Do your summer plans involve a beach vacation? Does that beach vacation also involve children? If you answered "yes" to both of those questions, the first thing you need to know is that you're going on a trip, not a vacation. The second thing to know is that you're going to want to invest in some quality beach gear.
I asked our panel of parenting experts here at Reviewed, as well as all the parents in my mommy and me group to share their favorite, must-have toys for epic beach days. These tried and true items will keep your offspring occupied so that you get a chance to read your trashy magazines (er, quality literary tome) without constant interruptions.
1. Best beach toys for your buck
There is a shovel for everyone in this 19-piece Kids Beach Sand Toys Set suggested by Reviewed staff writer Rachel Murphy. Babies, toddlers, and big kids will all find something to play with thanks to the selection of shovels, sand molds, rakes, a watering can, and a water wheel. It even comes with a mesh bag that can be worn as a backpack so that older beachgoers can carry their own gear.
2. A boogie board that lasts forever
If you've got older kids who are strong swimmers and love a thrill ride, get them a classic Morey Boogie Board so they can spend all day in the waves. Every beach-loving So Cal mom I know keeps at least one of these boards on hand for beach trips. They're well-made, last for years, and can withstand a major beating from the surf.
3. A giant sand shovel
If you want to keep your beach gear to a minimum, but you still want your kids to play independently, a three pack of Matty's Toy Shop's Heavy Duty Wooden Kids Sand Shovels is the best investment. My kids first spotted these at the drugstore on our annual beach vacation three years ago, and they've been our favorite toy ever since. They're the perfect size for kids from toddler age until about 10, and they're so eye catching that my kids always end up making friends with other beachgoers who want to help them dig. Another plus is that they're durable and don't break easily, unlike shovels made entirely of plastic.
4. Pass on the plastic
Whether you're trying to reduce the amount of plastic junk in your life, or you just want something more durable, Kobu's Natural Bamboo Beach Toys are the answer. The shovel and rake set is crafted of pesticide-free bamboo and it's sized just right for little hands. The tools are coated with a water resistant finish to ensure that the wood stands up to long, wet days at the beach. These are the ultimate eco-friendly sand toys—even the packaging is completely plastic-free and recyclable.
5. Dig up some fun
There's no better place to take toy trucks than the beach—especially if they're made for digging. The Green Toys Scooper Construction Truck is made from 100% recycled plastic and it's sized just right for little hands. Buy more than one and let your kids spend the day creating their very own beachside construction site. My kids love digging tunnels with their giant shovels and then "driving" these trucks through their sand creations.
6. A small inflatable raft
Throw the Blue Sea Life Children's Inflatable Boat Raft in your bag, blow it up when you get to the beach, and then fill it with water to keep your pre-walking baby cool (and contained). This doesn't wear out its usefulness as kids grow, either: Toddlers and preschoolers will enjoy imagining the raft as a shipwrecked pirate boat, or pulling one another along the sand.
7. Make some sand cookies
The Melissa & Doug Sunny Patch Seaside Sidekicks Sand Cookie-Baking Set has been my daughter's favorite sand toy since she was two (she's now five). The set comes with everything your kids need to roll, cut, and bake a gorgeous batch of sandy cookies, and it will keep them occupied for hours. Make their cookie baking even more fun by adding on the Sunny Patch Seaside Sidekicks Sand Baking Set, and they'll spend the whole day whipping up batches of baked goods, or using all the scoops and shovels to build a sandcastle. The quality of these toys are fantastic—we've certainly lost of few pieces, but nothing has ever broken, despite enthusiastic digging and cutting.
8. A classic kite
Growing up we always took a kite to the beach. These days, I love watching my kids attempt to get the old school Rainbow Diamond Kite airborne. Not only are kites a fun and an inexpensive way to keep kids busy, but they also provide a built-in science lesson about velocity and wind speed. The string is bound to get tangled, and there's a very real possibility that the kite will never get airborne, but at least your kids will wear themselves out running up and down the beach trying to catch an updraft.
I realize that it may seem ridiculous to bring a water table to a beach, but this brilliant suggestion came from no less than five of my mom friends. When kids reach the age where they can walk, but they're too young to be independent, salvage your beach day by bringing along a water table. Set it up under an umbrella, put some water in it, and station your kid right next to it. He'll get a kick out of dumping sand into it, and you'll get a chance to sit down and relax for more than two minutes at a time. My friends swear that not only is this the key to parents having their own relaxing day at the beach, but it will also attract other kids who will entertain your kid, which is a win for everyone.
10. An alternative to frisbee
Activ Flyer Discs are a fantastic alternative to traditional frisbees, which can be hard for little kids to catch and throw. The lightweight discs are engineered to fly straight, and the open-center design enables kids to catch them with their hands or their feet. My five and six year olds love the Activ Flyer Discs, but they're also fun for parents and older kids, too. Plus their slim design makes them easy to tuck down the side of a beach bag or suitcase.
11. A packable beach bucket
If you have to take a plane in order to reach your beach destination, you're going to need (and love) this Collapsible Beach Pail. The adorable orange pail comes with a shovel, and it folds flat to easily stow away in your suitcase. My world-traveling mom friends never leave home without throwing this durable duo in their luggage. While it's significantly more expensive than average beach buckets, it's made from good quality silicone and it holds up through multiple beach seasons.
12. A game for everyone in the family
Spike Ball is the newest trend in beach toys, thanks to its seal of approval from Shark Tank and the rave reviews on Amazon. It's sort of similar to volleyball, except it only requires four players, and the net is more of a bouncy trampoline. TJ Donegan, our Executive Editor of Core Content, says that this toy has been getting tons of play at family beach get togethers. The foldable legs make it easy to store and transport, and the net can be adjusted for an easier or harder game. Kids as young as five can get in on the fun, and Spike Ball is so fun that even sullen teens have been known to participate at times.
Prices are accurate at time of publication, by may change over time.