Whether you’re planning a long day at the beach and need sustenance or have a dedicated picnic in mind, these beach picnic ideas have you covered.
There is nothing better than a picnic on the beach, whether a romantic sunset picnic or a friends and family picnic day by the sea.
However, the beach comes with particular environmental nuances that can make picnicking tricky.
Bringing sun, wind, sand, and food together can be challenging unless you put in a little prior thought and planning.
Without having to overdo it, a few simple picnic tips and a couple of handy beach picnic accessories will go a long way to prevent your beach picnic from becoming a hot, sandy mess.
These beach picnic set up ideas will ensure your picnic beach days are perfect every time.
Essential Beach Picnic Gear
Without sounding like you must invest in a whole new picnic setup, some bits of picnic kit will help create memorable and stress-free beach picnics.
Some will already be part of your beach-going essentials.
Don’t let flies ruin your picnic at the beach. See our natural solutions to keeping flies away from your picnic.
There are so many innovative and inexpensive beach picnic accessories to create a practical and simple beach picnic set up.
We’ve rounded up the best beach picnic gear in our Essential Beach Picnic Accessories edition to help you finesse your beach days or create a cute beach picnic setup – Accessories to keep your salads fresh and sand-free, your wine chilled, and you comfy and cool so you can relax and enjoy any alfresco occasion by the sea.
But as a minimum, this is what you need for a beach picnic:
- Shade and wind protection.
- A beach mat or waterproof picnic blanket.
- If you don’t want to sit on the sand, a folding beach table and chairs.
- A picnic set – preferably an insulated picnic basket or bag to keep items cool.
- Drinks cooler.
- Music and light if staying late.
- Picnic food accessories – plates, napkins, etc.
- Sunscreen and bug spray.
- Beach games. See our guide to the best picnic games for ideas.
These are some of the key picnic essentials considerations.
Choose the Right Picnic Basket
Beach picnics require practical picnic baskets that suit the purpose. It helps if they also look great.
This selection of picnic backpacks and baskets all meet the criteria of beach-worthy picnic sets.
Insulated Picnic Baskets
If you want a traditional picnic basket ( perfect for a romantic picnic on the beach), an insulated version is a great investment.
See our Insulated Picnic Baskets edition for our top picks.
Collapsible Picnic Baskets
Collapsible picnic baskets are versatile and nearly always insulated.
See our five favorite insulated folding picnic baskets that are perfect for beach use.
Picnic Backpacks will change the way you think about picnics. They are very portable, complete with picnic sets, and insulated for food and drinks.
Shop our fave picnic backpacks for two people with insulated food and drink storage and complete picnic sets.
Catering for more than two? These four-people picnic backpacks are great for larger group picnics, with everything you need in one easy-to-carry bag.
Wine & Cheese Picnic Baskets and Totes
You don’t need the full picnic kit if it’s a simple wine and cheese beach picnic.
Some fantastically handy and compact wine and cheese picnic baskets, bags, and totes have everything you need in one tidy insulated bag.
See our top pick for stylish and practical Picnic Wine Coolers & Wine Totes.
Some of these gorgeous alfresco wine and cheese solutions even come complete with foldable wine and cheese tables, handy wine stakes to keep your glass from falling over, or insulated wine tumblers, which are perfect for the beach.
Pack a Quality Picnic Blanket
We often say the picnic blanket is one of the most important pieces of a picnic kit as it sets the scene for our picnic.
It determines our piece of picnic real estate, acts as a tablecloth and place to relax, and keeps our picnic spread free from sand.
We have found some of the most beautiful and practical waterproof picnic blankets on the market. Many are even sand-free – Yep, that’s a thing!
Shade & Wind Protection
No matter where you choose to picnic, shade is always a welcome addition to your picnic setting. It’s not just about sun protection at the beach, but a good shade helps to keep both you and your food cool.
While the sun is one of the big environmental challenges at the beach, so is wind. No one wants to be chasing their picnic bits and pieces down the beach or end up with a face full of sand while trying to enjoy lunch.
Depending on your picnic style, there are many portable options, from the humble beach umbrella and simple roll-up windscreens to portable canopy shades and multipurpose wind and shade tents. Each will hold you in good stead for beach days or even picnics in the park.
Whichever solution you choose, opt for one that comes with a carry bag with a shoulder strap for portability. If you don’t have an umbrella with a sand screw, pick up a separate umbrella sand anchor – they’re an inexpensive and handy beach addition.
How to Pack Your Picnic
Unless you are having a picnic in winter, one of the biggest considerations of packing for a beach picnic is keeping food and drinks cool and preventing food from getting squished or soggy.
We have solutions for all these picnic quandries.
Keep Everything Cold
Picnic Tip: Keeping picnic food cold is never more important than on the beach. See our guide to keeping your picnic food cold and fresh, no matter the season.
Pack Plenty of (Frozen) Water
Staying hydrated on the beach is essential – Make dual use of those water bottles by freezing them in advance and using them as ice bricks in your coolers or insulated bags. You will also have ice-cold water all day as they melt.
If it is not so hot, freeze half-filled bottles and top up with fresh water before leaving.
Napkins, Hand Wipes, and Dish Towels
Clean dishtowels make a great alternative to cloth napkins and an even better alternative to paper napkins.
Use them to wrap items in your picnic kit to keep them cool or from moving around. They are great for spills and sticky fingers and cover food to keep sand and flies at bay.
If you want a nice beachy look, Turkish cotton hand towels make a great beach picnic accessory. They are extra large and make a great lap napkin for balancing plates. They’re also easy to wash if used for spills or clean-up.
Always have a packet of wet wipes in your picnic kit, no matter where you plan to throw the blanket down.
Sometimes sticky fingers, especially mixed with sand, need a good wet wipe. There are also plenty of environmentally sound wipes on the market these days.
Pack Food for Minimal Fuss
Our recommendation for beach food is to keep it simple (more on this soon).
But whatever picnic fare you decide on, pack your food for minimal fuss at the other end. If you have dishes that aren’t easily eaten by hand, try to pack them in individual serve containers for easy serving or leak-proof containers that can double as serving dishes.
Bento boxes are perfect for this. They come in all shapes and sizes, so you can go with individual or serving dish sizes. Some come with cutlery sets; some are insulated for hot dishes, and some, like this premium bento box, have a handy chopping board lid that could double as a serving plate, cutlery, and sauce container.
Try to steer away from food in ziplock bags or dishes covered in foil or cling wrap. While this might be ok for a picnic in the park, it’s not always conducive to sand and wind conditions.
Solid, sealable containers will also stop food from getting squashed or leaking into your basket.
Beach Picnic Food Ideas & Tips
Opt for Easy to Eat Dishes
Finger food or dishes easily eaten by hand are always going to be best for a beach picnic. The less gear you have to coordinate on the sand, the better. And balancing a plate on your lap is not always ideal on the beach. We’ve got loads of great picnic finger food recipes here.
If you decide to go with salads, try to aim for make-ahead salads that can last the distance without ending up sad and soggy.
Pack Portable Desserts
Every picnic should have a sweet treat at the end but choose wisely when it comes to dessert on the beach.
You don’t want to run with delicate desserts that will be messy or hard to handle. You also don’t want desserts that will melt or fall apart on a warm day.
Stick With Pre Prepared Food
The last thing you want to do at the beach is assemble your dishes—pre-make sandwiches and salads (leaving the dressing off). Cut cheeses, fruits, and vegetables and store them in containers before you leave.
Use your bento boxes or leak-proof containers to consolidate dishes into ready-to-serve or in a way they can be easily transported to serving boards – Chopping boards are good for this.
They also provide a sturdy surface. Segmented bento boxes are great for serving dips and cheeses without any fuss.
Opt for foods that don’t require prep, such as whole fruits – grapes, strawberries, apples, etc. Baguettes or flatbreads can be torn by hand.
Foods to Avoid on the Beach
It should go without saying, avoid any foods that could likely go bad in the heat.
Food like sushi or fish such as smoked salmon is not ideal. Nor are creamy salads or desserts. Avoid meat unless you are having a bbq, then make sure you keep the meat well cooled until time to cook.
Some cheeses will go oily in the sun, whereas soft cheeses will melt, which can be a good thing so long as it is not left too long in the heat. Try to avoid mayonnaise on salads or sandwiches.
Keep Your Food Cool
No matter what food you bring, always leave it in the cooler until you are ready to eat and place it back in if you are having a break from eating.
Create a Food Space
Other than sand in your food, uneven ground is another beach issue when laying out your picnic spread.
In addition to your blanket, a tablecloth is always a great idea to create a “food space”. It gives you space to relax on your blanket (or beach chair) while marking out a clear food area to keep sand from your food or accidental spills.
A roll-up straw beach mat is also a good way to create a food area on your blanket and provides a slightly more stable surface for your food. Or, even better, a small foldable beach table.
If you really want to get fancy, we can highly recommend an ultra-lightweight foldable picnic table. Perfect for the beach, it folds down super small into its own bag and is sturdy enough for cutting on.
You Might Also Like: We’ve rounded up 11 of the best folding picnic tables from lightweight tables for 2 to large folding picnic tables for groups. Or, for something more beachy, check our top picks for low boho picnic tables – perfectly stable for the beach and oh so pretty.
Seagulls-Don’t Leave Food Unattended
Even a seemingly innocent bag of crisps or plate of cookies can be a magnet for seagulls who will make a huge mess of your beautiful picnic setting.
So even if you’re only taking a quick dip in the sea, ensure all your food is tucked away first.
Alcohol on the Beach
If you plan to pack a few icy beers with your picnic or a bottle of wine, check if alcohol is allowed on the beach where you plan to picnic. You don’t want a fine ruining your day.
If alcohol is allowed, don’t forget the essentials, such as a bottle opener & wine glasses. We recommend either plastic tumblers or insulated tumblers for the beach – They are more stable, and there is no risk of broken glass.
Pack Your Wagon
If you have a large picnic kit or are catering to a crowd, you may want to consider a beach-going wagon to carry all your stuff.
If you are a picnic or beach enthusiast, any of these options will be welcome additions.
Clean Up After Yourself
Pack some garbage bags and dispose of all your rubbish, including any leftover foodstuffs.
Also, ensure you don’t have any fly-away plastic bags or picnic gear while at the beach. Your picnic area and the beach should look like you were never there when you left.