Heading to the Beach? Your Indispensable Packing List

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Heading to the beach? I can see it in your eyes…a day filled with laughter, play, surfing, paddling, sand castle-building, snacking, napping, and building memories. A day at the beach is one of those things that we long for, enjoy, and remember always. 

Getting there with everything isn’t easy, though. Rather than jamming the car full of stuff you may possibly use, narrow down your options so that you’re not spending all your time hauling stuff, but can instead spend time in and around the water. I’ve sorted what you need into four main categories: Sun protection, play, gear, and eat/drink. 

Heading to the Beach? Your Indispensable Packing List

Sun Protection

As a pale redhead, this is always first for me. Getting sunburned is never a good thing, as you probably know. I don't even want to remember that time I got sunstroke and passed out on a beach in Japan. Here’s what to bring:

Large Sunbrella

I prefer this to a tent or wind block, because the long pole means you can stick it into the sand and angle the sunbrella however you want. Change the angle during the day, so that you’re protected. Accompany your sunbrella with seating options: low chairs, towels, blanket, etc., of course.


Highest SPF possible, and waterproof! Be sure to get one that doesn’t hurt the reefs or marine life. Apply before you leave home, and reapply during the day. Get a spray bottle for ease of access to backs, and for fast application for antsy kids. 

Rash Guard

Do your research and get a SPF 50 rash guard, with long sleeves, for everyone in your family. I prefer the ones with a turtleneck style, so that I don’t have an odd sunburn (I once mistakenly bought a crew neck rash guard. Hence the warning!).


Baseball caps, straw hats, or whatever each person loves, be sure they bring it with! 

Three sunbrellas on the beach. From Heading to the Beach? Your Indispensable Packing List


Besides swimming, there’s so much play that can occur at the beach! Here are a few of our favorites:


Depending on the weather, and location, we LOVE to bring a surfboard or two. Don’t have one yet? Look to foam surfboards! This is an inexpensive surfboard that is durable, light, easy to maneuver, offers a stable ride, and has a forgiving deck. They can be used in all conditions, and don't need waxing...it's a grab it and go option for surfing. While comparing foam surfboards, do your research on board length, depending on the height and weight of your family members. Grommets can go with a smaller one; big fish should get a full size one.

Small child surfing. From Heading to the Beach? Your Indispensable Packing List

Sand Toys

Is your family one of those that has sand castle competitions or builds a sandcastle so spectacular together that passersby stop and take pictures? Well, we aren’t, but that doesn’t stop us from having fun! If the beach has stones or shells, use them for decoration. While you can often find driftwood to help with sandplay, it’s better not to count on that randomness of availability. I pack all the tools we need into a larger bucket (turret shaped!), including several little shovels, a few scrapers, and a few smaller buckets. Don’t want to worry about all this? Dollar stores or five below often have kits. Grab and go! Put it into a mesh bag and count the pieces, so that you aren’t unintentionally littering when you leave. This is a great task for littles, so they can help pack up when it’s time to go. Don’t want to haul all that sand toy gear? Make them using dribbles!

Sand castle! From Heading to the Beach? Your Indispensable Packing List

Snorkel & Mask

We love to see what is under the water! Pack a snorkel and mask (or two), as well as a waterproof camera with a wrist strap. At least one of your family members will be so happy that you did. If you’re in salt water, be sure to bring swim goggles. 

Person snorkeling. From Heading to the Beach? Your Indispensable Packing List


While nature has plenty for you to utilize for games, you might pack a few of these:
Frisbees, an inflatable ball for water volleyball (spiking those while leaping amidst the waves is SO MUCH FUN), swim noodles and floats to play on, skim boards for playing hopping frog at the water’s edge, and boogie boards for riding the waves close to shore.

Kid in the water on a boogie board. From Heading to the Beach? Your Indispensable Packing List


This will vary, according to your family and their needs, but here’s a short list of essential gear: 

Safety garb: life jackets, swimmies, etc. Stay safe!
Towels (2 per person)
Extra change of clothes
Waterproof phone cases (you'll definitely want to take photos!)
Bug spray
Water shoes, if your beach is rocky
Reading materials. Bring a book or the latest New Yorker. There’s always at least one that wants to read most of the day (raises hand unapologetically!).

Striped beach towel with hat and book. From Heading to the Beach? Your Indispensable Packing List


To-go is the word of the day here! You don’t want to spend time making feasts before you leave, and you want grab and go options so people can keep playing. I never bring foods that can easily spoil in the heat (despite being in a cooler), because who wants a tinge of food poisoning? No one.

Note: if you have grab and go food items, you won’t need to bring paper plates and utensils, and thus can produce far less trash. Don’t need napkins, because you can go jump in the water! Do bring a washcloth, just in case.

Used plastic cup in the sand on the beach. From Heading to the Beach? Your Indispensable Packing List
don’t be that person…

Snack foods

Whether it’s hummus and carrot sticks, fruit, protein bars, chips, seaweed sheets, cut veggies, or pretzels, be sure you have plenty of snacks on hand. Your family will nibble throughout the day


Make sandwiches (PB&J?), or, if there is a snack bar or food cart at the beach, plan on getting something there.

Beach cafe. From Heading to the Beach? Your Indispensable Packing List


COLD! You want a cooler filled with ice JUST for drinks. Have to keep everyone hydrated so you all stay healthy. Bring a few gallon jugs of water to refill everyone’s water bottles; include other beverages to taste. 

Glass of cold iced tea on the beach. From Heading to the Beach? Your Indispensable Packing List

What are your indispensable beach items?