How to Pack for the Beach

We are beach regulars.  During the summer, I try to get out there with the kids about once a week.  Though, they are revolting this week and refuse to go.  What sticks in the mud.  Anyway, after a few summers of beaching it every week, I have become somewhat of a packing ninja.

The first thing you have to do is realize that sand is going to get everywhere.  EVERYWHERE.  I used to hate the beach.  I grew up on the beach and still didn’t like it that much.  I much preferred to be on a boat because the sand drove me nuts.  But over the years, I’ve just accepted the fact that sand is going to be part of my life.  And especially part of my car.  But, the good news is that God gave us vacuums and so life will go on.

Having said that, the best trick I have found for packing at the beach is designating a SANDY BAG and an NON-SANDY BAG.  I used to pack all our  beach stuff and then drag all of that stuff down to the beach.  But, in reality, we didn’t need all of it while we were on the beach.  In fact, I now leave the majority of my stuff in the car.  The only thing that actually goes out onto the beach with us is our Sandy Bag.

Your Sandy Bag needs to be plastic, if possible.  It makes it so much easier when you are done to just put the whole damn thing under the showers and rinse all the sand out.  The whole point of this bag is that it can get sandy and dirty and then rinsed clean quick and easy.  Here’s my Sandy Bag:


(Incidentally, I bought this puppy for $5 at Old Tyme Pottery about three years ago and it is still in great shape. Except for being bent on one side where Bean sat on it once, but otherwise, it’s still going strong. Best $5 ever.)

Inside this Sandy Bag, I put everything we will actually need on the beach:

  • One or two towels*
  • Sunscreen
  • Goggles and beach toys**
  • Sunglasses



*I used to bring all of our towels down to the beach, but last summer I realized that’s the worst thing to do.  We don’t need our towels when we are on the beach because we are just going to keep getting sandy and wet as long as we are there, which means all our towels are going to get sandy and wet.  When we need towels is when we leave the beach.  So, I usually have one or two towels in my Sandy Bag for things like wiping faces off when they get sand on them or quick drying the kids when I need to reapply sunscreen.  Other than that, we don’t use towels or blankets.  They just get gross and sandy when they are spread out on the sand, and since I’m sitting in a beach chair and the kids are playing in the sand, the towel on the sand thing was just a waste of space and time.  

**A word on beach toys.  I don’t bring a whole lot.  I bring plastic cups and the kids sometimes bring a bucket and shovel that they carry with them.  But that’s about it.  I’m sure if they had more, they would play with more.  But this has always been enough for my kiddos.  They spend most of their time playing in the water and digging in the sand.  So, give them a pair of goggles and a shovel and their hearts are happy.  I mean, they are at a giant salty pool and a giant sandbox.  What more could they possibly need?!

Now, the Non-Sandy Bag is where the majority of my stuff goes.  This is the bag that will stay in the car until we get to the showers to rinse off.  Inside this bag is everything we need to get cleaned up and dried off.  Because we have to drive over an hour to get to the beach, it is really necessary for my kids to completely rinse off and change clothes at the beach showers.  Otherwise, they sit in wet, sandy beach clothes for an hour on the ride home.  They hate it, and so does my car.  Now, I bring everything we need to shower off and change and keep it in my Non-Sandy Bag.


Inside our Non-Sandy Bag are:

  • Clean, dry towels for the whole family (3-4, depending on whose with us)
  • Clean clothes for each person*

*It is much easier for packing and a lot more comfortable if you pack dresses for girls to wear home.  I throw a pair of panties and a sundress in for me and Gracie and we are good to go (I don’t even bother with a bra!  Ha!).  It packs light and it is much more comfy on the drive home since we are still a little sticky from the sun and sand.

For showering off, I try to make sure we always park near a beach shower.  That’s the biggest reason I drive a little further to New Smyna Beach.  They have really great showers and little changing rooms right on the beach, which is perfect for when you’re done playing for the day.  The kids and I rinse off in the showers and then take our Non-Sandy Bag into the changing rooms to change for our ride home.  Since we are done with the non-sandy things, I just throw wet bathing suits and towels into the Non-Sandy Bag when we are done changing.

The last bag I pack for our beach days is a cooler bag.  Our cooler bag goes down to the beach with us, but stays in the wagon (more on that in a minute).  It gets a little sandy, but the rule is that Mom and Dad are the only one who can go into this bag, so that helps keep the little sand monsters from destroying not only our food and drinks, but my bag!  I got this one for Christmas last year and it is absolutely perfect.  It’s study and waterproof on the outside, so I keep my wallet, keys, and phone in there while we are at the beach.  Plus, it’s just big enough to fit snacks, drinks, and lunch for the day without being cumbersome and huge. I got mine on Amazon.  Just search “insulated cooler bag” and a ton of options come up.  Just be sure it’s sturdy and will hold up to being down on the beach with you.  As always, the more you pay, the nicer quality the bag will be and this is one of those things that I think are worth the splurge, depending on how often you go to the beach or use the cooler bag.  We take ours EVERYWHERE – the beach, the pool, friend’s houses, road trips.  I think mine cost $40?


Inside our cooler bag, I pack snacks, drinks, and lots of water bottles. I also have a clean washcloth in a baggie, which I use to wipe down sandy faces or to cool the kids off when they are hot. I also keep little water spritzing fans in there. The cooler keeps the bottles of water cool so that when you spritz down, it’s with cold water. It feels heavenly and is definitely worth the $5 I paid for each of them at Walmart!


So, those are the only bags I pack.  Three: Sandy Bag, Non-Sandy Bag, and our cooler bag.  The next must-have for our trips to the beach is our wagon.  This could be one of my most favorite things we own, actually.  It started as a baseball wagon to pull all of our baseball stuff (chairs, Bean’s bag, Gracie’s toys, my purse, etc.) when we went to the baseball field, but now it just lives in my car permanently because we use it so often.  We take it to festivals, parks, the beach…  I’ve even used it at the grocery store to pull a bunch of stuff I bought!  My links are being wonky on my blog right now, but if you look on Amazon for “collapsable wagon” you’ll find one.  Ours is the Mac Sports brand and cost about $80.

(I lost of a ton of pictures I had taken with my phone for this blog post when my phone died and I had to get a new one – Tip: Backup your phone regularly. Ugh. – So, I don’t have a picture of our wagon on the beach.  But it folds down into that really small red thing at the bottom of this pile of beach stuff in my car.  Can you see it?)


And here is a picture of us using it at the baseball fields, so you can see the size. It is awesome. Small, deep and one of the most useful, versatile things we own. I load it full of our beach bags and things and that’s all I have to take down to the beach. Saves me from balancing a bunch of stuff in my arms. And it is really easy to pull. It is never heavy, no matter what I pack in it. It’s magic!


The only other thing I bring are recent additions that I’ve added this summer.  Since both kids can swim now, we find ourselves out in the water more than up on the beach.  I usually bring pool noodles to float on (we are big floaters) and Gracie’s little pink float so that she doesn’t get thrown off her noodle every time a wave comes.  The kids also have boogey boards (which double nicely as little tables when you’re eating on the beach, incidentally!). The kids carry these things.  I pull the wagon.  We are good to go!


(Another random girl tip:  Braid your hair at the beach.  It keeps it from getting windswept, tangled, and sandy.)


Chris and I are beach babies raising beach babies. We love the sun, the saltwater, even the sand. And the easier we can make it to GO to the beach, the more often we find ourselves going. Life’s a beach!


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5 Thoughts to “How to Pack for the Beach”

  1. That was so helpful! Since we only go to the beach a few times a year, I always feel so discombobulated when I go. I’m totally going to get one of those collapsible wagons.

  2. I grew up in the Bahamas – all we took to the beach was towels. When we were done, we spread towels on the car seats came home, and hung the towels out to dry. It was seven children squished like sardines in the back of the car until we got there – which was no more than 10 minutes. Sometimes we bought conch fritters on the beach, most times we didn’t. Oh how times have changed.

  3. I don’t know how your sand is in Florida, but out here in Washington it is usually pretty wet sand and is sooo sticky, it is even hard to get off in the shower. So my must-have in my sandy bag is a bottle of baby powder. Sprinkle it generously over sandy parts, and in a few minutes it absorbs most of the wetness of the sand and you can wipe off the sand with a towel. Maybe that tip will help other moms?

    1. Katie

      Baby powder for sand is big around here, too. I’ve never used it, though. Might have to try that! Thanks for the tip!

  4. Katie N.

    And now I want to go to the beach with you, imaginary friend 🙂

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