By Laure Latham
Good food, blankets, green grass, good friends, sunny skies –picnics are the very essence of lazy summers, sunny vacations or weekend adventures. My family usually picnics in the middle of a hike at a nice viewpoint on top of a hill or along a water stream. For my girls, it’s a welcome break where they can put down their backpack, kick back their shoes, roam free and explore the surroundings on their own. However when we are not and about, picnics are also a great way to get together with friends and let the kids play games while the adults tend to the BBQ or chat the day away. Whatever your favorite picnic option is, here are 10 great spots to relax al fresco and bless our California weather.
1. Crissy Field, San Francisco
With views on the Golden Gate Bridge, a sandy beach sloping gently into the bay, few waves and nice weather, Crissy Field is a winner for San Francisco families. Most picnic tables have BBQ grills and they are scattered on a the big grassy expanse next to the Warming Hut. No wonder people show up early to stake their claims for the day! My favorite time of the day is mid-morning to mid-afternoon as Crissy Field tends to get windy in the afternoons. Don’t forget a change of clothes, kids will get into the water whether you think it’s cold or not!
2. Log Cabin, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
When the coast or the bay is too windy, the Log Cabin right next to Stowe Lake is the place to be to grill skirt steak and have a cold drink. The four (independent) picnic tables are walking distance from the Stowe Lake boathouse so if the kids want to go on paddle boats or canoes before or after the picnic, it’s a great distraction. Otherwise a grassy meadow and a large tree stump provide ample room for nature play.
3. Sonoma Plaza, Sonoma
You won’t get closer to Mediterranean living than a picnic on Sonoma Plaza. A stone’s throw from the old Mission San Francisco Solano and minutes way from dozens of fantastic wineries, the plaza features big grassy lawns shaded by century-old trees next to a playground and a duck pond. Since the plaza is surrounded by shops and restaurants, you can even do some last-minute shopping on site to supplement your meal. And for a grand finale, take the kids to the Sonoma Traintown railroad, a mini-amusement park a mile away where kids can ride a miniature train over bridges, through tunnels and play at a miniature town.
4. Picchetti Ranch Open Space Preserve, Cupertino
Easy trails, beautiful trees, old winery on site, picnic tables on a lawn and a wandering peacock – what else can you ask of a picnic day? A rare combination of open space and commercial winery, Picchetti Ranch is a great place to bring small kids and hike the trails overlooking Stevens Creek Reservoir. A seasonal pond is easily accessible from the trailhead and when it dries out, you can still wander underneath gigantic oak trees on the Zinfandel Trail. Once at the picnic area, you can taste the Picchetti Winery wines and bring them outside.
5. Cesar Chavez Park, Berkeley
Right on the San Francisco Bay with a view on two bridges and Alcatraz, Cesar Chavez Park offers 90 acres of fun with an off-leash area for dogs, nice paved trails for little ones on two wheels and picnic tables under the trees. If the kids feel like some water or adventure fun, simply head to the other side of the Berkeley Marina where the Adventure Playground offers the ultimate kid fun day. In front of the playground, a small sandy beach offers water splashing opps for all ages. Beware: the area can get very windy.
6. Sunol Regional Wilderness, Sunol
If your kids are like mine and love walking knee-deep in a cold creek on a sunny day, head over to Sunol Regional Wilderness now. Besides the fact that the park offers some seriously beautiful hiking trails, you can access an area known as Little Yosemite where cold water cascades from pool to pool between big boulders. It’s heaven on earth but you need to hike to get there. For car-accessible fun, pick any of the creek-side picnic tables and unleash the kids’ energy!
7. Drakes Bay Oyster Farm, Drakes Bay
If oysters and Point Reyes sound like a good idea, Drakes Bay Oyster Farm is the perfect spot to unwind and claim a picnic table overlooking Drakes Bay. Close to the Point Reyes Lighthouse, the Drakes Bay Oyster Farm will teach the kids everything they need to know about oyster farming and you can shuck your fresh oysters right on the farm. Either you bring your own shucking tools or you can rent them on site – up to you. Whatever the case, bring sunscreen – you’ll need it.
8. Angel Island State Park, Angel Island
Angel Island deserves a medal for offering the only ferry-accessible picnic spots in the entire Bay Area. Start the day with a short ferry ride and once on the island, decide on your best picnic option. Most families simply claim a table at Ayala Cove by the ferry landing where a large lawn area offers great views on the bay. For a more adventurous option, hoof it up a mile and a half to Camp Reynolds and lay your blanket on the sandy beach where the kids can watch kayakers paddle by. Last but not least, take the tram to the island’s immigration station and picnic before or after visiting the historical buildings.
9. Coyote Point Recreation Area, San Mateo
Between the boat marina, the nature CuriOdyssey museum, the massive Magic Mountain Playground and the beach, Coyote Point Recreation Area is a kid heaven on all points. Since you can’t do it all in one day, you may have to come back but the view on the bay and the eucalyptus groves can’t be beat for scenery. A big plus for kids who are plane-maniacs: Coyote Point faces the San Francisco International Airport runways and provides great views on taking off and landing flights.
10. Shoreline Park and Lake, Mountain View
Come for a picnic, stay for the water sports. Shoreline Park and Lake offer a lot of fun options for families besides picnic tables on grassy lawns. From the boat-themed playground to the pedal boats or the beach, Shoreline is water-fun-central but bring the bikes in case the kids want to ride along the San Francisco Bay. Tons of flat trails to be enjoyed!
Have fun picknicking!