A few weeks ago my husband and I were sitting on the couch and chatting about our weekend plans. We started throwing around the idea of going to the beach and after a few minutes we were deep down a rabbit hole discussing how the worst part of beach days is all of the lugging and hauling of our stuff to and from the car. Sometimes the idea of packing everything up almost deters us from doing the trip (and we live a 5-minute drive to the beach, so it’s not much of a trip at all!). We came to a determined agreement that we would refine our beach-packing process this summer and hone it down to only the essentials, the best of the best. After a very serious inventory of what we actually use at the beach we have a new system down, and I’m happy to report the last few beach visits have required much less schlepping. I thought I’d share a few of our refinements, and the favorite beach gear items we use again and again that made the beach bag cut!Beach Gear. The biggest change we made with our beach-bag-audit is ditching our cooler. We realized that we’re typically only at the beach for 2-3 hours given Jane’s attention span, our tolerance for the sun, and juggling nap schedules. So instead of packing a big cooler full of cans of drinks and tons of snacks we streamlined and just brought an insulated water bottle for each of us and a few select snacks in our rezip reusable snack bags. The water stays cold in the insulated bottles, and the non-perishable snacks are fine just hanging out in our bag. And speaking of bags, we got rid of the oversized beach totes and try to pack everything in a backpack so that at least one of us can be hands-free when we have to leave, because someone always has to carry a melting-down toddler off the beach.

We also revisited the beach towel situation and have started to use lightweight turkish towels instead of big fluffy beach towels. They pack up much smaller and actually dry a lot quicker at the beach too (plus they’re super cute and come in fun stripes and colors). For beach chairs, we have tried a few styles and these low, lightweight, foldable beach chairs have been the easiest to carry (and they’re pretty comfortable too!).

Beach Toys. This is the area we pulled back on majorly. We used to bring what felt like a whole toy store to the beach, and now we try to just pick a few priority beach toys for Jane that really engage her. More importantly, I’ve been trying to alternate the items we bring — some days it’s shovels, other days it’s her fishing net or a kite. Last week she played exclusively with my beach shoes, making it float in a small tidal pool like a boat, so clearly less is more!

What’s made the cut for our beach toy line up: this amazing set of eco-friendly beach toys that are beautifully designed AND biodegradable if they happen to get lost on the beach and float out to sea. A bigger shovel for digging (I feel like the adults end up using this one), a little retractable fishing net for sifting for shells and treasures, a really nice kite that packs up into a tiny travel bag, and I’ve been tossing in her binoculars to search for boats and birds (a good toy to play with when I’m trying to get her to sit still for snacks or sunscreen). And we have one of these small “jelly” totes for tossing her toys in — it’s small enough that she can hold it herself and all of the sand falls through before we get back to the car.

Beachwear. What we wear to the beach doesn’t exactly impact what we’re packing, but I feel like after a few years of living near the beach, we finally found bathing suits and shoes that we love so I have to share them! I am fully-committed to the mom-bathing-suit and have two that I love from Land’s End. It takes a lot for me to feel confident in a bathing suit, and I really appreciate their styles and slimming fabrics. My husband also upgraded his swimwear this year and found really nice swim trunks from LL Bean that he loves. For Jane, it’s all about inexpensive Cat & Jack swimwear from Target, because she grows out of them so fast.

My other big beachwear upgrade this year is a great pair of beach sandals; I ordered a pair of waterproof birkenstocks in a really fun, punchy coral pink color and they’re a game-changer — totally comfortable. I can just hose them off when I get home and they look brand new, I even wore them in the water while I was hunting for shells and rocks with Jane last week. And the most important thing to wear at the beach: sunscreen. I got a press package last year from Clinique that had their Broad Spectrum Mineral Sunscreen in it, and it’s the only sunscreen I can put on my face that doesn’t give me terrible break-outs — I’m a big fan!

So that’s what we’re packing these days for our beach trips — what’s in your beach bag? Share any tricks you have with me in the comments, we’re all about continuing to improve our minimalist beach bag approach!