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Truth: Packing for the beach is a drag, the summer fun version of extra work that’s like emotional labor, sur la plage edition. But because wearing a cute swimsuit is not enough to ensure the ideal beach day, it’s worth toting a portable beach game to entertain you, your friends and family when reading, napping and playing “shark got your legs” in the shallows are done. From the simple (a glittery inflatable beach ball) to the more rules-based games (this lawn bowling game invented by a vet stationed in Afghanistan), there’s something that will appeal to everyone. Now, if only you could get extra points for your stellar sunscreen application.
Best Beach Games At-a-Glance
Best Overall Beach Game
This lightweight metal-and-mesh volleyball court sets up in minutes and can be arranged to play with three sections instead of four, so it accommodates a wide range of players. The net can be positioned in regular or higher positions, and this set includes not only net and zone boundaries, it also has two volleyballs and a pump to blow them up with. Long story short—we’re just glad that the round-robin style of play means we won’t have to return every ball.
Best for Kid Duos
We’re all for setting up these two little ring toss games next to each other so that the twins can really focus on their skills. Lightweight, with five multi-colored rope rings that correspond to a peg, it’s a great competition for after that "let’s dig the biggest hole we can" project gets old.
Best High-Intensity Beach Game
This two-on-two game has overtaken the beaches of SoCal, and it’s easy to see why: you need coordination, strategy and cat-like reflexes to stretch or pounce over to where the ball’s been hit. Four people stand around the mini trampoline and bounce the ball between them—sounds easy, right? Not when your opponent power-slams the inflated ball against the net trampoline, thereby rocketing it to your backhand (or, dirty pool, to your face). Basically, assemble this surfside and prepare to unleash your inner warrior.
Best for Nighttime Play
Think of KanJam like Frisbee, but with a competitive edge and less running to catch wild throws. Two collapsible cans are set up 50 feet away from each other, and two teams of two try to hit the opposite can directly or through an assisted hit, for up to three points. (And if either team totes up 21 points or throws their disc precisely into the small slot in front of the can, it’s game over.) This light-up version has a remote that lets you choose among more than a dozen colors for the cans and the flying disc.
Best Low Intensity Beach Game
Combine the "competition of cornhole, the ease of bocce ball, and the portability of a turkey sandwich," say its creators, and you’ve got TidalBall. It’s certainly portable, weighing in at 10 ounces total. For that you get a sand scoop and six colorful balls in a mesh bag—along with some cold drink coozies for the winners. Basically, you have four players split into two teams that try to throw the ball in the hole (3 points) or in the trench (1 point). Invented by some party types on a South Carolina beach, this gets our vote for best low-effort, White Claw-accompanied beach game.
Best for Adults
Ever sit there under your beach umbrella, staring at the waves and vibing on the overall sun and surf, only to think, If only I could win twenty bucks off my friends and family right now? Yeah, us too. Here’s a set of waterproof playing cards suitable for gin rummy, go fish or a friendly game of cutthroat poker.
Best for Bar Games Adepts
This is the most lightweight and portable cornhole game we’ve found that’s also sturdy enough to withstand high winds and the occasional splash of sea water. The PVC surface is stretched tightly over the scaled-down 36-by-24-inch frame, and it comes with 2 boards, 8 sand-filled bean bags and a carrying case with rules, all weighing in at less than 10 pounds.
Best for Bowling Fans
This creative mix of lawn bowling, horseshoes and bocce ball is the invention of a military veteran who innovated the rules and game pieces while he was deployed with the Air Force in Afghanistan. (So, sandy surfaces are A-OK.) In a nutshell: Players get 3 discs, each of which have point values from one to six printed on each side. Players place the goals 25 feet apart and start rolling, then add up the numbers of the discs that land closest to the goal. The classic wood pieces are handsome, and we see this turning into a family tradition, starting with the youngest kids in the tribe and lasting to even non-sporty older grams and gramps.
Best for Elementary School Ages
For children three years and older, this set of toys includes a sand sifter, little sand molds that make a crab, star and fish, and a sweet shovel sized just right for little hands. We like the way your child will assemble it all for beach days if you train them with a booming, “Prepare the pirate octopus!”
Best for Preschool Children
We bought a set of these for our three-year-old niece after hearing how she was, well, stealing it from other families on the beach. And after playing with game for a few minutes, we understand why: The large face of the Velcro-covered discs makes catching the fuzzy tennis balls easy—and it’s fun for littles to rip the balls off the discs to throw. No wonder there are 959 five-star Amazon ratings for this model, which is touted for its durable water-proof lining of the paddles.
Best for Circus Aspirants
Lucky enough to be headed to a beach with palm trees, or a beach-adjacent park like those that dot the shore in Santa Monica? Set up a slack line, the PVC tightrope that you balance across a few inches off the ground. It requires some skill, but it’s also a madly effective way to work your core and glutes as you tighten everything to balance your way over the line.
Best for Kids (and Cocktail Lovers)
Give the kids this set of four water pistols (with handles sized perfectly for their gritty little palms) and prepare for hours of saltwater squirts among them. Or buy two and create an adults’ only set: Just mix up a batch of margaritas to fill these up and propel into your beachmate’s mouth…whichever works for you.
Best for Building Hand-Eye Coordination
With practice, this neon-toned, triangle-shaped boomerang can fly 90 feet away then swoop right back to you. And if your littles want to play with it but don’t have the patience to practice, it works great as a person-to-person flying disc, too.
Best for All Ages
Ban.do is known for jazzing up household basics with thoughtful and fun design…enter this rolling, glittery inflatable. This 14-inch ball has clear sections, as well as flashing mylar confetti compartments, so it’s got the vibe of a disco light show when it catches the sun.
Best for Sports Fans
You’ll be able to throw a 100 yard pass—the entire length of a football field—thanks to the aerodynamic engineering of the fins on this lightweight 9.75-inch long football. Bonus: It whistles as it sails through the air.
At only 12.76 pounds, this set is more portable than you’d imagine, and with four powder-coated steel shoes and two stakes, more fun than you remember.
Best for Racquet Sports Lovers
You just fill the two bases with water or sand, pull the net between them and voila, you’re ready to play pickle ball on that paved stretch of the boardwalk. This set comes with two paddles, net and one ball.
Best for Distance Play
This slingshot derivative is fun and has a easy-to-catch component: You aim your shot by pointing your mitt handle toward your target, pull back and release. The ball easily flies up to 100 feet, and it hovers before falling slowly, making it easy for your co-player to catch with their mitt. This set contains an extra set of balls, since reviewers suggest buying extras in case these high-flying balls get lost.
Best for College-Age People
This set of ultra-durable buckets (six blue and six orange) that are each about the size of a gallon of milk, 2 floating balls and a tote bag. Think beer pong, but in a big beach setting!
Best for Soft Landings
These soft, open-bodied flying discs are a great alternative to the usual hard plastic discs, since they don’t hurt when they accidentally hit you and are lightweight and easy to throw. This two-pack gets great reviews as a slow-flying tool for teaching kids how to throw a flying disc.