Long before my sweet little ones came into this world, going to the beach meant gathering a few friends in my convertible and heading east for a day of bronzing and relaxation. Fast forward 15 years and two kids later, and a day at the beach has a completely different meaning. Sure, I’m still the same olive-skinned, expert swimmer, sand and shell lover from my teenage years, but a day in the sun with my “entourage” in tow is not as relaxing as it was in the late 1990s. But I am a lover of the beach, and I refuse to let my new life mom status discourage me from enjoying the sun and sand! With some planning in advance and the right tools, any mom can successfully spend a sunny, stress-free day by the sea!
A day at the beach begins the day before. I can’t think of a time that I’ve ever woke up and thought,”I think I’ll take the kids to the beach today.” Sure, I am blessed to live only seven minutes away from the sand, but the preparation it takes to make sure you have everything you need for a day in the sun is too much for me to even consider doing at the last minute. Pre-planning and organization is the key to success for any toddler activity (or almost anything in life, for that matter)!
A Few Tips For Heading to the Beach
Always pack the car the night before
I put the wagon, beach chairs, beach toys, towels and clean water in large bottles in there. Why? Because it’s one less thing I will need to do in the morning. Between breakfast, emails, Mickey Mouse and showering, I know I’ll have enough to remember. I also lay out our swimsuits and sunscreen before bed (I’ve discovered that doing this actually helps the kids go to bed because they know when we wake up, we are beach bound!).
Pack a post-beach bag that contains a change of comfy clothes for each child, regular lotion, and a hair brush
This will go in the car the night before and stay in the car until our day of sun fun is done. I organize the snacks that don’t need refrigeration the evening before, too. I usually have an arsenal of fruit snacks, apples, bananas, pop tarts, and pretzels. I steer clear of things that will melt.
Check the weather and tides before bed to make sure that nothing has changed from the earlier forecasts
I recommend going when it is low tide. There’s more beach to explore, and low tide creates small tidal pools, usually only a few inches deep that are perfect for little ones. Off to bed we go, dreaming of rolling waves and sunny days.
Pack a few separate bags!
In the morning, we eat breakfast and gather the last bit of things we need. I pack a soft-sided cooler with bottled water, Capri suns, and buddy fruits. I also back a very small cooler with just two drinks that will stay in the car. I gather a bag of “on the beach” essentials, including sunscreen, a few hand towels, a bottle of water (for washing sandy hands before eating snacks), lip balm, hair ties and the kids’ portable radio. I have a separate “electronics” bag. It’s a plastic-lined small bag meant for wet clothes, but I find it useful for my camera, iPad, phone and anything else I don’t want to get wet.
Before we leave the house, I completely slather them with sunscreen, paying special attention to their face, neck and ears. I will reapply a few times throughout the day, but I always start the sunscreen at home.
Park where there is easy beach access!
Because I’m bringing a wagon, I need a beach access with a ramp. We usually head to 6th Ave South in Jacksonville Beach. For those of you that don’t remember, this is where the pier used to be before Hurricane Floyd damaged it in 1999. It was later rebuilt a few blocks north. There is a large parking lot adjacent to a volleyball court and picnic area. I unload the wagon, beach toys, chairs, cooler, beach bag, electronics bag and the kids and off we go.
Head to the beach in the morning if you can
Once we hit the sand, I reapply them with a spray 110 SPF sunscreen. Overkill? Maybe,- but I like to err on the side of caution. We spend the next few hours sunning and funning, reapplying sunscreen frequently and staying hydrated. We always visit the beach in the morning and never stay more than 2 1/2 hours at a time. If we “beach it” in the morning, I am almost certain that they will nap in the afternoon. Also, the crowd at the beach in the morning seems to be much more “family friendly” than the afternoon/after high school is out crowd.
Don’t forget about post-beach clean-up!
Leaving the beach is a process in itself. Remember those water bottles I mentioned that I put in the car the night before? This is where they come in. I lay a towel down in the back of my SUV and remove the kids salty swim clothes. I douse them with the clean water (that is actually warm from being in the car) and remove all the sand from their bodies. I lotion them and dress them in the clean change of clothes (the ones we packed the night before).
I give them each a fresh drink (in the small cooler that stayed in the car) and put them in their car seats. The last thing I want to do is search around in the parking lot when we are all ready to leave searching for something for them to drink. I’ve done this so many times that I’ve got it down to about 10 minutes, tops! Sometimes, the babies are asleep by the time we cross over the Intracoastal Bridge.