11 Beach Activities That Aren’t Sunbathing
A day at the beach can be a great way to unwind. Ever since the 1800s, people have turned to the sea for health benefits, recreation, and a way to unwind. By the mid 20th century, a sun-kissed look was associated with health and wealth, launching decades of sun-worship around the world. And soon resort life was making beach activities like tanning, surfing, snorkeling, and volleyball wildly popular.
Although much of the old medicine that kicked off the beach craze has since been debunked, new studies show that playing on the shore can boost your mood, help you stay fit, and improve your overall sense of wellbeing. From vitamin D to negative ions to the studies done on the longevity and happiness of communities in so-called coastal “Blue Zones,” all sorts of explanations have been floated for why humans seem to thrive by the ocean.
Beach Activities You Can Enjoy Without Getting Burnt
One of the few downsides to beach activities is that we’ve learned that too much time in the sun can put you at disk for skin damage. Still, there are a lot of ways to enjoy the surf and sand that aren’t sunbathing or don’t involve too much time in the sun. Here are 11 beach activity ideas that might make your next trip to the coast even more fun.
Reading a Good Book
Beach reads are practically their own genre for a reason. You know, the kind of light, frothy, fun books that are a fast, easy read and don’t require too much of an intellectual calorie burn. There’s nothing quite like parking in the shade with a good book and a cold beverage to get lost in the world on your pages while the sound of the waves lap in the background.
If you’re craving something with a little more food for thought, though, it can be really fun to read a book set in the city, state, or country that you’re visiting. If you want a deeper, local’s-eye view, or a perspective a little richer than what you might find in your travel guide or history book, a novel that’s deeply rooted in place. You might find yourself with a whole new appreciation for your destination when you leave the beach to explore further inland.
Geocaching is a fun hobby that can easily double as a beach activity. Essentially, geocaching is a scavenger hunt using GPS coordinates to find clues and hidden treasures left by other geocaching enthusiasts. Learning how to geocache isn’t hard, and it’s a good excuse to get outside and moving, to interact with the landscape, and to solve a little puzzle left behind by a friendly stranger. You’ll be rewarded with trinkets and a chance to leave your own secret prize behind, and get to be a part of a global community of explorers.
Sketching or Watercoloring
There’s no shortage of stunning photos tucked under the #chasingsunsets hashtag on social media, or fun snaps of travelers enjoying everything the beach has to offer. If you’re trying to unplug, however, or just want to take in the scenery another way, consider bringing a sketchbook or watercolor pad along for a few hours.
Even if you don’t have a lot of artistic experience or have never tried colored pencils, pastels, markers, or painting before, don’t sweat it. The point is just to play with color and shapes and lines and spend that much more time staring at the scenery. When you go home, you’ll have a fun, one-of-a-kind record of your experience. Think of it like your own adult coloring book or paint-n-pour class, but free of any rules!
Biking isn’t always considered a beach activity— even those cute cruisers are mostly for the boardwalk. But that’s starting to change now that fat biking is going mainstream. The extra-wide, puffy “balloon” tires on fat bikes can handle snow, sand, and other terrain that used to be off limits to cyclists. That means you can pedal your way around the shoreline, through dunes, and along coastal headlands the way you might explore meadows, mountains, and single track further inland.
Because this new niche of mountain biking is getting so popular, it’s easier than ever to find fat bike rentals at beach locals if you don’t have your own. Some destinations like the Oregon coast and southern California, where the water is too cold for serious swimming and there’s a strong outdoors culture, have several guided fat bike tours you can choose from in various beach towns. Whether you’re bringing your own fat bike along for the ride or wanting to try this sport for the very first time, it’s easier than ever to include pedaling amongst your beach activities.
Yoga on the Beach
Yoga is another fun beach activity that you can easily do in the shade, before the UV rays hit their peak, or with SPF protective clothing on. You might find the sand adds an additional exciting balance challenge to poses that have become easy in your regular class. The sand might also be a soft enough cushion for you to try some daring partner or acro yoga poses that seem a little more intimidating on regular flooring.
For an extra challenge and even more beachy fun, try paddle board yoga. Many hotels, resorts, and outfitters now offer SUP rentals and paddle board yoga classes. It’s fun to test your balance against the waves, and to know that if your pose goes awry the worst that can happen is you splash into the sea.
Pack a Picnic
Enjoying breakfast, dinner, or dessert on the beach can be very romantic or just plain fun, and you’ll dodge the times of day that are often busiest and when the sun’s rays are harshest. Pack your best backpack cooler full of fruit, charcuterie, fresh rolls, a bottle of something cold and refreshing, cheeses, or light dishes like tacos, salads, or kabobs.
If you’re in an area that permits beach fires, you can bring ingredients to grill or the stuff for s'mores. Even in chillier weather, a beach picnic can be lovely. Just swap the chilled rose or beer for a hot toddy or mulled wine— or a hot nonalcoholic beverage if you prefer. Just don’t forget a blanket or beach chair so you can enjoy the sunrise or sunset, and a friend to share your feast with.
We know, we know. The wind, the waves, the seagulls, suddenly your poker game is blowing down the beach. Just hear us out. There are a ton of different brands offering plastic or waterproof playing cards now. That means you can play a few rounds of cribbage in the cabana when you want to get out of the sun, or doll out a hand of solitaire on your boogie board while you lounge waist-deep in the water. You can also laminate cards from your favorite games like UNO, memory, Old Maid, or Cards Against Humanity so they can stand up to the beach.
With a hat on your head, your legs under a spray skirt, and a wetsuit or rash guard on your bod, you don’t have to sweat the sun so much from a kayak. You do get an unparalleled view of the coast line though, the chance to see spectacular marine life at low tide, and a fantastic workout. Bonus points if kayaking takes your photography, fishing, or outdoor game to the next level.
There are some destinations where sea kayaking is just another fun beach activity and others where a kayak is the best or only way to reach remote islands, inlets, and campgrounds. You can plan a paddle of a few hours to see dolphins, seabirds, or other local flora and fauna. Or you can plan a more epic yakpacking trip that takes you through one-of-a-kind marine environments like the San Juan Islands or Florida Keys. It all depends on the kind of beach adventure you’re aiming for, where you’re headed, and how much your arms are up for.
Draw a Beach Mandala
Sitting by the sea is classically meditative past time. Just ask the makers of all those white noise machines and ASMR videos. But if you really want to kick up the self care a notch, try drawing your own mandala or labyrinth in the sand. Think of this beach activity like a two dimensional sandcastle that doesn’t require any buckets to make. All you need is a stick or possibly some shells, pebbles, or other beachcomber detritus. Making your mandala is simple. At its heart, it’s essentially just drawing in the sand.
Instead of spelling out a message (though that’s fun, too), you create a circular or repeating pattern in the sand. It soothing just to interact with the materials at hand, to get lost in the shapes you’re creating, and to let your mind wander as you draw. Alternatively, you can create your design by placing shells, rocks, or other natural found items in the sand. If it helps you get started, you can look up mandala designs beforehand. Or you can just wing it.
Your mandala might not turn out like you thought it might, but that’s part of the process. In the end, it’s all about impermanence and imperfection being a part of life, and eventually your design will get washed away by the tide. With practice, it’s fun to see how intricate and large you can make your mandalas before the sea comes for them. No matter how elaborate, though, you might be surprised by how calm you feel when you’re done.
Surfing is having a moment again, and it’s not just coastal locals seeking out this beach activity anymore. More and more folks are wanting to give surfing a shot— to the point that there are now indoor surf pools where you can try surfing even if you’re nowhere near a body of water with waves. It’s more fun when you do the real thing, though. Just pick your surf spot carefully for your experience level, or book a couple lessons with a local outfitter. You’ll stay safer that way, and get to the fun part of surfing even faster.
Beach Blanket Bingo
No, not the wacky 1965 Frankie Avalon beach flick. Actually make bingo cards for the beach you’re staying at, and see who can get their row filled in fastest. You can include generic beach sightings, like lighthouses, people playing volleyball or parasailers. Or include location-specific sightings like sea lions, manatees, or orcas, sea turtles or unusual shells.
You can even combine your bingo game with elements of a scavenger hunt, including experiences like trying a local beer, a new beach activity you’ve never tried like boogie boarding, or making friends with a certain number of friendly beach dogs. In locations with a lot of history, you can add ruins, artifacts, or museums to the list, too.