Put a smile on kids’ faces by offering beach, coastal and nautical merchandise they can wear, play with and most of all — remember.

Dec. 13, 2023

When children go on vacation, they are eager to spend their money on souvenirs, and if that vacation is near the beach, you can best bet those keepsakes will have to do with the sea life that is native to the area.

Just ask Heather Palmer, community outreach director at Cape Cod Children’s Museum in Mashpee, Massachusetts. “Children visit from all over the world and the most common thread is their love for all things, both real and imaginary that are ocean related,” Palmer says.

The shop at the Cape Cod Children’s Museum aptly named The Parent Trap caters primarily to kids, with 99% of its merchandise geared toward children. Among its best year-round sellers are stuffed mermaids with sequins and colored hair, Ty plush, light-up items, dinosaur grabbers and wiggly sensory items like dolphins, dinosaurs and caterpillars.

In the summer, the most popular items are Funny Mat washable placemats, wooden puzzles with ocean themes, eggs with growing mermaids and dinosaurs, bubble makers and ukuleles.

Children visiting seaside destinations are definitely in the market for merchandise, and their parents are also looking for items their children can wear to cover up at the beach or that provide entertainment back at their hotel in the evenings. Luckily, there is no shortage of products that can fulfill these wants and needs.

Plush popularity

For many kids, plush is where it’s at for souvenirs from their vacations, and there are quite a few companies on the market ready to fulfill that child’s every whim.

All of Madd Capp’s jigsaw puzzles come in unique shapes and five-sided boxes.

At Fiesta, the axolotls have been getting a lot of attention lately. “Our No. 1 selling item no matter where the customers are located is axolotls,” says Coral Reynolds, president. “The social media and buzz behind them makes them great for anyone. Kids know what they are even if the adults do not, and they transcend any norms as far as locations.”

The company’s 100% recycled plush line, Earth Pals, with an emphasis on saving the oceans, also does well. Available in a variety of sea life, the products are all made from post-consumer water bottles.

Fiesta’s Swaddle Babies are a must have for the coast, according to Reynolds. “These swaddles allow the children to take them with them on the go.”

The axolotl is also trending with Wild Republic. According to Victor Armendariz, Latin American/Caribbean sales manager, the native animal of Mexico started trending because of a video game and social media, and now he says, “We can’t keep it in stock.”

Other big coastal sellers are hatchling turtles, which Armendariz says are a huge favorite, and sharks, which he says never go out of style “so we are always expanding in those lines.”

Wild Republic’s other toys are also eco-friendly. The company has recently introduced a line of biodegradable toys called Green Guardians and is launching a biodegradable plush line.

Armendariz notes, “We are a leader in offering a product that a child can love, cuddle and play with, but there is also a message behind it, so they are learning at the same time.”

Designed with education and discovery in mind, Marine Life Rescue Project offers sea turtle hatchling eggs and rescue stretcher plush marine animals. One hundred percent of the net proceeds go directly to the critical work of Clearwater Marine Research Institute, rescuing marine animals and researching solutions to save the oceans.

“These products appeal to parents and children alike, looking to get involved in saving our oceans and the marine life in them,” says Andy Goldman, president. “Our Sea Turtle Hatchling Eggs are our best seller at coastal shops because they are a small, fun item for kids traveling with their parents, and also make a great gift item to take home.”

Another plush toy brand that is all about the education is Stuffed States. Owner Stacey McLaughlin says she thinks educational toys are finding a new road into the souvenir business. The company specializes in selling plushies shaped like every U.S. state.

“Our Stuffed States are the perfect educational companions for kids, helping them explore the geography of the state they’re visiting on vacation,” she says, adding, “Stuffed States make the ideal grab-and-go, impulse buy for parents and grandparents, seeking an educational, unique and utterly adorable gift for their kids.”

The company will debut Mini Stuffs in 2024, which are tiny versions of each Stuffed State sold as a magnet or keychain/backpack dangler, great for tweens and teens.

Keepsakes for kiddos

Streamline Imagined carries a variety of products with nautical and sea life themes that resonate with children.

The Earth Pals line from Fiesta features 100% recycled plush and is a hit with the kids.

“We offer a range of items from fun octopus pens, shark hand puppets to Plush Ball Jelly sea animals (PBJs),” says Lynda Rosen, chief business development officer. “We touch on many categories for children.”

The company’s best sellers are PBJs, projection lights and nautical pens. “They are all-time favorites not just in the coastal areas but across the country,” notes Rosen.

The axolotl is also a strong seller. “The axolotl is the hot sea creature right now,” she says. “We show it on pens, stuffed animals, children’s lighting. We can’t keep it in stock no matter how we present it.”

If a game or puzzle to pass the night away is something you want to offer customers, then Madd Capp suggests you “think outside the box.”

Its jigsaw puzzles aren’t square, they’re shaped; its boxes aren’t square or ordinary either. “Our signature five-sided boxes stop people in their tracks,” says John Moran, co-founder and principal, Madd Capp Games & Puzzles. “Cap it with a poster-sized point-of-sale display just like a finished puzzle that can stand on a shelf, hang from the ceiling or mount on the wall.”

Puzzles available from the company include I am Blue Heron, I am Lil’ Dolphin, I am Duck, I am Lil’ Flamingo, I Am Lil’ Gator, I am Mermaid, I Am Parrot, I am Lil’ Sea Turtle and I am Lil’ Shark. Madd Capp will also be getting on board with the axolotl trend in 2024 with its launch of I am Lil’ Axolotl. The company also offers the Peg Leg, I Scream, and More S’mores card games and a S’mores & More Checkers game.

While not all products from Little Box Guy are geared toward children, president Nick Ortiz says, “One thing I’ve noticed regularly from our customers is how everyone’s inner child shines freely when they see Little Box Guy.” The company’s logo is a character Ortiz started drawing as a kid.

“We do carry products specifically for kids, which include youth tees and hats,” he says. “Children also enjoy our stickers, Croc charms, buttons and enamel pins. Our line includes cool designs of a variety of your favorite marine life animals that will bring an instant smile to your face.”

The company plans to release plush keychains, plush dolls and vinyl toys in the near future. “Backpacks and kids’ straw hats are also on the horizon,” Ortiz notes.

Dressed for the beach

While toys and trinkets are popular with the kiddos, seaside stores also have the opportunity to provide them with wardrobe options that allow them to wear the beach, coastal and nautical themes they love.

Tidewater Tots offers girls’ and boys’ swimsuits from newborn to kids size 8. The company also offers hooded towels for the pool/beach. “Our Shark Bite collection is a great seller for coastal retailers,” says Abigail Paul, president of Tidewater Tots. “Families on vacation love to ‘hunt’ for shark teeth and this is a great collection to remember that by.”

Children enjoy Croc charms from Little Box Guy as well as a variety of tees and hats.

Neutrals, cut outs and family matching are all trends Paul is seeing, and the company is launching some new resort collections for 2024, including: Turtley Cute, Sunny Days and Flamingos. In addition to cuteness, Tidewater Tots products are made of UPF 50+ fabrics in the USA.

Bits & Bows’ products solve the coastal customers’ dilemma to find functional headwear and accessories, while providing style that’s seaside-appropriate, high-quality and elevated enough to pair with a swimsuit for day or sundresses at night, according to Katherine Rosenthal, co-founder.

“Bits & Bows’ accessories are accessibly priced to delight customers seeking a little extra protection for fun in the sun for every member of the family and travel party,” she says.

Bits & Bows’ signature product, the Bow Baseball Hat, offers an updated, feminine twist on the traditional sun-protecting sportswear staple. The company also offers coordinating boys’ Baseball Hats featuring favorite nautical motifs, jewelry featuring favorite vacation destinations, hair accessories, purses and holiday items.

“Every piece is designed to combine chic, coastal style with fun and skin-protecting function to create the perfect finishing touch — from the court to the green, and everywhere in between,” Rosenthal says.
And just as important as being dressed coastal by day is being tucked into bed at night with patterns that send children off to sleep dreaming of the sea.

Emerson and Friends’ Manatee and Ocean Friends pajamas are offered in sizes ranging from newborn to 10/12K with stuffed animals, adorable loveys and matching books and puzzles.

“We also have a wide range of adult sizes for the fun opportunity to match your whole family,” says owner Nicole Northway. “Styles we offer include pajamas, baby convertibles, dresses, rompers, graphic tees, adult lounge pants, women’s shorts and shirts and women’s joggers.”

In 2024 the company will launch a new Sun and Sea collection. “With this collection we will also be introducing our silicone sand toys, beach bags and reversible swimsuits,” says Northway.

Lorain Herder is founder and CEO of Doodle Pants, which makes apparel crafted to spark the imaginations of little ones while providing comfortable, practical options for a wide range of activities. She says shark, mermaid and sea turtle apparel are the company’s top three sellers in its coastal collection right now, “unless you are in Florida, then it is the manatee.”

Some drivers of those trends are that everyone loves mermaids, they offer an adult size of the shark for a mommy-and-me look, and the turtle hoodie has a turtle shell backpack attached.

“It is patent-pending, has a functional bag and I can’t keep it in stock,” says Herder. One thing you won’t find at Doodle Pants is an ordinary hoodie. “We don’t have normal hoodies. We always have fins or teeth or spikes or a tail coming out of it,” Herder says.

So whether your young customers are in the market for toys, souvenirs, apparel or anything in between, you’ll be able to put a smile on their face and help them remember their trip for years to come.