There’s nothing quite like a spontaneous beach day with the whole family! If you’ve ever made the spur-of-the-moment decision to pack up the car and head to the pier, however, you surely know what’s bound to happen: you forget stuff.
You start checking the trunk––cooler full of juice boxes? Check. Brand new swimsuit? Check. But when it comes to the beach toys, they seem to have been left behind.
Not to worry. This is actually the perfect time to get a little creative.
There are plenty of fun ways to spend a beach day that require no props or toys. In fact, we’ve compiled a list of games that you can play at the beach without any toys at all.
So, whether you left the water guns at home or simply want to try something new, try out these toy-free activities on your next beach day.
The rules of this game are simple. Spread out on the beach and gather as many pretty seashells as you can. You can split up into teams or move around as a group.
To up the ante, have somebody time the players and see who can gather the most in a given amount of time. This is a great way to explore the environment and the joys of nature. The best thing about this game is that it creates fun souvenirs for your kids to take home.
Digging for Gold
There’s something universal about the fun of digging holes at the beach. For this game, the objective is to dig as deep a hole as possible. The first person to strike gold (meaning water) wins!
If striking water seems unlikely, you can simply see who digs the deepest hole. The players can use their hands or shovels; they can also work together or split up into teams. Don’t forget to take a funny picture standing in the hole when the activity is done.
Test the players’ flexibility with this challenge. Try to find a long stick, or just have an adult hold out their arm to serve as the limbo pole. If you’ve never played, the rules of limbo are as follows:
A pole is held horizontally, and players have to bend backward to walk under it without tipping over. You don’t actually need a limbo pole to play this game; a long stick or even an extended arm will do. As the “pole” lowers, it starts getting trickier and trickier to limbo underneath.
Tug of War
If you have an abundance of beach towels and a group of rowdy kids, this is a go-to. Tie the beach towels together to create a rope. Draw a long line in the sand. Have the kids split up into two teams and stand on either side of the line.
Then, they must pull on opposite ends of the rope until the opposing team crosses the line. The first team to pull the other over are the victors!
Mazes can be constructed out of all kinds of things––cornfields, hedges, rocks, and even sand. While the kids are resting or having a snack, construct a beachy maze by drawing lines into the sand.
The beginning of the maze is where the towels are; the exit is down by the water. See if they can play sailor and navigate their way to the bottom without stepping on any lines. Alternatively, the kids can spend their time constructing a maze out of sticks and sand. Now, it’s the adults’ turn to make it through.
Build an Inukshuk
Inukshuks are stone structures that the Inuit people built to mark certain locations; they were used for navigational purposes to distinguish different locations in the snow. Some inukshuks also pointed out good hunting spots or sacred sites. Stone structures in the shape of a person are called innunguat.
Have your kids create their own inukshuks and innunguats in the sand by stacking rocks on top of each other to form a structure. This is a fun, artistic activity and a great opportunity to learn about a different culture. Just make sure to keep an eye on your kids to make sure they are playing safely with the sand.
This one probably goes without saying: There’s nothing that screams beach day like patting down sand to build a majestic palace. Most kids will put together sandcastles without even knowing what a sandcastle is.
Together, you can gather sticks, seashells, and seaweed to decorate this sandy structure. If you want to add an extra element, start building multiple sandcastles. You can dig moats, rivers, and roads into the sand to connect them. Soon, you’ll have a whole kingdom.
Island Treasure Hunt
Scavenger hunts have a long and storied legacy reaching back to traditional folk games in the 19th century that taught navigational skills. Why not do one of your own? Simply come up with a list of items that the players have to find and return to base camp.
These can include a pink seashell, a crab, a wishbone-shaped stick, a smooth rock, and more. If you don’t have bags, items can be collected in a towel. Just make sure that the kids don’t wander off too far by themselves.
Here Comes the Sandman
Who says you need to wait for winter to build a snowman? Some moist sand will do the trick just as well. Build a sandman and add things you find around the beach for a nose, eyes, mouth, and clothing. If there’s still more fun to be had, start constructing sand pets to keep the sandman company.
Most of us are familiar with the rules of Pictionary––if not, here’s the idea: somebody thinks of a word, then has to draw it for the other person to guess. It’s basically charades, but with pictures instead of gestures.
And what better canvas for these pictures to be on than a wide-open beach? Grab sticks and have the players draw their pictures into the sand. This is a game sure to result in lots of laughs.
If you have ever played musical chairs, musical towels is an easy game to pick up. Put towels down in a line or circle. Play music––either on a phone or stereo––while the players dance around the towels. As soon as the music stops, all players have to sit down on a towel as quickly as possible.
But here’s the kicker––there is one less towel than there are players. Whoever doesn’t sit down in time is out, and another towel is taken away for the next round. If you don’t have a device to play music on, have one of the adults hum a tune with their back turned to the game.
All you need to play this game is a couple of stones. Have the players line up and pick one leader. The leader throws their stone first; as soon as it’s in the air, the other players have to throw their stones. The objective for the other players is to have their stone hit the water at the same time as the leader’s stone. It can land anywhere in the water for this to happen. Whoever’s stone is closest becomes the new leader.
X Marks the Spot
Is it possible to play darts without a target board and without any darts? Absolutely! All you have to do is outline a big circle into the sand. Then draw smaller circles within it to represent the rings of a dartboard.
Finally, put an X in the center circle––that’s the bullseye. Using rocks and shells, players have to try to hit the X. You can get creative with scoring or follow this principle: the bullseye gets you 50 points, the second smallest circle gets 40, the next one gets 30, and so forth.
Mermaid Fashion Show
This is a game for those who like showing off their swimsuit style––but don’t mind getting a little messy. Construct a runway using seashells and rocks as markers. Using towels, seaweed, or anything else you can find––as long as it’s sanitary, that is––design an outfit perfect for a mermaid.
Once everyone has prepared their ocean couture, have the “models” strut down the runway, throwing their best poses as they reach the end. Music is the perfect addition to this activity.
Looking for a way to tucker out the kids for snack time? This is the ideal solution. One of the best parts of goofing around in the water is just to splash––and that’s exactly what this game entails! Let the kids jump and splash around to their heart’s content. Just make sure to always keep an eye out and keep them close to shore.
The Long and Winding River
It’s basically a fact: kids love to dig. With this activity, they can use that love of digging to construct a river by digging ditches into the sand. They can keep it simple by digging a straight line from the shore to the water.
See if they can get creative and make a crazy river full of twists, turns, bridges, and dams. When the river is finished, construct a little boat out of sticks. Set it loose in the river and see how it goes! Just remember: if you build the boat out of paper, it’s important to make sure it doesn’t pollute the beach or the ocean.
The ocean is home to some of the craziest species and most fascinating facts you will ever hear. A trip to the beach can be a great time to learn about all it has to offer. Take this opportunity to teach your kids about wildlife and nature by playing a little trivia quiz game. It’s simple: just ask them trivia questions about the ocean.
For example, what is the biggest body of water on Earth? Answer: the Pacific Ocean. What is the largest animal to have ever lived? Answer: the blue whale. A word of warning: If you don’t have prior knowledge or a smartphone on you, this game might need some preparation.
Captain Simon Says
We all remember the game of Simon Says from our playground days. This is a little beach-themed twist on it. It involves one person, Captain Simon, who gives the other players instructions; for example, “Captain Simon says touch your toes.”
If the instructions are preceded with the words “Captain Simon Says,” the players have to follow. If not, they have to stand still. If someone follows the instructions at the wrong time, they’re out. Last person standing becomes the new Captain Simon.
To add a layer of fun, try to make the instructions beach-themed; for example, “Captain Simon Says jump like a dolphin.”
Remember when you were a kid and threw yourself into the snow to create snow angels? Well, the same can be done at the beach. Have the players lay down in the sand and move their arms and legs up and down to create an angel shape.
When they get up, they can decorate their angels with seashells and rocks. If you want to add a competitive edge, make it a contest to see who can create the most unique sand angel design.
This game is sure to cause a lot of giggles. Begin by having one person lay down in the sand. The others must start covering their body, taking care to leave the face uncovered, of course, until they are mummified in sand. They can take it a step further by creating a shape out of the body––for example, a mermaid or a giant starfish.
When it’s time to get in the water, this is a great game to get everyone moving. It’s just like regular tag, except with a lot of extra splashing. Make sure the kids stay in the shallow end and are supervised at all times when playing this game.
To add an extra element, turn it into octopus tag: one person is the octopus, and everyone they tag must link arms with them to form a bigger octopus. As more people are tagged, the octopus grows, until only one victorious fish remains!
Giant Tic Tac Toe
We all loved playing tic tac toe in the corner of our notebooks as kids––but why not scale it up a bit? Draw a giant tic tac toe board in the sand. Make it a challenge to see just how big you can make it. Then, proceed to play the most epic game of tic tac toe ever created.
Most kids can’t get enough of racing. A great way to start off the fun of a beach day is to have them race to see who can be the first one in the water. Spice it up by telling them this is a pirate race, and pirates have peg legs. That means they can only hop on one leg.
Chances are, they will want to race a few more times for good measure. Ready, set, go!
The Game Is Afoot
With everything the beach has to offer, there isn’t really a need for extra toys to have fun. When kids are involved, the imagination provides endless opportunities in itself.
Just remember to wear your swimsuit, stock up on plenty of water and snacks, and slap on that sunscreen. With the waves ahead of you and stretches of sand beneath your feet, you will be good to go.