Community Traditions at the Cove: Historic Cottage #15, The Whistle Stop and The Beachcomber Cafe

Every year, the historic seaside bungalow now known as The Beachcomber Cafe gathers more than 150,000 people for casual ocean-front dining. This follows a long and happy tradition of sharing memories and meals at Crystal Cove. The Beachcomber is closed on Thanksgiving Day, but at one time Cottage #15 hosted as many as 75 people for festive annual Thanksgiving dinners on the beach.

Cottage #15 was built in the early 1930s, and its central location made it a natural gathering place. One of its first residents, a train engineer named Mr. Mitchell named the cottage “The Whistle Stop,” complete with a sign with an electric train circling around it, and over the years it became a place for the Cove community to “stop” by.

Vivian Falzetti, an artist who moved to Cottage #15 in the 1970s with her husband Doug made good use of the historic bungalow’s inviting location. In addition to annual Thanksgiving Dinners, they also hosted “Sunday Suppers” at Cottage #15 — potluck buffets where neighbors shared leftovers like homemade red beans or enchiladas to share with Vivian’s famous ceviche. Elaborate annual New Year’s Eve casino nights featured festive food and games and an arrow-shaped sign with flashing lights to let everyone know the party was on at Cottage #15.

The potluck meals at Cottage #15 reflect the Cove tradition of bringing family and friends together at the beach, which included communal bonfires in earliest days. Later, during the mid-century tent-camping era, sometimes there were enough steaks for the whole Cove, and after dinner, everyone would gather around a single fire and sing together late into the night. These shared meals and traditions bound the Cove community, and today many families have their own shared traditions of coming down to Crystal Cove before or after their holiday dinners, or for holiday picnics on the beach. Those staying in one of the restored cottages over Thanksgiving also continue the Cove potluck tradition by inviting guests to join them with pre-roasted turkeys and all the trimmings, since there’s no cooking in the cottages. Today, Cove visitors can even reserve rented portable bonfires from The Beachcomber Cafe online (not available for Thanksgiving Day).

Years after Crystal Cove became a State Park, Vivian recalled it as a special place where people took care of “the Cove, the community, and each other,” and holiday meals and gatherings are one way to continue this legacy and spirit.

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