After trial and error by way of hauling my life to the beach over the years, I eventually figured out what kind of bag works: it has to be lightweight, durable, large capacity, and have a wide mouth opening. Bonus points if sand can sift through it so you don't wind up bringing the beach home with you. Here's what I look for:
*Lightweight. Because wet items are heavy and you don't want to start out already loaded down.
*Durable. It makes life harder when the strap on your bag breaks during your long walk to the car or train.
*Large capacity. You don't have to fill it to the brim, but if you need to, one bag is much easier than multiples.
*Wide opening. It's easier to find everything that's managed to settle at the bottom.
I'm also a fan of a zippered pouch on the inside for necessities that you don't want to get wet, sandy, or sacrificed to the beach gods: things like cell phones, money or diamond earrings.
These are a few bags I'd happily tote to the shore. The two nautical themed ones (top) are made from recycled sail canvas.
I love straw for its natural beauty and versatility. Here are two (middle): one rustic and one refined, both gorgeous.
And finally, the iconic and always perfect canvas tote, and a sportier version made from mesh (bottom). All are perfect blends of form and function.
Click on the image to shop the look.