Not sure what to bring with you for a day at the beach? Wondering how to avoid the annoying crowds of vacationers? Dreading having to search for beach parking? Does the heat get to you when you finally find your place in the sun? If you’re feeling anxiety about your upcoming day at the beach, we completely understand.
And if you’ve found your way to Tribal Feast, then it’s safe to assume you’re not the usual tourist or vacationer. You’re most likely into camping or adventure picnicking and probably prefer a more natural, less-crowded setting for your day at the beach. But it usually takes some local knowledge to find that quiet stretch of sand and sun. And locals are also experts on what to bring to make your beach day comfortable and fun.
So here are 10 tips for enjoying a summer day at the beach that come from the experience of being a local living near one of the most highly rated beaches in the U.S. Spoiler alert: the locals rarely ever went to that beach.
Which brings us to tip #1!
Tip #1: The best beaches are not always the best
If you see Chamber of Commerce marketing phrases describing your destination as “#1 Beach” or “Voted Best Beach”, then it’s highly unlikely that you are going to have the quiet, natural beach day you have in mind. What’s the point of all that beautiful white sand and clear blue water when it is filled with tourists?
So instead of spending the day staring at the parade of vacationers blocking your view of the water, look for an alternate beach in the area that is less picturesque, less marketed, and less crowded. These are generally the beaches where the locals hang out since they are usually trying to get away from the very same people they are catering to on their work days. Locals are perfectly content to sacrifice view or sand color for some space and solitude.
There are a lot of things that can make a stretch of sand or even a whole beach unpopular to the masses. We’ll cover many of these in the tips below, but the main point here is to NOT go where the Chamber of Commerce sends you. Get creative and search the nearby shoreline on Google Maps for stretches of uncrowded beach, hidden parking areas, and less obvious public access. A little recognizance can go a long way.
Tip #2: Ditch the car and paddle to the beach
Sometimes what makes a beach unpopular is really not the beach itself, but the logistics of getting there or the lack of available parking. Obviously the local government and nearby residents do not want to promote a nice stretch of shoreline if there is no access or adequate parking, even if the beach is open to the public.
But whoever said you had to take your car to the beach?
By definition, all beaches are by the sea, which means that you can almost always arrive by sea. All you need is a kayak, a nearby launch point, and safe, navigable water to get there.
Besides just getting there, another huge advantage of paddling a kayak to the beach is the amount of gear you can bring with you. Even a large beach umbrella can fit inside most Sit-on-Top kayaks with a bow hatch, and many tank wells are designed to fit a small cooler.
You may be surprised to find both a launch point and public parking not far down the shoreline from the beach you wish to go to. Sometimes that launch point may not be the most obvious or convenient (like a sea wall, jetty, or rip rap) so wear good shoes and prepare for a little adventure.
If the target beach is on an island, there is most likely a number of places on the back side of the island where you can both park and launch. You may have a long paddle around the island to get to the stretch of beach, so know the weather and tides and carefully plan out your day so you don’t run into trouble on the long paddle home.
A big caveat here is surf. This tip is really for beaches located in areas where waves are a minimum like those located in bays or where wind and swells are blocked by land. Most beaches on the Gulf of Mexico can be safely approached by kayak itf the conditions are right. The paddlers skill and equipment can also go along way toward determining what is safe and sensible.
Remember that we are talking about the ocean here. Always wear a PFD and have a signal device accessible at all times. Also be respectful of all local laws and wary of boat traffic. Many people operating boats in vacation destinations know absolutely nothing about the local waters since they themselves are on vacation. Give all boat traffic a wide berth! If you spend even a little time on the water in the ocean, you begin to understand that safety is never to be taken lightly and mother nature is always going to get the last word.
If you do your homework and plan accordingly, however, kayaking can add some adventure and fun to your beach day. It can also get you to a stretch of shoreline you maybe wouldn’t have otherwise been able to get to, and help you avoid a lot of hassle and headache negotiating a crowded beach parking lot.
Tip #3: Take a hike
If you do park at the normal, designated beach parking lot, it is very likely that you will have to hike quite a ways just to get to a vacant patch of sand. So why not embrace the hike and gear up to be able to handle more distance?
When I lived near the beach, I used an old internal frame backpack as my beach bag. This was a fantastic solution that enabled me to cover much more ground than other beach goers and made it a breeze getting to less crowded stretches of shoreline farther away from the parking lot.
You may be thinking that you have a ton of stuff you want to bring along to the beach and a backpack isn’t going to be big enough. Keep in mind that you won’t be carrying a tent, sleeping bag, and pad in your backpack. A surprising amount of of beach comfort gear can fit in an average sized backpack and if you follow some of the tips below, you may find that you have room to spare and your hands free for your hike down the beach.
An important key here is attitude: you have to be mentally and physically prepared for your beach hike. Wear some old hiking boots if you have them and keep the flip flops in your pack until you reach a good spot to set up your lawn chair or spread out your beach blanket.
Think like a hiker, pack like a beach goer, and get to that far off stretch of sand that you will have all to yourself.
Tip #4: The coolest cooler
If you like to bring a large cooler to the beach, don’t be tempted by all those high-tech, hard-sided coolers on the market. They are great for the back of a car or the cockpit of a boat, but will leave a bruise when banging against your side during a long hike across the sand. Even empty they are cumbersome, awkward things to carry.
A soft-sided cooler is simply the way to go for a hassle-free day at the beach.
My personal favorite is the Ice-Mule. This clever cooler is a cross between a dry bag and an inflatable backpacking mattress. Open a small valve on the side, and the foam filled liner self inflates, becoming very effective insulation. When your day at the beach has come to an end, just dump out the ice, open the valve, and squeeze out the air. The cooler then can roll up into a small bundle that you can easily shove into a backpack.
On your way back to the car, you’ll be smiling to yourself as you pass the waddling dude bros carrying their ginormous, empty hard-sided coolers.
Tip #5: Take a seat
If you prefer a lawn chair to a beach blanket at the beach, then you have undoubtedly experienced one of these two scenarios:
- You got a bruise on your (shoulder, side, thigh) from carrying an old school aluminum frame model and the aforementioned hard-sided cooler the quarter mile to a free spot in the sand.
- You carried your up-until-now trusty old folding camp chair from walmart that same quarter mile and although you didn’t get any bruises thanks to it’s more compact folded size, it did break the moment you sat in it. Upon closer inspection you realized that every one of the remaining three hundred and ninety nine pivot points was rusted and about to fail.
A modern ultralight camp chair like the Helinox Chair One folds down into a tiny bundle, is fantastic quality, and is far more comfortable for most people then the previously mentioned options.
Although I paid over $100 for my chair one all those years ago, itf instead I had opted for the traditional $20 fold out camp chair, I would have gone through probably 20 by now. There have been a lot of other companies joining the ultralight camp chair bandwagon lately so a quick search on Amazon will give you some selection. but keep in mind, you get what you pay for. My Helinox Chair One is in my top five of favorite and most useful things I’ve ever purchased.
Trust me on this: an ultralight camp chair is one of the most fantastic pieces of gear you will ever buy. Just the idea that you can have a super comfortable chair with a back that weighs less than 2 pounds and you can easily stuff into any backpack would have been mind-blowing 20 years ago. It’s a great time to be alive!
Tip #6: Made in the shade
Admittedly it was a few years’ worth of trips to the beach before I finally understood why people lugged huge and cumbersome umbrellas with them. Me, being an ultralight gear junky, shook my head at their silliness. After all you are at the beach, you should expect a little sunburn and wind chafing.
But then it happened. Some friends whom I had planned to meet out at a favorite beach spot had shown up with a giant umbrella. It seemed like such a ridiculous thing to hike down the beach with and at first I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be seen sitting next to them. The thing was so huge, that there was even enough space for me to join them beneath it. I reluctantly accepted their invitation.
Within two minutes I was a wholehearted convert to beach umbrellas.
I now see two options when planning a summertime beach day:
- a fiery hellscape of suffering and tepid beverages under the great fireplanet in the sky (no umbrella).
- a breezy, happy seaside fiesta with icy cold drinks beneath my personal, portable cabana (with umbrella).
I cannot stress this enough: bring an umbrella to the beach.
Even if the only umbrella you can get your hands on is ridiculously heavy and awkward to carry, bring it. Go ultralight everywhere else, but drag that thing if you have to.
Before my next trip to the beach after my experience beneath my friends’ umbrella, I got my hands on a promotional patio umbrellas from a German beer company. It wasn’t as ridiculously big as my friends’ umbrella, but it was free and because I had everything else I needed stuffed in my backpack as described above, I could carry the umbrella over my shoulder.
I still have that umbrella and although it’s survived many trips to the beach, I know I will need to replace it soon. When I do, I’ve been looking at this particular beach umbrella which is purpose made for the beach and has sides.
The above beach umbrella also has tie down loops for staking it down, which brings me to an important point about beach umbrellas: they are no fun in the wind!
Whatever you use for shade at the beach, make sure you can anchor it down in the sand. If it does have anchor points, keep in mind that standard tent stakes are useless at the beach. You will need some much bigger stakes designed for sand and snow. An even better method is to fill small stuff sacks with sand, attach them to the anchor points, then bury them. The small stuff sacks usually way less than the stakes and take up less space in your pack.
Hopefully, you are intrigued enough to try a beach umbrella for your next summer beach day. I promise that you will become a convert just like me.
Tip #7: Fix your little red wagon
Okay so now that you’ve hauled some huge ass pub umbrella you found at a garage sale down the beach and realized the glorious shady goodness that is now yours, you want more. You probably went out and bought a hand crank blender, a machete, and a bag of coconuts, and now you are wondering how you are going to lug all of this to the beach.
Yup. you have gone totally overboard, but I’m not going to fault you. Admittedly I’m a bit jealous of your drink-making ambitions. And the great news is that I’ve personally known a few others who, by exploring ultralight options, only fell trap to the possibilities of being able to bring even more fun stuff with them to the beach. They all not only turned out fine, but became the envy of the beach. And it was all due to one specific piece of gear: the beach cart.
I’ve never owned a beach cart. I’m assuming it’s sort of like the umbrella in that once I try it there is no turning back. So I can’t advise you on brands and models, just point you in the right direction and wish you luck.
But if I see you out there, can I have one of those drinks you’re making? I love tropical libations served in the coconut shell.
Tip #8: Rain, rain, go away tourists
People always laugh when I tell them to go to the beach when it is raining until they actually do it.
Think about it. No one goes to the beach when it is raining, yet what do people do when they are at the beach? Go in the water.
Yes, I know. You’re not going to spend the whole day in the water, and trying to have a picnic in the rain at the beach sounds miserable. Except for one new detail: you now have an umbrella with you!
In Florida at least, afternoon summer showers don’t usually last very long, so if you plan your day carefully, you will have no problem parking parking, have the beach to yourself for a few hours, and get some time in the sun.
Start heading to the beach as a shower is just starting and be prepared to hike out to your chosen beach spot in the rain. You will be shocked at all the people leaving as you are pulling into the parking lot and within minutes of the rain starting, you’ll have the beach to yourself.
Swimming at the beach in the rain is fantastic especially in Florida where it is stinking hot. The Gulf is like a bathtub in the summer, so the rain is a cool treat while you play in the water.
Rain also means low pressure which can make the water slick off. On the Gulf Coast of the U.S. where there is already not much surf, you can feel like you are standing in the world’s largest swimming pool. And you will most likely have it all to yourself.
Afternoon showers on the coast are usually driven by convection and usually end a few hours before dark so you can hopefully enjoy some clear skies and stick around for the sunset.
The big caveat here is to be wary of lightning and if the wind and surf pick up, be extremely careful about rip tides – they are no joke!
Even convection storms can turn into a dangerous squall, so if the weather looks like it may get exceptionally nasty, get out of there! And that umbrella can be a lightning magnet, so be wary of what you are carrying on your hike back to safety.
But if you are careful, adventurous, and don’t mind getting wet, going to the beach when it is raining can be an incredible experience.
Tip #9: Nightswimming
The beach at night is sublime.
Not only are there no crowds, but the sensory experience of being near the powerful ocean in the dark is truly moving. It even sounds different.
As far as what to bring, obviously the umbrella isn’t necessary, but a light jacket may be good to have along. It can get surprisingly chilly at night at the beach – even in the summertime.
If local laws allow it, a small backpacking stove is great at night for making coffee or tea, or for cooking a full on meal by the water. Wind is usually at a minimum at night, so there is less chance of sand being blown into your culinary endeavors. The beach at night is exceptional for adventure picnicking.
It is also great for stargazing and observing nature. If you are at a beach where sea turtles are nesting, and you encounter one on the sand,’do not turn on your flashlight! Watch from a short distance with whatever light is available.
As I mentioned before, the beach at night is sublime and really impossible to convey in words. Just go.
Tip #10: Love the locals
Whenever you are in a tourist town, whether you are just travelling through or on vacation, be exceptionally nice to the locals and thoughtful about their feelings and needs. Remember that quite often neither the local businesses nor the local government caters to them. A little kindness goes a long way.
As someone who has been on both sides of that coin, I can tell you that locals more often than not appreciate those rare out-of-towners who are truly interested in the local culture and are both aware and empathetic of the struggles of local full time residents who live in vacation destinations.
Locals are also often very willing to share some of their favorite spots if they know you are a good person, respectful of their home, and interested in their experience of the area.
Making a connection with a local may not only provide you with information about an amazing, uncrowded stretch of beach, but also land you an invitation for a “locals only” beach gathering.
If you do get invited to join the locals for a day at the beach, bring something to share that will make the day special for everyone. It will be very appreciated.
So tip well, be engaging, pay attention, and treat those who live at your destination as though they are the ones on vacation. I promise it will make a huge difference not just in finding that uncrowded and cool beach spot, but also in the overall experience of your trip. And you may end up making some new friends in the bargain.
Bonus tip: Bring a spare trash bag
This is a quick and easy one, but can also make a huge difference in your experience of a place.
Bring along a spare trash bag and on your way back to the car after your day at the beach, pick up whatever trash you encounter to leave the place better than you found it and spread some good karma.
You’ll end your summertime beach day with such a great feeling, the annoying tourists sitting around you a dinner won’t bother you nearly as much.