Jessica Simpson's Birthday Fiesta
07/12/2006 AT 01:45 PM EDT
On the agenda for Simpson and hers pals, including hairstylist Ken Paves and former assistant CaCee Cobb: "Everything you do at the beach,” a Simpson pal tells PEOPLE. "They drank margaritas. They laid out in the sun."
The party kicked into high gear that night, with a beachside bash. "They had sangria and Mexican food and sat around telling stories and dancing," says the pal. "Jessica is the (happiest) she has ever been."
The intimate party was a marked contrast to last year's blowout, attended by 150 of Simpson's buddies (including Mandy Moore and Eva Mendes – and Lachey, of course).
Still, the pop star will be back in the limelight soon: Simpson debuts the video "A Public Affair" next Wednesday. Plus her movie, Employee of the Month. opens Sept. 15.
She may even cross paths with her ex soon: She is hosting the Aug. 20 Teen Choice Awards, where Simpson, Lachey – and his new squeeze Vanessa Minnillo – are all nominated.