9 Idyllic
San Francisco Bay Area Picnic Spots

where everyone can enjoy an al fresco feast
and more

article and images by Carole Terwilliger Meyers

idyllic picnic scene in Berkeley, California
idyllic picnic scene in Berkeley, California

The whole family can enjoy a picnic and more at these special destinations.

But don’t find yourself one sandwich short of a picnic.  Here are some things to keep on hand at home for packing a simple picnic on the spur of the moment:
a bottle of wine for adults
a few surprises for children (in addition to food, think a bottle of bubbles or a blow-up ball)

I like to use an old-time picnic basket when the destination permits.  However sometimes  having the goods in a backpack makes it easier to scout out a picnic spot.

If you don’t have supplies but have time, take the family to a deli or supermarket and pick your pleasure.

But whatever you do, don’t squelch the potential pleasure of a picnic.  Plan one SOON!

San Francisco

Where:  Mountain Lake Park
What to Do: 
This is one of my very favorite parks.  It has a lakeside path and a well-equipped, sandy playground.  You should be prepared to wander a bit to find an appropriate spot to spread your picnic blanket.  And though you should not, of course, drink from the lake, it supplied all of San Francisco’s water from 1852 to 1870. 
Picnic Pick-Up:  Delis are getting harder to find in San Francisco–almost as hard as a parking space.  Try tiny Say Cheese at 856 Cole Street in the Haight-Ashbury near Golden Gate Park.   It has more than 300 kinds of cheese, plus sandwiches, salads, pâtés, crackers, cheese spreads, and fresh cookies. 

grassy expanse at Mountain Lake Park in San Francisco, California
grassy expanse at Mountain Lake Park in San Francisco, California

Where:  Stow Lake, in Golden Gate Park
What to Do:
  Rent a boat and head out for a quiet cove to enjoy a memorable picnic on board (or wait for that until after the ride).  Don’t feed the seagulls because I think they are capable of sinking the boat with enthusiasm (also it is against the rules).  This is the largest of the park’s 11 lakes, and the water is shallow.  Note that boats are often wet inside so bring a blanket to sit on.   
Picnic Pick-Up:  See above.  Also, a cafe here serves typical fast-food items, including hot dogs, hamburgers, and ice cream. 

Where:  Palace of Fine Arts
What to Do:
  Said to be the world’s largest artificial ruin, this classical structure was designed by architect Bernard Maybeck in 1915 as part of the Panama-Pacific Exposition.  A paved path leads around a lagoon teeming with wildlife–ducks, swans, turtles, and more.  Benches and grassy areas provide the perfect perch for a scenic picnic. 
Picnic Pick-Up: Very close by in the Marina District, Lucca Delicatessen has been owned by the same family since 1929.  Among the goodies you can get here are made-to-order sandwiches, housemade salads, handmade bread sticks, and a large selection of Italian wines.

exterior of Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, California
exterior of Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, California


Where:  Angel Island, Tiburon
A ferry leaves from a dock on Main Street.  You can also catch a ferry from Pier 39 in San Francisco
What to do:  At least half the fun of this excursion is the scenic ferry ride to and fro.  About 12 miles of trails and paved roads completely circle Angel Island–the bay’s largest island–and a 3.2-mile loop trail leads to a formal picnic area atop 781-foot-high Mount Livermore.  Cars are not permitted on the island, but an open-air tram tour is available and bikes can be rented. 
Picnic Pick-Up:  Jane in the Cove Shopping Center is the spot to pick up some sweet pastries and artisan bread.

Where:  Marin French Cheese Company, Petaluma
What to Do:
  Pick a spot on the expansive pond-side grassy area.  A few tables are also available. 
Picnic Pick-Up:  You can pick up at least part of your picnic on site.  Sample the cheeses and pick one to purchase for your own picnic.  Camembert, Brie, schloss, and breakfast cheeses are all from milk produced by a local herd of Jersey cows.  A café purveys soups, sandwiches, and beverages.

East Bay

Where:  U.C. Berkeley Campanile, Berkeley
What to Do:
  The grassy lawn around the campanile is perfect for a picnic.  I have a fond memory of feasting on strawberries and sparkling wine there, in celebration of my sister’s graduation.  Mini-concerts are often hand-played on its 61-bell carillon; schedule.  An elevator takes visitors up 200 feet to an observation platform for a 360-degree view of the area.
Picnic Pick-Up:  At The Stuffed Inn on Northside, you stand in line to order sandwiches and accoutrements–including good soups.  Have them pack it up to go.  Plan to park on a side street here, and then you can walk in to the campus through a gate at the bottom of this street.  And if you time things well, you can finish the day off across the street with pizza at La Val’s before returning to your car. 
See the falcons that nest atop the campanile.

Where:  Tilden Regional Park, Berkeley
What to Do:
  This beautiful park has 35 miles of hiking trails and numerous picnic spots, some with tables and barbecues.  I’ve always particularly liked the sloping lawn in front of the Brazil Room.  Kids will adore the chance to visit the animals at the Little Farm, ride a carousel, or board a miniature steam train during your visit.  There is way more to do in this park so do some research before you set out.
Picnic Pick-Up:  See above.

little girl feeding cow at Little Farm in Tilden Park in Berkeley, California
little girl feeding cow at Little Farm in Tilden Park in Berkeley, California


Where:  Coyote Point Recreation Area, San Mateo
What to Do:
  This large bay-side park has it all:  a barbecue area, a picnic areas sheltered by fragrant eucalyptus, several playgrounds, inviting grassy expanses, several trails, an 18-hole golf course, a rifle range, and a swimming beach with bathhouse.  And it’s located on the descent route for the San Francisco International Airport, making it a great place to watch planes land.  Also CuriOdyssey children’s museum is here with a live colony of bees, wildlife habitats that include burrowing owls and a porcupine, and a walk-through aviary of native Bay Area birds.  It also has an inviting picnic area. 
Picnic Pick-Up:  It is worth going a little out of your way to stop at Copenhagen Bakery & Cafe in Burlingame.  A combination bakery/restaurant, it produces a sweet little six-grain loaf and a great sweet French bread (I suggest packing along a jar of peanut butter and jam to spread on this for stellar sandwiches) as well as exquisite European-style pastries. You can also get some sandwiches made here and pick up an assortment of bakery items.  And if you’re running late, you can plan to have a quick breakfast here before you head out. 

Wine Country

Where:  V. Sattui Winery, St. Helena
Picnic Pick-Up/What to Do:
  V. Sattui Winery has been family-owned for four generations.  The wines are available only here.  To determine which wine you’ll purchase for your picnic (they are best known for Johannisberg Rieslings and Cabernet Sauvignons), you can do a tasting in a stone winery building featuring 3-foot-thick walls and chiseled archways. 

The on-site Artisan Deli stocks housemade charcuterie and pâtés, salads, and desserts (think seasonal fruit tarts and Italian-style gelato), along with more than 200 different cheeses (it claims to have the largest selection of international cheeses on the West Coast).  Most of the year, weekend barbecues add barbecued ribs, wood-fired pizza, and more to the menu.  Plenty of oak-shaded tables are provided on a 2-acre picnic grounds.  When it rains, festivities move inside to tables in the underground Barrel Room lined with oak barrels and emanating the aromas of aging wine.  Note that outside food and wine are not permitted.  

more great Bay Area picnics

(www.berkeleyandbeyond2.com; copyright Carole Terwilliger Meyers)