The only thing people can agree on when it comes to outdoor entertaining is that there’s never enough ice. Yep, it’s barbecue season. Time to sit on uncomfortable benches while perching paper plates on your knees so the baked beans don’t run down your leg.
The challenge to barbecuing at a public beach or park comes at the moment when you realize what crucial item you’ve forgotten (tongs, oil for the grill, friends). Make sure you have plenty of bags for trash, sunscreen, and more than enough napkins. And bug spray. Oh — and a Swiss Army knife comes in handy. A Frisbee is always welcome, too. And a hat. Those safari hats with the built-in fans may look dorky, but they can be a godsend when it’s 90 degrees. At $35 a pop, it’ll make you the coolest one at the barbecue.
Also, consider buying a portable blender. Black & Decker’s PartyMate model makes about four margaritas per batch, which is completely illegal to do at public parks and beaches. So try to think as a teenager would, and you can probably come up with inventive ways to suck back a frosty margarita (think sippy cup, Diet Coke can, Camelback, etc.).
Also, be sure to bring those little things that keep the tablecloth from blowing away.
Here are some of our favorite quintessentially L.A. places to grill your favorite animal flesh. And if you have vegetarian friends, it’s fun to roll their peppers and potatoes into the sausage grease when they’re not looking.
Brand Library Park
1601 W. Mountain St., Glendale, (818) 548-2000.
The Scene: Very green and spread out; good roll-down hill (wait one hour after eating); not a lot of benches, so bring your own chairs.
Bonus points: Library adjacent for literary picnic. Views.
The Catch: Views of smog.
Lake Balboa Park
6300 Balboa Blvd., Van Nuys, (818) 756-9743.
The Scene: Very crowded on weekends, but you can almost always find an open grill and picnic benches. Paddleboats and kayak rentals on weekends; lots of birds; walking path around lake.
The Catch: Very little shade, except for a few pagoda areas, and you can’t swim in the lake. And this is the Valley, so it’s hotter than h-e-double-toothpicks.
Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area
4100 S. La Cienega Blvd., Baldwin Hills, (323) 298-3660.
The scene: Huge park with more than seven miles of trails, picnic tables, barbecues, playgrounds and athletic fields. No boats in the lake, but you can fish.
Bonus points: Trails to walk off the potato salad. Nearby oil rigs.
The catch: The large picnic shelters must be rented in advance (regular picnic tables are first-come, first-seared); $40. (800) 404-5888.
Wilson St., south of California St., Pasadena, (626) 395-4481;
The Scene: A darling little park; very hidden; extremely well-maintained.
Bonus Points: Shady! Also, you can watch the Caltech track team practice.
The Catch: Visitors must pay a fee in advance in order to barbecue ($45 and $65). Reservations a must, which does keep down the riffraff in this tony neighborhood.
Topanga State Park
20825 Entrada Road (off Topanga Canyon Blvd.), (310) 455-2465.
The Scene: Rugged! The next best thing to camping.
Bonus Point: Spectacular view for hikers.
Take Bronson or Canyon avenues from Franklin in Hollywood; keep going past stone gateposts into Griffith Park; park at end of road.
The Scene: Minipark with barbecue grills on the left.
BONUS POINTS: Bat caves! And Gunsmoke, The Lone Ranger, Bonanza and tons more (rent Lobster From Mars) were filmed here.
1880 Academy Dr.
The Scene: Downtown views, lots of barbecue pits.
The Catch: Beware of Dodgers traffic.
12000 Vista del Mar, Playa del Rey.
The Scene: Fire rings on the beach! You can grill till 10 p.m.
The Catch: One big, ugly beach. Airplanes, too.
SPECIAL BONUS RECIPE:
THE WORLD’S BEST MARINADE: Aunt Sally’s Flank Steak (Serves 6 to 8)
¼ cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons vinegar
½ cup vegetable oil (Sally uses Wesson)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (2- to 3-pound) flank steak
Combine soy sauce, honey, vinegar, oil and garlic in a pan over medium heat. Cook about 2 minutes, just until marinade begins to bubble. Pour marinade over flank steak in a glass bowl (or other non-reactive container) at least 4 hours, turning once. Barbecue! Slice the steak thinly at an angle. One, if feeling fancy, can arrange orange slices and watercress around it . . . if paper plates and good, honest beef won’t do!