Sandals on beach (Photo: Shutterstock)
Photo: Shutterstock

11 Beach Essentials You Should Never Buy on the Cheap

You get what you pay for—it’s something we hear all the time, usually when we’re shopping for things our families need. And while we love a bargain as much as the next person, when it comes to beach essentials, there are some things you really can’t afford to buy on the cheap.

Beach Essentials for Families

Nothing ruins a beach day faster than a beach chair that splits open when you (finally) sit down, a cooler wheel that falls off while you’re lugging a days’ worth of food and drinks, or an umbrella that breaks after one big gust of wind. Do yourself a favor and opt for quality over lowest price for these beach essentials.

1. Waterproof Wireless Speakers

Perfect for pool parties, beach adventures, campgrounds, and backyard staycations, wireless speakers up the fun quotient for any family gathering. The waterproof and portable VTIN R7 Bluetooth Speakers will crank your favorite tunes for up to 30 hours, and you can pair them for up to 100W of musical power. Their rugged design means they’re shock-proof and sand-proof, so you don’t have to worry about ruining them after one outing.

Compatible with iPhones or Androids, this unit also charges your mobile devices. Bonus: There are seven colorful lighting modes to create the ultimate dance party effect wherever you are.

2. High-Quality Beach Cooler

There’s a reason so many people are obsessed with the YETI Tundra Haul Portable Wheeled Cooler. Well, several reasons, actually. This cooler has a rotomolded armored construction, making it virtually indestructible—even if a kid (or two) sit on it while you’re hauling what seems to be enough snacks and beverages for a small village.

Thankfully, this model holds a ton of food. Available in seven colors and 16 sizes, the cooler has a durable welded aluminum handle with comfortable grips, puncture-resistant wheels, and extra-thick walls crafted from polyurethane foam that provide two inches of insulation. No more melted ice!

3. Waterproof Phone Case

Any parent who’s ever watched in horror as their smartphone falls into the ocean (usually in slow-motion, right?) will wonder why they didn’t pick up LifeProof’s FRĒ Waterproof Case.  These scratch-proof, shock-proof protective cases also keep out dust and sand, while giving you full access to your phone’s buttons and controls.

This case is so good it’s rated fully submergible to 6.5 meters for an hour. If you use your phone to snap adorable photos of your kids anywhere near water or sand, this is a must-pack. 

4. Sand-Free Beach Mat

How many times have you tried to pack up a giant beach blanket or mat, only to get covered in sand? Plus, blankets take forever to dry out. You don’t have to live that way anymore—the CGear Sandlite Sand-Free Beach Mat is not only durable and water-resistant (hello, wet children’s feet!), it’s also made from a one-way sift material originally designed for military use.

The two-layer system means sand, dirt, and dust fall through the fabric, but can’t come back up, making these mats ideal for picnics, camping or napping. Available in 10 colors and three sizes for small or large families, these lightweight-yet-sturdy beach essentials roll up and feature a carrying handle.

Bonus: Spilled a drink on the mat? No worries—this mat beads up and wipes away easily.

5. Sunglasses That Float

If you love the water but want to protect your eyes from harmful UV rays (as well you should), don’t go cheap when it comes to beach essentials like a good pair of sunglasses. We recommend Rheos Wyecreeks Round Floating Polarized Sunglasses.

These ultra-light sport frames feature anti-scratch and anti-glare lenses that offer total shelter from the sun, and we love the fact that they float, too! That means if you drop them in the water, you can actually find them again.

The polarized nylon optics means you’ll see perfectly clearly. Whether you love body surfing, fishing, or boating, these sunglasses are must-have beach essentials. They come with a lifetime warranty. 

6. Spacious Beach Bag

Ever noticed that all the small beach essentials—from sippy cups and sunscreen to towels and toys—end up squished in mom’s beach bag? Well, if you’re going to be the master Sherpa, you’ll need sturdy gear, and why shouldn’t it also be gorgeous?

The Logan + Lenora Beach Tote is waterproof inside and out thanks to sealed seams, plus it’s spacious and well-made. Available in nine cheerful prints, this beach bag can fit plenty of swim gear with room to spare, and features a zippered inside compartment plus two exterior pockets for small things like keys and sunglasses.

There’s an expandable zip-top closure, too. This poly-canvas beach bag is also stain-resistant, so when your child’s yogurt tube explodes, you won’t think twice about it; you can also toss this bag in the washing machine.

This lightweight tote can also double as a stylish carry-on and packs flat when you don’t need it. But you will, because… Sherpa.

7. Pop-Up Beach Tent

Sun-loving families also need shade, and the lightweight WolfWise 4 Person Easy Up Beach Tent offers the perfect SPF 50+ shelter. This instant beach tent is designed so one person can set it up in seconds. The 9.5mm-thick fiberglass poles offer sturdy support, and the tent comes with three sandbags, four wind ropes, and 10 stakes so that once you put it up, it stays up, even on the windiest days.

A zippered door helps transform the tent into a portable changing room or a cool place for babies and toddlers to take a mid-day snooze, while three large mesh windows provide ventilation. Three mesh storage bags hang inside, so you can safely store books, phones, baseball caps, and other small beach essentials. There’s room inside for four people, and there’s a front porch section where you can set up your beach chairs.

8. Portable Anti-Theft Beach Safe

Forget hiding your credit cards, cash, and phone in your shoes (seriously, it’s the first place thieves look!). Instead, invest in an anti-theft FlexSafe by AquaVault, which locks onto your beach umbrella or the back of your lounge chair.

This slash-resistant, heavy-duty personal safe keeps your valuables out of reach while you jump in the waves with the kiddos. Made of RFID-blocking materials, this small but essential item for the beach has several storage pockets for the things you can’t take with you in the water.

9. Sturdy Bodyboard with Wrist Leash

Who doesn’t love catching a big wave and being carried towards the shore? Body-surfing is a blast, except when your board cracks or bubbles from the heat, or disappears because of a flimsy cord. It’s worth shelling out a few bucks more for the BPS ‘Green Machine’ Bodyboard, which comes with a strong coiled TPU wrist leash and neoprene cuff, so you won’t lose it when you wipe out.

It also has a high-speed HPDE slick bottom surface for the ultimate gliding experience. This lightweight board features an EPS core for buoyancy and is perfect for any wave conditions. Available in three sizes—for riders up to 65 pounds, up to 120 pounds, or up to 188 pounds—the board offers easy balance for younger body-surfers and better maneuverability for experienced ones.  

10. Foldable Beach Chairs with Backpack Shoulder Straps

You only have two hands, so it’s important to purchase folding beach chairs with reinforced backpack shoulder straps. We like the RIO Beach 4-Position Lace-Up Backpack Folding Beach Chair because not only is it easy to carry, but the lightweight aluminum frame is rust-proof and weighs just eight pounds. For long days at the shore, we love having four reclining positions and a flexible lace-up suspension design that conforms to the body for extra comfort.

The chair fabric features bar tack stitching that reinforces its strength, so these chairs will last multiple seasons. There’s a removable foam pillow and cup holder, plus a large storage pouch on the back of the chair to store magazines, water bottles, sandals, and other little beach essentials. The chair has a capacity of 240 pounds, which is great for those parents who rarely have fewer than two kids on their laps. 

11. Wheeled Beach Cart

Nothing makes your trip to the beach easier than a wheeled cart to carry all of your other essentials (and occasionally a small child) to and from the beach. Stuff your towels, sunscreen, beach reads, hats, sunglasses, and everything else into the Rio Beach Wonder Wheeler Wide Beach Cart, a foldable cart with an extended, stroller-style handle with neoprene grip, all-terrain wheels, side umbrella holder, and a removable tote bag.

We promise you’ll thank us when your kids are whiny at the end of the day and no one seems capable of helping carry anything back to the car.

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Wendy Helfenbaum
Montreal-based Wendy Helfenbaum is a journalist, content strategist, and TV producer who writes for dozens of digital and print magazines, as well as many brands. Wendy loves cruising, adventure travel, and venturing off the beaten path with her husband and teenage son, and she can pack a carry-on bag like nobody’s business.