Throughout my 20s, I was more of a pool lover – choosing the hotel pool over the beach during almost every vacation. It wasn’t until I first visited the Caribbean that I fell in love with the beach. Since then, I’ve been to dozen beaches around North America and Europe, and have loved every one.
The key to enjoying your beach vacation is making sure that you have your beach packing list prepared in advance. That way, you’ll have everything you need for the perfect beach family vacation. Here are our tips for what to include on your beach packing list, including where you can find some of these beach essentials.
Note: We’ve divided this beach vacation packing list into three components.
One list is for kids/other family members. Depending on the ages of your kids, you can have them pack for themselves. When my kids were younger, I would have them pack from the list, and then I’d review their items before we left.
The second list is the master list that is for whoever is doing the majority of the packing. In our family, that’s me. Use this list to pack things for the whole family, like sunscreen.
The third list is specific to the beach, and includes larger items that you may need at the beach. This is better used for a road trip because some of these items may be too big to bring on a plane.
All of the lists are available as PDF downloads at the bottom of this post.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. A purchase/click through one of these posts may result in a small commission paid to us at no extra cost to you. All opinions are my own.
Before you go on your beach getaway, you’ll want to do some research to find out what specifically you’ll need. This post contains all of the various items that will help you have a great family beach vacation, even if you are just visiting the beach for a day trip. But, if you are visiting a resort, you may find that most of the bigger things, like beach towels and beach umbrellas, will be offered.
If you are visiting a vacation home rental, you may also want to see what is offered at the home. When we visited a beach house last summer, the house had a wagon, beach chairs, and umbrellas available for guest use. It’s nice not to have to worry about buying and packing these items.
Flying in for your next beach vacation? It may be easier and cheaper to rent or purchase items at your beach destination. Most beach destinations have gift shops and other retail shops that sell basics for a beach trip.
Many beach communities have lots of options for beach product rentals, so research them in advance. If you don’t have a car, a lot of these places offer delivery to your home or resort.
Beach Packing List for the Ultimate Beach Vacation
Big Items for Your Beach Vacation Checklist
Beach Pop Up Tent
If you are planning to spend much of your day at the beach, and you have young kids, you’ll probably want to make sure you have some good shelter. While they may want to spend some time in the sun, it’s a good idea to have shade available for when the sun gets too hot. You won’t want your kids to spend too much time in the sun.
Look for a something with SPF protection. You’ll also want a beach tent that is easy to set up and that doesn’t take up too much space in your car. This one on Amazon could be a good option for some basic sun coverage.
We also really like the Sport-Brella which provides good coverage and is also great for outdoor sporting events. In the summer, I just leave mine in the trunk.
For the adults and older kids in the group, a basic beach umbrella can be a better option. These are available to either stick right into the sand, or to attach to a chair. Whether it’s a sunny day or a cloudy day, the UV rays can still be damaging to your skin.
Keep in mind that the beach can get windy, so you’ll want the umbrella to be secure. Some beach umbrellas come with sand anchors. Look for one with SPF coverage for an added layer of UV protection.
This sun umbrella on Amazon has great reviews. The fabric is SPF 50+ and it comes with a sand anchor so you can install it wherever set up on the beach.
Even if you bring beach chairs for everyone in your group, you’ll probably want to set up a beach blanket. This can be a good place to sit while you dry off from a dip in the water.
In addition, kids usually like to sit on the ground rather than in a chair. You’ll want to avoid the hot sand.
Look for a beach blanket that is sand free and quick drying. You can also find a lightweight blanket that folds up so it doesn’t take too much space in your bag. You’ll also want one that comes with stakes so it stays put in the sand.
This one on Amazon is a top seller and has great reviews.
Even if your hotel or resort offers all of the beach supplies you’ll need, you’ll want a beach bag to carry your essentials for the day. If you are flying to your destination, you may want a beach bag that doubles as a carry-on bag or as your personal item.
Otherwise, look for a functional day bag that can carry lots of things. I especially like mesh beach bags because you won’t be carrying sand along with you.
I also really love SeaBags, which is a company based in Portland Maine. These bags are made from recycled sails and are very stylish and fun.
When I pack my beach bag, I usually leave my regular purse at home or in the hotel safe. Instead, I’ll just take a small pouch with a few credit cards, my ID, some money, hand sanitizer, lip balm, and keys.
If you are driving home or to your resort after your day at the beach, you’ll also want to bring along a change of clothes for everyone. Put these in a plastic bag if possible to prevent them from getting sandy or wet. Once you change, you can put your bathing suit into a wet bag (see below).
If you have to tote your beach items a long distance, it may be tough to carry everything. In that case, you may want to purchase a beach wagon that can hold everything.
Look for a collapsible wagon so that it’s easier to store. You’ll also want something with all-terrain wheels so that you’ll be able to pull it across the beach sand. This is a great option if you are looking for something online – and you can also find them locally in sporting goods stores.
Beach chairs are another item that you can find both in local stores and online. There are so many different choices, but I would recommend purchasing something reasonably priced. You’ll be putting it in the sand, so the life on these products isn’t too long.
Look for a beach chair that can be folded and carried as a backpack. I prefer the lower chairs, but there are so many choices. Here is a good option online.
Unless your hotel specifically offers beach towels, you’ll want to bring your own. Most vacation home rentals and resorts don’t want you to use bath towels at the beach.
These can be a pain to pack because they can often be bulky. I really like Sand Cloud Turkish Towels. They are really thin and easy to pack in your beach bag, but they are also very absorbent. Don’t forget to wash them before you go, because they get more absorbent as you use/wash them.
Are you visiting a beach with some surf? In that case, you may want to pack some bodyboards, especially if you are visiting the beach with older kids.
This is another item you can find in local shops, and they can be tough to pack in your car. If you are looking online, here are some good options.
You’ll want to take pictures while you are at the beach, but make sure you don’t get sand or salt water on your good camera. If you spend a lot of time at the beach, you may consider purchasing a waterproof camera.
I have the Olympus Tough TG-5, which is a great camera that is also waterproof. The newer version, the TG-6 is available now, and you can get it on Amazon. It takes great pictures in general, so you can even use it if you aren’t at the beach.
If you are visiting a beach with great snorkeling, you may consider purchasing some snorkeling equipment. I generally recommend buying your own if you do this often – otherwise renting may be the better, more economical choice. Here are some sets on Amazon if you want to buy something reasonable.
Planning to spend the whole day at the beach? You’ll probably want to bring along snacks, drinks, and maybe even lunch. You can either bring along some small insulated cooler bags/lunch boxes, or a larger cooler.
Smaller Items for Your Beach Packing List
These are things that you probably can’t rent, and may need to bring even if your hotel/resort offers beach amenities. Some of these things can be bought at your destination, but shop at big box stores/pharmacies rather than hotel gift shops for the best prices.
Sun hats are essential if you are spending any length of time on the beach or in the sun. While I love wide-brimmed hats for the most coverage, sometimes those don’t work in really windy locations. So sometimes, a traditional baseball cap works better.
For little ones, look into sun hats that tie under their chins and include SPF. I don’t love visors, because I like having that protection on my scalp and hair. Here are some online sun hat options at Amazon.
I never travel anywhere without sunscreen – even in the winter. But for beach vacations, it’s especially important. I like to have a few options, including body sunscreen, face sunscreen, and reef-safe sunscreen for ocean water. Sun protection is essential, so you’ll want to bring lots of sunscreen so you can apply it often – including after going into the water and toweling off.
Most beach vacation destinations have lots of places to buy more sunscreen, but try not to purchase it at hotel gift shops where the selection will be limited and expensive. Don’t forget SPF lip balm, as well as aloe vera in case you do end up getting too much sun.
This is one my favorite reef-safe brands.
Flip Flops/Water Shoes
Don’t forget your beach shoes! If you are just planning on hanging out on the beach and going into the water a little bit, flip flops are fine. But if you are doing any walking over rocky areas or in rocky water, you’ll want to have more substantial water shoes.
These are a great lightweight option, but you’ll want something more substantial if you are using them for water sports or lots of walking.
Leave in Hair Conditioner
If you have color-treated hair, you’ll want to protect it from the sea and sun. I like to use a leave-in conditioner before I go to the beach, and then after. This one is my favorite – it’s reef-safe and keeps my hair feeling soft and healthy.
Bug spray is something you may need both at the beach and in the evening after the sun goes down. Some destinations, however, have mosquitos and other pesky bugs all day long. Be sure to bring along plenty of bug spray and use it regularly.
Beach cover ups can be stylish, but they are also a good way to keep your sun from being too burned. For a day at the beach, look for something with a lot of coverage. For kids, you may consider long-sleeved rash guard tops with SPF – I even wear one myself to prevent sunburn.
It’s always fun to listen to music at the beach. If you are able to sit far away enough from others that your music won’t bother them, consider getting a waterproof speaker that will connect to your smartphone with Bluetooth. That way, you won’t have to worry about getting sand or water in your phone.
For a full day at the beach, you may want some games to play. You can choose something basic, like a football or a frisbee, or get a more substantial game. Some popular options include Spike Ball and Paddle Toss and Catch.
Traveling with younger kids? Most of us have fond memories of building sandcastles and other structures on the beach. A basic set of beach pail and shovel can keep kids entertained for a while. Get a set that comes in a mess bag so it’s easy to clean before you have to pack it up to go home.
Waterproof Camera Float
Planning to use your waterproof camera in the ocean? You may consider investing in a cheap waterproof camera float so you don’t lose it. This can be attached to the end of the camera and will make sure it floats if you happen to drop it. It’s the best way to protect your waterproof camera investment.
If you are going to be doing any sort of kayaking, canoeing, or other boating while at the beach, a dry bag can keep your valuables safe and dry. There are lots of options, but this one is reasonably priced with great reviews.
You’ll also want to pack a wet bag in your luggage. This can be used to put wet towels and swimsuits so they don’t soak everything else in your bag. Just be sure to remove everything once you are home or at your hotel room so they can dry.
Even if I don’t plan to go into the water with my cell phone, I like to use a waterproof phone pouch at the beach. If sealed properly, these bags can keep water and sand away from your phone. They also have a lanyard attached so you can wear it around your neck.
Don’t forget to hydrate! I always bring along a refillable water bottle that I can fill up before I go to the beach. I usually end up drinking more than one bottle, but you can often find a water fountain for refills.
If your kids are old enough that you can look away, you may want to bring along a good book. One of the best things to do on vacation is to read a light beach read.
It’s a good idea to bring along a good pair of sunglasses. I like having polarized glasses, because they are more protective in the bright sun.
Now that you’ve stocked up on everything you need, here are our printable beach packing lists.