1. Golden Gate Park
The most wide open of picnic places, there are millions – seriously, millions – of places for you to throw down a blanket and picnic to your little heart’s content. Anywhere near the Japanese Tea Garden, or the grassy knolls near the Conservatory of Flowers are my favorites, but from log cabins to ball fields to museums, to buffalo – seriously, buffalo – GGP has it all.
Must have items: a blanket big enough to nap on, a frisbee, and a way of strapping your entire picnic to your bike so you can cycle home when the sun sets.
Honorable mention: Dolores Park is also wonderful, if you can handle an overabundance of tattoos and non-ironic ironic mustaches.
2. Stern Grove
One of San Francisco’s oldest free outdoor music festivals, Stern Grove is culture and community and extremely competitive picnicking all in one. Get there early – earlier than you think you’ll need to – to set up camp. I like to bring a notebook to plan out my posts, a good book (I’m finally working my way through Tales of the City!) and, of course, several bottles of vin.
Must have items: serious stadium seats or low chairs (you’ll be sitting awhile), real wine glasses and cutlery to compete with the competitive spread to your left (bonus points if you bring a tablecloth), and an eagle eye to nab the perfect spot the moment you walk in. Take no prisoners!
Honorable mention: Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is another a-mazing musical festival, but sometimes it’s nice not to get secondhand high at a music festival in San Fran, am I right? I’m right.
3. Gabrielson Park
Call me an old lady, but sometimes sleepy, adorable little Sausalito is where it’s at. Jazz and Blues by the Bay every Friday night has become a summer tradition. My friends and I bike to the ferry, chug across the Bay, enjoy whatever selection of music is du jour, then ride home in the twilight over the Golden Gate Bridge. And if that sounds too magical for words, don’t worry: it is. Won’t you join us?
Must have items: a roll up table (all the cool kids have them), lots of layers since you’re right next to the water, and a nice friend who can leave work on the early boat and snag a space. Real estate is at a premium in this tiny park, but it’s totally worth it.
Honorable mention: San Rafael Jazz in the Park. Same idea, but no ferry involved, and this event is still relatively new so there are usually some kinks.
4. Casa Nuestra Winery
One of my all-time favorite Napa wineries, tiny Casa Nuestra makes some big reds, crisp whites, and a dry rosado so good I recently bought two bottles on the spot*. Call ahead for a tour and tasting, then whip out your cooler and crack open a bottle of whatever you’ve just bought. Because no matter what’s in the cooler OR what you buy at Casa Nuestra, it’s all going to taste delicious together. I promise.
Must have items: an appointment for a tour, a lazy Saturday, a corkscrew and glasses, and a powerful thirst.
Honorable mention: V’Sattui Winery is another of my favorites, but they require you to buy your lunch from their deli, limiting your culinary options. Their Gamay Rouge and Cuvée rouge are not to be missed, but picnic elsewhere if you bring lunch.
5. Movie in the Park at Union Square
By the end of last year’s showing of Dirty Dancing, the entire square was up and jumping to Time of My Life as the credits rolled. Sure, the ground is hard, but you’ll have cushions and friends and food, and, oh hey – you’re watching a movie in the middle of downtown San Francisco. Bad. Ass.
Must have items: cushions or stadium seats (something with a back), a warm drink, and a way to get home from the urban jungle when you’re ready to pack it in.
Honorable mention: Movie in the Park at Washington Square. Also a lovely experience, but the North Beach location is a little too close to bars and restaurants and it can get a little loud at times. Also, those tai chi ladies never go away. Ever.
Where are you picnicking this summer?
*Random information + a tip: I drank one bottle of rosado right away, naturally. The remaining bottle is currently living in my left Ralph Lauren riding boot, if you must know, as riding boots make excellent wine bottle storage and the bottles help those nice boots you bought keep their shape. I really wanted you to know that.