Nothing beats an ice-cold beverage while relaxing on the beach. Nothing is worse than reaching for an icy drink and finding your cans swimming. Coolers are essential for family days on the sand. A good modern cooler will keep food and drinks fresh for days. In addition to beverages, fishermen rely coolers to keep bait fresh, and hopefully the catch of the day. Walk onto any beach or pier in North or South Carolina and you’ll see a plethora of cooler models and sizes. Cooler technology has advanced rapidly in modern years. Top-end hard-sided coolers can keep ice frozen for a week. Soft coolers are easier for one person to carry onto a beach, but can still keep food cool for days. Cooler materials and price points vary wildly, so we put together this guide with our recommendations for your coastal vacation.

We were not provided with free or discounted products to review. These recommendations were not influenced by manufacturers. We did, however, heavily consider customer reviews at retail websites when deciding which products to feature. We like these products, but we took care to make sure other customers agree. Some of the product links include affiliate codes. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.

Best high-end hard-sided coolers:

Yeti Cooler

Yeti Tundra

Yeti built its empire by offering best-of-class products for years. The Yeti Tundra offers 2 inches of polyurethane foam insulation in the walls and lid and a freezer gasket seal. Yeti coolers are extremely durable, and tubs are constructed in one piece utilizing food-grade materials. Yeti also included non-slip rubber feet, recessed leak-proof drain plug, a dry goods rack (great feature!), and a locking top. Heavy-duty T-latches fasten the lid securely closed. Strong rope handles make carrying the Tundra easy, and locking this cooler to a deck or boat is quick with tie-down slots. Finally, boaters will appreciate that the outer dimensions of the various Tundra models match many popular marine coolers, making it easy for you to upgrade your old marine cooler. Yetis are big, heavy, provide top-level performance and are priced accordingly. You can’t go wrong with a Yeti Tundra.

Best affordable hard-sided cooler

Coleman cooler

Coleman 54-Quart Steel-Belted Cooler

You likely remember your parents Coleman cooler. Today’s steel-belted cooler from Coleman is just like the one you remember, but adds modern touches. These coolers offer great retro style in a number of colors. They’ve got space to put 2-liter bottles upright, or hold 85 cans, enough for even the largest family beach outing. With the lid closed, these coolers serve as seats. The leak-resistant drain doesn’t require tipping to drain. The latch and hardware are stainless. Some models come with retro-style bottle openers on the front. Coleman offers a 6 year warranty on the steel belted cooler.

Of course, with a lower price point comes some compromises. Handles are advertised as “comfort”, but we find them to be very basic. While the insulation is good enough to keep drinks cold all day, you’ll need to add ice more frequently than Yeti and Cabela’s models. If you can live with those trade-offs, you’ll have plenty left over for food, drinks or bait. Nevertheless, these are solid coolers from a company with decades of experience. Check out color options and great reviews for the Coleman Steel Belted Cooler.

Best Soft Coolers

Yeti Cooler

Yeti Hopper

Yeti knocked it out of the park with the Hopper. We love the lighter weight (4-6lbs.) and portability with minimal performance loss vs. hard sided coolers. Don’t worry about insulation, the Hopper will keep ice solid for days. It is often easier to sling the hopper over your sholder and keep your hands available for other gear at the beach. The Hopper is leak-proof, and available in 20qt (18 cans), 30qt (24 cans) and 40qt (36 cans) sizes. The outer shell is a tough 840 denier nylon (the same material used on white water rafts) fused with RF welded seams. The large, high-performance hydro-lock zipper creates an air-tight, water-tight seal. Six D-ring tie-down points help anchor the cooler to anything. The bottom is a heavy EVA foam platform which makes the cooler sit upright without propping. Carry straps are reinforced and double-stitched. A side attachment system allows you to add Yeti accessories for your application. Yeti offers a 3 year warranty on the Hopper. Some owners use the Hopper as a dry bag, a camera bag, or a carry-on. We love packing it with drinks, fruit and lunch. Hoppers are available in tan and white.

Rtic cooler

RTIC Soft Pack

The RTIC Soft Pack is leakproof, puncture-resistant, and mildew-resistant. Like the Yeti Hopper, it comes in 20qt (20 cans), 30qt (30 cans) and 40qt (40 cans) sizes. It’ll keep ice cold for 4-5 days with thick, closed-cell foam insulation. RTIC’s zippers are waterproof. We prefer the fully-accessable top of the RTIC to the Yeti Hopper. The front pocket is a nice feature, but the only thing we’ve used it for is a bottle opener. Straps are heavy and well made, and we really like the silver color.

Polar bear cooler

Polar Bear Coolers Nylon Series

A backpack cooler? Yes please! The Polar Bear name is quickly gaining recognition for good reason. This reasonably-priced design hits all the important features. Polar Bear makes 12 can, 24 can, and big 48 can versions, but our personal favorite is the backpack for easy of carry onto the beach. Features include high density open-cell foam insulation that keeps ice cold for up to 3 days in 90 degree heat, genuine YKK #10 zippers, bottle openers, stainless tie downs, and a durable shoulder strap and handle system. Polar Bear coolers are waterproof, and utilize FDA-approved food grade interior liners. Like the RTIC, this top opens wide and access is easy. The exterior is rugged 1000 denier nylon, available in a number of colors. And if you’re into custom, Polar Bear will embroider your logo on the cooler. These coolers come with a limited lifetime warranty. Multiple colors and camo patterns are available. And, Polar Bear makes an upgraded leakproof, sweatproof and waterproof H2O Cooler version with even more insulation!

Coleman cooler bag

Coleman Soft Cooler

Coleman continues its legacy of well made, affordable coolers with the 16-can soft cooler with hard liner. It’s hard to beat the value this basic soft cooler offers. The inner hard liner prevents food from being crushed, and is removable for flexibility. An adjustable shoulder strap allows hands-free carrying. The small size and light weight make for an easy haul. There is a front pocket, bungees on the lid and FDA food grade antimicrobial interior liner. Heat welded construction helps prevent liner leaks. This cooler won’t keep food or drinks cold as long as the high-end models listed above, but it’s perfect for a day on the beach, and a great value. More than 1,000 customers agree.

Clevermade cooler bag

CleverMade SnapBasket Soft-Sided Collapsible Cooler

A collapsible cooler at a fantastic price. When taking a road trip to the beach, space in the car is always at a premium. CleverMade solves a problem with their 30 liter insulated cooler tote. This bag collapses down flat for your trip, and quickly expands with enough cold space for a family. CleverMade interiors are leak resistant, and designed to keep ice cold for up to 36 hours. The exteriors feature tough rip-stop fabric. Basic, sturdy handles are stitched all the way down the side for durability. Other features include an integrated bottle opener, front zipper pocket, and multiple fun, beachy color combos. Just like the Coleman, The CleverMade SnapBasket gets great reviews for value and performance.

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Donutz on a Stick

Donutz on a Stick

Stay, Play and Eat- Donuts, Ice Cream & Coffee Treats! Located on the Duck Boardwalk, behind Dockside Seafood, this breakfast & Dessert-Shop features treats you've never tasted before! Try the hot, made to order, donutz on a stick with more than 35 toppings! They'll melt in your mouth! Or try the Gluten-Free Donuts; limited quantities, daily. Plus, try any or all of the 9 flavors of homemade tastefully twisted soft serve. Frozen yogurt, sorbets, sherbet, hand dipped and homemade ice cream flavors.

 

Unique coffees, sodas and espresso that will satisfy the whole family. Mix-and-match nostalgic candies and much more. Bring the carnival to your mouth and eat it like nobody’s watchin’! Donutz-On-A-Stick- where visual stimulation meets taste bud overload!

 

Carnival Treats at the Beach—With Flavorful Creations and Allergy-Friendly Options, Donutz on a Stick Serves Up Sweet Treats for Everyone

 

David and Stephanie were not always in the business of carnival confections. In fact, Stephanie was a fitness instructor and David worked in the computer field. But he loved donuts and she loved ice cream, and when they saw an opportunity to bring their favorite treats to beachgoers, they jumped on it.

 

In 2014, the couple opened their first Donutz on a Stick—a family-run, family-friendly dessert shop on the boardwalk. They quickly realized that in order to serve everyone, they would need to get creative. “We had a family who would come in, and one of the little boys would have to wait by the door because of his gluten allergy,” David says. “That didn’t sit well with us. We wanted everyone to come under the same roof no matter what kind of allergies they had. And we continue to work towards that goal.”

 

The Williams’ daughter Desireé spent six weeks experimenting until she created a gluten-free donut that was totally safe and delicious. Gluten-free donuts are now a huge part of the business, with more than 1,000 being served each day, just out of the Duck location. But you will want to call or stop by to reserve them in advance.

 

The Williams’ other three children, David, Justin and Christian, have all invented menu items as well, such as Christian’s donut milkshake, which features hot and fresh cooked donuts blended into a milkshake with another donut on top making it picture perfect.

 

While all the Williams have created menu items, the most popular pick—the donut sundae—was actually a happy accident.

 

“We were being featured in a local magazine and we could only have one photo for the article,” David says. Since both ice cream and donuts were equally popular, “we built the donut sundae for the photo and we discovered after the photoshoot that it tasted amazing. It was completely serendipitous.”

 

The Williams family is constantly creating and improving upon their recipes. At the heart of it all is a desire to see everyone come in and enjoy an experience together. They want to bring the carnival to your mouth.

 

“No matter how busy we are—even if there’s a line down the boardwalk—every customer gets that engagement and service from us,” they say.

 

The family has since opened a second location in the Hampton Roads, Virginia area.