How to Plan Your Family’s First Beach Vacation

How to Plan Your Family’s First Beach Vacation

Planning for your first family beach vacation can be both exciting and overwhelming. Beaches vary coast to coast (and in between), so finding a good match for your family is important. In addition to when and where to travel, things to consider include surf (calm water versus waves for boogie boarding), water quality and kid-friendly beach amenities. Follow this planning and packing guide for a fun, stress-free first family beach vacation.

When to Travel to the Beach

The ideal travel dates depend on your family’s schedule and desired destination. If you’re scheduling a trip around your kids’ traditional school schedule, then you’re probably thinking summer. But that’s usually peak tourist season on the West Coast, when beaches are more crowded and lodging and airfare rates are higher. It’s also typically more expensive to travel during busy holidays, such as Memorial Day.

Instead, think shoulder or off-peak season, which can save you money while avoiding the beach crowds. Do your homework and check your school district’s calendar for holidays and other days off in the fall and late spring, after peak spring break season (usually from March through mid-April). Want to be sure you avoid the college crowds? Check when local universities are on break and plan accordingly. If your kids are on a year-round schedule allowing you to travel in the fall, then consider warm-weather places like California. September and October are prime time to splash around Southern California’s sunny beaches after crowds have thinned out but the weather is still warm.

Likewise for year-round sunny destinations like Hawaii. It’s cheapest to fly to the islands in April, May, September and October. But if your heart is set on summer and you don’t mind a little heat and humidity, think Florida. Though the Sunshine State’s winter months are popular with snowbirds, its hot summer months — especially July and August — can present good lodging deals for a first beach trip.

While planning your family beach vacation, remember to also check your destination’s tourism or visitors bureau for discounts, tips and other helpful information.

To get your best rates on airfare, start monitoring flights about 70 days before your trip. Airfare changes constantly, so when you see a good price, jump on it. It could go up in a flash. Though landing a cheap fare is not an exact science, some research suggests ticket prices are less expensive when booked on Thursdays and more expensive on Sundays.

Reserve a rental car in advance and plan to pick it up upon arriving at the airport. To save even more time and money, prepay online for a discount.

When to travel Before you even board your beach-bound flight, let the window watching begin by asking your kids to point which direction they think you’ll be flying, or get them guessing about what they’ll see from above upon approach: turquoise or blue water? White or black sand?


What to Plan for the Beach

Get the most bang for your buck by nabbing early bird specials and family discount packages at hotels and resorts when planning your family’s first time at the beach. All-inclusive resorts are a good value if you take advantage of all the activities, entertainment, children’s programs, food and drinks. These resorts are a popular choice for multigenerational travel because there’s something for everyone.

Discuss with your family what activities to include in your vacation. Then book surf and other lessons, as well as excursions such as snorkeling and kayaking, in advance for better rates and to secure your spot. Also, make sure there are lifeguards on-site to keep your beach day full of fun and free of potential hazards, says Spencer Parker, ocean lifeguard specialist with the Lifeguard Division of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

“We always remind the public to swim, boogie board and surf in front of a lifeguard tower. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask a lifeguard,” Parker says. He also cautions to “swim within your ability. The ocean environment is dynamic and constantly changing.”

To Parker’s point, if learning to surf is on your itinerary, take a lesson where you already feel comfortable swimming. Waikiki Beach in Honolulu and Lahaina in Maui have shallow water and smaller swells that are ideal for beginner surfers. California’s waves generally break closer to shore, making them more unpredictable, but San Onofre State Beach in San Clemente is among a handful of beaches that offer good beginner waves if your heart’s set on The Golden State.

Surfboards and boogie boards should have a leash so you are always attached to your flotation device. Inflatables, like rafts and tubes, are fine in a pool but not in the ocean, where they can pop. Inflatables provide a “false sense of security,” says Parker. Coast Guard-approved life vests are your safest bet to keep your family afloat.

Kids running on the beach with boogie boards Inspired by the jiggles and wiggles of boogie-woogie music, the boogie board’s creator gave the large floating — and often rentable — piece of beach equipment an unforgettable and fun-loving name.


What to Pack for the Beach

When it comes to packing, don’t get bogged down with bulky items. Call the resort to inquire about beach equipment available for rent, such as boogie boards, beach chairs and snorkel gear. While some condos have complimentary beach chairs available for use during your stay, you may consider bringing or buying an inflatable beach ball and sand toys like shovels and buckets for little ones.

Not sure what to pack? This video will take you through your beach vacation essentials in less than 60 seconds.

Avoid vacation meltdowns by packing beach necessities for fun on the water. These include a beach blanket, towels, reef-safe sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, rash guards (to protect from chafing against a boogie board), swim cover-ups, water shoes, a comb or brush for untangling hair, a change of clothing, a light jacket (the ocean gets chilly!), cash and trash bags (also useful for wet clothing).

Protect electronics with wet/dry bags and waterproof cases for your phones. Traveling with tots? Pack extra diapers, formula, bottles and baby wipes. If you’ve got toddlers in tow, don’t forget to pack floaties, too.

Tips for While You’re at the Beach

Nothing screams disaster like hungry, tired kids. Pack a foldable soft cooler in your luggage or buy a disposable one upon arrival and fill it with food, snacks, drinks and plenty of drinking water to bring to the beach. Buy bread and deli meat to make sandwiches for the day, or pick up a box of premade wraps, chips and fruit from a nearby deli before driving to the beach.

Kids snacking on the beach Take a break from building sandcastles and chasing waves for a family picnic right on the beach.

Before your trip begins, print this beach vacation activity sheet for your kids to color and complete on the plane. Then, after your picnic, follow the folding instructions that transform the sheet into a fun beach-day fortuneteller game that will help you decide on your next seaside activity — from playing tag to collecting seashells or building a sandcastle.

Create lasting memories by bringing a little bit of your family beach vacation home with you. Give kids waterproof disposable cameras (yes, they can still be found at major retailers or online) to capture their favorite sights. Resealable baggies are handy for collecting shells, sand and beach glass. These make wonderful, inexpensive vacation keepsakes that you can display in a nice bottle or use to decorate a photo frame so you’ll always remember — and have a piece of — your very first family beach vacation.

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About the Author

Mimi Slawoff is a Los Angeles-based writer who travels the world with her three kids. A former Los Angeles Daily News reporter, Mimi writes for L.A. Parent magazine, and several other outlets. Follow her adventures on Twitter @Mimitravelz, Instagram @Mimitravels and at