Best budget beach activities

Ian Carroll

I’ve been spending a lot of time on the beach lately. From the Caribbean and Pacific coasts of Mexico to the beaches of San Diego where I just pulled in last night, I’ve been making a point to get my fair share of sand for the season. But being what you would call a budget traveler, I’ve had to spend all that time in frugal ways.

Beach time on a budget isn’t as glamorous as say, motoring around the bay wake boarding, or going to happy hour at the beachfront bar. However, in a lot of ways, you get more out of it. Because you see, the beach is one of the best places to be on a budget. You really don’t need much to enjoy yourself. In fact, if you’re like me, you don’t need anything at all. Not even shoes!

So if you’re planning on visiting the beach this summer, let’s go over the basics. Whether you like to exercise, play in the sand, or just chill out, we’ll cover a number of the best ways to entertain yourself and your kids on the edge of the ocean. Some of these may seem obvious, and some you may not have thought of before. No matter what, by the end, you’ll be ready for swimsuit weather and sunny days in the sand.

Go for a run

Let’s start with ways to be active and fit on the beach. After all, most people that spend a lot of time at the beach like to feel healthy and look good. That way when you go to the beach, you get all the attention you’ve always wanted. Sorry, I’m just kidding. But hey, why separate going to the beach from going to the gym? After all, the beach is a great place to work out.

A run on the beach is a great way to spend the morning or evening.

I’ve been camping on beaches for the last couple of months and the first thing I do almost every morning is go for a run. I don’t even put my shoes on. That’s my favorite part. There’s nothing like running barefoot, and there aren’t many places you can do that. To me, the feeling of running with my toes in the sand feels deeply primal. It just feels right.

The pros to running on the beach are first, that it’s always flat, or close to. So you don’t have to deal with any hellish hills. Also, no shoes are necessary, and it’s a beautiful place to run. Cons include the slant that every beach takes, so you have to be sure to run both ways to stay balanced. Also, tides can sometimes push you to run on parts of the sand that are less than ideal, and the sun can often make the bare beach too hot for your feet. Just find the sweet spot, and you’ll be alright.

Practice yoga

Before or after your run, or any time for that matter, practice some yoga on the beach. There’s nothing like the melodic crashing of waves and the sea breeze to zen out to. There’s something innate in humans that the beach speaks to. The ocean is soothing, no matter who you are.

The beach is a great place to practice yoga.

If you’re like me, you’ll practice right on the sand, no mat necessary. Get dirty, get gritty, and then just go dip in the ocean when you’re done. It’ll feel great. However, many people like to bring their mat to the party.

Just like running, yoga on the beach is best practiced at sunrise or sunset. Not only is it less hot, but it’s also a truly beautiful sight to behold. There’s nothing quite like the sun set on the Pacific, or sun rise over the Atlantic or Caribbean to calm your mind and center your soul.

Do gymnastics or parkour

Speaking of yoga, have you ever gotten acrobatic on the beach? It’s fantastic. Sand is like nature’s pillow. There’s no better place to practice handstands, cartwheels, or crazy moves. If you fall, no worries, you’ll just get sandy.

Great place to practice risky moves.

If you’re into parkour, the beach is a great place to learn flips, tricks, and any type of risky maneuver. If you’re into acro yoga, the beach is perfect for practicing new sequences or high flying. Less risk when you come down wrong, and a natural way to cool down is right next door.

Swim, duh!

Speaking of cooling down, go get in the water of course! I mean, I don’t need to ,tell you that you should swim at the beach. But I will offer you a few words of caution.

Get in the water!

After all, not all beaches are safe to swim in, and you should know before you get in the water. Some beaches have strong rip tides that can carry you out to sea and drown you. Others have dangerous rocks lurking right below the surface. Worst of all, these two perils can frequently go together. See if there are lifeguards posted or signs about potential risks and always be careful when entering the ocean. If you’re not a competent swimmer, better to just wade in the surf.

Surf, boogie board, or body surf

Let’s talk about some ways that a simple bit of equipment can provide you with endless entertainment. Surfing and boogie boarding are great examples. Although the board is a bit of an initial investment, the lifetime pursuit of the sport will provide endless hours of fun, fulfillment, and exercise.

Learning to surf can take a lifetime.

It’s not exercise like running either, board sports exercise your mind and your deeper awareness as well. You have to make minute adjustments and in the moment decisions. You have to be an artist, an improviser, and a risk taker. If you like to exercise and take on big challenges, then picking up a new sport such as surfing is the perfect way to peak your interest.

What’s better, it will add a new dimension to every beach. That’s because each break is different all around the world. Every coast line has unique waves, and the weather is always affecting conditions. You’ll never see the beach the same way again once you start surfing.

Stand up paddle board

Similar to surfing, stand up paddle boarding (or SUPing) is a great way to make a board become a lifelong pursuit. However, where surf sports focus on fast action, reflexes, and athleticism, SUP is all about balance and stability. If you’d rather practice yoga than run around learning cartwheels on the beach, then you might also prefer paddle boarding to surfing.

Paddle boarding is perfect in calm waters.

Although the sport is relatively new, it’s become very popular in the last ten years. It’s an excellent way to spend a peaceful morning paddling along the coastline. Although it’s much easier to learn in fresh water without waves, mornings in protected bays, and coves often provide perfectly calm waters as well.

One of the best things about SUP is that it travels far more easily than a surf board. That’s because these days, a lot of paddle boards are inflatable. That’s a technology you just can’t bring to surfing. Buy an inflatable SUP though, and you can pack it down and stash it in the back of your car, no problem.


Snorkeling is my recent side project. When I decided to spend a month camping along the Caribbean coast, it was a no-brainer. Almost everywhere in the world has something cool you can see by snorkel. However, the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean and the abundant reef life make it ideal.

You can see some pretty incredible things snorkeling.

Snorkels are cheap, even for a good set, and they’re a great way to get exercise. After all, you’ll be spending the whole day swimming, diving and getting distracted by the magical world underwater. My favorite thing about snorkel is how simply you can enter into what feels like an entirely new world, right below the surface.

Just be careful not to step on any urchins, get banged into any rocks, or swim out beyond your range. Remember that the bottom looks closer than it is and a current that takes you away from shore will also keep you from returning. It’s easy to get distracted by all the cool stuff underwater and get too far out without noticing.


Fishing is next on my list of basic beach activities to take on. Like many of the others on our list today, it’s a lifelong pursuit with perfection being truly impossible. After all, there are as many ways to fish as there are fisherman. All over the world you’ll learn different techniques, catch different species, and see different sights.


Nothing better than a beautiful evening by the sea.


Fishing isn’t just a great way to spend time in nature, it’s also a great way to feed yourself. Let’s not lie, the beach life is a pretty great way to live on the cheap. When you add fishing into the mix, you can basically live entirely off the grid for free anywhere along the coast. Just camp, fish, and cook over a fire. Where I come from that’s called dirt-bagging like a boss. Although, maybe it would be more appropriate to call it sand-bagging.

Build sand castles

Let’s transition from ways to be active to ways to get creative. If you’ve got kids, or if you don’t, building with sand is one of the oldest artforms in the book, or… on the beach. It can be something simple made without tools other than your two hands and imagination. Or you can get tricky. Bring cups, buckets, rakes, sticks, and whatever else seems useful to stack up packed sand into a mega-structure to rule them all.

No one knows how they do this… trust me.

Some people get really elaborate with their sand castles. It can get downright impressive. There are even sand castle competitions in some parts of the world. And although you may never be a competitive castle maker, it’s still a great way to spend the afternoon at the beach. Just be sure you build in the right zone relative to the tide. Too close and you’ll be washed out. Too far and you’ll be working with dry sand.

Make beach art

Beach art doesn’t have to be limited to sand castles, or even to sand art. In fact, the options for beach art expand way wider than most people imagine. From drawing in the sand, to arranging seashells, to hauling driftwood around, there’s a lot to work with on the beach. Don’t let yourself be limited by what you’ve seen or done before.

No tools needed.

It can be fun to write things for passing air crafts to read. Or to create massive natural sculptures. Heck, take sandcastles to the next level by creating sand cities. Create pathways and tunnels between them. Build mountains and land forms around them. Maybe you even sculpt a whole world by the waves.

Hunt for treasure

Some people would rather explore and search for art than alter nature to make it themselves. After all, the sea is one of the greatest artists around. You can find some magnificent sculptures premade by the ocean’s perpetual pulse washed up on the beach.

Kids love treasure hunting.

From sea glass to polished stones and precious minerals, all sorts of things wind up in the water and subsequently on the beach. For the treasure hunters and explorers, combing the beach for cool stuff can be far more rewarding than making sand sculptures. Take all your unique treasures home with you to a collection, or make something with them. Some people have entire businesses based off of finding beach treasure and making jewelry out of it, for example.

One of the best things about this pastime is that every beach offers something different. You never know what you’ll find. Different areas have different stuff floating around, and different tides and currents leave different types and amounts of deposits on each beach. When you stumble across a beach covered in booty, it’s like finding the X on the map. You’ll spend hours doing nothing but looking around.

Barbecue or have a fire

If you’re looking for a good activity to do with friends, build a fire and cook some food. Out of all the things that bring humans together, food, fire, and the beach are all pretty high up on the list. It’s hard to even think of anything else you could add to make it better. Oh, wait, beer!

Nothing better than a barbecue on the beach.

Just be sure you’re not breaking any laws, and you’re in for a great night of laughter, story telling, and singing songs to the rhythm of the waves. Bring a guitar and a drum, and you’re in for a seaside jam session. Or, keep it mellow and talk about the big picture, life, love, and the universe with a couple of your closest.

If you’ve been spending the day fishing, this is a great way to capitalize on your catch too. Get your alone time in early and catch dinner, then invite all your friends out to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Well, more like the fish of your labor…

Do absolutely nothing

The best thing about being at the beach is that for many, you don’t even need to do anything to enjoy it. Just throw down a towel, or don’t, and lay there. Get tan, get relaxed, listen to the waves, soak up all that vitamin D you’ve been missing.

Many of us don’t go to the beach to do anything. No need.

Just be sure you don’t fall asleep with your hand on your belly and don’t let your friends draw on you in sunscreen.

Wear sunscreen at the beach

Speaking of sunscreen, you should wear it! If I have one piece of advice for you to take to the beach with you, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of wearing sunscreen have been proven by scientists, whereas the rest of what I’ve told you today is nothing more than my own, meandering opinion.

Wear it!

Sunscreen won’t just save you from a world of hurt tomorrow, but it will also keep your skin healthy five, ten, even twenty years down the road. It’s not just about looks, either. Sunscreen will also help reduce the risk of getting skin cancer.

So no matter what your budget is at the beach, be sure you can afford a tube of sunscreen. Use it liberally, re-apply it every couple of hours, and be thankful that your skin won’t be sagging off your bones in twenty years like a water buffalo past its prime.

If you’ve taken that step, there’s really no way to go wrong on the beach. Take one, or all of these activities with you this summer, and you’re in for fun, free time in the sun.

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