7 beach must-haves

My kids' favorite way to spend a summer day -- and mine too -- is at the beach. 

It helps that we found the perfect beach for young kids and pre-swimmers. The beach at Lake Elmo Park Reserve is a hybrid of a pool and a pond, a man-made 2-acre body of water that is filtered and chlorinated -- free of fish, algae and germs -- but covered with sand. The best of both worlds.

At its deepest, the water reaches 4 feet, the perfect depth for our 6-year-old. 


We go so often that I've honed my packing process, ensuring that we have enough to spend the day but nothing uncessary to haul.

The beach gets crowded on weekends, so many visitors pack tents or umbrellas, some supported by strollers. 

But we haven't bothered and always get lucky scoring a spot near one of the giant blue-and-white striped umbrellas.

Here are our essentials.


1. Radio Flyer Wagon

Ted and I used to haul lots of bags out to the beach. Towels and life jackets alone take up considerable space.

Then one day this past June a mom arrived next to us with no partner and with great ease thanks to her Radio Flyer Wagon.

When I inquired, she showed me all of its features: the canopy for shade, the cup holders, the seats, the cooler caddy in the back. She couldn't stop raving.

We decided to spring for one too, using the Build A Wagon option to select our features. It has been a game changer.

We chose the Ultra Sport, which starts at $109. My favorite features are the long handle, the seats with buckles (clutch for toddlers!) and the all-terrain tires, which are ideal for sand.

I also appreciate the storage bag in the back and the smaller compartments: a velcro pouch above the storage bag in the back and, in the front, two cup holders below two cellphone-sized velcro pouches. (It has seriously helped me keep track of my phone, which I pull out often to snap photos only to immediately tuck away.) 

The canopy pops off easily and the seats fold down, adding versatility to the wagon. 

The kids, meanwhile, love the personalized plate we selected. 


2. A big blanket

When it comes to hanging at the beach, we always bring a big, old quilt. We recline there and snack during the hourly safety breaks. (We usually bring sandwiches in a cooler bag.)

Now that Kate is scootching around, she needs space to hang out too. 

If you're looking for a big quilt you won't be afraid to get sandy, I recommend finding a pre-loved one at a garage sale.


 3. Backpack chairs

My sister-in-law deserves credit for finding these backpack beach chairs at Goodwill. (You can get them from a number of retailers, including Target and Amazon.) The shoulder straps on the back are so handy to keep you hands free as you haul. 

I appreciate the back support when I'm nursing Kate. 


4. Sand toys

These are a must! The cheapest place to find them is The Dollar Tree. (They cost almost three times as much at Walmart.) Grab them early in the season, as they sell out fast. 

My kids' favorites are the castle pails and the boats, which add intrigue for their dolls and mermaids. 

I like the little V-shaped molds to build a wall. 


5. Water shoes

Water shoes are a great way to protect tender little feet and ease the endless back-and-forth of water to sand. (And the dry sand gets really hot!) 

These $5 water shoes from Walmart have served us well. 


6. Sunscreen

Another beach essential, of course, is sunscreen, and we love the Baby Bum line. The $14 sunscreen lotion is non-greasy and 100 percent mineral -- no toxic ingredients.

I reapply often at the beach, and it glides on smoothly, even when the kids are already wet. 

(I recommend the Baby Bum sunscreen stick for other outings. It's so compact I can tuck it in a tiny pouch on my baby carrier.) 

I also pack the Baby Bum conditioning detangler for my curly haired swimmers as well as the hand-sanitizer spray


7. Sand-toy bag

We used to throw our sand toys in with our other stuff, but this summer I got smart and bought a separate mesh bag just for them. I chose this $7 one from Amazon, which is plenty big for our large collection of beach toys.

It's lightweight and allows the sand to shake out. (And if you're 2, it's fun to drag around.) 

I store it in the garage so it's always ready for our next trip to Lake Elmo Beach. 

Also handy would be a mesh bag like this Amazon one, which ties and can be worn as a backpack. 

A few other notes about Lake Elmo Beach:

  • Near the main parking lot is a pavilion and food stand with soda, nachos and ice-cream novelties. 
  • The restrooms are on the far end of this building. Right outside the stalls you'll find multiple shower heads, including a couple low ones to rinse off your feet before you leave. 
  • Admission is $7 a day (per vehicle) or $30 for an annual pass. 
  • There's a playground near the second, smaller parking lot, located across from the pavilion.

I hope your family has as much fun there as we do! 


 Christina Ries is a freelance writer who lives with her husband and four children in Inver Grove Heights. Read all her posts at mnparent.com/charmed