The Definitive Guide to Going to the Beach

by  Mike Barish | Jul 12, 2012
Family at the beach
Family at the beach / petrenkod/iStock

I’ve been going to the beach for nearly 34 years. I know how to prepare, enjoy, and survive a day in the sun. Granted, my parents handled most of the logistics during those early beach excursions, but I’ve since captained enough missions to sandy shores to know the best ways to do everything. And I do mean everything. This guide probably contains more information than you need for a day at the beach. It also could be used to demonstrate how OCD I can be. But, it will most certainly help you make the most of your beach time this summer.

2-4 Days Prior to Your Beach Trip

1. Invite friends to join you at the beach: If you invite people any earlier than this, you will get wishy-washy, non-committal responses. If you wait until the day before you want to go, people will already have plans. You don’t want to go to the beach alone. You need someone to apply sunscreen to your back (more on that later).

2. Begin obsessively checking the weather forecast

1-2 Days Prior to Your Beach Trip

1. Select a beach: Everyone in your group will have an opinion on this. Most of them will be horribly wrong. When selecting a beach, keep the following in mind:

• Solitary beaches are fun, but they also require that you really enjoy your friends’ company.

• People suck, and they’re even worse at the beach. You don’t want people sitting on top of you, so avoid beaches that get overcrowded.

• Keep the drive under 90 minutes. There’s nothing worse than a long car ride – or worse, public transportation trip – back home when you have sand in every crevice of your body.

2. Continue to obsessively check the weather forecast

One Day Prior to Your Beach Trip

1. Freeze a water bottle: You need to stay hydrated in the sun. By freezing a large water bottle, you’re guaranteed to have cold water throughout much of the day, as the ice will melt slowly inside the bottle. Don’t worry; it won’t be your only source of fluids (see packing list on next page).

2. Maintain your vigilant watch of the weather forecast

Beach Day - Prior to Departure

1. Get an early start:  Beaches get crowded. Wake up early so that you can can arrive in time to ensure that you have your pick of spots on the sand.

2. Pack: It’s time to get your beach bag full of gear. What you pack will determine how much you enjoy the beach. Here’s what you need:

• Cooler (with ice, obviously)

• Sunscreen: Use a minimum of SPF 30 – otherwise you’re just kidding yourself – and do not use the spray on kind (more on that later).

• Towel: Don’t be the guy who brings a bath towel to the beach.

• Sheet: You do not want to lie on your towel. It will get sandy and you need to keep it clean so you can dry yourself off after swimming. Besides, it’s too small to be your only surface. Pack a queen or king-sized sheet for optimal luxury.

• Lip balm with sun protection (store in your cooler so that it’s a refreshing treat for your lips and to prevent it from melting)

• Frozen water bottle: You can keep it outside of the cooler to allow for melting.

• Unfrozen water bottle:  Store this one in your cooler.

• Sandwich: The type of sandwich is up to you. Avoid overdoing it on the condiments. Cold cuts are best. You can make it yourself or buy it from a deli. Just be sure to cut it in half (more on that later). Store it in your cooler wrapped in foil and in a sealable plastic bag to prevent it from becoming soggy. Include a napkin in the bag.

• Fruit salad: Fruit tastes better at the beach. Pack a few toothpicks to keep other people’s sandy fingers from tainting your fruit. Store in your cooler.

• Potato chips: Everything at the beach tastes salty, so you might as well go all in with the snacks.

• Book/eReader/Periodicals: Reading material is key at the beach. Leave your iPad at home, though. It will only get damaged and it’s impossible to read in the sun. If reading a newspaper, keep it tightly folded to avoid turning it into a sail in the wind.

• Phone: Inevitably, one of your friends will have trouble finding you on the beach. They will call you. You need to answer.

• Music Player/Headphones: The key here is headphones. No one likes the jerk with the boombox and poor taste in music. If you really want to share your tunes, a small iPod dock or equivalent is acceptable assuming that your music will only be audible to the people in your group.

• Sunglasses: Be sure to also pack the case, as you will want to take your sunglasses off at times to avoid the dreaded sunglasses tan.

• Hat: Hey, I’m bald. I understand that heads could use a break from the sun.

Chair: Chairs are deadweight. The sand is soft. You don’t need a chair.

Umbrella: Convince one of your friends to bring an umbrella. You do not want to be in charge of that.

Booze: It’s illegal at most public beaches and it will only dehydrate you more. It’s basically just headache juice.

3. Apply sunscreen: Suntan lotion is most effective when applied 20 to 30 minutes prior to sun exposure. Don’t wait until you’ve arrived at the beach. Your first application is your only chance to rub lotion on yourself without having sand mixed in.

4. Wear your bathing suit: Don't plan to change into your swimsuit at the beach because, well, beach bathrooms are disgusting.

5. Put on some sandals: Do you wear shoes or sneakers to the beach? You're doing it wrong. Also, socks have no business being near the sand.

6. Check the weather one last time


Beach Day - At the Beach

1. Park as close to the beach as possible

2. Walk away from the parking lot: The highest concentration of people at the beach will be right in front of the parking lot and closest to the concession areas. Walk 10 minutes or so down the beach in either direction and you’ll have your choice of real estate.

3. Do not sit down right next to strangers: Never sit down close to strangers unless there truly is no other space on the beach. Keep walking down the beach until you find a spot to call your own.

4. Weigh down your sheet: Your backpack, sandals, and cooler will keep your sheet from blowing away.

5. Angle yourself: If you’re focused on tanning (and, if you’re at the beach, you probably are), you want to make note of the location of the sun when you arrive. It will be traveling west throughout the day and you want to be pointed toward it if you want to maximize your exposure. Change the angle of your sheet or how you are positioned on it to maintain even tanning.

6. Reapply sunscreen: Add a fresh coat of sunscreen every 90 minutes or so. Have someone else apply lotion to your back. If you do it yourself, you will miss spots. Large spots. Sound excessive? It’s better than nursing a sunburn in a bathtub full of aloe for the next week. 

7. Go swimming: You could overheat otherwise. Plus, it’s fun.

8. Pee in the water: It’s cleaner than any beach bathroom you’ll ever use.

9. Keep sand out of your sandwich: Once you pick up a half of your pre-cut sandwich, do not put it down until you’ve eaten every last bite. Failing to heed this advice will result in you encountering off-putting crunches when you chew. Keep the other half securely wrapped in the bag to protect it from sand (and seagulls).

10. Stay hydrated: Drink all of that water. The unfrozen bottle is perfect for washing down your sandwich. The constantly-melting frozen bottle keeps you refreshed throughout the day.

11. Keep your flip flips under something or upside down: Just be sure to keep them from baking in the sun. You don’t want them to burn your feet when you need them to keep the sand from burning your feet.

12. Buy ice cream: Chipwiches are the best.

13. Avoid these foods:

• Pizza

• Hamburgers

• Hot dogs

• French fries

• Soup

• Shepherd’s pie

• Anything stroganoff

14. Stay out of the water for the last hour: You want your bathing suit to be dry by the time you get back to your car.

15. Mind your manners:

• Don’t sit too close to other people

• Don’t blast your music

• Don’t yell or speak at an obnoxiously loud volume unless you or someone you know is drowning

• Throw out your garbage

• Don’t kick sand on people (i.e., don’t run close to people)

• Don’t use spray on sunscreen; you’ll just spray everyone else around you

• Don’t destroy other people’s sand castles

• No glass on the beach

• Don’t smoke close to people

• Don’t shade other people with your umbrella

• Don’t throw anything (e.g., balls, Frisbees, etc.) near other people

16. Go home: After five hours or so, you need to get out of the sun. It’s a long summer. Don’t overdo it in one day.

Beach Day - Getting Home

1. Pack up: Be careful when you pick up your sheet. Shake the sand off slowly and without blinding everyone around you. Throw out all of your garbage.

2. Clean up: Get all of the sand off of your person. Use your towel (and then shake it out carefully). Rinse your legs off if shower faucets are available.

3. Protect the car: Lay your towel down on your seat in the car. It will keep any dampness and sand from sullying your car’s interior.

Beach Day - Back at Home

1. Unpack everything: Throw your sheet and towel in the wash. Do not let them sit around developing mildew. Also be sure to rinse off your cooler and shake the sand out of your beach bag.

2. Shower: No shower is better than the post-beach shower. Really scrub yourself. You need to get the layers of lotion, salt, sand, and sweat off.

3. Moisturize: You bombarded your skin with a lot of stress today. Sun and salt will dry it out, so be sure to moisturize.

4. Hydrate: You might not have been very active, but you will probably be dehydrated.

5. Sleep: The sun takes a lot out of you. Be sure to get plenty of sleep at the end of the day.

6. Check the weather forecast for tomorrow

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