Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Large Family Living :: At the Beach

I grew up and still live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where we have the bay, the ocean, mountains, foothills, redwoods, and more, all within a short drive from our doorstep. The variety of landscape is delightful. And yet, when it comes to a day trip or vacation, I will choose the coast every time! Foggy or sunny, muggy or cool, I can't get enough of our Northern California dunes and beaches.

We live about 45 minutes inland from the beach. But we are at the coast weekly through the warm months (which is about nine months of the year here!) since my husband works from home and can arrange his schedule accordingly.

I get lots of questions via email about taking littles to the beach. I always answer them personally, but I figured I might as well pull all my answers together into a post! So please excuse my deviating from homeschool-household chat for this ultra-logistical discussion. :)

I have to say right up front: my best tip for going to the beach with littles is to bring another adult! I could easily make our outings work by myself, but I can't tell you how nice it is to have another set of eyes and arms. I just want to put that right up front: my husband is always with us when we go, and with nine children under twelve (including half of them non-swimmers), an infant, and a toddler, that's the way I feel safest. Whether it's a friend, sister, or husband, it's great to have another adult around!

This is not a post about how to have a Instagram-worthy trip to the beach. Just tips and tricks based on our own experience, in no particular order. Nothing fancy!

We go early when the beach is empty, and leave when others are just starting to arrive, shortly after lunch. We miss the worst of the sun this way (my husband and I really don't like the heat), and we get to enjoy a mostly-empty beach.

Our priority is a beach that has a long stretch of sand so my toddlers + preschoolers can roam without getting close to the water and so we can have some privacy. So we skip the more popular beaches and head to the ones know one seems to know about.

We always keep a bag of sweaters in the car. (Hubby and I prefer windbreakers so we can do multiple layers.) Our coast is chilly in the mornings, so we never know how it will be when we get there. And the kids don't have fun if they are too chilly! The marine layer always burns off  by the time we're ready to head into the water.

We have in-the-water and out-of-the-water blocks of time while we're there. We go to beaches that generally have a good amount of surf, so when little kids are in the water, we need to be always on the alert. So we need those times of strictly sand play that allow us to just rest, snack, read, and chat.  We usually do an hour of sand play when we first arrive, an hour in the water, an hour for an early lunch and more sand play, a bit more time in the water, then time to dry off before we head home. This allows babies and toddlers to nap in the car. It also allows me to know where everyone is at all times! I don't have to worry that one of the littles is headed down to the water without my knowing. (I know at some point, we'll be able to make a whole day of an outing. But for us right now, a half day always works best.)

Non-swimmers are always outfitted with a life jacket or floaties. This just adds a little emergency protection.  We have four Puddle Jumpers and love them. They go to the four youngest kids minus the toddler and baby, who stay with me. We usually split up lifeguarding duty: I watch the toddler and walk him so he can splash his feet in the water, my husband watches everyone else, and one of us wears the baby.

 We travel light to the beach: no towels, no chairs for each person, etc. We need to make it in one trip from the car to the beach, with my husband and I potentially carrying littles, so whatever we can't carry we don't bring. Here's a line-up of the gear we love and always have with us...

two camp chairs (for me and my husband + babies on our lap)
a waterproof picnic blanket (for the kids, or for little ones who need a place to lie down)
a pop up tent (for clothing changes and such)
an umbrella with a side panel for extra shade (we HAVE to have shade -- non-negotiable since I'm fair)
a camp high chair (LOVE this)
carriers for me and my husband (I like my ergo on my back or a wrap on my front, and he likes a traditional bjorn-style carrier)
one bag of toys (buckets, balls, shovels)
water bottles in a bag, hats in a bag, and sweaters in a bag

We have trained the kids in setup and take down of all our gear. They also know how to stow it all in the car. And then we just leave it there until the next outing!  So we are pretty much always packed and ready to go.

Besides gear, I pack a trash bag, sunscreen, sunglasses for me and my husband, breakfast (to eat in the car on the way there), a small non-refrigerated lunch, bottles, diapers, etc. I keep a list on my phone of our Beach Packing List, so I can quickly grab it all on beach mornings. I also bring socks for the baby, something so easy to forget and yet so helpful to have: for cold when we get there, sun protection while he's in the carrier, and then a shield from the hot sand as he walks around afterward.

I do a check of swimsuits at the beginning of the season and make sure each child has the following: long-sleeved rash guard, swim shorts, sun hat, and crocs.

I have fair-skinned kids (despite their being Filipino-Italian!), so long-sleeved rash guards keep me from having to reapply and reapply sunscreen. We do a coating before they head in the water, and then as long as they keep their hats on, we don't have to reapply since we're only there for 3-4 hours at a stretch. With nine kids, sunscreen application takes a LONG while, so this saves a good amount of time and energy! :)

Speaking of sun hats, I really love these. My older kids and my husband and I all have them. It keeps its shape, dries quickly, and it's very comfortable. And the adjustable chin strap is a must on breezy California coasts!

Since I'm always on the hunt for modest swimwear and I know many of my friends are too, I thought I'd share where I have been getting suits lately.  For the boys, trunks + tops from Target have been working great. But for the girls, I've had the best luck at Amazon. City Threads is a great brand that sells solid-color and print separates, including long-sleeved tops and fitted shorts for girls. (FYI: They run small. But the quality is good!)

Gianna is now in XS/S adult sizing (she is 11.5 and 5'2''). I ordered this cute top and some long coordinating shorts as separate pieces for her and she really likes the fit. She said they're super comfortable and, as you can see in the picture below, she is very active in the water!

leading the charge!

We LOVE crocs. Love them. So durable -- we have passed down so many pairs from child to child and they still look great. They are comfortable and easy to clean...and when you're in the sand every week, that easy-to-clean quality is really important. We'll often put them out on the backyard patio and hose them all down and let them dry in the sun. They have feminine options too that I think are much cuter than the clog style for little girls!  (And I have had these crocs for years and wear them all the time)

I think that answers all the questions I have gotten about our family's approach to beach days.

I'm looking forward to a lot more days like these in the months ahead!

(Have any questions I didn't cover? Ask them in the comments and I'll add answers below!)


  1. This is great! Thanks! I live near the beach in CA also and I have two questions. First, what is your food plan? I usually bring a mix of carbs and proteins but I feel like I never have enough food, my kids get so hungry after a couple hours. Maybe I need more carbs? Second, how do you clean the kids up when you return home? I would like to install an outdoor shower but we don't have a great space for it. I can pretty much only go to the beach by myself so trying to get hungry and tired kids de-sanded before entering the house is daunting, and we are always cleaning sand up off the floors after. Thanks!

    1. Hi Karen! Our on-the-go breakfast and/or lunch choices for beach days are oatmeal bars (a simple recipe that is basically oatmeal in bar form), peanut butter sandwiches, cheese and wheat crackers, bananas... So we do a lot of carbs and a small amount of protein. We also bring a lot of water! I plan for dinners that are ready to go shortly after we get home without much work for me -- leftovers, pasta, something from the freezer, etc. that is filling. Because yes, everyone is hungry and I am usually not up for much cooking! :)

      As for cleaning up: we have stayed in rentals with outdoor showers, and wow, they made things so much easier! But we don't have a spot for one either. We try to confine all sand to our front yard and our laundry room (where we enter the house). So first, we take off everything but swimsuits in the front and shake out sweaters and jeans. Then we send in girls to the laundry room, where they strip down and shake off, then they head straight for one shower. Then we send in the boys, and they strip down in the laundry room and head to the other bathroom to shower. Once everyone is showered and dressed, the kids get all clothes straight into the washer, then minivac and mop the laundry room and hall. We usually have two loads of laundry right after the beach. :)

      Our van, on the other hand, is a whole 'nother story. We do not even attempt to keep it sand-free! ;)

      Hope that makes sense!

    2. We do a lot of beach trips, but not with the same number of kids in tow! I bring pre-peeled boiled eggs for a quick, filling protein option. Also, I don’t know if this is feasible with that many feet, but my husband saves empty gallon jugs to fill with water so we can wash feet before people get in the car. It helps cut down on sand in the car quite a bit!

  2. Thanks for sharing! Some good tips, even for us in England!
    take care

  3. I never leave to the beach without cheap, store-brand Baby Powder. You won't believe how fast it cleans feet, legs, etc of sand. Sure, we have lots of baby powder all over the mini-van floor, but it is so much better than itchy, scratchy sand for an hour till we get home!