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 a fair bit of 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!
if you want. It takes just a little extra preparation when taking a toddler to the beach 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 baby to the beach here
What to consider before taking a toddler to the beach
A whole day at the beach with a toddler? Maybe! you will need to be prepared though and base it on the weather and circumstances you face.
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 suns 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.
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.
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 napping, 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.
Essential toddler beach gear to invest in
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Before heading to the beach with your toddler, you’ll want to consider packing these essentials toddler items to make sure your day runs smoothly:
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.
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?
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 Sun Hat
Toddler’s heads are still quite sensitive to the sun rays so it’s important to keep their little heads protected. Look for hats that provide wide coverage over ears and neck and preferably a mesh lining that is breathable. A bonus is a chin strap as toddlers are still prone to easily losing things!
Often a challenge to keep them safely on a toddlers 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 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 toddlers first line of defence against the UV rays when they’re out of the water.
Forget makeshift tents and draping towels over chairs, beach tents are a really affordable piece of travel kit that can last your family for years – not just the beach but picnics, family days out in the park.
Reusable Swim Diaper
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 a reusable swim diaper.
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 Shoes
On hot, shelly or rocky beaches, your toddler can really benefit from having a pair of beach shoes. These soft aqua shoes have a soft, flexible sole and fit more like socks but provide that extra layer of protection for sensitive little feet. Any sort of rock pool or scrambling, we always use our little kid’s Keen Stingrays, ideal for little feet at the beach.
Toddler floatation vest
Your toddler is no doubt starting to gain confidence around the water, but 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 tots, graduating to puddle jumpers/wings as they grow.
Note there is a difference between a life vest and a floatation device aimed at helping your child learn to swim. Most toddler flotation vests are NOT life jackets.
At the toddler age group, even if you’re child is not yet swimming, they should be gaining confidence to put their head under water. 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 nramlly fit til about 6 years of age.
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.
You will still need diaper supplies with you but a quick change mat such as the Skip Hop Pronto that sits inside your larger beach bag should do the job.
And always bring plenty of extra waterproof cloth bags to separate your wets and dries, plus zip loc bags for any valuables you don’t want to get wet and sandy at all.
Toddler Beach Hoody
Cute little hoody’s 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 beach with a character towel perfect for their little personality.
Water Bottle & 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.
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 Play 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. If taking sand toys it’s always advisable to store these in a separate mesh bag from the rest of your beach gear.
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!
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 it 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 their eating and with a sun canopy, gives 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:
Water proof phone case
This one is especially for you parents! We said these were going to be some of the best days from their childhood and whilst 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 round your neck and get out there and enjoy making memories!
More to pack for a day at the beach
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 dry change for heading home.
- 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 – accident 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 in your regular first aid kit emergency saline drops.
- Dusting powder – try a little bit of this talc-free 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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