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Beaches: This is the Year I… Build a Bonfire

Photograph by Gregg Segal

» Don’t be late: The beach bonfire has become one of L.A.’s beloved after-dark adventures—and your best chance to party like a Polynesian. The 48 fire rings at Dockweiler Beach in Playa del Rey go quickly. In summer arrive by—no joke—8 a.m. on weekends and by early afternoon on weekdays (the only other legal bonfire site is San Pedro’s Cabrillo, with less than half a dozen pits) to reserve a spot. You’ll see people parking along Vista del Mar; we didn’t mind paying the $6 to be in the lot.

» Play lumberjack: We loaded the car with $25 worth (half a cartload) of fast-burning pine from Whitts Wood Yard (2356 Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A., 310-478-2630). While we contemplated the less smoky almond (what the restaurants use), pine generates the bigger flame. To start the fire, we stacked three pieces of wood tepee style over crumpled newspaper and—no strangers to how matches fare in ocean breezes—whipped out the Scripto Aim ’n Flame ($6.89 from Rite Aid).

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 Pick up sticks: We’re snobs about our marshmallow roasting: The wood Smorstix ($2.99 for a pack of four from Ralphs) had a couple of inches on the two-foot metal skewers ($10 for a pack of four from Sur La Table), but the steel sticks would live to see another day. The kids turned up their noses at our lemon- and raspberry-flavored gourmet marshmallows from France (Arnaud Soubeyran, $1.99 for 30 grams from Mel & Rose, 8344 Melrose Ave., L.A., 323-655-5557), but we loved the taste of Normandy that it gave our s’mores.

» Stay dry: The cup holders on the nylon quad chairs ($9.99 at CVS) never held anything stronger than soft drinks. The rule against alcohol is enforced by patrolling LAPD officers, and judging by the clubby crowds (we loved the de facto lounge with fake palm trees), this may be a good thing. All that’s required at night’s end is to fling a little sand onto the dying flames.