Thanksgiving on the beach

Get recipes and planning tips for an incredible Mexican-inspired Thanksgiving meal alfresco

Beach dinner party

Photo by Shelly Strazis

Informal beach feast

Photographer Shelly Strazis and her boyfriend, cinematographer Gilbert Salas, could make a food flick about their Thanksgiving. Every year for the past eight years, they’ve hosted it on the beach across the street from their home in Long Beach, California.

The menu is loosely themed around Gilbert’s Tex-Mex roots with a dash of California—which means dishes worth craving year-round, like chile-rubbed turkey with mole gravy, and chocolate cakes with a cayenne kick.

It’s a toss-up as to whether Shelly’s group enjoys the food or the beach more. Which makes us think that all Thanksgivings should at least involve a walk in the open air. Nature, after all, is partly what we have to be thankful for.

Mexican-inspired Thanksgiving party

Photo by Shelly Strazis

Beach Thanksgiving menu

Serves 18

Appetizers, main course and sides:

Drinks and desserts

Bocce game

Photo by Shelly Strazis

Pass the time

Guests arrive at 1 for appetizers and activities like bocce ball, then sit down to eat in the late afternoon.

Pumpkin taco ingredients

Photo by Shelly Strazis

Pumpkin Tacos

Pumpkin tacos are easy appetizers to prepare, but offer complex flavors. Guests can assemble their own, adding toasted chiles, slaw, and pumpkin seeds.

Recipe: Pumpkin Tacos

Mexican-inspired Thanksgiving food

Photo by Shelly Strazis; styling by Valerie Aikman-Smith

Chile and Spice Grilled Turkey and Mole Gravy

A chile-rubbed bird cooked on the grill and served with mole gravy makes for a richly seasoned centerpiece.

Recipe: Chile and Spice Grilled Turkey and Mole Gravy


Brining: It’s the secret to a moist bird. Brine the turkey, breast down, in an oversize pot such as a boiling-water canner (if it fits in the fridge). Or use an ice chest.

Double-bag turkey using two 13-gal. plastic trash bags (not recycled plastic). Put bagged bird in chest, pour brine over turkey, and seal bags tightly. Add ice to cover.

Tying: For the most even cooking, leave turkey legs loose. Or if you prefer a tidy look, tie them.

Garnishing: Add color with herbs, a banana leaf, and fruit like kumquats.

Plate of Thanksgiving food

Photo by Shelly Strazis; styling by Valerie Aikman-Smith

Side dishes

Tex-Mex meets California in side dishes with plenty of personality.


Fall salad with pomegranate dressing

Photo by Shelly Strazis; styling by Valerie Aikman-Smith

Fall Salad with Nuts and Pomegranates

The pomegranate juice dressing echoes the flavors of cranberry relish.

Recipe: Fall Salad with Nuts and Pomegranates

Thanksgiving desserts

Photo by Shelly Strazis; styling by Valerie Aikman-Smith

Updated desserts

Try simple desserts with a twist on tradition.

Mexican Chocolate Cakes: Very chocolaty, with a chile kick—and fabulous with cinnamon ice cream. We decorated the cakes with stencils made from an autumn leaf traced onto tagboard.

Cinnamon Ice Cream: A super-easy addition to the table, inspired by Shelly’s favorite fall flavor from Fosselman’s Ice Cream, a SoCal landmark in Alhambra.

Long Beach Lime Pies: In honor of the Strazises’ Florida roots, Shelly’s mom whips up luscious Key lime pies. We use Mexican limes (the West Coast name for Key limes).


Cinnamon tea

Photo by Shelly Strazis

Canela Tea

After dinner, guests warm up with canela tea by the bonfire. A splash of tequila added to the cinnamon drink provides an extra glow.

Recipe: Canela Tea

Picnic supplies

Photo by Shelly Strazis

What you'll need

Tote dinnerware to the beach in baskets or milk crates. Guests help carry tables and chairs, tiki torches, the cooked food, and a grill (for reheating).

Beach table setting

Photo by Shelly Strazis

Get the look: Setting the table

Mix vintage plates with flatware from thrift shops. Display succulents in votives.


Beach entertaining tips

Photo by Shelly Strazis

Thanksgiving countdown

Here’s how two cooks can pull off this big meal—with one cook working indoors, using a single oven, and one working outdoors at a single grill. If you don’t have ample fridge space, you may need to store some food at a neighbor’s.

1 week ahead

  • Make cranberry relish.
  • Make cinnamon ice cream.
4 days ahead

  • Shop.
  • Start thawing turkey in fridge, if frozen.
1 day ahead

  • Make pies.
  • Bake chocolate cakes.
  • Toast seeds and nuts for relish and salad.
  • Make pumpkin spread and slaw for tacos.
  • Brine turkey.
  • Make stuffing through step 2.
  • Grill sweet potatoes.
  • Bake cornbread.
  • Make salad dressing.
  • Roast broccolini.
4 hours before

  • Heat grill and start turkey (allow 31/2 hrs. for cooking, resting, and carving).
  • Spread topping on lime pies.
  • Top cakes with powdered sugar.
3 hours before

  • Start gravy.
2 hours before

  • Add almonds to cranberry relish.
  • Finish tacos: Toast chiles, warm pumpkin spread and tortillas, then set out compo-nents. (Or do this as guests arrive.)
1 hour before

  • Bake stuffing.
  • Assemble elements of salad; toss at serving time.
30 minutes before

  • Reheat sweet potatoes.
  • Finish gravy.
  • Reheat broccolini and cornbread.
  • Let turkey rest, then carve.
After dinner

  • Set out desserts.
  • Make canela tea.

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