Tips for a perfect family day at the beachPublished on 16 May 2022 by Amy Bowers
If you’re anything like me, you’ll have nostalgic memories of family days spent at the beach. My childhood was filled with long, sunny days playing in the sea, building sandcastles, eating ice creams, paddling in rock pools and hunting for crabs.
When I had children I was really excited for their summers to be the same and I imagined the summer holidays to be one long beach holiday. It’s only now that I realise how much preparation goes into these ‘spontaneous’ family days at the beach!
Our first few beach holidays with young children were a disaster and we’d usually leave after an hour feeling sandy, sticky and a little bit sunburnt!
This wasn’t as easy as I thought it was going to be!
It felt like we were moving house every time we went to the beach because we had so much stuff. I knew we’d need a bucket and spade but I wasn’t prepared for the chairs and blankets and mats and toys!
Thankfully, over the years we’ve gotten much better at family beach days.
My family and I now spend a lot of time along the North Wales coast visiting the beautiful beaches around the Llyn Peninsula. After years of trial and error, we have finally perfected our set-up and discovered lots of ways to make a family beach day easier and more enjoyable.
Here are my top tips for a family day at the beach.
Park as close as possible
I’m normally an advocate of walking wherever possible but when it comes to a family day at the beach, I’d always rather drive.
You’ll end up with a surprising amount of ‘stuff’ and there’s only so much you can carry. You’ll have towels, chairs, tents, wind breaks and spare clothes as well as food, drinks, toys, cool boxes and lots of other ‘just in case’ items.
After a few hours on the beach the whole family will be tired (including you!) so make life easy for yourself and drive.
I also recommend parking as close as you possibly can. This may mean arriving early and paying a little extra for that closer car park! Trust me, it’s worth every penny!
Leave a lot in the car
One of the reasons I like to park as close as possible is so we can leave a lot of our stuff in the car. You can leave the spare clothes, extra towels and the extra snacks and nip back for them when they’re needed.
If you’re able to park extremely close then you might consider a car awning or a multifunctional tarp. These have been popular for vans for years and they’re now available for cars, providing a shady, sand-free space to relax.
Slather on the all-day sunscreen
Ensure the whole family is covered from top to toe with all-day sunscreen and keep reapplying. We do this first thing in the morning when we get dressed. If everyone does it together it usually stops the little ones whinging about putting it on!
Once-a-day sunscreen may claim to last for 8+ hours but the SPF factor will decrease over time so it’s still best to reapply, especially when the sea and sand will wash it off.
We use a once-a-day cream in the morning, such as Piz Buin All Day Long lotion, and follow it up with an aerosol spray which is quick and easy and less fuss for busy kids!
Take folding chairs
A simple beach chair can make a family day at the beach so much more enjoyable. Not only do you get a comfortable place to sit but you’ll be cooler and sand-free too.
It may feel like yet another thing to carry to the beach but, trust me, you’ll be glad you brought it!
A good old fashioned deck chair is my favourite as they’re easy to carry, comfortable and won’t blow over in the wind.
Pick your spot wisely
The location you choose for your beach camp can make or break your day.
We look for:
- Close to the toilets (this might not be a priority for adults but is very handy with children!)
- Close to the beach bar/cafe
- Close to some grass (because sometimes you need a break from the sand!)
- At the back near the sand dunes where the kids like to play
Take a huge cool box
A cool box is a game changer when it comes to family days at the beach. Fill it with drinks and a picnic and plenty of ice and everything will stay chilled all day.
Separate all of your food into small containers and cut sandwiches up small so if one thing gets sandy it won’t ruin your whole picnic.
We also like to take homemade fruit lollies for a healthy, frozen snack and a fun way to keep kids hydrated.
Dress kids in bright clothing
There’s nothing worse than looking out across a busy beach and realising you can’t see your child!
When beaches are busy it can be difficult to distinguish one child from the next so dress your kids in the brightest clothing possible.
My kids had matching fluorescent shorts one year and I could spot them from a mile off!
Take a paddling pool
It might seem like a strange suggestion to take a paddling pool to the beach but a small paddling pool is brilliant for little ones to splash about and keep cool without worrying about them getting into deep water. It’s great for toddlers who can’t wander off alone so they’ll stay close to your camp and you can relax. Older kids can be helpful when it comes to filling up a paddling pool with sea water and they’ll also appreciate having it close to build their sandcastles.
With a small paddling pool you might actually get 20 minutes to sit down and read a book rather than spending the entire trip to the beach running around after your kids!
Even if you don’t have small children, a paddling pool can be a handy place to rinse off sandy feet and hands or soak your feet when it’s really hot!
Just don’t forget your bucket so you can fill the pool up with sea water!
Freeze whatever you can
Keep your drinks cool by freezing your water bottles. These frozen bottles will gradually melt, giving you cold drinks all day. Until they defrost they can also be used like ice blocks to keep other food and drinks cool in your cool box.
But it’s not just your water bottles that can be frozen. Freeze yoghurt tubes, fruit pouches and chunks of banana. Frozen banana is surprisingly delicious and has a similar texture to ice cream!
Get wetsuits for the kids
After all this talk about staying cool, it would be easy to think our British beach holidays are always hot and sunny! Most of the time it will be chilly and the sea will be cold so equip your children with wetsuits so they can go in for a dip.
Most seaside towns and villages have second hand wetsuits for sale and you can usually find them in great condition for a fraction of the cost of new ones. Alternatively, keep an eye on the Aldi Special Buys as they have children’s wetsuits for sale every summer.
Go early, late or both – just avoid the middle of the day
Midday to 3pm is the hottest and busiest time at the beach. This is also the time when the kids get grouchy, the adults get sunburnt and everyone gets too hot and tired.
We prefer to visit the beach either early in the morning or late afternoon.
If you really want to make the most of your family beach day then why not go early and return later in the day. Set up your camp in the morning when the beach is quiet and leave any non-valuables securely weighed down so you can return later on.
The beach is wonderful later in the day when it’s quieter, cooler, the sea feels calmer and the sky is turning a beautiful soft pink.
We like to go back to the beach at about 4pm with a small gas barbecue and a packet of sausages. We’ll have a simple dinner with sausage sandwiches and a few beers and watch the sun sink into the sea.
Use a windbreak
There are countless gadgets and gizmos to protect you from the elements during a family beach day but, in my experience, the best is still the humble windbreak. Windbreaks offer protection and also give some privacy too. Just don’t forget a mallet so you can securely bang it into the sand.
Wrap the end of your windbreak into a circle to create a mini changing room or a place for a potty if you’ve got little ones with you!
We also take an umbrella or two which can be easily moved to create more shade as the sun changes position throughout the day. I don’t like pop-up beach tents as they become very hot and ours quickly turn into sweaty, sandy caves.