A pool girl goes to the beach: Dan Pelosi’s essential beach guide

Dan Pelosi is an In The Know cooking contributor. Follow him on Instagram and visit his website for more.

When I was 19, I had an extremely important conversation with my best college girlfriend, Julie. It went like this: 

Julie: “My sister Gina broke up with her boyfriend.”
Me: *gasps*
Julie: “I know…”
Me: “I really thought they were gonna last! What happened?”
Julie: “He’s a beach person, and she’s a pool person.”

I had never felt more seen in my life. I had always been a pool person and understood this breakup so deeply I could feel it in my bones. Trust me, I was rooting for Gina and her boyfriend as much as anyone else, but this was truly an irreconcilable difference! Team Pool forever. 

So why is a pool person writing an article about how to beach? Well, it’s been 20 years since that pivotal conversation, and I am in love with a California boy who, despite having two legs, is essentially a merman. The amount of time I spend on the beach with him is unreasonable, and I have learned how to find my spot in the sand while he … does his thing. 

Gus can show up at the beach with his towel, a book, sunscreen and, if he’s lucky, a bottle of water. It’s all crammed into his canvas tote in a way that couldn’t be more stressful. He’s mostly concerned with getting into the water. As a pool girl, I’ve got little to no interest in sandy trunks and seagrass wrapping around my ankles. But food and making people feel welcome in my home is my lifeblood. So how could I bring my world to his at the beach?

The following is a play-by-play of one of our (far too many) trips to the Rockaways — which, if you are a New Yorker, is your local beach. Even though I miss the chlorine and the kitchen, I find myself energized by the consideration, preparation and execution of my pool-girl beach day. Plus, Gus is thrilled to have a “spa-like experience” at the beach.

How to Get Your Life to the Beach

Canvas tote bags are cool, but if your New Yorker tote is anything like mine, it’s the size of a grapefruit at this point. Instead, invest in a backpack cooler with ice packs (mine is from Yeti). I can throw the cooler on my back and ride the subway without feeling like I am moving apartments on the A train. It keeps everything cool and in one place, and doesn’t need ice. 

Photo Credit: Dan Pelosi

Because I am me, I have an extremely vast collection of blankets. Approximately four of them are allowed to touch the sand — and that’s pushing it. I do believe that you need more than one beach blanket, though. My blanket game is as follows: sitting, eating and sunning (if you are like me and won’t go near that water). Give yourself the luxury of surface so that you don’t lose any sweet cantaloupe pieces to the sand. And, of course, throw in a beach towel or two for those poor unfortunate souls. 

Photo Credit: Dan Pelosi

Gus seems to have some sort of a spiritual relationship to the ocean. It’s not a party spot for him; it’s a place to reflect. So, in the spirit of all that, I want to leave the beach with basically all the things I brought. No need to pile trash into the already full trash cans that line the beach. I pack my reusables for everything — cloth napkins, water bottles, cups and utensils. Any plastic bag becomes reusable if you are willing to wash it. IKEA makes the best plastic bags, which I have been rinsing and reusing for years. 

Photo Credit: Dan Pelosi

Once we land on the right spot — near the water for Gus, with enough space around to spread the blankets wide and bright sun for both of us — it’s time to unpack. I won’t go into the details of how to unpack a bag, but I will leave you with a note of caution: Don’t open it all at once, because once it’s all exposed to sun and sand, its shelf life immediately starts to fade.

Get Fed

The morning before we beach, I hit up my local markets for the best produce I can find. I like to slice up whatever fruit is in season and pack it into zip-locks to keep in the cooler. Cantaloupe, watermelon, honeydew, grapes, cherries — you do you. I am just happy knowing the water in the fruit will keep me smiling and refreshed. 

Photo Credit: Dan Pelosi

I almost always whip up a batch of my famous pasta salad for every beach day. If you are gonna make me go to the beach, you have to let me have my pasta! It can be made a day or two before and is easily adaptable to any diet. It’s the perfect cooler snack and is easily eaten directly out of zip-lock bags. The cooler stuffed with little bags of pasta salad is an absolute beach day miracle. You’re welcome!

Photo Credit: Dan Pelosi

En route to the beach, I like to stop at the local grocery or deli and pick up a couple of big sandwiches. Something about waiting for an old-school deli sandwich in the cool AC gives me summer vibes like nothing else. A big bag of chips — sour-cream-and-onion is my go-to — completes the meal. Grab any last-minute water if you forget your reusable bottle, like Gus. 

Photo Credit: Dan Pelosi

The Rockaways, like any beach spot, have their killer local spots for burgers, dogs, shakes and all the salty bits between that you crave after a day at the beach. Rippers is my go-to and has been the cure to a few beach breakdowns. Your drinks can come from the beach itself — the dude combing the beach with his heavy backpack full of boozy bevs? Bring cash and plan to get your booze from him. It’s important to support the local spots that rely on beach traffic to keep their business happy. 

Photo Credit: Dan Pelosi

The Rest of the Rest

That’s right, I said rest. Turns out the beach can be restful! Gus likes to read a book on the beach. I like to read my magazines or a new cookbook or finish off the latest episode of Poog. Headphones can save lives on a crowded beach, as there can often be three different speakers blaring at the same time. I think it’s cool to be mindful of other folks having their beach day, cause you never know — someone out there might be a pool girl trying to feel like a beach girl. You will know us when you see us. 

If you enjoyed this article, check out Dan Pelosi’s grilling basics you need to know!

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