Planning a beach vacation with a toddler–or baby–or both!? To help kick off the new year, I’m sharing a free book excerpt from Chapter 2: Deciding Where to Go in Travels with Baby. Use this section to help you choose the best beaches for a family vacation if you’re not already decided, and to give you tips to help ensure you all have the best beach vacation with babies and toddlers possible.
In the book, you’ll also find my recommendations of the best hotels and resorts for young families, and the world’s best all-inclusive resorts for families with children under 5. Let’s make some great memories! (This post contains affiliate links — thanks for your support of this website at no additional cost to you!)
Excerpt from Chapter 2: Deciding Where to Go
Best Beach Vacations with Babies and Toddlers
Beaches are one of the few vacation destinations that can completely appease the desires of a toddler: exploration, discovery, exercise, fresh air, and loads and loads of sand. Hit the beach during nap times and, with baby lounging in the shade, you can enjoy a good book, a snooze, or taking turns with your partner dipping in the surf. Older babies thrill at their first discovery of sand—and miles and miles of it.
Where to go:
When choosing your beach destination, keep in mind what your little beachcomber might find in the sand; some beaches are much more likely to have litter or fishing hooks, for example. Also, consider the shoreline carefully—will it be relatively safe for splashing and wading, and if not, will you be able to relax and watch the waves or will you have to spend most of your time keeping your child out of the surf (keep in mind your child’s temperament)?
For calmer conditions, look to destinations like Cape Cod, the Caribbean, or sandy-shored lakes, and beaches along seas rather than the vast oceans. Keep in mind seasonal differences, as well, such as Maui and Kauai where the north shore beaches have some stretches of incredibly gentle shoreline in summer months, but take a pounding and are favored by surfers in winter months.
Where to stay:
It can be well worth it to choose a hotel, resort, or vacation rental that is walking distance to the beach to avoid the hassle of loading and unloading your car on each end, each day, and finding parking.
Since most beaches feature little or no sources of shade, you may favor beachfront resorts or private beaches that provide sun umbrellas for added comfort and protection. Depending on your destination, the higher price for a beachfront resort may also make up for the cost of a rental car and gas—and time lost in coming and going from your main attraction.
However, at expensive beach destinations, a vacation rental apartment or condo just a block or two from the beach may prove the most convenient and cost-effective, saving you on daily resort (and possibly parking) fees, while giving you the flexibility to cook and dine outside of expensive restaurants in the area.
What to avoid:
With crawlers and early walkers, aim for beaches where odds are the sand won’t be littered with trash from lazy picnickers, and try to avoid rocky or pebbled shores for now as they may feel to you more like miles on end of choking hazards at this stage. Also, be wary of destinations popular with sailors and windsurfers as the winds and waves they favor may be unfavorable to your tiny beachcomber.
What to bring:
Bring sun block, a blanket, a bucket of toys, and a soft-sided cooler, and you’re set for days and days of fun. Infants are easy to keep clean and well shaded with help from a pop-up shade tent, which can also provide much-needed shade breaks for the whole family, and remain fun for kids well through the preschool years (even in the living room on a rainy day at home).
For kids ready to explore at the water’s edge, invest in a good life jacket or swim vest that will last through the preschool years. And for extremely sunny locations, consider UV-protective swim attire as an extra measure of protection. Some swimsuits that are made to look like surfer suits have special appeal for small kids and cover them to their knees, which is also helpful in keeping sand out of the diaper zone.
Pro Tip: “Rash guard” UV-protective shirts with mock turtleneck collars are also helpful and an easier combination with swimsuit bottoms for those hurrying to get to the potty in time, or needing frequent diaper changes (see more examples here).
We’ve also found it very helpful to bring along an oversized plastic shopping tote (my favorite is a giant blue tote from IKEA). We can fit all of our lightweight, bulky items into it, including a bucket of sand toys, swim vests, Neat Sheet picnic blanket, snorkels, and more, and we can shake water and sand right off of it.
To help avoid the “sandpaper syndrome” that results from rubbing baby wipes on sandy behinds, keep an extra water bottle handy for rinsing off. The bicycling and sports variety that you squeeze and squirt are ideal.
You might also like:
Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning Travels with Baby guidebooks
Note to readers: An earlier version of this post first appeared January 9, 2015. It has since been revised and updated.