Family outings are a lot of fun; throw in a beach and you have a recipe for memorable outing. But like any outing, proper planning is important to ensure those memories are fond ones. These days it seems like even spontaneity requires planning and an itinerary, but that doesn’t mean that setting up this excursion needs to consume your life. Here are a few picnic ideas to help you avoid stress and allow your family to enjoy a nice day at the beach.
Find a Beach
First things first, if you want to have a picnic at the beach, you need to find a beach.
Your beach options will vary depending on your location, so some people can be pickier than others in their selection. If you have multiple options, look beyond the scenery to see what else each one offers. Are there additional activities on-site or nearby, such as nature trails? How much parking is available and how far away is it from the beach? Are public restrooms available? These extra amenities are easy to overlook, but it can be very noticeable if they’re absent or subpar.
Regardless of what beach you choose, do some research to find out about any closures, swim or weather advisories and reports on the water quality. You can usually find background information like this on the Internet – the NDRC’s Clean Beach Guide is a great resource – but if you hit a dead end online check with the local health department or EPA.
If your children are younger or anyone is your family doesn’t swim very well you will probably want to select a beach that is generally calm and swimmer-friendly. While not always available, see if you can find a beach with lifeguards on duty. You also want to pay attention to the normal surf conditions as well as what the water is like the morning of your trip. Knowing if the waves are particularly rough or hazardous conditions exist the day of your picnic – such as a strong undertow, current or riptide – will allow you to adjust your plans as needed and avoid any potentially dangerous situations.
Now that you’ve selected your beach, it’s time to prepare for your meal. A standard picnic basket will help you carry most of your food items. However, your menu for the day will likely include items you’d like to keep cold, but consider your destination before choosing just any cooler to transport your perishables. If your beach is close to a walkway then a larger rolling cooler is logistically doable, but if you’re headed a little farther off the beaten path then you may want to look into an alternate chilling arrangement. Instead of attempting to drag one large ice chest over the unstable terrain, try storing any meats, cheeses, chilled beverages, etc. in several smaller coolers or insulated tote bags. These lighter picnic ideas allow for more versatile storage and transport options that will save you some aggravation while still keeping your meal from spoiling.
In case you forgot, beaches have a lot of sand, and sand does not pair particularly well with most meals. To help keep your eating area – and your food by extension – separate from those little grainy invaders you’ll want to bring a beach mat or two with you to lay out and eat off of. If you don’t have to walk too far from your car, some beach chairs are a nice way for you to keep a comfortable distance between your food and the ground. Since everyone will likely be actively enjoying the beach, it’s also a good idea to cover foods like sandwiches in wax paper to help protect the food from dirty hands. Finally, since accidents do happen, make sure to bring moisture wipes and paper towels to clean up any mishaps.
Prepare for the Elements
You’ve planned for the sand, but don’t forget the other two things beaches generally have in abundance: sun and water. It’s not a whole lot of fun to eat soggy food under the melting glare of direct sunlight, so bring an extra bag for non-picnic beach items such as towels, sunscreen, hats and sunglasses. Protecting yourself from harmful sun damage is very important, and it doesn’t hurt to over prepare just in case. To further guard against UV rays bring a large umbrella or two to give your family some shade, or if there are trees or a shelter area you try to snag some extra coverage – but you might have to lay claim to one those prime spots earlier in the day if you want to beat the crowds. With some smart preparation it’s easy to pull off a nice relaxing family day at the beach with minimal fuss.