Having spent many a family vacation on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, “going to the beach” has always seemed to me like a pretty straightforward affair.
Growing up, it generally meant rising each morning and slathering on copious amounts of sunscreen before converging on the actual beach with an army of chairs, towels, umbrellas, books, bags, and coolers. There, we would set up camp and sit. All day.
My most recent beach vacation was not even remotely like this.
For one thing, April on Hilton Head Island does not necessarily lend itself to prime beach-sitting weather. So, while we enjoyed a week of mild temps and cloudless blue skies, it was often a few degrees too cool and/or a few knots too breezy to spend entire days sitting with “toes in the water, ass in the sand,” as the Zac Brown Band so aptly crooned.
Plus, from quaint coastal harbors to its wildlife-infused interior – lush with sub-tropical vegetation and oozing plantation-style southern charm – Hilton Head is an island that just begs to be explored. And miles of shaded, Spanish moss-lined bike trails make it very difficult to resist the call.
But above all, going to the beach with a toddler? Not exactly my lazy, hazy beach vacations of yore.
So suddenly, the phrase ”going to the beach” isn’t nearly as straightforward as it once was. But below are seven ways I found to enjoy your beach vacation with a toddler – without necessarily going to the beach.
1. Get active.
While the weather was often too cool for the beach or pool, it was perfect for all other types of outdoor recreation. The scenic bike trails even inspired me – normally a treadmill runner – to get out and pound the pavement, following a path that my dad deemed “just a quick little loop.” Fifty minutes and God knows how many miles later, I thought I might to die. Invigorating!
But mostly we biked. Along with the two dozen bike rental companies on Hilton Head Island, most timeshare/resort accommodations offer rentals as well. So, wherever we went, whatever we were doing, we did it on two wheels – all the while with a happy Lil’ Bit riding along in her canvas chariot of a bike trailer.
2. Dine al fresco.
Lil’ Bit just happened to choose our vacation week to get especially finicky about food. Except when we dined out. As in, outside.
It must have been all the activity, we concluded; hustle and bustle is apparently good for the appetite. Because from lunch on the waterfront patios of the Salty Dog Cafe in South Beach (loud, lively, and very kid-friendly) and The Quarterdeck in Harbor Town (impressively diverse and healthy kids’ menu), to dinner at Giuseppe’s at Pine Center (fantastic pizza) and San Miguel’s in Shelter Cove (Best. Margaritas. EVER.), the child ate like a horse while taking in the sights and sounds around her.
And on a personal note, San Miguel’s will forever hold a special place in my heart – and not just because of the aforementioned margaritas. For it was there that I danced with my daughter at sunset on a patio overlooking the South Carolina salt marshes to the acoustic strains of live entertainment – and I don’t think I’ll ever listen to the Allman Brothers’ “Sweet Melissa” the same way again. In terms of atmosphere, the place is a can’t-miss when vacationing in Hilton Head – kids or no kids.
3. Seek out fun kid-friendly activities.
Peruse a complimentary visitor’s guide in any vacation setting, and chances are you’ll find a number of children’s outings that are fun for kids and adults alike. During a granddaughter-only outing, for instance, my parents took Lil’ Bit to an interactive children’s museum called The Sandbox that intrigued – and impressed – my kindergarten teacher mom.
Also on the kid-friendly agenda? A visit to a petting zoo, whereupon Lil’ Bit and I fed goats and sheep (live Lambies!) and a young, ovulating deer accosted my ankles with her tongue after discovering they tasted like cocoa butter body lotion. Thereby proving that hormonal women of all species crave chocolate.
4. Take in the coastal wildlife.
From egrets to pelicans to dolphins, there was an abundance of wildlife to be seen on and around Hilton Head. And to Lil’ Bit’s immense delight, we pretty much saw it all. Including alligators. Four of them, actually. And had we visited the 605-acre Sea Pines Forest Preserve or one of the island’s other nature preserves, we would have likely seen several more. They just lie there sunning themselves on the banks of the many lakes that dot the island, often in residential areas – and sometimes right along the bike paths. Seeing as I’ve always been somewhat terrified of gators since learning that they kill their prey by drowning it in a death grip before dining on its lifeless carcass, I found myself keeping an extra-wary eye on the landscape as I biked and ran. This despite my parents’ assurances that these particular gators were “used to people” and “wouldn’t bother me.”
5. Act like a kid again.
Hitting the beach with a toddler in tow goes hand-in-hand with the realization that there’s much more to do there than simply sit on your ass in the sun, roasting yourself like a rotisserie chicken. There are sand castles to build! Buckets to fill! Holes to dig! Why do people dig holes on the beach, anyway? I’ve never really understood that… but I nonetheless got in on the action.
6. Be vigilant about sun safety.
According to new insight from the journal of Pediatrics, the skin’s barrier protection remains immature throughout the first two years of life (at the very least), making the delicate skin of babies and toddlers much more vulnerable to sun damage than that of adults. For that reason, chemical-free sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher), UV/UPF swim shirts, and a sun hat (which I admittedly forgot to pack and had to buy) are all essential items when beaching it with Lil’ Bit. Because while I fortunately don’t have firsthand experience with it, I can’t imagine attempting to soothe a sunburned toddler would be any fun – for anyone involved. So, protect that baby-soft skin.
7. Relax and [safely] soak up some Vitamin D.
I mean, it is the beach. And as I discovered, so much activity tends to tucker a toddler out come nap time.
There were even a few instances when a deliciously mild afternoon, calm blue-sky breeze, and three-hour nap came together to create a trifecta of prime beach-sitting. And when it did, I slathered on the SPF 30 and actually did plant my toes in the water and my ass in the sand.
After all, it’s a vacation – a time when you’re supposed to have not a worry in the world (and if you’re really lucky, a cold beer in your hand).
And life is good.
Discolure: All opinions and links included in this post are purely subjective based on my own experiences on Hilton Head Island. I was in no way compensated for my promotion of the island itself or its merchants.
As daunting as the prospect of vacationing with a toddler may be, traveling with said toddler to your vacation destination is even more so. But I’ve got that covered too, in my post on RichmondMom.com entitled 5 Tips for Surviving a Road Trip with a Toddler (With No iPad). Yes, you read that last part right. In the meantime, what tips do you have for vacationing with kids?