How to Drink at the Beach (Without Breaking the Law)

July 02, 2019

By Diana Hubbell, July 02, 2019

By the time July rolls around and New York City turns into an overheated urban swamp, pretty much all anyone in the October office wants to do is grab a six-pack and hit the beach. Beer is, objectively, the perfect beverage for summer scorchers and, coupled with a sea breeze and a lounge chair, an integral part of our definition of an ideal Saturday afternoon. 

Admittedly, combining sun, surf and lagers isn’t exactly rocket science. Anyone can lug beers to the seashore, but it still doesn’t hurt to be smart about it. Since our staff have been longingly thinking of getting out of town, we’ve put in the extra planning so you don’t have to. Whether you’re planning a beach trip for the Fourth or just want to sort out your weekends for the next couple months, here’s our advice on what to pack, where to go, and how not to get busted for day-drinking. 

Know the Rules

The first obstacles standing between you and an icy cold lager by the seashore are those pesky open-container laws. Sure, we’ve all smuggled a few covert cans in here and there, but warily scouting the scene for law enforcement officials gets old fast. The fines and potential punishments also vary widely from state to state. So while fines in New York typically run around $25 and the NYPD stopped arresting people for open-container violations in Manhattan in 2016, in Hawaii, the damage could go as high as $1,000—and while we’ve had some pretty great beers lately, we have yet to find one worth four figures. 

Luckily, not every beach in the U.S. sticks to these laws, meaning you don’t have to book an international flight to enjoy a beer on the sand in peace. In general, Floridian beaches tend to be on the forgiving side. Cocoa Beach is a stone-cold stunner that will let you drink any form of booze as long it’s not a glass container (no one wants shards in their flip-flops). Same goes for Playalinda Beach and Panama City Beach, though in the past the latter has banned drinks for short stints to keep the Spring Break set under control. Finally, Haulover Beach in Miami is both booze- and nudity-friendly, if you’d prefer to free yourself of tan lines.

California also has a number of spots that are welcoming to beer-drinkers, including Paradise Cove in Malibu, which allows beer and wine, as well as Carmel Beach and Kehoe Beach. The latter is a bit off the beaten path, but the incredible scenery and comparatively few crowds make it worth the slight trek, even with a cooler. Texas also has its share of suds-friendly beaches. Surfside Beach is one of the prettiest patches of coastline on the Gulf of Mexico and South Padre Island even allows kegs.

If you find yourself on the East Coast, you’ll have plenty of options, albeit some that are more tolerant than enthusiastic when it comes to alcohol. Many of New York’s beaches, including the Rockaways, tend to look the other way. Fire Island may have a reputation for hedonism, but Brookhaven, the town of Islip and the villages of Saltaire and Ocean Beach have open-container bans. Over in Massachusetts, any of the beaches on the Cape Cod National Seashore are considered fair game.

Know Your Gear

It goes without saying that the most important item in your beach-day arsenal is the cooler. If you’re willing to pay more for good beer, you should be willing to shell out a few extra bucks to make sure it stays cold. That being said, we’re not necessarily advocating going all-out on an $800 Yeti. We’ve found a solid selection of coolers to match all sorts of desired price ranges and capacities. 

Now, you don’t technically need anything else, but if you’re looking to up your game, you could bring along the YYST Foldable Beach Chair Cup Beach Chair Drink Holder. For all of $2.99 a piece, these snug neoprene sleeves will keep your beer chilly and attach it to any old beach chair. Or for $15, you could get a whole six-pack of appropriately beach-themed koozies. 

You could take things one step further with a Life is Good® Folding Beach Chair with Cooler, which comes with a pillow for your head and two drink slots for double-fisting (or, you know, a water). If you want to stick to the shade, this chaise lounge from Costaway comes with cupholders and a canopy to shield you from solar rays. Still not enough? You could invest in the Mac Sports Beach Day Multi-Purpose Lounger and Pull Cart, which morphs from a cart hauling your cooler to a comfy chair for chilling out.

Finally, if you’re looking to take the beer theme beyond the beverage holder, you could always load up on swag. Brooklyn Brewery and Ballast Point sell beach towels inspired by a Summer Ale and the Fathom IPA respectively. And while a Corona-inspired bikini might be a bit much, we’re partial to this eye-popping one-piece swimsuit from Stillwater

Know Your Beer

Okay, you’re made it to the ocean. You’ve successfully evaded scuffles with the law. You’ve battled the inevitable traffic jam, applied your SPF30+, and have your trusty cooler by your side. The only question left is what to put in it. 

Before you say, “That Pliny the Elder I’ve been saving for a special occasion!” think carefully. Boozing it up all afternoon with high ABV beers in the sun is a good way to give yourself a skull-crushing headache before the hangover even sets in. Plus, even on beaches where drinking is legal, no one likes a jerk getting too rowdy by 3 p.m. Day-drinking is a marathon, not a sprint, and if you’re going to do it, you need a strategic plan of attack. 

First of all, plan to kick things off with low-lift session beers that won’t knock you flat. In recent years, brewers have started to push back against the trend of 13% ABV barrel-aged imperial stouts with great-tasting lower-ABV options. These are some of our reviewers’ favorites, although there are a ton of other options out there. Think along the lines of pilsners, lagers and pale ales—unfussy, easy-drinking thirst-quenchers that taste great cold. If you’re feeling fancy, try throwing in a gose or a fruited sour ale.

In addition to less-alcoholic options, you may want to consider throwing in a few low-cal, low-carb cans, especially if you’re with a larger crew. You may not be worried about your beach bod, but there’s a decent chance that someone in the group is. Plus, “good light beer” is no longer a complete oxymoron, thanks to some surprisingly flavorful options on the market right now. You might also want to include a couple 8 oz. mini-cans, also known as “nips,” both because these baby serving sizes stay colder and because they’re friggin’ adorable

While you’re at it, toss in a couple non-alcoholic beers as well. One of your friends might not be drinking and may not want to make a big fuss about it. Or perhaps they enjoy the taste of beer, but want to pace themselves. Either way, you never know who might appreciate having options. 

As the sun winds down and the temperature starts to cool off, you may find yourself craving something a little stronger on the palate. We’re partial to bone-dry, extra-bubbly brut IPAs, but there are all sorts of stellar IPAs on the market right now that could hit the spot. While we’d recommend pairing these guys with food (you did remember to bring snacks, right?), there’s no reason not to enjoy them.

At the end of the day, though, drinking on the beach is meant to be fun and not overly complicated. Pick crisp, refreshing beers you love and maybe save the chocolate/caramel/lactose-loaded pastry stouts for a rainy day. Hell, if you want to stock up your cooler with Miller HighLife ponies, we’re not about to judge.

Illustration by Adam Waito.

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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