Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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Good food, blankets, green grass, fun friends, sunny skies –picnics are the very essence of lazy summers, family vacations or weekend adventures. In the Bay Area, 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.
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 the 10 best picnic spots in the Bay Area, to relax al fresco and bless our California weather.
In no particular order, this list features Bay Area spots from all over, including San Francisco, Marin, Sonoma, Santa Clara, the Peninsula and the East Bay.
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 in the Bay Area 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!
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.
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.
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.
Right in the San Francisco Bay Area 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.
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!
Formerly site of the Drakes Bay Oyster Farm, Drakes Beach is a great family-friendly picnic spot in Point Reyes, with picnic tables overlooking Drakes Bay, miles of sandy beach and mini-hikes from the parking lot. Close to the Point Reyes Lighthouse (shuttle bus option), Drakes Bay is a favorite picnic spot in Marin as kids can play in waves, build sand castles or run around. It can get chilly, so bring a few layers, and it’s definitely a lovely spot to unwind (no cell phone reception) and stop by the beach cafe & bookstore to stock on nature guides before heading out for some whale-watching from the cliffs.
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.
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.
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!
Note: This piece was first published on Well Kiddos on May 15, 2012. Well Kiddos™, a Half Moon Bay organization led by Manuela Hipkins, advocates providing children with healthy food choices when dining in or out. The program is designed to help both restaurants and parents.