We took Thomas to the beach for the first time this summer and that kid is a BEACH BOY! I had no idea if he’d like the ocean but I had a feeling the sand would be a hit considering how much he love the sandbox at the playground. He ended up liking the ocean, but not as much as the sand, as expected!
Before we went, I spent a lot of time prepping for the trip. Other than visiting the mountains, where we have a condo, we don’t travel very often. And when we do go to the mountains, we have Thomas’ room set up with a crib, glider, baby monitor, sound machine, etc. so I don’t have to take much with us other than clothes. However, this beach trip was to a rental house in Hilton Head with my brother and his family, so I knew I needed to think through our sleeping arrangements, all of the items Thomas would need for play and sleep, and bring a few things from home that we love and I definitely wanted at the beach.
I won’t lie, packing for the beach – and planning to take a toddler to the beach for the first time, no less – was a little bit intimidating. But with a little (a lot) advanced preparation and planning, we had the best week ever, and even extended our trip an extra day! I’m so excited to take Thomas back to the beach next year, and hopeful to make it a yearly tradition!
What to Pack for a Beach Vacation with a Toddler
In this post, I’ll share everything you need to pack to make your beach vacation safe, memorable, and stress-free with your toddler. Well as much as possible anyway. 😉 Hopefully this gives you some ideas to make your next trip a little easier with a little one – I know I’ll reference it this fall for our next trip! If you’re road tripping, check out this post for traveling in the car with toddlers!
If you want this packing list emailed to you, click here!
Before I get into the details of what we packed, I wanted to mention that we used BabyQuip to rent a crib for our trip. It’s the BEST service ever– you pick out what you want online and they deliver it to your rental place before you arrive! We used it last year when we took Thomas to Utah to rent a high chair, bottle warmer, stroller, toys, etc so that I didn’t have to fly with that stuff.
If you need baby gear delivered to the airport or want it set up ahead of time at your travel destination, they’ll will work with you to coordinate delivery details that work for your schedule. So great!
Speaking of the car ride to the beach, I wanted to share how we packed everything since loading up your car for the beach can be super overwhelming. I bought two plastic (clear) tubs for our trunk. One had everything we needed for the beach: towels, toys, sunscreen, mesh beach bag, swim diapers, sun hats for all of us, puddle jumper, etc. And the second bin had food and sleep essentials that we brought with us like Thomas’ favorite snacks, electrolytes for me, sippy cups, my running water bottle, blackout shades, baby monitor, sound machine. I’ll go into details of each item below!
I used the Reminder app on my phone to make an extensive beach packing list, which is how I stayed organized! And now that we’ve already had our trip, I have a pretty great list compiled of things we loved and wished we’d had!
i play. Baby Sun Hat
We got this sun hat from Amazon and it ended up being one of the best purchases we made! Thomas wore it every day, and it stayed on his head, if you can believe it! I love that it had the extra length behind the neck so that it would protect his little neck from getting too much sun. I also loved that it had and elastic band at the top which helped stay on his head instead of falling off. The best part is that the elastic band that ran around his head had a toggle closure in the back, so he couldn’t mess with it ;). He didn’t seem to mind, and usually he doesn’t like things like this.
I highly recommend getting hat with the longer neck coverage because it was essential for keeping him out of the sun during those long days at the beach. The sides of the hat also offered great coverage.
Rashguard Long Sleeve One-Piece
We found this cute alligator rash guard on Amazon too and Thomas loved it! It’s hard for me to justify paying lots of money for swimwear that he only wears every so often AND will grow out of by next year, but the Amazon option is super nice! Since Thomas isn’t super tall, the rash guard covered all the way down to his shins, and to his forearms. It was really nice not having to apply sunscreen everywhere, and trusting that he was not getting burnt all day! The zipper also makes it easy for diaper changes.
Mineral Based Sunscreen
Don’t forget sunscreen! The sunscreens that you grew up using were likely chemical sunscreens. These are created with synthetic chemicals and in order protect you against the sun, your skin has to absorb them and then these particles block the UV rays from burning you. Chemical sunscreens generally contain ingredients like:
All of those have potentially risky side effects when absorbed into your bloodstream such as hormone disruption and skin reactions. Chemical sunscreens can also worsen melasma and rosacea. (Source) Mineral sunscreen, on the other hand, uses zinc and protects your skin is by sitting directly on top of your skin (NOT absorbing into your skin) and reflecting the sun’s UV rays away from your body. And zinc has has fewer safety concerns.
My go-to mineral based SPF is Beautycounter and it’s water resistant AND sweat resistant which makes it great for running, hiking or hot summer days. It’s reef-friendly, doesn’t leave that white cast we all hate, and it’s mineral based (safer!). (This is another good option available on Amazon.) I brought WAY too much sunscreen with us, but better to be prepared!
The sunscreen stick from Beautycounter is SO easy to use and I weirdly enjoy applying it, ha! I like this for my own face before when I’m not wearing any makeup, and this is BY FAR the easiest version to apply to Thomas’ face. It’s easy to throw into your beach bag, and if it’s SUPER hot, I throw it in the cooler to keep it from melting.
Our favorite shoes for Thomas are by the brand Robeez. He has a few pairs, but the best ones we found are the water shoes linked here. The best part about the shoes is that they STAY ON. I wanted to make sure Thomas his feet didn’t get cut on all of the sharp shells in the water and in the sand, or get burned on the hot surfaces and these are great. He did get frustrated with them at some points so we took them off, but they stayed on for the most part!
This goes without saying, but if your child is still wearing diapers, you need to make sure you bring swim diapers to the beach! These are babies and toddler beach ESSENTIALS! We brought a reusable swim diaper and disposable ones. The reusable swim diaper was recommended by the people who are teaching Thomas’ swim lessons. It has UV protection built into it!
Umbrella or Beach Tent
An umbrella for beach is essential whether you have a toddler or not, but it’s especially important when you have little ones that are out in the sun all day. Having a home-base where there is ample shade is the best thing for everybody on a beach trip. We originally bought this, but ended up sending it back and renting an umbrella from the beach.
We saw about 1 million Shibumi Shades down in Hilton Head, and they’re super pricey, but I love that there is it to set up and provide so much shade! So if you go to the beach multiple times a year, it may be worth investing! These Sun Ninja tents are also amazing, and a little less pricey. (My friends have one and love it.)
Another beach item that goes without saying is a great beach chair! Even though I was running around with Thomas for most of the day, there were so many points during the beach day where we wanted to sit down and rest, and having a comfortable chair was great. Since we don’t go to beach often, we just borrowed the chairs that came with our rental house, but I’ve been seeing these beach chairs all over the internet and they are so funny to me but I see the appeal! You can flip over on your stomach and put your face in the little hole to read while you’re laying on your stomach. If you’re in the market for beach chairs, consider those.
We didn’t bring a chair for Thomas but I wish we had since I think he would’ve loved that. This is a super cute one for kids that has an umbrella attached!
We brought this Puddle Jumper. If your child is running around with his or her siblings, and you aren’t watching them for the entirety of your beach trip, I highly recommend grabbing a life vest or puddle jumper.
Thomas could have played in the sand the entire day if we let him, and I’m so glad that we had some beach toys for him to use! Like I guessed, he stuck to the sand most of the time, so we brought a couple sandcastle buckets and shovels along. I brought these inflatable beach balls which were a BIG hit with little and big kids! My brother-in-law also brought a kite which everyone thought was really fun in the evening when the beach was empty. (Check the rules at the beach…sometimes kites aren’t allowed.)
Diaper Paste and Baby Powder
Since your little one is going to be in and out of the ocean water, you’ll want to make sure to prevent any rashes that start up. We really like the Tubby Todd diaper paste. We never use baby powder on Thomas but a few Instagram followers messaged me and told me the ultimate trick to get sand off skin: baby powder! You just let skin dry, then sprinkle baby powder on skin where there is sand and then rub it back and forth and the sand comes RIGHT OFF. This is the safe baby powder we’ll take on our next trip.
Before the trip I went on Amazon and ordered this beach bag and we LOVED IT. It’s massive and held all of our towels, beach toys, sunscreen, coverups, Thomas’s Puddle Jumper, AND snacks. I love that it’s mesh so sand fell out as we walked back to the car and things were able to dry out in there. You can even hose it down!
Since we were spending so much time at the beach, I made sure to bring lots of snacks. I love these EasyLunchboxes because they keep everything separated nicely and they’re also narrow enough to throw into the beach bag. The shape prevents things from getting smashed too. We LOVED these for the car ride too. We used these ice packs to keep our water bottles and food cold – just tossed them into the beach bag!
We didn’t bring this but I wish we had! It’d be nice since it would keep things hands free with a toddler rather than dragging a cooler on the sand. This Yeti backpack cooler would make such a great gift too!
Portable Window Blackout Curtain Shade
Thomas isn’t the easiest sleeper, so I make sure to take blackout curtains WHEREVER we go. These portable blackout curtains worked perfectly and even have little suction cups to attach to the windows. But, you can also use black garbage bags and painters tape, which is what we do at home!
Travel Wet and Dry Bag
I loved these wet and dry bags we got from Amazon for his wet swim diapers on the beach. You never really think much about what you’ll do with those used swim diapers all day, so let me go ahead and tell you to just buy this. You can also throw their wet swimsuits into these bags so they don’t get your bags or car wet on the ride home to the beach house.
You need more towels than you think you do. If your beach house has washing machines, you can get by with less, but it’s always nice to have dry towels for the kids and yourself. The beach house we rented provided towels which was super convenient since we didn’t have to pack a ton, but I did love having a BUNCH since we were with my brother’s family and his 4 kids!
This pack of 6 towels is super affordable. Tommy and I love how cute hooded towels are on Thomas, and this one is perfect for the beach since it works as a little poncho too. If you want to change your baby out of their wet swimsuit before heading home, this is perfect.
If you’re looking to invest in some VERY nice and cute beach towels, Weezie makes the coziest towels on the planet.
Inflatable Kiddie Pool
This isn’t necessary but we loved having this blow up Kiddie Pool with us on the beach! We filled it with ocean water and then Thomas could play in the water without us being all the way in the ocean since sometimes the waves were pounding. Oh, and sharks. Lots of sharks at Hilton Head!!!
Kids Water Bottle
Nanit Baby Monitor
We always bring our portable baby monitor when we travel. And we have the Nanit and love it! We just pop the camera off the stand at home and then attach it to the travel stand, which is MUCH smaller!
I knew I wanted to run while we were on our trip, so I brought my Thule Jogging stroller with us! I never regret bringing that. Ever. It was great for morning walks too.
Toys for the Car
I have an entire post on traveling with a toddler, but also wanted to mention it in this post. We packed a bunch of fun toys for Thomas to play with in the car since we had a 5+ hour drive. Thomas isn’t great at riding in the car, so I wanted to be SUPER prepared. We packed this color with water activity, this Magnetic Busy Book, this pictures and games book with a mess free marker, you name it. We also brought a mount holder for tablets that goes on the back of a car seat so he could watch a few shows. I didn’t want him to watch shows the whole drive, but I’ll be honest, you do what you need to do when you’re in the car for 5+ hours with a toddler.
You know what we didn’t have that would’ve been SO nice? A large beach wagon for toting our beach gear too and from the beach. They’re pretty expensive, but may be worth it depending on how much you’re bringing!
For diaper changes, yes. And also for everything else! You don’t realize how much you need to wipe your hands off while on the beach.
Travel High Chair
We brought this travel high chair with us on our beach trip to use at the beach condo. It worked perfectly and didn’t take up too much space in the car which we loved.
A Cute Outfit for Pictures
Your beach trip is a great time to snap some family photos. We didn’t do anything professional, but we did put on some nicer clothes one night and took photos on the beach. (We just asked other people walking by to snap a bunch!). They’re so special to me and I’ll love having them to look back on. Make sure to pack something cute for your child to wear for these–I wore a white dress and the boys wore blue. Here are the outfit details.
Pro-Tip: If you’re wearing a dress that’s short like mine is, wear a pair of biker shorts underneath! You’ll be so glad that you don’t have to worry about holding your dress down at all moments of the day. These are my go-to’s.