Amp Up Your Family Beach Adventures

While growing up, I lived inland in places like Wyoming and Colorado. I imagined a visit to the beach to be all sandcastles, seashells, and splashing in the waves. While it can be all those things, it wasn’t until much later when I moved to a coastal city that I realized it could be so much more.

We’ve spent the last three years amping up our family trips to the beach to include water sports, sandy competition, and a deeper exploration and appreciation of the coastal ecosystem. Keep reading for some of my favorite tips, gear recommendations, and activity options to help you make the most of your next family beach adventures.

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A group of children creating a dam along a rocky beach

Choosing a Beach Location

Contrary to my childhood thoughts, not all beaches are the same. In fact, they can be vastly different even just a few miles up the coast! The location and amenities available at a beach can make or break your family beach adventure. Here are a few things to consider when choosing a location that fits the needs of your family.

Calm Bay vs. Large Waves

If you have young kiddos who aren’t great swimmers yet or hope to get a nice, calm paddle in on your kayak or paddleboard, a beach with calmer waves may be the way to go.

Proximity to Your Vehicle

The biggest question here is how far are you willing to walk between your vehicle and the water. If you’re hauling larger items (such as kayaks) or are loaded down with a myriad of beach gear, finding a beach within close proximity to the parking area is a huge bonus. On the other hand, you’re more likely to find more secluded spots (and more wildlife!) on beaches that require a further walk.

Bathroom/Shower Availability

While it can be super convenient to be near restrooms and showers, these beaches tend to be the most crowded. For some, this may be a non-negotiable (especially families with young kiddos or pregnant mamas). However, if you’re looking for more wiggle room, parking further from a bathroom facility can ensure a calmer, more personal experience. I generally throw a toddler or portable potty in the back of my car for my kiddos to use (yes, even I have used it when needed) and deal with sand clean-up once we return home.


This is a big one for us. My older son is NOT a fan of large crowds. He gets anxious and has a hard time enjoying himself when he is surrounded by strangers. We tend to seek out less-crowded beach spots or go at non-peak times (homeschooling has helped a lot with this!).

Two young boys playing on the beach wearing Sunday Afternoons hats

What to Wear

The biggest factor when choosing what to wear for a beach adventure is sun protection. The sun can be overpowering and damaging, especially if you don’t have the right gear on! Here are some gear items we suggest for frolicking on the beach.

Sun-Protective Swim Clothing

Clothing with a UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) rating is a must for beach adventures. They protect against both UVA and UVB rays (most sunscreens only block UVB rays) and help limit the dreaded sunscreen battle with the kiddos. My family uses long-sleeved rash guards since my kids despise applying and reapplying sunscreen. Check out this post for a list of our favorite rash guards and sun shirts for kids.

Insider Tip: Consider a one-piece or wetsuit to keep kids warm and minimize sand in spots where there shouldn’t be sand.

Sun Hats

While any hat is better than no hat when adventuring on the beach, a sun hat provides full coverage to help prevent the face, ears, and back of the neck from exposure to harmful UV Rays. We prefer kids’ hats that are packable, cinch for a tighter and longer-lasting fit, and have a breakaway chin strap (like the Sunday Afternoons Reversible Clear Creek Boonie Hat).

Check out this post for more of our favorite sun hats for kids.

Two young girls playing in the sand on a beach wearing pink sunhats and life jackets


The glint of sunlight off the water can make for an uncomfortable adventure, especially if your family is kayaking, paddleboarding, boating, or fishing at the beach. Thankfully, quality polarized sunglasses don’t have to be expensive. My boys and I love the Knockaround brand since they can take a beating and come with a lower price tag. Check out this post for more suggestions on sunglasses for kids.


Dressing your kids in sun-protective clothing and sunhats will help limit the amount of exposed skin. That means you won’t have to lather on as much sunscreen to keep them protected. However, you will still want to apply (and reapply) a quality sunscreen to all exposed skin for everyone 6 months of age and older.

Also, keep in mind that some beach areas are limiting the type of sunscreen used to help protect coral reef environments. You can find a list of reef-friendly sunscreens at this website. Check out our post on natural sunscreens for the whole family for a list of our favorite options.

A group of kids helping each other apply sunscreen along a trail while wearing Sunday Afternoons Trucker Hats


Choosing the right footwear will depend on both the adventures you have planned and your preference (if your kids are like mine, they have strong opinions about the shoes they wear!). My older son and I are almost always in our Teva Hurricane Xlt2 Sandals, regardless of the activity. My younger son lives in his Classic Croc Clogs, and my husband prefers Reef Flip Flops or Keen Newport H2 Sandals depending on our adventure. Check out our post on water shoes for kids for more options.

A woman laying on the beach wearing Teva  Hurricane Xlt2 Sandals while watching her child play in the water

What to Bring

While your family may not need everything on this list depending on age and activities, we’ve found these general items to be the most helpful in making family beach adventures successful.


The sun can be brutal, especially when combined with hot sand. If your spot happens to be out in the open with zero shade, you’ll want to bring some type of shade with you. This could be as simple as a beach umbrella or as complex as a screened-in canopy shelter. Personally, we love the Kelty Cabana Shelter. It’s easy to set up, portable, and versatile. We have used it for beach naps, clothes changes, and extra shade while camping.

A man and child relaxing in the shade of a Kelty Cabana Shelter on a beach

Beach Blanket or Beach Chairs

While I don’t mind hanging out with my kiddos right next to the water, I’ve never been a huge fan of sitting directly on the hot, dry sand where we set up our gear. We always have a beach blanket set out as a landing pad and place to munch on snacks and relax. We have used everything from an old bed sheet to a sand-proof blanket specific for beach days (like the Wekapo Extra Large Beach Blanket).

If you prefer to be more elevated and don’t mind lugging the extra weight, beach chairs are also an option. You can find various options (like the Homevative Cooler Chair) that fold into a backpack and boast fun extras such as storage space and a built-in towel rack.


Beach towels are a staple on the beach day gear list. While any old towel will suffice if needed, not all towels are created equal. Classic cotton beach towels can be bulky and aren’t great at removing sand when drying little ones off.

For a more packable option, consider a microfiber towel (I LOVE this one from Pack Towel. It packs super small (I take it with me for camping, kayaking, SUP, and hiking adventures as well) and removes sand way better than a cotton towel. Another sand-resistant option is Turkish towels (like the Wetcat Turkish Towel, which work similar to microfiber when it comes to sand and packability.

Insider Tip: Kids are excellent at getting sand on every inch of their body (even the covered spots!). A microfiber dusting mitt (like this one from Norwex) can help gently remove sand from those hard-to-reach areas (think armpits and booty cheeks).

A microfiber Pack Towel on a sandy beach

Sand Toys

Just about anything can be used as a sand toy. Old yogurt containers, cups, kid-sized garden tools, etc. are great re-purposed options. You can also get the all-in-one kits that include sandcastle molds, shovels, and buckets. My kids use their larger plastic sand shovels and buckets the most when we play at the beach.

Insider Tip: Mesh bags and laundry baskets make transporting sand toys and gear easier while minimizing the amount of sand you take with you.


A quality cooler can help you extend the length of your beach adventure into a full-day excursion. They can also be attached to kayaks and paddleboards if you plan to hop between sandbars or beach islands. We love our Earth Pak Heavy Duty Cooler Bag. It is completely waterproof and has a ton of attachment points to attach to the kayak, SUP, or other adventure gear. It also keeps drinks and food cold for multiple days while camping when filled with ice.


Snacks are always an essential part of any adventure with kids. When it comes to beach adventures, there are a few extra things to consider when choosing the snacks and foods you include. We generally stay away from anything that can easily melt fast (such as chocolate bars) and stick with snacks that are easy to eat with low mess.

For example, instead of a regular peanut butter and jelly sandwich, we bring along Uncrustables (either name brand or homemade using a sandwich cutter like this one), which can keep the sandwich insides in place. Other good snack options that are less likely to get sandy include apple sauce or yogurt pouches, dried fruit, snack bars, beef jerky sticks, and energy/protein bites. If you’re looking for a cold treat, you can stick some pre-cut fruit and veggies in a cooler (and eating utensils to prevent sandy bites).

Insider Tip: Place frozen yogurt tubes, freeze pops, or frozen grapes in an insulated mug. They stay frozen for longer and your family gets a nice, cold treat to enjoy on the beach.

A young boy wrapped in a towel about to eat a yogurt tube that was stored in an insulated mug.

LOTS of Water

Between the sun, the salt, and the sand, beach adventures tend to make us super thirsty. If you are parked somewhat close to your adventure spot, consider keeping extra water bottles in a cooler in the car (or pre-freeze them so they remain cold for longer). If you plan to travel away from your transportation, bring an extra large insulated water bottle (such as the Stanley Ice Flow 64oz jug) along with personal water bottles for each person.

Life Jackets

We don’t mess around with water safety. If you plan to participate in water sports (SUP, kayaking, etc.) or are visiting a beach with waves, you’ll want to bring along a life jacket for everyone in your family. Check out this post for tips and recommendations for choosing the right life jacket for your kiddos.

A woman and young boy wearing lifejackets while kayaking along a beach in an Intex Excursion Pro 2 person kayak

Beach Bag(s)

You’ll need something to hold your gear, and not all bags are created equal. I prefer to use mesh bags that are lightweight and allow the sand to escape (we have one similar to this one with a detachable cooler on the bottom). If you want a more versatile, durable option, the XL Bogg Bag holds a ton of gear, doesn’t tip over, and wipes clean.

Optional-Beach Wagon

The majority of us are only born with two arms, two legs, and one back. If you happen to be carrying more gear than those body parts allow (and your children are still too little to carry much), you may want to consider a quality beach wagon. These wagons have specialized wheels to handle sand and are less likely to tip over with extra weight. We like the Mule from Earth + Kin, which is also a great option for hauling gear while cycling.

Adventure Gear

We’ve listed the general items to consider taking with you on your next beach adventure. Now let’s get into the fun stuff! Your adventure gear will depend on the activities you have planned. We have split activities into five main categories below with the gear you’ll need for each adventure.

A family walking along the beach with a Buoy paddleboard and an Adventure Board

What to Do: 20 Favorite Beach Activities

As a kid, I imagined visiting a beach to be all about sandcastles, seashell collecting, and playing in the surf. I also grew up inland near the mountains and had never actually visited a beach until I was much older.

Now that we live on the coast, I realize just how many family beach adventure options there are! Here are over 20 of our favorite beach activities split into five different categories along with the gear required (or lack of gear) for each option.

The Classics

Here are some classic beach activity options (like the ones I imagined as a kid) to get your adventure started or add on to a full day at the beach.

Build a Sandcastle

Building sandcastles is like a beach right of passage for kids. They can be as simple as a sand mound with a few shell decorations to a massive mansion complete with a moat and tiny seaweed and stick flags. You can buy a sand-toy bundle that includes shovels and castle molds or simply raid the recycle bin for some old yogurt containers and bottles.

A young girl building a sandcastle on a sandy beach

Sand People/Creatures

My boys love doing this in one of two ways. They will create creatures out of sand (think snow people, but with sand) with rock eyes, seashell smiles, and seaweed hair. They also love to bury each other’s legs (or those of an adult) and carve out designs to make them look like mermaid or shark tails. I love witnessing their imaginations at work as they come up with elaborate backstories for their creatures!

Fly a Kite

Breezy beaches are the perfect spot for kite-flying! Especially if you choose a less crowded spot that allows you to run along to catch the wind. Singing the song, “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” from Mary Poppins is optional, but strongly encouraged!

A young boy flying a kite along a beach wearing a Sunday Afternoons sun hat

Read a Book

Reading a summer-themed book is a great way to engage kids when they need a break from adventuring. Take a look at this post for our favorite summer reads for the whole family. For myself, I love to pop in an earbud and listen to a book (usually a funny fiction novel) while keeping an eye on my boys.

Seashell Hunt

It’s hard to visit a beach and not admire the myriad of seashells scattered across the sand. You can search for different shapes, different colors, or ones that simply stand out to you. We like to take along a seashell guide (like this comprehensive seashell guide) to try and identify the shell types and creatures that can live in them.

A young girl collecting seashells and rocks along a beach with a large bag.

Beach Recreation

If you’re looking for a more sporty, active beach adventure, here are some great options to get the heart pumping and the friendly competition flowing.

Frisbee and Football

These classic games require just one thing each; a flying disc or a football (and maybe a sense of humor as well). They are easy to pack and a great way to dry off between swim sessions. You can even find light-up discs (like this one from Nite Ize) and footballs (like this one from GlowCity) if you want to extend your beach recreation into the night.

Beach Volleyball and Crossnet

Beach Volleyball is fun for all ages but is especially a blast if you have older kids. You can get a kit that includes a net, ball, pump, etc. (like this one from Zdgau) and you’re set! These kits are generally useable in backyards and parks as well. If you want to amp up your beach volleyball routine, consider getting a Crossnet. This fun variation is like a cross between volleyball and 4-square with each player getting their own corner.

A family playing CrossNet at the beach


Whether you simply kick the ball back and forth or start a full-on beach soccer tournament, this is another easy beach recreation option that involves very little gear. A regular soccer ball works just fine, though you may want to deflate it a bit to compensate for the unsteady surface. If you prefer to have nets, grab a portable set that is easy to carry and collapses to fit in your vehicle.


The game of Bocce Ball has been around since ancient times and is still a popular family game today. It’s fun, easy to learn, and can be played on various surfaces (including sand). All you need is a Bocce set (like this one from GoSports) and some willing competitors and you’re ready to go!

Water Sports

Are you ready to take your beach adventure to the next level? Water sports are a great way to amp up the beach thrills for the whole family. The first three options listed below are best for calm, swimmable beaches (think bays, inlets, lagoons, etc.) while the others are great on any type of beach.


We love launching our kayaks from a local calm bay beach where we can paddle along the coast watching the seabirds and ocean life thrive. Our kiddos enjoy paddling their own Evrwild Kids Kayak (check out our review of the Evrwild Kayak in this post) which we attach to an inflatable tandem kayak such as the Buoy Touring Tandem Kayak (click here to read our full review of the Buoy Tandem Kayak). 

For more information on how to get started kayaking, check out our post on kayaking with kids.

A young boy kayaking along a beach in an Evrwild Water Bear Kids Kayak


As with kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding is best accomplished (at least successfully accomplished) in calmer waters. My kids love to sit on the front of the board and search for creatures in the water as we paddle along the shore. They will use it as a launching point for snorkeling as well. We prefer inflatable SUP’s (like the Buoy Touring Paddleboard) since they are easier to store and transport. You can read my full review of the Buoy SUP’s in this post.

Two adults paddle boarding with two children along a beach using Buoy Touring Stand-Up Paddleboards

Floating Launch Pad

This is hands-down my kids’ favorite piece of gear to take to the beach. We take our Adventure Board to calmer waters and our boys (and their friends) use it as a slip-and-slide, a launch pad, a paddle board, a floating resting spot, etc. The possibilities are endless with this one piece of equipment! Check out our full review for more information on the Adventure Board.

A group of children playing on an Adventure Board  on a shallow beach


While traditionally boogieboarding (also called bodyboarding) consists of catching waves while lying on a short board on your belly, my kids have shown me there are many ways to use a boogieboard. They’ve used them to collect seaweed/seashells, lazily float on the water, block splashes during a water fight, and take turns pulling each other in the surf. Kids can find a use for a bodyboard on just about any type of beach.


If you’re looking for the ultimate beach water sport, grab a surfboard and hit the waves. Not sure where to start? Many beach destinations offer surfboard rentals and even lessons for the whole family.

Deeper Exploration

There’s so much to discover within coastal ecosystems, especially if you choose to look a little deeper. Here are some fun options for exploring the plant and animal life along the beach.


Strap on some flippers, goggles, and a snorkel and set out to discover what is happening beneath the waves. You can get a quality, affordable starter set (like this one from Zeeporte) that comes with everything you need to get started (flippers, snorkel, goggles, and carrying bag). For younger kids, a lifejacket is helpful to keep them safely on the surface, and a full-face snorkel (like this one from QingSong) can help prevent inhaling water through the breathing tube.

A woman snorkeling in a lake near a gorgeous mountainous landscape.

Scavenger Hunts

There’s nothing quite like a good scavenger hunt to keep the kids engaged and having fun. This can be as simple as jotting down a few things for them to find (such as a cool rock, a clamshell, seaweed, etc.). You can also find a premade scavenger hunt online (like this one) and print a few for your kids to use.


Tidepools are generally found in the intertidal zones along rocky beaches (such as those in the Pacific Northwest). The seawater gets trapped in depressions along outcrops as the tide moves out, forming pools that are thriving with sea life. It is best to go at low tide where you can easily observe creatures such as sea stars, urchins, crustaceans, barnacles, etc.

A tidepool containing various sea creatures along Ruby Beach in Olympic National Park.

Beach Clean-Up

As you explore the beach, you will likely see debris from other humans. This debris can harm wildlife and plant species in coastal ecosystems. Consider taking along a bag to collect trash as you walk along, enjoying the beach with your family.

Get Creative

Let your family’s creativity shine with these fun crafty beach activities.

Beach Mandalas or Shapes

After your kiddos return with their myriad of interesting beach finds, have them use those items to create fun patterns on the sand. They can create a mandala with repeating patterns organized around a central object. Another option is creating shapes such as fish, people, animals, etc. using their found objects. My kids love incorporating these mandalas and shapes into their sandcastles as well.

A mandala shape created out of seashells and rocks along a beach

Aqua Viewer

This is a super easy craft that only requires 3 items to create: a recycled container with the bottom removed, plastic wrap, and a thick rubber band. We used an old bucket that was cracked on the bottom, but a yogurt container, old Tupperware, or a 2-liter bottle works just as well. Simply remove the bottom so you can look through the object. Drape a piece of plastic wrap over the bottom and secure it with a rubber band (kind of like creating a spyglass).

You now have a viewer that allows you to peek at the ocean floor and observe ocean life without having to dunk your head! We like to use these on calmer beaches and when observing tidepools, but they also work well for observing pond life.

A child using a homemade aqua viewer at a beach

Nature Journaling

Taking photos is a great keepsake for capturing memories, but nature journaling can help your family dive deeper into what they’re observing on the beach. A few ideas to get started are to draw what they saw in the aqua viewer, draw the shells or interesting things they find, diagram their ideas for an epic sand castle, or draw the landscape of your location. This is a great activity to help kids wind down or relax in between activities. Check out our post on nature journaling with kids for more information on how to get started.


Do you have a creative child (or adult) who loves to draw and paint? Don’t be afraid to bring along some watercolors and paper (sand won’t ruin either) and let them get inspired by the gorgeous beach scene and interesting finds. Check out this portable set that fits just about anywhere and includes everything needed to get creative.

Ending Your Adventure on a High Note

You’ve had a wonderful, long day of frolicking in the sand, searching for treasures, and catching the waves. Now it’s time to leave and your kiddos are reluctant to end the fun (or in our case, are in full-on meltdown mode, begging to live at the beach for the foreseeable future). Check out these tips for making the transition from beach fun to homeward bound just a little easier.

Pack-Up and Load Your Gear Before Wrangling Kids

If you parked somewhat close by and have another adult with you, start taking your gear back to the car before wrangling your kids. This leaves your arms freer for carrying the tired, screaming toddler or wrestling the preschooler into a towel and sandals.

Microfiber Towels Are Your Friend!

Microfiber towels are far better than cotton at removing sand from little bodies. We use them to dust off as much sand as possible before getting our boys changed and in the car. This is especially useful when visiting beaches without shower stations or bathrooms.

Easy Clothing Change

Bring a change of clothes that is EASY to change into after the beach. This may sound silly, but it can be nearly impossible to remove wet bathing suits and quickly put on dry clothes when your kiddos are tired and resisting. We generally pack baggy clothing (think drawstring shorts and a t-shirt) for everyone (including adults) to make the change quick and efficient.

Favorite Beverage for the Drive Home

Bring a travel mug with a favorite cold or hot beverage to enjoy on the way home. This has been essential for us after beach days! I generally store a mug of my favorite hot or cold tea to give me a caffeine boost and a little taste of joy after a long day in the sun.

Post-Adventure Treat

Have a special treat, activity, etc. ready in the car for the drive home. This could be a lollipop, a cold beverage that you stashed in a cooler, a little activity book, a sheet of stickers, or whatever would speak to your kiddos to keep them calm as you load up the car and head home.

A woman and young child playing on a beach at sunset wearing sun hats

Make Your Next Family Beach Outing the Most Memorable One Yet

Whether you stick with the classics, add in some deeper exploration, or go for the adrenaline rush, there are so many ways to amp up your next family beach adventure. We hope these tips and ideas will make your next family beach adventure the best one yet!

Are you visiting the beach in colder months? Check out this post, which is loaded with tips and advice for visiting the beach in winter.

If you are planning to extend your beach adventure to include camping, check out this post for tips and tricks for family beach camping.

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Amp Up Your Family Beach Adventures

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  • Rebecca has lived in five different states in the last decade with her Navy submariner husband and two boys. A former science teacher turned home educator, she now focuses on exploring her surrounding area (currently Virginia Beach) with her family as much as possible before life sends them on another adventure elsewhere. Their favorite outdoor activities include hiking, kayaking, camping, and paddleboarding.

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