Hungry for lunch with a view? Grab a blanket and visit one of San Francisco’s best picnic spots for families
Picnic season is here! Warmer weather, grass for days, and gorgeous spring and summer blooms are the trifecta to an idyllic outing with a wicker picnic basket in tow (or, let’s be real—a grab-bag lunch tossed into the cooler). However you prefer to picnic, the Bay Area is filled with kid-friendly parks that make for the perfect outdoor afternoon. From Marin down to San Jose, there are loads of al fresco options to enjoy northern California’s luxuriously long picnic season. So, pick a picnic spot and pack up the basket full of kid-friendly snacks and hit the road! If the idea of meal prep has you uninspired, don’t worry: Many of these Bay Area picnic spots are near some delicious restaurants and eateries. Read on for our recommendations for where to snag grub en route to your picnic area of choice.
Crane Cove Park, San Francisco
This spot in the Dogpatch neighborhood has two large grassy areas that are perfect for picnics and kite flying. There are also a few picnic tables and benches if you prefer to not sit on the ground. Check out our full review here.
Mission Dolores Park, San Francisco
One of San Francisco’s most popular destinations for locals, Dolores Park is a perfect spot to drop a blanket and people watch. The spectacular view of the city is only matched by the festive atmosphere and gorgeous weather year round. A beautiful playground right at the top of the park will entertain kids for hours while you finish your treats in peace.
Crissy Field West Bluffs, San Francisco
Breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge, a sandy beach, and a large grassy area splashed with picnic tables and grills make this San Francisco landmark one of the very best places for picnics ever. Be sure to bring a kite in case the wind picks up, and hats plus SPF as there isn’t much shade.
Bernal Heights Park, San Francisco
This park checks all the picnic boxes—epic view, grassy spots and even a bonus swing to make you feel like you are touching the clouds. On a clear day you can see the Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge and all the way to East Bay hills. Park in the lot or on one of the side streets and follow the paths up to the top. It will take you about 20 minutes with tiny walkers so pack the jogging stroller if you think that will be an issue.
Ocean Beach, San Francisco
Nothing beats a beach picnic at sunset on a warm day. True, this particular beach is not usually the warmest, but the sunsets are killer. Kids will be occupied for hours, dogs are more than welcome and parents can relax, beer in hand, while their little ones build sand castles.
Where to Eat: Java Beach Café or Other Avenues Food Store Co-op
Mother's Meadow, San Francisco
This stunning meadow is surrounded by trees and secluded from any wind. It also features a lovely playground and picnic tables. Families have plenty of space in the flat grassy area to play frisbee, soccer, or tag. After enjoying a snack, follow one of the paths located on the east or west sides to explore the beauty of Stow Lake.
Where to Eat: Organic hotdogs at Underdog, and Que Huong Vietnamese Deli
Lands End, San Francisco
Stunning views of the coastline and the Golden Gate Bridge, and a lot of history surround what many say is the best hike in San Francisco. Take the Lands End trail as far as you and your family can go, and lay a blanket down on one of the beaches below, or by the Sutro Baths ruins. Be sure to check out the visitor center and gift shop for books about the Sutro Baths and Cliff House.
Where to Eat: Lands End Lookout Café, Bistro at the Cliff House and Beach Chalet
Treasure Island, San Francisco
Just across the Bay Bridge from SF is the spot with quite possibly the BEST view of the city that you can find. Treasure Island connects to the Bay Bridge via Yerba Buena Island and is home to the monthly TreasureFest Flea Market and also some perfect spots for picnics. Spread out your blanket on the Great Lawn and you'll have outstanding views and even a playground for kid climbing. Bring your kites as it's almost always windy here.
Where to Eat: MerSea is a cool, new spot that just opened on the Great Lawn. It offers eats, libations and even bocce ball to keep the kiddos occupied.
Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco
Just a short walk from Crissy Field and the Presidio, you'll love spending the day at the Palace of Fine Arts. There are a few great climbing trees, shade and lots of wildlife watching. Can you spot the red-eared sliders sunning themselves on the logs?
Where to Eat: If you are looking for a picnic, we love grabbing a pizza from A 16 and bringing it over.
Huckleberry Botanical Regional Preserve, Oakland
This spot will make you work a little before enjoying your picnic but the 1.7 mile round trip loop through a forest and up to a short summit will yield spectacular East Bay and Bay bridge views that will be well worth your time and effort!
Where to Eat: Stop by at nearby Thornbill Coffee house for sandwiches, salads and of course, coffee.
Strawberry Creek Park, Berkeley
If your lazy weekend is so lazy you can’t be bothered to pack a picnic, head here. Hidden Cafe is actually within the park perimeter and offers coffee (how better to survive the constant barrage of “watch this” on the playground?) as well as inventive tacos, salads and baked goods. And as if that’s not enough, Phoenix Pastificio is just next door offering fresh pasta.
There are a few picnic tables next to the creek in addition to a giant shady lawn that begs for picnic blankets. Fun fact: this park is at the former site of a Santa Fe train freight yard and this long buried creek was daylighted here to follow its natural course.
Point Pinole Regional Park, Richmond
This sprawling park has abundant grassy lawns to spread out your blanket and if lying around post-picnic in an induced food coma is not in the cards (because...kids), worry not. A pier for fishing, paved paths for biking and dirt paths for dog walking means this spot has something for everyone plus marshlands and eucalyptus woodlands boasts plentiful wildlife spotting.
Where to Eat: Nearby New Deli Cafe (family owned and operated for the past 30 years) makes their soups from scratch and offers an amazing selection of sandwiches and salads.
Mt. Diablo State Park, Walnut Creek
A crystal clear day yields fabulous views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Lassen Peak and the Sierra Nevadas and those hankering for adventure can explore cool geological rock formations.
Insider Tip: This area is pretty remote so make sure to pack your own sustenance.
Del Valle Regional Park, Livermore
Boasting two swimming beaches and picnic tables with barbecue grills, this Livermore gem is a fantastic summertime destination. You can make advance reservations for a group picnic spot or just head on out and grab an available table. Better yet, spread your blanket on the beach near the water. Kids love splashing around and lifeguards are on duty, but a responsible adult still needs to supervise. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, the Rocky Ridge Visitor Center is open, featuring well-informed naturalists and neat-o exhibits. There is a $6 parking fee through the main entrance.
Where to Eat: Lots of grocery options in Livermore like Trader Joe’s, Safeway and Lucky. Also check out Brew Hoo Cafe or Mr. Pickle’s Sandwich Shop.
Cesar Chavez Park, Berkeley
This spot hosts the yearly kite festival but it's a great spot to fly a kite any time of the year. Views of Alcatraz and both bridges makes for epic photos, there's 90 acres of grass to explore. Parking can get a little tight so get there early in the day or carpool!
Where to Eat: We like Bette's Oceanview Diner for relaxed dining with something for everyone.
San Mateo Central Park
Plenty of picnic tables and play spaces make this an idyllic spot to dine al fresco with the littles. Located in downtown San Mateo, Central Park includes a playground, tennis courts, lawns and a children’s train ride. Take a stroll around the Japanese Tea Garden and make stops at the granite pagoda, bamboo grove and tea house. The koi pond is home to several big, colorful fish. Be there at 11 a.m. or 3 p.m., which is when they get fed. Talk about a frenzy!
Where to Eat: The Sandwich Spot and Hummus Mediterranean Kitchen, both on E. 4th St.
Half Moon Bay State Beach, Half Moon Bay
The downside is that parking costs $10. The upside is that Francis Beach (the southernmost one) has lots of picnic tables (good for a birthday party), grass for frisbee and football, a campground, trails for cycling, amazing sunsets, and—of course—a beach. There are even picnic tables off the sand so you can grill and go back and forth to the beach as much as you please. (Note: the beach is popular here but actual swimming can be dangerous due to strong rip currents.)
Foothills Park, Palo Alto
There are five picnic areas, some with grills, at this hidden gem. Fishing, boating, hiking and even camping are also available to round out your epic picnic day out. Don't feel like hiking but still want a great view? A short drive up to Vista Hill offers gorgeous, panoramic views of the Bay.
Cornelius Bol Park, Palo Alto
A huge grassy lawn calls you to lay down a blanket and you'll want to pack flip flops and towels for the kids because they’ll love walking in Matadero Creek (the entrance is about an eighth of a mile from Laguna Ave. and down an embankment that might not be great for older caregivers). Afterwards follow the paved trail north to see if Bol Park’s famous occupants—donkeys Perry and Niner—are visiting. They’re the most recent of a long line of donkeys who have lived here since the 1930s. (Insider tip: Sunday morning is the best time to spot them.)
Las Palmas Park, Sunnyvale
Picnic tables? Check. Big kid and toddler playgrounds? Check. Giant Easter Island heads? Um . . . check? When a tropical theme was chosen for Las Palmas, the park designers really followed through on that design, creating a large (non-swimmable) lagoon dotted with the aforementioned Easter Island moai. Then they surrounded the lagoon with palm trees and placed a big kid playground on an island in the middle. There are reservable and non-reservable picnic tables making this Polynesian-themed oasis perfect for picnic and barbecue parties.
Frontierland Park, Pacifica
The star attraction at this park, hidden in the hills of Pacifica, is the volunteer-built playground that’s half fort, half maze. Plus there’s a gigantic grassy area that’s ideal for games, flying a kite or just plain running around. One large picnic area is available with a reservation and includes 10 picnic tables, a huge counter prep area, two barbecues and a sink. Otherwise there are several other tables, each with its own barbecue, that are usually easy to claim upon arrival. If your kids aren’t tired out after that take them to the hiking trails. Plus down the hill there’s a bowling alley and, of course, the beach. Expect a long nap afterwards.
San Jose Municipal Rose Garden, San Jose
Have a picnic and smell the roses at what is considered “America’s best rose garden” and one of the best picnic spots in the South Bay. Lay a blanket on the lush open grass field, walk through the endless rows of fragrant roses, play near the pergola and enjoy the sound of the water in the fountain.
Where to Eat: Café Rosalena or Crema Coffee
Vasona Lake County Park, Los Gatos
This South Bay spot has miles of walking trails, creeks for exploring and loads of grass to spread out your picnic blanket. Park near Oak Meadow and you can enjoy the Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad and merry-go-round after your snack. Or, grab a spot in near the Youth Science Institute and check out the animals that live there. Vasona also hosts a summer music series and movies under the stars. Parking is $6.
Where to Eat: Grab a pizza from Campo di Bocce or burgers from Main Street Burgers
Sanborn County Park, Saratoga
This park nestled in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains has it all—an expansive lawn with picnic tables, redwood-shaded trails that can make you forget you’re in the middle of a blazing summer, a lovely creek, waterfalls, campgrounds, and—for the more adventurous—hiking paths all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
Montalvo Arts Center, Saratoga
The expansive lawn at this gorgeous property is a prime spot for picnicking. There's a number of parking lots onsite and great hiking trails that will get you to see some expansive views of the Bay Area.
Angel Island State Park, Tiburon
This picnic spot might necessitate a little more planning than others but the views will make it absolutely worth it. Grab the ferry from SF or Tiburon and head to the island with your people and your picnic gear. Just up the hill from the dock area are tons of picnic tables that are open for the taking, or grab a patch of grass and spread out your blanket. After you eat, explore the island on foot or take the tram ride for a 360 degree view of the Bay Area.
Where to Eat: The island has its own cafe and cantina that offer sandwiches, cookies and even adult beverages. Stay for the live music!
China Camp State Park, San Rafael
Make your way to China Camp Village where you can picnic right next to the beach on San Pablo Bay and also visit a museum dedicated to the 1880s Chinese shrimp and fishing settlement that was once here. On the weekend there’s a snack shop offering food, beverages and ice cream. While at China Camp be sure to check out the hiking trails and wildlife watching, and if you’re more adventurous there’s camping, boating, windsurfing, and mountain biking.
Point Reyes Shipwreck, Inverness
Check out this gorgeous area of coastline and make a stop at the shipwreck that all the kids love. There are a few picnic benches and tables just behind the Inverness Store where you can get snacks and drinks. Across the street is the Saltwater Oyster Depot if you want some seafood to-go. We recommend snagging some sandwiches at the Inverness Park Market on your way to the shipwreck.
Tennessee Valley Beach, Marin
Tennessee Valley is an amazing offshoot of the Marin Headlands with spectacular hiking trails perfect for the whole family. The easiest trail begins at the parking area and travels 1.7 miles to Tennessee Beach where a perfect picnic spots awaits. In the springtime the green hills are splashed with wild flowers of every color of the rainbow.
Where to Eat: Café del Soul or Dipsea Café in Mill Valley
The Cheese Factory, North Bay
Just 20 minutes from downtown Petaluma, Marin French Cheese Co. at historic Hicks Valley Ranch is an excellent picnic destination with several outdoor tables, grassy areas for blankets and a picturesque pond. The littles will love checking out the ducks and geese. Bring your frisbees or softballs for a game of catch—there’s lots of room in the fields. Cheese enthusiasts must visit the onsite retail shop to taste the locally-made brie, camembert and specialty “breakfast cheese.”
Where to Eat: The Cheese Factory’s shop carries cheeses (of course), sandwiches, drinks, and more, plus souvenirs and sundries.
Additional reporting by Kathleen Mikulis, Kate Loweth, & Olivia Boler