Who says you can't put all the comforts of home in a beach bag?

May 01, 1994|By Caroline Spencer | Caroline Spencer,Special to The Sun

At one time, the only essentials required for a day at the beach were a towel, a trashy novel, a little suntan lotion, a thermos of ice tea and some paper cups. But it's not so simple anymore.

"If I'm taking time off of work and blowing a big part of my budget to go down the ocean, I'd better enjoy it," says Brian Campbell of Carney, whose planned August vacation trip to Ocean City still seems very far away.

This summer, he and more than 4 million other sun and sea worshipers will descend on Maryland's beaches -- not to mention the hordes who trek to other sea and sand spots up and down the East Coast.

One thing these beach-goers will find is that it has become easier to tuck all the comforts of home into a single beach bag.

A recent adventure in mall-trawling revealed numerous newly created mini-sized products that will transform a simple beach towel into a convenience- and luxury-laden home by the sea. These are just a few fun items that could help enhance a day at the beach.

Let's start with the beach towel itself. For those who believe that any basic, boldly striped towel is acceptable, let's just say that more than anything, that terry-cloth rectangle makes a major personal statement.

Looking for love at the beach? While you're swimming, Cathy, that famously single cartoon career woman, lets potential suitors know that "the gorgeous woman who owns this towel will be back in a minute." It's the next best thing to a telephone answering machine.

Monet's Water Lilies also make an interesting-looking beach towel -- though the purple is too vivid and the yellow is too lemony and the scene really doesn't evoke Giverny, France.

Both, along with about a thousand other distinctive designs in towels, are available at area department stores.

And no longer are beach-goers subject to the mercy of umbrella rental companies or those scratchy braided folding chairs with metal arms that heat up in the sun. Now, all-in-one contraptions that combine chairs and umbrellas are not only portable, they're also comfortable. And the offer some protection from the sun. At Brookstone, a white canvas beach chair has a top flap that creates an effect something like that of a sweat shirt with a hood. Eddie Bauer offers a beach chair with an umbrella that's attached by an accordion pleated C-clamp for easy adjusting. It comes in a variety of colors; the shade in mango is especially cheery. Look for similar products at other stores.

Since the advent of acrylic dishware, paper cups are simply declasse. The truly stylish beach dweller can now sip from plastic margarita flutes that come in great bold pinks, lavenders and greens, available at area department stores. (Now, if only we could only find a sand-free, battery-powered blender!)

No ringside seat at the ocean is complete without a state-of-the-art entertainment center. Sony's battery-powered color Watchman, which ensures that soap opera and baseball fanatics won't miss a high-intensity moment, is not really new but it has come down in price.

And just when you thought you'd mastered the variety of music machines, Sony has introduced a mini-disc CD player. This upscale cousin to the boombox uses 2 1/4 -inch discs. A small selection of major pop and rock albums on the discs is available at some area stores.

There's something about the salt of the sea and the hot sand that brings out, in some of us, that wild and crazy desire to read a book -- of sorts. "A lot of people choose books that have no redeeming qualities," says Cynthia Jackson, from Brentano's bookstore, noting that classic tomes like "War and Peace" are tough going under the summer sun.

"People going on vacation just want cotton candy for the brain," says Ms. Jackson. Summer is the season for paperbacks -- "If they get wet and float out to sea, you've only wasted $6."

For those who want to mix the intellectual with the physical, there's the Nature Company's Animal Kingdom beach ball, which depicts animal species on a globe. It will help parents answer questions kids think up -- like which ocean is home to the blue whale? (The Pacific.)

Other miscellaneous beach necessities include a mesh kid's tote, which leaves the sand on the beach instead of on the rental condo's carpet, a Baltimore Orioles bathing suit (for women only), and, hot from Los Angeles' beach volleyball pros, lightweight Oakley sunglasses with O-shaped lenses and stems that curve around the head -- preventing the frames from sliding off.

Waterproof sunscreen is a crucial item to include in the beach bag, according to Dr. Thomas Berry, a Salisbury-based dermatologist who cautions against spending even a moment in the sun without a sun protection factor of at least 15.

Not using sunscreen, says Penny Bowen, of Hecht's, "is like driving a car with gas but without oil and transmission [fluid]." Ms. Bowen enthusiastically chats up Lancaster's line of elite sunscreens, new to Baltimore, which were first made popular on the French Riviera.

Dr. Berry, however, says that cheap sunscreens are equally effective. The most important thing, he says, is to use one. "The unprotected skin remembers every minute you're in the sun, and it's recording the damage the whole time."

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