Top tips for taking a toddler to the beach – timing your day right, toddler beach hacks & essential toddler beach gear you’ll want to pack
Ah, those toddler years. Screams of joy one minute and terror and distress the next, with huge dollops of fierce independence, lightbulb moments of learning and cuteness thrown in!
Activities like taking a family day out to the beach require some planning and preparation. With the right gear packed and putting a bit of thought into your timing and activities, it will be one of the best experiences you’ll share with your toddler – even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time!
It takes just a little extra preparation when taking a toddler on a beach trip for the first time to prepare for all eventualities.
This post is part of our toddler travel advice series & family beach vacation series
Younger tots in tow? See our complete guide to taking a baby to the beach here
What to Consider Before Taking a Toddler to the Beach
A whole day at the beach with a toddler? A whole beach vacation? You will need to be prepared and base it on the weather and circumstances you face.
Before we dive into your toddler beach essentials, these are our top 3 tips for planning the perfect toddler day at the beach:
Toddler Beach Tip#1: Time of Day
Whilst toddlers are a little more resilient to the sun than babies, their skin is still a lot more sensitive to the sun than adults, and they can dehydrate quickly.
It is always best to avoid being out for the entire day in the sun with a toddler, avoiding the sun’s rays, particularly from 11 am to 3 pm. A whole day out can, of course, be unavoidable if you have older siblings too, so do consider all the sun safety tips we have below.
If you have a choice, mornings and late afternoons certainly work best for younger children when the UV rays are less harmful.
We talk a lot more about sun protection and dealing with hot climates in this article.
Toddler Beach Tip #2: Hitting the waves with toddlers
Some tots will run towards water with wild abandon, while others will be terrified of it. There’s really no telling until your toddler sees real-life waves.
Even if they’re comfortable with a pool at home, the ocean can be far more unpredictable, and many mysterious things can lurk beneath. Take your first approach to the water easy. If you think they’ll be cautious, try calmer lakes or inlets first before hitting the big waves of a beach.
If you have the opportunity to use a pool at home too (or even just a deep bathtub) get your toddler used to submerging their head and holding their breath. It’s not wise to make their first encounter with deep water at a beach.
Toddle Beach Tip #3: Knowing when to call it a day
It’s all fun and games with toddlers; until it isn’t. The sand that was perfectly fine an hour ago is now icky and scratchy, the seaweed is smelly, and the waves are too loud. You know the drill!
If your toddler is still a day napper, consider how you can work this into your day; will a sun shelter and blankie in the shade be enough to get them asleep? Or will you need to plan your departure from the beach around lunchtime before hangry pangs take control?
Like all travel with toddlers – you need to read the situation and be flexible with your plans.
Beach Essentials For Toddlers
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Before planning a toddler beach vacation, or even just a day at the beach with your toddler, you’ll want to consider packing these essentials toddler items to make sure your day runs smoothly:
Toddler Beach Essential: UV Sunsuit/Rash Guard
Your toddler’s first line of defence against UV rays is a full arm and leg sunsuit or rashguard. It’s essential that you have UV resistant material covering your toddler’s skin when they’ll be out in the sun all day.
Long sleeves are preferred for complete sun protection, and make sure you’re still covering all exposed skin with sun cream.
Toddler Beach Essential: Toddler Wetsuit
It is not advisable to take babies and toddlers into cold water as they simply cannot regulate their temperature the same way older kids and adults can; however, if you’re worried about the water being a little nippy on their skin why not look into a toddler wetsuit?
Toddler Beach Essential: Sunscreen
A vital part of any day out in the sun with young children, no matter their skin colouring, to protect them from harmful UVA and UVB rays. Toddler skin can still be quite sensitive so look for brands specifically made to be gentle on the skin, and preferably reef safe.
We use a factor 50+ cream (not spray) all over their bodies – even if they’re wearing rash guards it’s an extra layer of protection – and specialised face sunscreen.
Toddler Beach Essential: Toddler Sun Hat
Toddlers’ heads are still quite sensitive to the sun’s rays, so it’s important to keep their little heads protected. Look for hats that provide wide coverage over the ears and neck and preferably a breathable mesh lining. A bonus is a chin strap, as toddlers are still prone to easily losing things!
Pop over here for our complete guide on choosing the best baby and toddler sun hats
Toddler Beach Essential: Toddler Sunglasses
Often a challenge to keep them safely on a toddler’s head all day – and their growing bodies, some might start to outgrow the smaller baby brands – but oh so important for their safety in the sun. Even if you failed to keep sunglasses on your baby (many hate them), do try again at the toddler age.
Toddler Beach Essential: Pop Up Beach Tent
If you’re planning on spending any length of time outside during the peak sunlight hours of the day, an anti-UV tent for your toddlers is well worth the packing space. It will be your toddler’s first line of defence against the UV rays when they’re out of the water, keeping them out of direct sunlight.
Forget makeshift tents and draping towels over chairs; beach tents are an affordable piece of travel kit that can last your family for years – not just on the beach but for picnics and family days out in the park.
We have found beach tents to be far more sturdy against the elements than a beach umbrella and provide an ideal spot for nap time, still much needed by many toddlers!
You can find all of our favourite beach tents for tiny babies through to those that can fit the entire family here
If your tent doesn’t come with a liner, we’d also recommend a large sand-proof and waterproof beach blanket. No guarantee it will keep them totally sand-free, but it’s a good place to start.
Toddler Beach Essential: Reusable Swim Diapers
Most toddlers will still need a swim diaper when heading to the beach. Even if toilet trained (or in the process) this will prevent any little accidents in the water or on the beach.
Whilst there is a huge range of easy-to-use disposable swim diapers for babies and toddlers out there (we found Huggies Little Swimmers the best), we do recommend regular beachgoers invest in the far more enviro-friendly option of reusable swim diapers.
And once they’re finished in the water, do change them back into a dry diaper. The swim diapers don’t absorb wee, so unless you’re happy to hose down any further little accidents…
Toddler Beach Essential: Toddler Beach Shoes
On hot sand, shelly or rocky beaches, your toddler can really benefit from having a pair of water shoes.
These aqua shoes have a soft, flexible sole and fit more like socks but provide that extra layer of protection for sensitive little feet. For any sort of rock pool or scrambling, we always use our little kid’s Keen Stingrays, ideal for little feet at the beach with a sturdier sole.
You can see our complete review of baby and tot beach shoes here.
Toddler Beach Essential: Toddler Floatation Vest
Your toddler is no doubt starting to gain confidence around the water but is not yet a competent swimmer. Having a wearable flotation device is essential in the water for toddlers (not just a floatie).
How much flotation you give is dependent on their stage but we recommend a full vest for younger toddlers, graduating to a puddle jumper or wings as they grow in size and confidence.
Note there is a difference between a life jacket and a floatation device aimed at helping your child learn to swim. Most toddler flotation vests are NOT life jackets. For example, if you are undertaking any boating, SUP or Kayaking activities, you’ll want a proper coastguard-approved life jacket.
You can see our complete guide to swimming vests and kids’ life jackets here
Toddler Beach Essential: Toddler Goggles
At the toddler age group, even if your child is not yet swimming, they should be gaining the confidence to put their head underwater. Goggles will immensely help with this as they’ll be able to see much clearer, and the water won’t sting their eyes. Look for brands with adjustable straps that will grow with your child; the smallest normally fit til about 6 years of age.
Toddler Beach Essential: A Family Beach Bag (& lots of other bags!)
Instead of your usual diaper bag, you’ll want that to upgrade for the beach to a family-sized waterproof bag to fit all your gear. A great beach bag should last your family for years!
You will still need diaper supplies with you but a quick change mat such as the Skip Hop Pronto is a great option that sits inside your larger beach bag and should do the job for a day at the beach.
And always bring plenty of extra waterproof cloth bags to separate your wet and dry clothing, plus zip loc bags for any valuables you don’t want to get wet and sandy at all.
You can find all our favourite extra-large family beach bags here.
Toddler Beach Essential: Toddler Beach Hoody
Cute little hoodies are one of those fun beach items that are ultra-cute AND ultra-practical, always a winner in any mom’s books! Keep them warm after a dip in the water with a character towel perfect for their little personality.
Toddler Beach Essential: Sippy Cups, Water Bottles & Snacks
It should go without saying you need to keep your toddler hydrated at the beach. Make sure they have access to some cool water – no guarantees they’ll keep it totally sand-free but we like the Tommee Tippee non-spill insulated sippee to reduce the chances of getting sand in the bottle.
If your tot is still on milk bottles we’d recommend an insulated cooler bag for keeping their milk fresh, ready and again – sand-free!
And snacks – what can we say – always take snacks any time you leave the house with toddlers! Again try and reduce the chances of spillage and sand getting in everything with no-spill cups, but there are no guarantees on this one, sorry mamas!
A cute addition you can try with toddlers is to freeze some juice cartons overnight, then they have a nice cool refreshing treat to sip on at the beach. Try these juice cup holders to prevent mess and stop complaints of freezing hands!
Toddler Beach Essential: Toddler Toys For the Beach
Digging, squashing, sifting – (most) toddlers absolutely love to play with sand so through in a few extra gadgets for them to enjoy on the beach. An inflatable beach ball is easy to add, plus a digger truck if space allows!
If taking sand toys, it’s always advisable to store these in separate mesh bags from the rest of your beach gear.
We still recommend for the toddler age group – if you have the space – to pack an inflatable baby pool. Although it might seem counterintuitive to take a pool when you’re at the beach, it can be a great way to give your tot a safe place to play with their toys, away from the sand and waves.
See our complete guide to the best toddler beach toys for a fun day at the beach here. You may also find this guide to camping toys for toddlers has some handy suggestions on the best outdoor toys to pack for younger kids.
Toddler Beach Essential: A Beach Wagon
These sturdy wheeled wagons can be a much better bet for your trip to the beach than a traditional travel stroller; most strollers are simply not made for soft surfaces like sandy beaches.
If you can access a beach wagon, it’s a wonderful way to get everything that we’ve mentioned here to the beach – toddler included!
Alternatively, look for an all-terrain stroller, these usually have 3 larger wheels; something like the Bob Gear Revolution Flex 3.0 is the perfect stroller for the beach.
Toddler Beach Essential: Toddler Beach Chair
We considered leaving this one off as we know it’s something we abandoned once we had more than one child – and already enough paraphernalia with us you’d think we were camping for a week – but I know toddler beach chairs are popular!
They DO have many benefits if you have your beach wagon with you and can take the extra bulk and weight. Toddler beach chairs help keep your toddler off the ground when they’re eating, and those with a sun canopy give them a cool spot out of the sun as an alternative to a tent.
It’s an optional one for a toddler day at the beach, not an essential but you may want to give it a try:
Toddler Beach Essential: Waterproof Phone Case
This one is especially for you, parents! We said these would be some of the best days of their childhood. While you’re caught up in a whirlwind of slapping on sunscreen and securing sunhats for the 15th time, don’t forget to capture a few snaps too.
A waterproof casing for your phone will do the job if you don’t want to invest in a waterproof camera. Pop it around your neck and get out there and enjoy making memories on your family beach day!
More to Pack for a Toddler Beach Vacation
Wait, there’s still more?! Got more family members to consider? As your family grows and you have tots, babies and older kids to contend with all at once, head on over to our complete family guide to a day at the beach for all your beach packing considerations.
Other items to include in your beach bag not mentioned above:
- Several changes of clothes – wets can get soiled and need changing during the day, as well as a complete change of dry clothes for heading home.
- A Wet Bag – all that soggy, sandy beachwear needs to go somewhere! Always have a system for keeping the wet clothes separated from the dry.
- Extra towels – as well as their hoody towels, we always keep a few spare large towels in the car too. It’s highly likely anything that’s been on the beach ends up sandy and wet; if your toddler needs extra drying and wrapping up on the way home it’s best to have at least something that will be sand-free!
- Diaper rash ointment – wearing wet bathers and abrasion from sand can lead to discomfort downstairs, always good to have a tube of diaper paste in your bag (won’t deny adults sometimes use it too!).
- Garbage bags – think dirty diapers, wet wipes, snack wrappers; never leave anything behind.
- First aid kit – accidents happen everywhere, it’s always wise to have stashed in your beach bag a small medical kit with the basics.
- Eye drops – One of the most common medical emergencies toddlers can have at the beach is sand in their eyes. It’s a good idea to include it in your regular first aid kit emergency saline drops.
- Dusting powder – try a little bit of this talc-free baby powder on your toddler’s skin before hitting the beach, it works a treat keeping the sand off! Alternatively, even good old kitchen cornstarch can work.
Considering camping overnight? Our top tips for beach camping with kids.
More Toddler Travel Tips
We hope this guide has helped you confidently prepare for a big day at the beach with your toddler. Do pop into our toddler travel home page before you go. We have more detailed guides to:
- Hiking with a toddler; How to make it fun!
- Surviving road trips with a toddler
- Mistakes we’ve made flying with a toddler
- What’s in my toddler’s plane? A guide to great flying toys
- Essentials gear for camping with a toddler
Plus a huge list of toddler travel product reviews from our tried and tested product series. We hope we’ve given you the confidence that you CAN keep seeing the world, even after kids come along.
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