I am both lucky and sad to have my sister living in Hawaii! Sad, especially in the time of COVID, because I haven’t seen her in six months. But lucky in normal times as we get to see them and some of the best beaches in the world a few times each year. With three kids, all born in Hawaii, I consider her an expert at what the best baby beach gear you actually need for the beach is. What add-ons are nice to have, and tips on what to not waste your money on. So here is our round-up of the best beach gear for baby, toddlers, and kids. There’s of course some overlap in Toddler-ville.
1. ikea sandig // 2. cat & jack flip flops // 3. ring swim tube // 4. melissa & doug nesting buckets // 5. thinkbaby sunscreen // 6. stripe beach towel // 7. sunblock rainbow burst one-piece rash guard // 8. sportbrella adjustable umbrella w/clamp // 9. kids hooded beach towel // 10. baby float w/canopy // 11. puddle jumpers // 12. green toys construction set // 13. sunday afternoons hat
Beach Gear for Babies
Sun Tent vs Beach Umbrella
My sister is definitely on Team Umbrella. She tried out a couple tent situations with her first baby. And here’s the thing, they are a hassle. They try to blow away, you have to fill them with sand or water. Your infant might sleep in it, but it can be either too hot or too breezy. And once they’re even a little bit mobile. The last place they will stay is that tent. So it can kind of be a glorified nursing station or if you’re going to be out all all day. Otherwise, skip it.
She opts for the beach umbrella. We use a 4-6′ collapsible 2-piece umbrella. If you’re not able to anchor enough into the sand you can position kind of anchored near your beach chair as extra support. With an umbrella you can move easily as the sun moves. It’s small, portable, and easy to set up.
BUY: Sport-Brella Vented Upright Umbrella, Amazon – $29
Oregon Version: Here in Portland, I use a travel umbrella that attaches to chair, stroller etc. We joke about it being the size of a kite. But it’s just enough shade to be able to stay somewhere longer. We used much more when our little one was 6-18 months than we do now with a three year old. As he was always nursing or sleeping etc and more sensitive to the sun.
BUY: Sport-Brella Versa Adjustable w/Clamp, Amazon – $20
Beach Chairs (for you!)
Pretty standard in Hawaii are the Tommy Bahama backpack strap low beach chairs. We usually do one chair per adult, and it’s easy to put on your back to still have two hands free. Which you need with multiple children. They can be a splurge, so if you’re not going to use often, opt for a cheaper item. Here in Oregon, I just use an REI camp chair or a beach towel.
Best Baby Sunscreen
ThinkBaby Sunscreen is a zinc oxide based non-toxic sunscreen. Smells good, smooths on easily and actually works. So many natural sunscreens feel like you’re trying to rub toothpaste into your skin. And don’t work as well. ThinkBaby is where it’s at! Lay your baby down on their back to apply sunscreen. For babies, it’s easier to apply the sunscreen, let it soak in and then put on the rest of their swim outfit. For toddlers, I call it sun lotion and talk in a happy and soothing voice, like it’s a fun thing, and that usually does the trick. So often sunscreen is applied last minute, in a hurry or roughly because the kid is flailing around. It’s no wonder kids resist it.
Sunglasses are a super cute accessory. Most babies and toddlers don’t actually keep them on or really need them if they’re wearing a hat until a bit older. When they’re ready for sunglasses, make sure to buy them from a trusty source. I would trust Target over Amazon as there are too many third party sellers listing things with no quality control!
For the sitting stage, a 24″ blow up pool is a great beach toy. This lets you bring the water to them, keep a bit of sand at bay when needed. It’s a like an ocean or beach sampler.
BUY: Kiddie Pool, Amazon – $11
Reusable Swim Diapers vs Disposables
For pools, until your baby is a little older, we recommend disposable swim diapers. Buy a pack a split it with a few other mamas if you’re worried you won’t use them all up. As they get older and a bit more predictable, a reusable swim diaper is easier and more comfortable for the beach. You have to think worst case scenario when decided reusable or disposable swim diaper. The beach worst case is not too bad. You’d be putting a poopy swim diaper in a bag and cleaning up your baby. In a pool… I’ll let your imagination take it from here. Note: if you weren’t aware, reusable swim diapers don’t hold pee. It goes right through, otherwise it would just be a normal diaper. They’re just designed to contain poop. Brand doesn’t usually matter for swim diapers. Choose from Huggies or Pampers.
Best Beach Stuff for Toddlers & Kids
If your baby or kid will wear a large brim sunhat, go for it. Babies seem to either be hat people or hate hats. If your baby isn’t into a big hat, try a smaller nylon lightweight baseball hat style. Sunscreen on the ears and neck with a smaller hat is better than no hat at all if they just toss off a big hat. As they get older it’s easier to explain why you wear hats or that the’ll need extra sunscreen or to sit under the umbrella otherwise. Sunday Afternoon has a lot of great sun hats (stocked at REI and Amazon), Hanna Andersson also has some cute baby and toddler sun hats. BUY: Sunday Afternoons hats, REI – $20+ or Sunblock Swim Hats, Hanna Andersson – $12
Swimsuits and Rashguards
We are all about rashguards. There isn’t enough sunscreen in the world to cover your kiddo if you’re out for hours at a time. A long sleeve rashguard is your easiest bet to not be wrestling sunscreen on your kiddo. Then all you need is some sunscreen on the face, ears, neck, and legs. Hanna Andersson makes some long-lasting swimwear. However, it’s spendy. Plan ahead and get your kids swim gear in one of their twice a year sales. If you are only going to the beach once or twice a summer, Target’s Cat & Jack brand also has released some high quality rashguards the last couple years. They sell out quick though!
Under age 18 months it’s typically easier to have them in a one piece rashguard swimsuit. Over about age two, two piece is easier to use potty etc. There are also some cute long sleeve one piece girly swimsuits. If you’re beaching all the time, they’re nice, but a two piece rashguard and bottoms will last you longer and be more adaptable for other types of sun play. Note: for infants, your best bet for keeping them cool is just a diaper, in the shade and using a muslin blanket as needed. This keeps them breezier.
Shoes, Sandals, Flip flops
Slip-on shoes, sandals, or flip flops (called ‘slippers’ in Hawaii!) are where it’s at. Your kiddo might look pretty darn cute in a pair of salt water sandals. So save it for a photo shoot. In practicality, you’re slipping out of your shoes as soon as you hit the sand. So if you want to be down unfastening and fastening a bunch of buckles on squirmy kids in the hot sun, welp go for it. Shoes or sandals with holes to let sand in that aren’t easy to take off are also really uncomfortable on sweaty little feet after sand is inside. Think: Keen river shoes, Salt Water sandals, Native slip ons (although these are the easiest to slip off when you get to the beach) etc. We also look for soft strap flip flops like fabric vs plastic are more comfortable on little feet.
Beach Towels & Beach Ponchos
The world is not hurting for cute beach towels right now, or ever. However, one thing to look for is weight. There are some pretty heavy-duty beach towels and we are not into them. That weight adds up, especially with multiple kids. So we prefer lightweight beach towels or ponchos.
Water Safety: Puddle Jumpers vs Life Jacket
While puddle jumpers are not a replacement for a life jacket, they can be a great beach accessory. You still need to watch your child closely, especially as they learn to be in the ocean and open water. The main difference of a life jacket is the purpose is to keep you afloat and position your child on their back. Puddle jumpers are to assist them in playing in the water and keeping buoyant. However, it also positions them face first or face down in the water. Please be careful in water, especially the ocean. Check out Red Cross for their water safety tips for kids.
Water Toys: baby floats, rings, air mattresses, and boogie boards
The possibilities are pretty endless with water toys. You don’t need any to play in the ocean, but they can make it more fun. For the early years, a baby float with canopy is nice. These are great for calm waters and pools. Remember, just because your baby is in one of these, it doesn’t make them automatically safe! You have to be pretty aware of waves if you are using this in the ocean! As your kiddos get older, floating rings and simple air mattresses are a lot of fun. And finally, boogie boards! You’ll need to get a boogie board on the smaller side for your kids to really be able to use it and hold the sides well.
Beach Toys – Less is more! Toys are tools!
First, let’s start by saying that kids need far fewer beach toys to play with than we think. So often we go to the beach and you see parents loaded down with gear, setting up and it looks like a toy aisle exploded on the sand next to them. And then with all that gear, the kids are so overwhelmed they don’t even know what to play with and are fussy! So start small.
The basics of beach toys is to think of them as TOOLS. The beach itself and nature are the pieces, and so they just need tools to make use of the existing environment: something to dig with, something to carry water/build with, something that rolls, something for imaginative play. So that might look like: a bucket set, a large shovel, a ball, and a crab figure toy. When you bring a limited but still structured amount of beach toys, you’re providing your kid with TOOLS to play with what already exists at the beach -sand, shells, rocks, wood, bits of nature etc. To climb, explore, and play in the water.
For kiddos 2 and up, it helps to have 1 bucket and digging tool per kid. So if you have multiple kids, a nesting bucket set, and scoop, shovel etc set can be a good buy. Most kids also go bananas for a long handled giant beach shovel.
Melissa & Doug Seaside Sidekicks Nesting Pails – These last forever, eventually the carrying handle of the large bucket breaks, but they’re still usable. Also fun for kids to turn over to try to make the animal shapes in.
BUY: Amazon – $10 or Hape brand Beach Basics set, Amazon – $10
Melissa & Doug Sand Cupcake Set – the kiddos also go through phases of being really into making sand food and then not. These are a great little creative set.
BUY: Amazon – $14.91
Green Toys Dump truck or Construction vehicle set – The Green Toys vehicles are great for beach and sand. They are sturdy, are made to get wet, and don’t mind the sand. The 3 pack set are smaller vehicles and nice for older toddlers as they start being interested in moving sand around and doing more intricate work.
BUY: 3 Pack Construction set, Amazon – $36 – or Dump truck, Amazon – $22
IKEA Sand Toys – over the years IKEA releases some interesting play cooking beach toys. Five years ago, they had a bundt cake mold. This year, they released an ice cream set called SANDIG for $2.99. They’re durable and have lasted. However, they usually only release these seasonally. So start looking at the beginning of summer.
BUY: IKEA Sandig set, IKEA – $3+
Note on plastic beach toys: even if you’re trying to reduce your plastic purchases, beach toys are an area where it does make sense for plastic. Doesn’t rust or rot, lightweight, safer when multiple kids playing at once etc. So look for gently used or responsible brands like Green Toys. Additionally, please be conscious of what plastic toys you’re buying. Most of the plastics used and the design itself of the item from brands like Green Toys or Melissa and Doug, will last many years. Cheaper ‘beach toy’ type sets found on Amazon, while yes still made in China, are often thinner plastic, so pieces will break and be made unusable and then need to be thrown away so it’s almost instant garbage or a once use beach toy. They also will not hold up to the sunlight as well – bleaching out the color and breaking down.
Snacks & Small Insulated Cooler
Keep everyone happy for longer with snacks and drinks! (Coconut waters are great for hydration and not too sweet). We usually take a mini cooler bag that fits in a beach tote if we’ll be out for a long time. Otherwise, we just throw a few snacks and drinks in the beach bag. The best beach gear just might be snacks!
I could do a whole post on just beach totes! Canvas beach bags are our favorite. We usually skip a zip top as we’re stuffing as much stuff in anyway. Watch for sturdy handles that won’t rip. And long enough handles that you can loop over your shoulder. Woven or natural fibers may look downright adorable, but they’re not super practical for sand and kids. Surf and outdoor brands are a great place to look for cute beach tote bags.
BUY: Open top Boat Tote, LL Bean – $30
If I had to guess, as a parent, you might already have this one covered! Wet bags are convenient when you have a baby. They continue to be convenient as your toddler/kids grow and you need a place to put wet swimsuits! This is an area, I would buy a baby brand (like Bumpkin), over a trendy Target dollar spot type bag. The whole point of a wet bag is that it can keep some moisture out of the rest of your bag. Looking cute is a nice bonus!
BUY: Bumpkins wet bag, Amazon $7+
What’s your must-have beach gear for baby?