles, or snorkels helps the whole family enjoy it. Many a great family memory can be made riding the waves or exploring what’s beneath the surface.
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For body boards, you can stick with something basic or go for a more expensive option if you’re a frequent wave rider. For goggles, you want a pair that has cushioning around the eyes and an adjustable nose piece, is the right size for your face, and keeps the water out but isn’t uncomfortable to wear. Size, fit, and comfort are also factors when choosing snorkel gear.
FamilyVacationist recommends: Morey, Catch Surf, and Goplus are trusted brands for body boards. For goggles, you won’t go wrong with a pair from Speedo, Arena, Aquasphere, or TYR. For snorkel gear, Cressi, Innovative Scuba Concepts, and Speedo are all great choices. Find a wide range of options from these and other brands at retailers like Amazon, Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, SwimOutlet, and Target.
17. Waterproof Phone Case
To capture family memories at the beach without worrying about damaging your cell phone, invest in a waterproof phone case. There are cases with lanyards and straps or without, depending on how you plan on carrying and using your phone when at the beach. Be sure to look at the case’s IP (ingress protection) rating to assess how well it keeps out water. A good rule of thumb is to look for a rating of IP67 or higher.
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FamilyVacationist recommends: LifeProof, Hitcase, Pelican Marine, Catalyst, and Syncwire offer well-rated and well-reviewed waterproof phone cases. Find options from these and other brands at Amazon, Walmart, and Target.
Safety and First Aid Beach Essentials
18. Sunscreen/SPF Lip Balm
Some beach gear is optional, but sunscreen is a must-bring item. A painful sunburn can ruin your vacation, and too much sun exposure can lead to issues like wrinkles, age spots, and skin cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends sunscreens with “broad spectrum” protection to protect you from both UVA and UVB rays. A sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher is essential. Water-resistant options are ideal for a day at the beach, but you still need to reapply liberally and frequently.
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There are lots of choices for sunscreens, ranging from the formulation (chemical versus mineral) to the method of application (liquids, sprays, sticks, powder). Choose the option that works best for your skin and that you’ll actually use. And don’t forget about your lips, which can burn too; make sure to have SPF lip balm in your beach bag as well.
FamilyVacationist recommends: We like sunscreens from Supergoop, Sun Bum, Blue Lizard, Kiss My Face, and Neutrogena. For SPF lip balm, we like Sun Bum, Burt’s Bees, Supergoop, Coola, and Banana Boat. Online retailers like Amazon, Walmart, Target, Ulta Beauty, and Sephora carry a broad range of sunscreen products from these and other brands.
19. Hand Sanitizer or Wipes
Beach bathrooms aren’t generally known for being conveniently located, so you’ll want some hand sanitizer or wipes in your beach bag to use before eating or dealing with any cuts or scrapes. According to the CDC, hand sanitizers that contain at least 60 percent alcohol provide the best cleaning and de-germing results. For hand wipes, check the label to see what ingredients they contain and how powerful they are against germs and bacteria.
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FamilyVacationist recommends: For hand sanitizers and wipes, we like products from Purell, Bath and Body Works, Germ-X, EO, Handzies, Wet Ones, and Everyone. Retailers like Amazon, Target, and Walmart carry these and other brands in a range of sizes and scents.
20. Bug Spray
Sometimes bugs like to spend the day at the beach too. So pack some bug spray in your beach bag to help keep the pests away. Look for bug sprays with ingredients like DEET, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus to best keep flying and crawling critters away. Make sure to read the label for insight as to how often to apply it.
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FamilyVacationist recommends: Repellents from Sawyer Products, Cutter, Off!, and Proven Insect Repellent are good choices for keeping the bugs at bay. You can find options from these and other brands at retailers like Target, Amazon, Walmart, and REI.
21. First Aid Kit
Rough waves, sharp shells, sibling bickering—cuts, scrapes, and other minor injuries can happen during a day at the beach. Lifeguards can help out when needed and available, but having a first aid kit on hand is also a good idea.
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You can find preassembled kits in a variety of sizes or make your own tailored to your specific needs. Make sure it has at least the bare essentials for a day at the beach, like bandages and antibacterial ointment, then build from there based on how injury-prone your family is.
FamilyVacationist recommends: Johnson and Johnson, Care Science, and Surviveware offer first aid kits stocked with all the necessary supplies. Find options from these and other brands at retailers like Amazon, Walmart, REI, and Target.
22. Floaties or Life Jackets
When you’re heading to the beach with little ones or kids who aren’t the strongest swimmers, floaties or life jackets can add another layer of protection to go along with adult supervision and lifeguards on duty. (Just remember, they should never be a substitute for adult supervision, but rather an add-on.)
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Verify the size and weight recommendations for the floatation device to make sure it works for your child, and choose a style that your kiddo will actually wear and feels comfortable for them. You might even be able to find an option that features a favorite cartoon character or a kid-friendly design to add to the appeal of this essential beach gear.
FamilyVacationist recommends: We like the floaties and life jackets from Speedo, L.L.Bean, Body Glove, and SwimWays. These beach essentials are available from retailers like SwimOutlet, Amazon, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Walmart, all of which offer a range of flotation devices.
Food and Drink at the Beach
23. Portable Cooler
Food and drinks keep the whole family fueled up at the beach, and you need a good cooler so everything stays cold and refreshing when you’re out in the sun. Coolers come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and materials, so you need to think about how much you want to keep cool and for how long.
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You should also consider how much weight you’re willing to carry and how you want to get the cooler down to the sand (e.g., shoulder straps or a handle and wheels). The good news is your beach cooler should be a whole lot lighter at the end of the day. And don’t forget about the ice packs!
FamilyVacationist recommends: We like the portable beach coolers from Yeti, Igloo, Hydro Flask, Coleman, IceMule, and Corkcicle for keeping things cold and frosty on sunny days. Retailers such as Amazon, Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Target carry options from these and other brands.
24. Picnic Basket/Utensils/Napkins
Embrace sustainability by bringing reusable picnic gear to the beach. It’s good for the planet and makes your beach meal a little less run-of-the-mill. At the end of the day, you can pack it all up, bring it home, wash it, and repack it so it’s ready to go the next time. You can purchase a picnic basket set complete with all the beach essentials or buy the pieces yourself and create your own go-to beach picnic kit.
FamilyVacationist recommends: You can find picnic basket sets with everything you need from Williams-Sonoma, Hap Tim, Mark and Graham, and Sunflora. Retailers like Wayfair, Target, Amazon, and Walmart carry all kinds of reusable options for picnicking.
25. Water Bottles
Staying hydrated when you’re out in the sun is a necessity, so get everyone in the family their own reusable water bottle to fill up before hitting the beach and sip from throughout the day. Think about the best size for each member of the family, preferred drinking style (like whether you want a straw or a removable lid), and whether you want a lightweight bottle or something heavier that may be a little more durable. Have each family member pick their own color or design so you always know which bottle belongs to which person.
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FamilyVacationist recommends: We like the reusable water bottles from Yeti, Stanley, Corkcicle, Hydro Flask, and S’well. A wide range of colors and styles is available from Target, Amazon, Walmart, and Dick’s Sporting Goods.