We ended up in Ft. Bragg, CA -- because there is a terrific bike trail, great kayaking, miles of beaches, and no mountains in sight. Now, I'm obviously not a mountain hater, but an entire lifetime of summers spent at 8000' can grow old, and we really need a change of pace to make this trip actually feel like a vacation rather than just an extension of summer camp. Finding a place to stay was simple; finding a beach that allowed alcohol was not.
See, in CA 99% of the beaches are actually state parks or various other flavors of state-run designations...and this generally means (at least in Northern CA) no alcohol is allowed. If we were going to have a 4-star dinner picnic on the beach, we weren't going to do it without a very special bottle of Corison cabernet we'd been saving. I figured there had to be at least one tiny stretch, a few feet really, of privately owned beach I could somehow talk my way into for the evening. Of course, we considered (very briefly) just taking the risk, decanting the bottle into our backpacking wine bag, and hoping for the best, but we were tired...very tired...and we really, really just needed a stress and worry-free dinner. The last thing I wanted was to have our foie gras appetizer interrupted by an energetic ranger who, apparently (I know this because I spent way too many hours scouring reviews and reports online), dump out the alcohol if they catch you with it -- seriously, I would ugly cry for hours if this Corison bottle ended up in the sand; fine us, cite us, and arrest us, cool -- but don't waste one drop of that wine.
So I knew I needed a legal option; and I finally found it. There is a very short stretch of not-advertised privately owned beach sandwiched between two state parks, and for the paltry sum of $20, it was ours for the night. I was willing to pay for a night's lodging in the little hotel that owns that stretch of beach, but we didn't need to...the owners were more than happy to give us evening access. As it turned out, we didn't even have to share it -- so we had not only a private piece of sand, but a private cove on a private beach in a tiny private bay. It couldn't have been more perfect.
I'm going to stretch this experience into several different posts -- one with a menu, then several of our recipes, and finally one with pointers on hosting your own classy beach picnic, void of the typical beach picnic things like hot dogs and store-bought potato salad. For now, I'll just share a few pictures of our venue. Stay tuned.