We love being outside. The kids love playing in the sand. I hated making sure the sandbox cover was on each night and every time it rained. My solution? We converted one of the bigger planters into a sandbox.
They loved digging in the planter's dirt anyway and now they don't get covered in sand from head to toe. When I rains, the water quickly drains or if I remember I can slide it under the patio table. Either way, it works. It would be great solution for anyone with a small space to consider, too.
It's been a nice alternative... and it still keeps the kids entertained. Love it!