Perhaps it seems counterintuitive to have a checklist of things to pack for a carefree day at the beach. But a bit of careful planning can ensure each person gets the most from a day of sand and surf.
The first thing to take into account is location, location, location. There are miles upon miles of public beaches at the Alabama Gulf Coast, each offering something unique.
A quick glance at the “Beaches" page at the local tourism website shows which are in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, which are elsewhere, what amenities are available and how much parking costs.
Choose your destination based on your plans. Florida Beach, a Gulf State Park location serving Gulf Shore and Orange Beach, for example, offers boardwalks, picnic areas, restrooms and outdoor showers, plus there is free parking. But because there's a bit of a hike to get oceanside, it might be a better choice for some couple time than for a full day with youngsters in tow.
The Pavilion Area in Gulf State Park, on the other hand, has plenty of space to spread out. Restrooms and private showers are handy. There is a fee for parking, but the convenience offsets the cost.
With a destination in mind, here are 10 things that will make the day fun for everyone:
1. Sunscreen - Everyone needs adequate sun protection, and sunscreens need to be reapplied regularly. There are sprays, creams and lotions of all types, so choose a skin-care product based on your family's needs.
2. Shades - Even little ones need protection for their eyes, so bring along sunglasses for all. Beach umbrellas also could fall in this category. If there's no place to retreat from the sun, a beach umbrella can be a invaluable tool.
3. Water - Swimming, playing in the surf or catching a nap on the sugar-white sands of the Alabama Gulf Coast is a little slice of heaven, but be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Dehydration sets in rapidly, often without us even knowing it.
4. Towels - Each person needs a towel for use at the beach, plus one for the shower.
5. Blankets - If you are bringing a little one who still naps - or you plan on catching some Zs, keep one blanket just for that purpose.
6. Picnic supplies - Pack a cooler just for your picnic meal so that these foods won't be subject to spoiling as everyone retrieves drinks throughout the day. Be sure to bring paper towels, cups and plates - and garbage bags for cleaning up.
7. Recreation tools - This may include sand buckets and shovels for the children and a novel for you.
8. Snacks - Dried fruits, trail mixes, pretzels and crackers can give a boost of energy. Pack them in individual snack-size zipper-seal bags, and put each person's name on their bags.
9. Coverups - Beach jackets, T-shirts and sarongs come in handy when daylight wanes and temperatures dip.
10. Change of clothes - Many of the public beaches in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach offer showers. Take advantage of this by bringing each person a change of clothing. Driving home with an exhausted child squirming in a sandy suit definitely takes the fun out of a family fun day.
To access the list of public beaches on the Alabama Gulf Coast, visit http://www.thebeachiscalling.org
Scroll over the “Things to Do" button and look for “Beaches" in the drop-down menu.
April Boone is the owner of Global Marketing Solutions and an avid traveler.