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Since weather wise fall is the Bay Area’s version of summer, it also makes it the perfect time to take your dining outdoors. Here are the Bay Area’s best places to picnic, including nearby restaurants and cafes where you can gather grub for your al fresco feast. Remember to pack a blanket and a parka with your picnic—just in case the famous fog rolls in.

RELATED: 10 free things to do in San Francisco

Angel Island State Park

Golden Gate bridge as seen from Angel Island, California

Golden Gate bridge as seen from Angel Island

Located on San Francisco Bay near Tiburon, this island has a history that includes acting as a detention center for immigrants in the early 1900s, processing prisoners of war and serving as a Nike missile defense base in the late 1950s. Now a state park, day-trippers reach it via ferries departing from San Francisco and Tiburon. In addition to picnicking, you can hike or bike around the island on paved roads and well-marked trails. Trams also circle the island.

Picnic pick-up: Near the ferry landing, Angel Island Cafe is a convenient back-up if you don’t have time to pack a picnic beforehand or if you want a little something more. The Cantina, which features live music and fresh oysters, operates seasonally (Jun–Oct). You can also order a box lunch for pick-up when you arrive.

 

Golden Gate Park 

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

Golden Gate Park | Photo: Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Of course, there are endless picnic spots in this giant park that is larger even than Manhattan’s Central Park. Two favorites are Hippie Hill, which is legendary for being a gathering place in the ‘60s, and Strawberry Island, which is across a foot bridge from the Stow Lake Boathouse and has picnic tables and a waterfall. Afterward, rent a paddle boat and float for a while on the lake.

Picnic pick-up: Say Cheese is a long-established shop in nearby Haight-Ashbury, where you can fill your picnic basket with a selection of hundreds of cheeses and perhaps a made-to-order sandwich, some pate and a few cookies. As a back-up, a cafe at Stow Lake serves hamburgers and hot dogs, as well as cold beer and hot espresso drinks.

 

Jack Early Park 

Head here if you’re in the mood for an intimate, or maybe even solo, picnic.  A climb up the 63 tree-lined steps may take your breath away, but the pay off is that it leads you up to a platform offering a breathtaking view spanning three bridges: the Golden Gate, San Rafael–Richmond, and Bay Bridge. Located on the outskirts of North Beach, this hidden park is wee, but has a bench at the top to rest upon and enjoy your lunch. The park is gated at night.

Picnic pick-up: Swing by nearby Molinari Delicatessen in North Beach. Take a number as you walk in, and order up made-to-order sandwiches and more. This old-school Italian deli was established in 1896 and is the oldest in town. It’s also a local institution.

 

Mission Dolores Park 

Mission Dolores Park, San Francisco

Mission Dolores Park | Photo: Carole Terwilliger Meyers

The sun shines more reliably in the Mission District, so this park is extremely  popular on weekends. It features rolling expanses of grass, with limited shade provided by tall palm trees. Spread a blanket and then sit back to enjoy the spectacular view of the city’s skyline.  Facilities include a tennis court, a basketball court, a playground and several off-leash dog play areas.

Picnic pick-up: Located on the northwest corner of the park, the deli counter at Bi-Rite Market will fulfill your picnic fantasies. They also stock a good selection of kombucha, and for dessert check out the wall of chocolate bars or pick up some housemade chocolate mousse or a dessert jar. Or . . . cross the street to Bi-Rite Creamery for some yummy ice cream and eat your dessert before your picnic.

 

Presidio Main Parade Ground

Presidio Parade Grounds

Presidio Parade Grounds

In 1898, this 7-acre expanse of grass served as a training site for soldiers who lived in the adjacent red-brick barracks. It’s hard to believe now, but in 1937, the area was paved over to serve as a parking lot. Fortunately, it was changed back to a green space in 2011, so now you can picnic your heart out here. One of the buildings has been converted into the Walt Disney Family Museum.

Picnic pick-up: Time your visit for a Sunday between April and October, and you can participate in an official Presidio Picnic. You can still bring your own picnic or purchase a portable feast from a variety of food trucks featuring international cuisines. Free live entertainment is usually part of the mix.

Transamerica Redwood Park 

It is exciting enough to find a small park among the skyscrapers, but even better that it’s next to the famous Transamerica Pyramid building and filled with toddler redwoods standing up to 100-feet tall. Benches and tables are available. Note that the park is open weekdays only, from 7am to 5:30pm.

Picnic pick-up: Just across the street, Sushirrito mixes together two of the Bay Area’s favorite foods—sushi and burritos. There is usually a line, but it is worth the wait for a great sushi roll, perhaps the popular sumo crunch featuring spicy tempura. Order ahead and pick up your picnic ready to go.

Wave Organ

Wave Organ, San Francisco

Wave Organ | Photo: Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Located at the eastern tip of the breakwater forming the Marina Yacht Harbor, this unique attraction is off the beaten path. It was designed by an artist with the Exploratorium, when that science museum was situated just a few blocks away at the Palace of Fine Arts—another great picnic destination. Find a perfect spot here, then relax while enjoying the natural symphony made by pipes submerged in the Bay. A spectacular view of the San Francisco skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge is included.

Picnic pick-up: Located on the Marina’s trendy Chestnut Street, Lucca Delicatessen has been owned by the same family since 1929.  Pick up a basket full of picnic supplies here, from made-to-order sandwiches to housemade salads to Italian wines.

 

Old Mill Park: Mill Valley 

Old Mill Park, Mill Valley

Old Mill Park | Photo: Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Meanwhile, just across the bay in Marin, picnicking at a table under mature second-growth redwoods is magical. When the table is within a fairy-ring circle of giant redwoods—you’re almost beyond a wildest dream. Add in a free public park with a small stream and picturesque sawmill ruins and you’ve got a memorable picnic site. This park has a small playground and is especially fun with children.

Picnic pick-up: Another old-timer, the small but well-stocked Mill Valley Market has been family-owned since 1929. Locally made products are the specialty, and a deli/bakery tucked in the back purveys prepared salads and baked goods.

 

U.C. Berkeley Campanile: Berkeley 

U.C. Berkeley campus, Campanile

U.C. Berkeley campus, Campanile

Head to the East Bay to see how fun it can be to drop a blanket in the shadow of Cal’s famous Campanile and settle in for a picnic feast while listening to a concert played out on the bells above. Do check the concert schedule because it changes regularly. And do plan in the time to take the Campanile’s elevator up to enjoy a 360-degree view of the surrounding area. You might want do what new Cal graduates sometimes do and enjoy a picnic of just champagne and strawberries.

Picnic Pick-up: In the Gourmet Ghetto, around the corner from world-famous Chez Panisse, is charming Grégoire—an upscale hole-in-the-wall. The accomplished chef here produces French take-out made from scratch with fresh local ingredients. He is justly famous for crispy round potato puffs and a flaky housemade apple tarte tatin, but it is hard to go wrong here. You can place your order online and then pick up your picnic ready to go in sweet corrugated boxes with black-and-white liners. A few picnic tables are available outside the shop should you be unable to wait.

Central Park: San Mateo  

Draeger’s Market | Photo: Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Over in San Mateo, this traditional suburban park holds 16 acres of trees, a miniature train ride and a Japanese Tea Garden, as well as a baseball field, playground and tennis courts. It also has several official picnic areas with tables and barbecue grills.

Picnic Pick-up: An immense emporium, Draeger’s Market boasts grocery items but also a deli, a bakery, a sushi bar and a smoothie bar, as well as a wine-tasting room and cooking school (if you want to make your own picnic). A second floor purveys cookbooks and housewares, and items such as fancy napkins that might come in handy for a picnic.

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Tagged: Food & drink

Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Carole Terwilliger Meyers

Carole is a Berkeley-based travel writer who most especially enjoys cultural and culinary travel. She contributes to an assortment of publications and is the author of 18 books. Carole oversees two websites, berkeleyandbeyond.com and webcamtraveler.com, and she blogs at travelswithcarole.blogspot.com.
Carole Terwilliger Meyers

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One thought on “10 very best places to picnic in San Francisco”

  1. Thanks!!! I’ve lived in the area for all of my 62 years & I’ve not heard of some of these! Definitely on my list☘️

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