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Picnics & Sunsets

By Anna Pastor

From grass blankets to sand beds, we've got you covered in your search for the perfect picnic setting—this article lists 7 interesting picnic spots in SF!

Pack your lunch, grab a book, and spread a blanket on the ground, because very often the bright and vibrant atmosphere of San Francisco is too good to miss. Unwind with the friendly squirrels playing around the parks as the thin fog sprawls the ether.

Enjoy a good view of the organic mix of transient tourists and locals jovially passing by. Picnics are perfect for relaxing, people watching, and just basking in the beautiful city. You’re in luck because San Francisco offers a rich variety of scenic settings to do just that! So let go of your troubles and head out to one of the following:

1. Palace of Fine Arts

3301 Lyon St, San Francisco, CA

​Discover yourself at the gardens of the Palace of Fine Arts through the grandeur of its architecture and its formidable environment. Immerse in the peacefulness that can be found in the still pond, high ceilings, and sidewalks strewn with flamboyant flowers. The design of the palace is said to be an artistic representation of ancient Roman ruins, which gives off that ambiguous vibe of going on a spontaneous adventure.

Photography sessions, both formal and informal, usually take place here. Because it is rather picturesque, I sometimes come here while riding my bike just to gleefully take in the scenery. If you can, rent a bike and do the same! Another optional thing to do here is attend theatrical events such as concerts and ballet performances, but make sure to plan ahead to get the best seats. It is nice to come in the daytime to experience the palace’s natural colors, but nighttime is just perfect. I might even contend that it is more romantic here at night. You can also enjoy the scenery without needing a bike or an event ticket--just stroll around the pond and watch the koi fishes. Be sure to pack your dossier lunch for a picnic by the lake to enjoy the serenity, and stillness at the Palace of Fine Arts.

Price: Free

Best Time to Visit: Early mornings or early evenings

2. Mission Dolores Park

Dolores St & 19th St, San Francisco, CA 94114

Fighting against the gravity of traffic and parking in the city can be quite a hassle—what if you had the option to see a nice view of the city, coupled with conveniently accessible local stores, local cuisine (both street food and fancy takeout), and a really big space populated with colorful crowds at such an accessible site?

Dolores Park is just the place. It has a rather lively atmosphere: you can bring your friends (and/or kids) to play Frisbee, soccer, or other sports, and you can also bring your pets! If you don’t have a pet, then don’t fret since there is always someone else who has a puppy to tug around; you can feel the atmosphere lessen your stress just by watching people cheerily pet the pups. Mission Dolores Park has benches and sidewalks as well as an expansive bed of grass that overlooks a scenic view of the city!

Price: Free

Best Time to Visit: Weekends

3. Angel Island State Park

Angel Island State Park Tiburon, CA 94920

“Beautiful” is an understatement for Angel Island State Park. Although granted, it's not as easily accessed as the other picnic places listed here, it ranks pretty high that it is worth the journey. To visit the island, you would have to take a ferry or a private boat. Forgo the fret—for the party is where you take it. Bring a bottle of wine and enjoy the cruise from San Francisco to Angel Island State Park! When you arrive at the island, you’ll be welcomed with its unique 360-degree skyline view of the Bay Area and its wildlife; it’s also perfect for fishing and has a big space for picnic areas. Angel Island has plenty of places to grill and eat, and even if you’re not down to pack food or prepare it yourself, this island has you covered with all the restaurants on-site. Don’t miss out - visit San Francisco’s largest natural island at least once in your life.

Price: Free

Best Time to Visit: Daytime

4. Land's End

680 Point Lobos Ave Golden Gate, National Recreation Area San Francisco, CA 94121

Home of the historic Sutro Baths, Land’s End is a magnet for outdoor lovers and casual hikers. It is a hiking trail that leads to a beautiful view of the Golden Gate bridge from a novel angle, plus an unparalleled sunset view that delivers a refreshingly cool breeze. Explore the ruins, the cave, the labyrinth, paved dirt trails, idyllic stairs, and scenic views from either the beach or up the cliffs--it might just become your sudden spelunking trip. Locals know that Land’s End is both amazing and underrated. Not a lot of tourists get to see this side of paradise in SF, partly because the buzz isn’t overwhelming here, which is what makes this place all the more peaceful, remarkably scenic, and both picture and picnic perfect.

Price: Free

Best Time to Visit: 3pm so you could catch the sunset (which is approximately 4:53 pm), depending on the season

5. Alamo Park

Hayes & Steiner San Francisco, CA 94117

Feel sonder as you people-watch here at the Alamo Park—look out for each passerby you never knew existed as they relive their childhood TV sitcom memories. Watch as they excitedly appreciate the historical spectacle of colorful rows of the “Painted Ladies,” which was made popular by the TV show Full House (aired from 1987-2005). People sit on the grassy meadow just to view the Victorian homes. I say sit for the art, the colors, the architecture, or to walk down memory lane yourself. But if you just don’t quite “get” what the painted house is all about, no fuss—you can literally do a 180-degree turn around to get a pretty good view of the city. Then afterwards, walk around the neighborhood and visit the cool shops. Did I mention Japan town is literally 4-minutes away?​

Price: Free

Best Time to Visit: Afternoon or early evenings

6. Twin Peaks

501 Twin Peaks Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94114

This serves as your warning:

1) prepare to be at a loss for words when you reach the hilltop

2) check the weather on your mobile app before heading over: it’s likely to be very windy, but hopefully not too foggy

3) bring a sweater or two!

Lightly buzzed after some social drinking, I came here with friends in the wee hours of 5 in the morning to wait for the sunrise. Unfortunately, it was foggy all morning straight until afternoon. But, if you bring some luck with you, you’ll get to see a wonderful bird’s eye view: a panorama of the entire city of San Francisco. Come at dusk or dawn to relish an inspiring skyline view or at night to delight your date with city lights.

Then, do the following: first, drive to the top via a sinuous, uphill road. Second, capture your glorious pictures. Third, point to places you’ve visited, places you recognize, and place you’re going next. Fourth, relax and have a picnic. Five, drive down and check out the places you pinpointed. Embrace the city now that you’ve seen it from this gorgeous peak.

(P.S. If the hilltop gets too crowded for your taste, drive further to Tank Hill, which is literally just 5 minutes away. Tank Hill: 2 Belgrave Ave, San Francisco, CA 94117)

Price: Free

Best Time to Visit: Indefinite

7. Yerba Buena Gardens

745 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94103

Jeopardy daily double: “Yerba Buena” is a historical precursor name before “San Francisco” became the official name of the city. Just imagine chilling, having lunch, and people watching at a place that would’ve been the name of this beautiful place had it not been San Francisco.

“Yerba buena,” which is a Spanish translation for “good herb,” is basically a fertile haven, a piece of nature in the urban city that is perfect for savoring your midday meal. It’s a plus if you’re into history, art, and museums because the gardens connect to many exquisite places that have so much to offer. The garden is open to the public, and the museums and city organizations occasionally host lively public events. Have a seat, sit down, and relax by the miniature waterfall that amplifies the ambience of an oasis. Couple this with the spacious green grass and tall buildings that cast their shadow over for good shade. Yerba Buena Gardens has many cool details, which I won’t spoil for you, so you should check it out for yourself.

Price: Free

Best Time to Visit: Afternoon



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