what do you need for a beach bonfire - California beach

What You Need For A Bonfire At The Beach (An Epic Beach Bonfire)

If you live or vacation at the beach you know how enjoyable an evening bonfire at the beach can be. Summer days at the beach will involve the sun, sand, and surf.

Summer evenings can be just as enjoyable with a sunset, drink, and surrounded by friends and a fire.

Building a beach bonfire can be a memorable experience for friends or family. A cool evening breeze and star gazing are great complements to hot days and tourist filled beaches.

In this article we’ll discuss a few important factors to consider when planning an epic bonfire at the beach.  Below are our beach bonfire essentials!

Beach Bonfires as a Youth and Adult

Growing up near the beach offers some amazing perks. Sure you get the perinneal tan and daily shoreline walks, but a lot of people underestimate evenings spent at the beach.

In the 1990’s I spent my summers near the beach and often went down to the water after dark with friends. Sometimes we had finished dinner nearby and wanted to run around on the sand before going home.

Other times we went for a late night dip in the water on a dare.

But the best memories about summer nights at the beach were the bonfires I had with friends. We’d arrive at dusk, establish the fire and lay out our blankets.

We’d throw the football until all light had vanished then sit around the fire drinking and eating. As the night progressed we’d lay back on our blankets and stargaze while listening to the fire crack and waves break in the background.

As I’ve become older I still enjoy beach bonfires as a way to spend valuable time with friends and family. In San Diego we’ll schedule a bonfire yearly to ensure we keep tradition and we’ll make sure to do it on a clear summer day so it won’t get too cold or wet.

There’s usually a few neighbors with the same idea, but depending on your beach you might have the whole place to yourself!

Here’s a classic clip of a beach bonfire from the movie Point Break:

How To Plan An Epic Bonfire at the Beach (Beach Bonfire Checklist)

You need some tips as you plan your beach bonfire. Beach Life Expert is here to help. As someone who enjoys a yearly beach bonfire I’ve got a checklist you can use to plan your evening. Let’s get started!

Set a Date for Your Beach Bonfire how to plan a beach bonfire - materials and checklist

First things first. You’ll want to set a date for the event. Plan at least a week in advance so there’s time let people know and get the items needed. Some cities have first come first serve rules for fire pits.

In other cities, you’ll need to reserve a pit from the city or county. If you do reserve a fire pit, make sure you have documentation of the reservation when you arrive at the bonfire.

Many arguments have occurred when groups claim rights to a fire pit.

The ideal time for me to set a date is 10 days in advance. Why so? Because you’ll be able to check th10-dayay forecast and anticipate the weather. Schedule longer in advance and you won’t be sure of the weather.

Fridays and Saturdays tend to be the best time of the week for a bonfire. More of your friends and family will be available. Sundays aren’t necessarily a bad day, however, some people prefer to be home the night before their work week begins.

Also, I’d avoid times around the holidays. Long weekends near July 4th or Labor Day will guarantee a lot of other groups planning the same thing and could result in confusion over who gets to use the fire pit.

Lastly, check the cities rules for fires and time of year. Because of pollution, some cities may have “no burn days” where fires of any kind are not allowed. Although inconvenient for a bonfire, no burn days are good for public health.

Related: Best Pop Up Tent for the Beach

Find Suitable Locations

Will you be on vacation or do you know the area well? If you’re a visitor check to make sure the beach you’re staying at has a fire pit, if not, be prepared to buy your own fire pit and bring it with you (or simply go to a nearby beach that has them).

A suitable location should have:

  • Fire pits
  • Great view for the sunset
  • Shops nearby in case you need drinks, ice, or food
  • Parking lot for guests to park and to transport your burn pile
  • Wide beach so you have space to lay down without risk from the tide

Although I prefer less crowded beaches, tourist beaches are actually quite nice at night. There will be a few other bonfires but your group should have plenty of space to yourself.

Know The Beach Bonfire Rules and Regulations

It’s extremely important to follow the city rules for bonfires at the beach. 10-20 years ago it was the Wild West for creating a bonfire. In some instances, you could just drive on the beach, dig a pit and start a fire. Those days are long gone.

Now some cities have rules and offer permits for bonfires. You can search the city’s website for rules and regulations. Here are San Diego’s beach fire pit rules.

Some cities allow you to bring your own fire pit container while others only allow the fire to be in a pit made by the city. Some beaches have curfews for fire, like a few beaches in San Diego that require the bonfire to be out by 10 pm.

Related: Beach Gear You Need

Invite your friends

Once you’ve set a date and found a suitable spot, invite your friends and family. Give them a week heads up so they can clear their schedule and encourage them to arrive right at sunset.

Getting there before the sun goes down is good for a number of reasons:

  • Watch the sunset
  • Orient yourself of the area before it’s dark
  • See potential hazards before it’s dark (rocks, glass, holes)
  • Eat or cook (it’s much easier to cook and eat before it’s dark)
  • Learn the path to and from the car
  • Getting started early also means the bonfire won’t go too late. At start time around 6 pm will give plenty of time for the bonfire and could conclude around 9 pm.

An alternative to a sunset start would be to invite friends and family to the beach in the afternoon. This will allow the guests to swim and sunbathe before the bonfire, however, it lengthens the event and may require more food and drinks.

Related: Best Ice Chest for the Beach

Find Free Wood (not pallets though)

Your first thought for finding firewood might be “Pallets”! Yes, that’s a great idea and the same idea I’ve had in the past. But guess what? In many cities, pallets are considered a fire hazard because the wood may be treated.

They are also viewed as potentially hazardous for the beach because of the nails. Here is part of the San Diego’s city code for open pit fires:

“Fires in fire pits may only be built using materials limited to charcoal, clean wood and paper products which do not contain landscape debris, paint, stain, sealer, wood preservative, cloth, foam rubber, metal (including nails and other hardware), asphalt, plastic or other materials producing noxious fumes, odors, smoke or leaving any type of solid residue other than ash”.

With this in mind consider other wood and charcoal options. The number one place I look is on Craigslist. A quick search will likely turn up “free wood” as many people cut down trees in their yard and want to dispose of it.

If you’re planning far enough in advance, keep an eye out while you’re driving and eventually you’ll find a pile of wood on the side of the road or sticking out of a trash can.

In San Diego, gathering wood from the parks or beach is not allowed. As a last resort, consider buying some wood from the store – it’s usually inexpensive and will last a few hours on the beach.

If you plan on being at the beach all night you’ll need a few of the store bought bundles (order firewood delivered to your door).

Get A Truck For Transport

Getting the bonfire fuel to the beach shouldn’t be difficult. In most cases, a small amount of firewood will be used. If the bonfire will be small, your fuel can fit in the back seat of a car or in the trunk.

If you’re taking pallets (we advise against) or a large amount of wood, make sure you use a truck. If you don’t have a truck ask a friend who’s coming to the bonfire for help.

Related: Under the Radar Beach Items

Get To The Beach Bonfire Before Dark

We mentioned this tip earlier and it’s important for a few reasons.

  1. You need to claim your spot. Unless your fire pit is reserved, it will be a first come first serve basis. If you’ve planned for a bonfire and invited people it’s extremely important you get a fire pit.
  2. You’ll want to start the fire before it’s dark. Sure you can also do it after dark but it will add a little more complexity – and when you’re dealing with fire you need to be safe.
  3. Start the cooking and preparation before it’s dark. Whether it’s just s’mores, or you’re making kabobs, food prep will be much easier when there’s light.
  4. You’ll want to enjoy the sunset – it’s one of the best parts about evenings at the beach.
  5. Towel, blanket, and chair set-up. Once again, it’s easier with light
  6. Starting the evening early is important if you don’t want your family to be out late

Gear You’ll Need

In addition to invitees and fuel, there are a few other things to consider for your epic beach bonfire. Here are a few:

A Flashlight (headlamp is best)

This is very important. Once it’s dark you’ll need to keep an eye on things, especially little ones.

A regular old flashlight will work, but a headlamp is an amazing invention. If you’ve never used a headlamp your life will change when you use it. You can even use it to read in bed – my dad does this (weird I know)

I use this LED headlamp by Black Diamond

Matches and Lighter Fluid (or lots of newspaper)

Do not forget matches. I repeat, do not forget matches. In addition to matches, you might want a little lighter fluid to help start the bonfire.

If you don’t bring lighter fluid, make sure you bring newspaper to help start the bonfire.

Beach bonfires are notoriously difficult to start because of the ocean breeze. Lighter fluid will make the process a little faster, otherwise, you might have to build a sand wall (or worse a human wall) to block the wind while you start the fire.

Blankets

In most cases, you’ll need a blanket or two. If you’re having a bonfire in the spring, autumn, or winter you’ll definitely need blankets.

If you plan the bonfire in the middle of summer, chances are you’ll be alright, but it really depends on your location.

A bonfire in Maine and a bonfire in Washington State might get cool at night while hosting a bonfire in San Diego or Miami should be warm.

A Guitar

If your group is the artistic type, bring a guitar to sing along to popular songs. Of course, you’ll also have your phone to play music but there’s something about a guitar and telling stories that makes a bonfire complete.

BBQ

The question here is “how civilized are you?” If so a BBQ might be easier than using the bonfire to cook food but the bonfire can cook your dinner if you know what you’re doing.

I’d prefer to go the caveman route and cook over the fire. Here are a few tips for how to cook on your bonfire:

  • Fish can be wrapped in aluminum foil and cooked over the fire
  • A grill can be placed over (or on the side) the bonfire for burgers and hot dogs
  • Hot dogs can be grilled on a metal wire
  • Veggie and meat kabobs can be grilled over the fire too
  • S’mores – no need for a BBQ

Cooler or Ice Chest

Will your group get thirsty? Assign a guest to bring an ice chest or cooler (with ice I might add).

The ice chest will keep kids and adult beverages cold, perfect for those hot summer nights. Read our review for the best ice chest or cooler for the beach.

Take Food, Snacks, and Drinks (Beach Bonfire Food Ideas)

We’ve got some great food recommendations for you. They are below in no particular order.

S’mores

You must have these. Don’t matter if the bonfire is for adults or kids (Graham crackers, dark chocolate, and marshmallows).  S’mores are an American invention that could be classified as a sandwich.

Kabobs

To include everyone in your group make meat and veggie kabobs. They should be easy to place over the fire and make a great meal or snack.

Small pieces will cook faster than big pieces. Spice them up with seasonings and salt too!

Beers

Corona, Dos Exies, and Pacifico are popular beach beers in California, however, we suggest supporting your local microbrews or other seasonal beers in your area.

Bring Your Suit

Even though you might not intend to go in the water, many bonfires result in a group swim. Because it’s dark you may or may not even need a suit (wink wink) but we suggest being prepared anyway.

Be prepared to get a little sandy and dirty from the fire and smoke. Wearing a suit will be comfy too.

Have a Plan for After the Bonfire

Will you have plans after the bonfire. If your group is young college students be prepared to hit the bars afterward.

Have a plan in mind before the bonfire concludes otherwise the group will disband and make other plans.

If you have children or older family members the end of the bonfire will likely result in the end of the evening.

Clean up

The great thing about bonfires on the beach is there is little chance of the fire spreading. Anticipate the end of your event and an hour before stop adding fuel to the fire. It will take some time to burn out so be patient.

You can speed up the process by adding sand and salt water to the fire. Make sure the coals are no longer red (should be black) before leaving.

Also, check the area to make sure all your trash is disposed of. Most beaches have trash bins on the beach. Locate a trash bin before it’s dark and you’ll have no trouble finding it as you leave.

Plastics can harm marine life and birds while metal wires (from s’mores) and glass can hurt beachgoers. Be safe with the fire and responsible with your trash.

Conclusion

In this article, we discussed the beauty of the beach bonfire and beach bonfire essentials. If you’re a regular at the beach you know how enjoyable bonfires can be.

If you’re planning your first one be prepared to have a good time with friends and family.

The great thing about beach bonfires is they are easy to plan and require little material.  Beach bonfires are easy to make.  At the bare minimum, you’ll need some fuel (no pallets), matches, and friends. If you want you can add food, drinks, a guitar, and blankets.

Just make sure you check the cities rules and regulations for the beach and plan for the weather.

Beach bonfires are some of my best memories from child and adulthood. We wish you a safe a pleasant experience as you create your own bonfire memories and we hope our beach bonfire checklist helps you plan your event. Thanks for reading.