A beach day with a difference: alternative beach activity ideas

Beaches, Coastal, Family

Posted by Kate A on 11th June 2021

Family on the beach

Feeling the sand between your toes, watching the kids excitedly splash in the salty waves, and eating delicious ice cream in the warm sun; there’s nothing like a trip to the beach with your family. Where there’s sand, shingle or pebbles, there’s always fun to be had.

Aside from the obligatory sandcastle building and paddling in the sea, there are many other beach activities to enjoy with the kids, that are entertaining, educational and guaranteed to leave lasting memories. We have rounded up a few alternative ideas for a beach day with a difference to help you and your children get closer to nature and our beautiful coastline.

Check out our guide to Great Britain's best beaches and dive into these creative seaside activities, with everything from spotting seabirds to beach art. As you will soon see, there’s far more to a family day out on the beach than just playing with buckets and spades.

Coastal holidays

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Family rock pooling

Explore a rock pool

Ready for an ocean adventure at low tide? Grab a net and explore a rock pool. As the tide retreats, the secrets of the sea are revealed in the little pools of refuge left behind. Getting a closer look at the curiosities lurking in their shallows has got to be one of the best beach activities for kids.

Peer closely into the water and see if you can spot the swaying tentacles of sea anemones, darting shrimps sifting through the sand, and the spiral shells of whelks drifting along the algae. Pick up a rock and you may see a crab scuttling along the seaweed, and if you’re really lucky, you might even glimpse a larger creature like a colourful fish or a lobster! See how many critters you can find and be sure to pop them back where they came from after you’ve studied them. 

Top tip: The Marine Conservation Society have a great Seashore Safari Guide which you can download and take with you to help identify your finds.

Kids crabbing

Get crabby

One of the most classic British seaside activities, crabbing is sure to keep both children and adults entertained for hours. Rock pools, piers and jetties are some of the best spots to dangle your line in the hope of catching these mighty-clawed crustaceans, but it’s important to note that they should always be released after you catch them, and we advise gently picking them up by their bottoms to avoid getting nipped!

Our top crabbing tips:

  • Avoid using nets and hooks as crabs can get caught in them, and instead use a single crab line with a weight and bait.
  • Crabs are notoriously greedy with their favourite snacks being bacon rind, raw liver, sardines, squid and fish heads (the smellier the better!).
  • When you’re sure the crab has a firm grip on the bait, pull up the line slowly and steadily - clustered to your now half-eaten bait, there should be a few happy crabs munching away.
  • Look after your crabs in buckets filled with seawater and place a little seaweed in to provide some shade. Try and change the water once an hour, being mindful to not overcrowd the space (no more than ten crabs in one bucket).
  • Remove any crabs from the bucket who are fighting - male crabs tend to be more aggressive than the ladies.
  • These crabs are not edible, so please don’t try putting them on the BBQ - let them go back home.
  • When you have finished, take everything away with you. Do not let any rubbish fall into the water.

Family sandboarding

Learn to sandboard

Get ready to kick up some dust with this next activity. When it comes to adrenaline-fuelled things to do at the beach, it doesn’t get much more exciting than sandboarding. Also known as sand surfing, this thrilling extreme sport is way more fun than snowboarding (and cheaper!), and best of all, you can do it any time of the year.

Spend an afternoon exhausting the kids, running up and sliding down the sand dunes; the UK offers several spots where this fun sport can be practised. All you need is a board and the nerve to push yourself down a mountain of sand!

Top sandboarding locations in the UK:

  • Hollywell Bay, Cornwall
  • Braunton Burrows, North Devon 
  • Camber Sands, Sussex
  • Merthyr Mawr, South Wales
  • Seaton Sluice, Northumberland
  • Balmedie Beach, Aberdeen

Beachcombing crafts

Go beachcombing

A bucket full of sand, rocks and sea glass worn smooth by the surf, driftwood in all manner of shapes and sizes, and as many pretty shells as your pockets will hold; beach finds make the perfect recipe for craft activities. If you’re wondering what to do at the beach with your kids, then a spot of beachcombing might just be the answer.

There are so many beach crafts that you and your family can try using treasure washed up from the waves, from seashell jewellery to a symphony of wind chimes. Create collages, make ocean-themed fairy gardens, or fill a mason jar with your finds to create a precious keepsake of your trip. Smooth rocks are perfect for creating pebble art: paint them and take them home or leave them for other families to find (please check the rules for removing any natural materials from your chosen beach first as under the Coastal Protection Act 1949 some do not allow this). You could even create pictures on the sand with plastic bottle tops found on the shore, before taking them home to recycle them.

Top tip: It’s super important to be aware of the tide times and other dangers associated with the sea. Our Guide to Beach Safety highlights some top tips to help you enjoy your day out to its fullest.

Family coastal foraging

Try coastal foraging

Coastal foraging is one of the most educational beach activities that you can experience with your family. It is often a real eye-opener for children, discovering what nature’s larder has to offer – think of it as a treasure hunt for the tummy.

The UK’s coastline is brimming with delicious seaside edibles which you can have fun identifying, gathering and cooking together. Perfect for beginners is seaweed, of which there are 20 edible varieties in British waters, available year-round. They’re also full of minerals, vitamins and protein. Other fruits of the sea include mussels, cockles, limpets, winkles, fish, samphire and sea beet.

However, not everything you find growing or living out in the wild is safe to eat, so knowing what is edible and what to avoid is very important. Luckily, there is an ever-increasing number of places offering foraging experiences which you can book as a great family beach day out.

Top coastal foraging excursions in the UK:

Family on a beach clean

Join a beach clean

In between all the sandcastle building and ice creams, one of the best beach activities to teach kids about the importance of our coastlines is a beach clean. Join the fight against plastic pollution and have a wander along the shore armed with some gloves and bin bags, you can even turn it into a game and see who can pick up the most rubbish.

Not only will you be helping to preserve the beauty of our beaches, but your family will learn a valuable lesson in marine conservation. Whether you take part in an organised beach clean, such as the ones run by the Marine Conservation Society, or simply take 2 minutes at the end of your beach trip to scoop up some litter before you leave, you’ll be playing a vital role in the preservation of our shores.

Did you know? Around 80% of ocean litter comes from the land. Cups, gloves, takeaway food containers, cigarette stubs, plastic bottle lids and face masks are increasingly polluting our beaches, causing a huge threat to marine wildlife who accidentally eat or become entangled in the rubbish.

Puffins and dolphin

Spot some wildlife

Home to a diverse range of habitats, the Great British coast supports a rich variety of oceanic wildlife, including seals, dolphins, whales, sharks and turtles. Our shores also play host to some of the biggest and best seabird colonies in the world, such as puffins, kittiwakes and mysterious Manx shearwaters.

Tread the coastal paths and you’re likely to get a good glimpse of the creatures of the deep from the clifftops, or hop aboard a boat trip to get a closer view from the water. Let your kids become detectives for the day and hunt for signs of animals on the beach, such as bird prints, coils of sand where lugworms have buried themselves, and the delicate shells of unusual critters like the sea potato. You’ll be amazed at what lurks beneath the surface!

Top tip: Our guide to Great British coastal wildlife highlights some of the best places to spot the more surprising residents of our shores, as well as the best times of year to see them.

Kids on a beach scavenger hunt

Hunt for treasure

If your pint-sized pirate isn't quite ready for ocean exploration, then a land-based scavenger hunt is a great way to spend the day. The beach is full of natural hidden treasures, so we have created a free Beach Treasure Hunt which you can print off and take with you on your adventures.

Send the kids racing off and see if they can tot up points as they find the bounty from the list, including everything from a crab to some poppable seaweed. There are even some more unusual seaside items to uncover such as jellyfish and heart-shaped pebbles.

Download the Beach Treasure Hunt

Sand sculptures

Build a sand sculpture

Anyone can build a sandcastle – but what about a dolphin, turtle or mermaid? No trip to the beach is complete without digging in the sand, so why not challenge your family to sculpt a sea creature or even make a sandy self-portrait?

Let your budding builders’ imaginations run wild as they pile up damp sand and use their beachcombing finds to decorate their creations. Bonus points for the most imaginative monster! You can use our handy guide to the Top 10 family beaches in the UK to choose the perfect sweep of golden sand for your masterpieces.

Top tip: Make sure you get photographs of all your sand sculptures before the tide comes in!

Beach art

Create beach art

If the above option sounds like far too much hard work and you’re looking for creative beach activities for toddlers, then treat your miniature Picassos to an afternoon of beach art. Whether you’re on a sandy beach or a pebbly cove, you can create amazing pictures and patterns with seaside treasures.

Once your little ones have amassed a trove of found objects, such as driftwood, sea glass and seaweed, let them showcase their artistic talents using the beach as a wide-open canvas. Sticks are great for drawing letters and words, while seashells and rocks will make their artwork come to life. 

Sand games

Play sand games

There are countless beach games for kids simply using sand and natural beach finds – eliminating the need to drag bulging bags of toys and play equipment with you on your day out. All you need is a drawing utensil like a stick or a piece of driftwood and some imagination!

Hopscotch, tic-tac-toe and hangman are all easy sand games to play, with Mother Nature providing everything you need. Or, if you’ve got a budding Tiger Woods in the making, you could spend the day at your own sandy links course, creating slopes and holes in the sand to roll your ‘golf ball’ into. You could even have a go at beach bowling, sculpting pins out of the sand and trying to knock them down with a round stone.

Coastal holidays in the UK

Explore the UK’s breathtaking coastline with a stay in our self-catering accommodation by the sea and see how many of these fun beach activities you can tick off. Our coastal holiday cottages are scattered across the country’s finest seaside spots, from the golden shores of Cornwall right up to the wild and remote beaches of Scotland. Click the button below to browse our full collection of coastal holidays and start planning your perfect family seaside staycation.

Coastal holidays

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.