How to Keep Your Car Beach Ready: What to Pack for the Beach

Whether you live near the beach or plan to visit one, it’s always a good idea to prepare the car and be beach ready. Here are the best things to pack for the beach.

Keep Your Car Packed For The Beach!

You never know when the beach will call to you. Here’s how to be ready to answer that call at any time. 

Whether for one day or a family vacation, a beach trip is all about relaxing and having fun. And it usually is fun and relaxing–so long as you know what to pack for the beach and haven’t forgotten something you need. I’m one of those people who likes to keep seasonal things in my car so I always have them handy. In winter, it’s an extra sweatshirt or two. In summer, it’s beach gear.

My SUV may not be clutter-free, but I always have the things I need for a day at the beach. Having lived in Los Angeles all of my life, I’ve learned to keep basic beach gear handy in my car for those days I can’t resist a quick dip in the ocean. Whether you live near the beach or plan to visit one, it’s always a good idea to be beach ready.

Here’s what I like to keep in my car so I’m ready any time the beach calls to me.

What to keep in your car to make the beach visit easier

It’s almost impossible to keep your car spotless during a beach trip. But there are things you can do to prevent a tidal wave of mess.

  • Trash bags; there’s always trash
  • Hand sanitizer and/or wipes
  • Sun shields on the windows to keep the car cool and protect the interior

What to keep in the car for when that ‘just gotta get to the beach right now’ feeling hits

I love beach gear. And all the better if I can hook beach bags on my shoulders and my chair on my back (my chair has backpack straps) to make one trip from my car to the sand.

  • Towels; obviously, I keep a pile of clean towels in my car–more than I think we will need.
  • Beach blanket; it may seem redundant to bring a blanket if you bring a few towels, but it’s not. A blanket provides a wide and clean surface, at least until it gets sandy.
  • Beach chairs; actually, I keep my beach chair in my car year-round. You never know when you might need a portable chair. Sporting events, picnics, summer concerts in the park, etc.
  • Portable beach table; I love my little beach table and get compliments from strangers all the time. It’s super compact and holds drinks, snacks and books.
  • Hat and sunglasses; I keep spare sunglasses in my car’s console. These are important even if you aren’t planning a day at the beach. Your eyes can get sunburned too.
  • Sand and beach toys; when my kids were little, we kept buckets and shovels in the car. These were replaced by Frisbees and footballs as the kids got older.
  • A wrap or jacket; on a hot summer day, it’s easy to forget that the beach may be windy and that temperatures drop in the evening. Bring a wrap or jacket to keep wet bodies warm.
  • Change of clothing; again, you never know. Maybe dinner out sounds good after swimming and sunning. And personally, I don’t like driving home in a wet bathing suit.
  • Beach bag; this is where you keep the extra bathing suits, sunscreen, and mini first aid kit.
  • Cash; keep a little cash in the console or glove compartment. Beach food vendors and parking lots don’t always take credit cards.
What To Pack For The Beach -- A Cooler!

Pack a cooler for a planned beach vacation. Photo: Mimi Slawoff

Other things to pack for those planned beach vacation days

Other things that should be on your beach packing list when you are planning a longer stay:

  • Beach bag. This is a separate bag for your personal items. These may include a book, hair essentials, (rubberbands, brush or comb), chapstick and sunscreen. Get a bag with a pocket for the stuff you will need to find at the end of your beach day, such as your cell phone and car keys.
  • Beach umbrella. I grew up in southern California slathering on baby oil and rarely (maybe never?) using an umbrella. You can bet I didn’t make the same mistakes with my three kids. A beach umbrella provides shade, lowers ambient temperatures and blocks UV rays.
  • A cooler. We have an assortment of coolers in our garage. But my favorite is a mid-sized cooler with wheels and a handle.
  • Drinks and water. Stay hydrated.
  • Picnic and snacks. Why does food always taste better outdoors? We pack sandwiches, chips and fruit. Basic stuff that tastes amazing after swimming in the ocean.
  • Don’t forget the napkins!
  • Boogie boards and skim boards or whatever water toys your kids prefer.
  • Pet gear. Our dog loves the beach. We always pack a collapsible water bowl, bottled water and treats.

Read More: How to Fully Clean Your Car

Attention Beach Lovers! This Beach Packing List Will Tell You What To Always Keep In Your Car For Impromtu Beach Visits As Well As Planned Beach Vacations.

What to do after a day at the beach

It feels so good to shower after the beach. Your car needs a shower too. Or at least a good vacuuming.

When my kids were little we sometimes went to the beach with a friend of mine who was meticulous about keeping her Suburban ultra clean. No one was allowed back in the vehicle until every speck of sand on us and our belongings was gone. Stuff like that doesn’t bother me. But there are ways to keep some of the mess out of your car after a day in the sun and salty ocean air.

  • Take a Shower. Before you get in the car, it’s a good idea to rinse off salt, sunscreen and sand with fresh water if possible. Many public beaches have showers. If not, cover up or sit on a towel so you’re not getting sweat and sunscreen on the seats.
  • Sweep it out. It’s amazing how much sand gets in your car, isn’t it? At home, sweep and vacuum out the sand. I keep a compact broom intended for vehicles in my car at all times. It’s great for many purposes – camping, beach trips, muddy soccer shoes, etc. To fully clean your car, use your vacuum’s hose extension with a brush head attachment over mats, rugs, and seats. Take out removable mats and clean them underneath.
  • Get rid of the salt. As anyone who lives in a cold, snowy clime knows, salt is corrosive. Make sure to wash or at least thoroughly rinse off your car when you get home, even the undercarriage.

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A Los Angeles-based journalist and mother of three, Mimi Slawoff is a former newspaper reporter who began writing for... More about Mimi Slawoff