How to Plan the Perfect Beach Picnic & My Picnic Essentials

beach picnic
I love a good beach picnic, so I thought this would be the perfect time to share some of my tips on having a great beach picnic and my give you a list of my picnic essentials.  My first memories of picnics were with my parents in Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco with some fresh sourdough and salami.  My idea of a picnic has changed a bit since then, but it’s always about good people, good food, and good drinks.  I believe you can have a picnic almost anywhere, whether it’s on the roof of your home or apartment building, at a local park, or, my favorite, on the beach.  I believe in doing some pre-planning before your beach picnic to make sure that you have the best experience.  Here are my tips:

Bring a Good Cooler

There are many on the market, some very expensive (I’m looking at you, Yeti), but you’re only going for the day, not an African expedition. So I usually go with a standard cooler like a Coleman with wheels.

How to Pack for Your Beach Picnic

Plastic baggies are just not going to cut it. First off, things will get smushed, and second, you don’t want to be chasing those baggies all over the beach when they blow away. While you can use Tupperware or glass containers with locking lids, to me, it seems too practical and takes some of the fun out of the adventure of picnicking. If you’ve seen some of my other picnic guides or videos you might notice this round locking container (see photo below) I have with compartments for 4 -5 different nibbles and a center area just for dips or cheese or hummus. It works like a charm. Of course, there are a variety of solutions available out there just look for things called bento boxes, and you’ll see a variety of options that will help you pack and are still quite festive for your gathering. While I’ve been known to bring a few baggies, I definitely avoid the glass containers for fear that they might get broken and leave the glass on the beach…a quick way to end a lovely day on the beach is someone stepping on sharp glass so avoid it at all costs, and besides, they tend to be heavy anyway.

beach picnic

What to Pack

First, you don’t want to bring items that spoil easily, like sushi, ceviche, or anything with mayonnaise. While meats and cheeses can spoil if left out, they don’t spoil as easily as fish and other food items. Keep that in mind when planning your menu. A variety of 3 types of meat, cheeses, fruits, and crackers each is a good place to start. Most of all, don’t forget the water (I’ve got some tricks for that as well, so keep reading). While I usually feel that the fruit is a nice sweet treat at the end of the picnic, some people think that dessert is a picnic essential, so you can always bring cookies. One good choice is the time-honored chocolate chip cookies…check out my recipe for one I think you’ll really like.

How to Keep it Cold Throughout the Day

While doing some research, I found that a lot of people like to pack their coolers with ice as it does double duty as a coolant, and you can add it to your glasses to keep beverages cold. I don’t know about you, but every time I try that, something nasty gets in the ice, and I certainly don’t want something weird floating in my glass of water (or whatever I might be drinking). Therefore, I rely on those handy dandy gel-filled cold packs that come in a wide variety of sizes and seem to last forever. I store them in my freezer at home, waiting to be deployed for any last-minute picnics. They last much longer than ice, and they never get anything gross into your foods or drinks. Now for the quick tip … I actually learned this from an Amazon delivery a while back. I take bottles of water, usually the smaller ones, and throw them in the freezer as well. Then when I’m prepping the picnic, I’ve got the ice packs AND the frozen water bottles that can do double duty; they keep the food cool, and at the end of the day, they provide extra water for my guests. Thank you, Amazon! I wish I’d thought of that earlier.

Cleaning Up

After you’ve taken all your Instagram and Pinterest photos and everyone has eaten, of course. Don’t forget to put the food back in the cooler so that things don’t spoil. You definitely don’t want to deal with spoilage issues.

beach picnic
Seagulls in the distance eyeing my spread.

Important Things to Remember for Your Beach Picnic

  1. Remember where you are: It’s a beach, so it can be windy, and you will often find seagulls. So, don’t leave your picnic unattended; as you can see from my photo above, the seagulls were just waiting for us to leave, which we didn’t, and they finally lost interest and went somewhere else.
  2. Get the food off the ground. It’s much easier to eat and less likely to get sand blown on it. I use a little campaign table that rolls up into its own bag and is just heavy enough that it doesn’t blow over. You can find things like it in camping stores. I’ve seen people bring full-on folding tables, but I like the little tables that still encourage people to sit on the picnic blanket and have a proper picnic.
  3. Bring your own shade. If you’re having your picnic in the middle of the day, bring an umbrella or tent. Not only with it keep you from getting too much sun (please wear your sunscreen anyway), but it will also keep your food from getting too hot and gross.

Bonus tips!

Here are some quick tips I’ve learned over many picnics across countless beaches … since you might already be going to the camping store to get your little table, you might also pick up a small shovel. They used to call them entrenching tools, and you can find a decent quality one for cheap (don’t get the plastic ones) they can make setting up your beach area very fast and efficient, especially when getting that beach umbrella all setup.

Next, since carrying a large beach Umbrella is a pain in the A$$ and usually falls out of the wagon, I’ve found a simple solution. Depending on the size of your umbrella, you can get strong cases to store and transport your umbrella. If your umbrella is not too big, then look for a used tripod stand case from a photography store. They’re tough and zip up to hold heavy equipment, plus they have a lot of handles to make carrying easier.

In the end, I’ve found that the best way to picnic on the beach or anywhere else is just to “Keep it Simple”; from the decor to the food, keep it simple and easy. Opt for foods that can easily be eaten with your hands, easily packed away after you nibble for a while, and are easy to transport. When you try to get to elaborate, it actually tends to take some of the fun out of it, in my opinion. Most people will appreciate a nice simple set up, and let’s face it; they should be impressed when they see your beautiful beach blanket and a little table set with yummy goodies all shaded by the perfect beach umbrella. The whole thing will be fun, tasty, and picture-perfect.

My essential picnic bag of tricks

Here are some things that I do keep in a separate bag that are part of every picnic, and I resupply the bag after every picnic.  What you would add to the list?

  1. Trash bags just makes cleaning up so much easier to drop off on the way out with all the garbage rather than re-packing in the cooler.
  2. Hand wipes, those little individual packets you can get at Costco
  3.  (Even if you don’t mind wiping your hands on your jeans, your guests might)
  4. Reusable utensils
  5. Wine stopper …because wine at a picnic is great
  6. Champagne stopper, because champagne at a picnic is better
  7. Soft cheese knife
  8. Hard cheese knife
  9. Wine opener
  10. Melamine plates and platters because they don’t break and are easy to clean
  11. Plastic or stainless steel re-usable drinkware

What are some useful things for the perfect beach picnic?  Well, here are my Picnic Essentials:

Picnic Essentials


  1. Make sure that all of your food is in separate containers.  I really love the compartmentalized container that I used in the photos; it keeps 5 different items separated but in the same container for easy transportation.  It’s BPA-free plastic which is lighter than glass and non-toxic.
  2. We recently bought a picnic table which makes picnicking on uneven services much easier. Especially if you like to take your picnic to the beach.
  3. I also really love my insulated picnic basket.  Not only does it hold cups and plates, but it has an insulated section to carry your food too.  I decided to get rid of the cups and the plates because they had BPA and get my own.
  4. I decided to go with stemless shatterproof glasses, these great melamine salad plates, and colorful napkins, and they all fit in the picnic basket.
  5. This picnic blanket zips up to be an easy-to-carry tote, and it’s been in my life for 10+ years. I love the fact that it has a strap; this made it very easy to tote around when we lived in New York City. It also has a fair amount of padding if you’re on hard ground.
  6. I also decided that instead of buying a picnic table cover, I would simply re-purpose one of my Turkish beach towels.
  7. As far as food goes, I usually go with food that is easy to grab and doesn’t need utensils.  Basically, I stick with finger food, like baby carrots, watermelon, cheese, prepared meats, bread, and crackers. I also usually bring some sparkling water for those that don’t drink and some lovely champagne, which happens to be Veuve Clicquot this time. Unfortunately, the Veuve Clicquot carrying case with two champagne glasses (in the photo above) is currently sold out, but I linked it to another wine/ champagne cooler below.

I hope these tips help you out the next time you’re planning your next picnic.

If you’re interested in any of the items mentioned in this post, here are the links:


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12 Responses

  1. This is so cute! I’ve been wanting to have a picnic all summer! Love how you used towels as a table cloth!

  2. Greetings & love 💕 from Aruba 🏖‼️
    With quite some intrest I read your “proper” way but effective and stylish how to “build” & create an ideal picnic 🧺 for the beach 🏖. Thank you very much for your tips. Will follow your ideas and love 💕 to invite to come and give your ideas of how to provide the best picnic 🧺 ever!! Will try to send some fotos for you too picture our beach 🏖.

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