Babes at the Beach: What You Need to Know Before You Go

Girl Building Sandcastle at the BeachA family trip to the beach can be the perfect summer outing -- or it can be a total disaster. After making lots and lots of trips to the beach with kids in tow myself, I have developed a sort of checklist to ensure a successful trip (trust me when I tell you that I learned many of these tips the hard way).

Picking the Perfect Beach. The first thing you need to do is familiarize yourself with the Chicago Park District's warning system (yellow or red means you want to reschedule the beach trip and head off to the zoo or something).

Once you've determined that there is no swimming ban, you need to choose which beach is right for you. Keep the following factors in mind: parking,
cleanliness, crowds, proximity of bathroom facilities and open space for kids
to play.

Not
all Chicago beaches are family-friendly (North Avenue beach, I am talking about you and your thong-wearing, beer swilling beach-goers!).

Good options include Montrose Beach with its easy parking
and a large picnic area. The 31st Street Beach features a playground and
spacious sand area. 63rd Street Beach is great for kids
because of the popular splash pool. Rainbow Beach is another great choice because of its new beach house facility, a
picnic area and a great view.

My personal favorite is the Foster Avenue Beach. Parking is a breeze. I love the stroller ramp that goes all the way down to the water's edge. My kids have plenty of room to play and the water is very shallow. The restrooms are nearby and relatively clean. And I am always grateful for the outdoor shower to hose them down before we hop back in the car.

Packing the Beach Bag (The Bigger the Better). Once
you have kids, the days of grabbing a towel and a book and heading off for a relaxing day in the sand are over. You need some serious gear to make your trip with the kiddos a success. You're gonna need:

The Basics: towels, a big beach blanket, suits, dry clothes, swim diapers, sunscreen, hats, etc.

Sustenance: Fill up a water bottle for each beach-goer and bring extra snacks because you won't believe how quickly a few little sandy hands can ruin a whole bag of goldfish crackers.

Entertainment: Don't forget to throw a few shovels, sifters, and pails into your bag so the kids can get to work on their sand creations. In a pinch, some old plastic storage containers also work great.

Oh, one last thing -- don't forget to bring plenty of patience and an easy-going attitude. Yes, you will feel like a sherpa as you lug all of this stuff from your car. And as soon as one little person wraps up a bathroom trip, someone else will declare that they really, really have to go. Your beach trip might not be the most relaxing day of your life, but it is all in the name of family fun.

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