Best Picnic Spots in California

A lush green meadow with a glistening lake in the background, surrounded by towering redwood trees and colorful wildflowers. A picnic blanket is spread out with a wicker basket and a bottle of wine
Shaman Mountain is reader-supported. We may earn a small commission on certain links, at no additional cost to you. Learn more.

California offers an abundance of picturesque locations perfect for outdoor activities, especially if you’re planning to enjoy a meal al fresco. As the warmer weather of spring and summer blankets the state, you’ll find that dining outdoors allows you to not only savor your food but also the stunning beauty of nature around you. Whether you’re looking for a tranquil garden, a lush park, or a historic site, California’s diverse scenery provides an array of settings where you can spread out your blanket and enjoy some fresh air.

Big Sur

The sun sets over the rugged coastline of Big Sur, California, casting a warm glow on the cliffs and sparkling ocean below

Big Sur boasts some of California’s most mesmerizing coastlines, dotted with various picnic spots offering unparalleled views. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, notably Lots 3 and 4, stands as a favored destination, where sprawling redwoods and tranquil river vistas create an idyllic backdrop for a leisurely afternoon.

McWay Falls provides an extraordinary coastal picnic experience, with its serene waterfall cascading onto a sandy cove, complemented by a bench along the trail for a serene dining spot with panoramic ocean views. While summer months often draw crowds, exploring secluded beach trails throughout the park promises a more intimate picnic setting. Additionally, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve offers picturesque vistas and serene trails, while Pfeiffer Beach beckons with its renowned purple sand and unique rock formations, making early arrival essential. Always remember to leave no trace, preserving these pristine locales for all to cherish.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park beckons with a range of idyllic picnic spots, each offering unparalleled views of its natural splendor. It’s advisable to arrive early, as these areas operate on a first-come, first-served basis, ensuring you secure your preferred spot to savor Yosemite’s beauty from sunrise to sunset.

Lower Yosemite Fall stands out for its stunning waterfall vista, perfect for a brief respite, although without grilling facilities. Meanwhile, Yosemite Valley, the park’s vibrant heart, boasts convenient picnic spots with full amenities, except for grills at Lower Yosemite Fall. While enjoying your meal, keep an eye out for the park’s diverse wildlife and be sure to secure your food to protect both yourself and the animals. Equipped with picnic tables, vault toilets, and waste receptacles, these areas ensure a comfortable and enjoyable outing amidst nature’s grandeur.

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe presents an abundance of picturesque picnic spots, with Emerald Bay State Park standing out as a natural treasure offering stunning views and a serene ambiance. Here, amidst turquoise waters and towering peaks, you can unwind and enjoy a meal in tranquility.

For avid hikers, Lake Margaret offers a charming destination after a rewarding 4.6-mile trek, providing serene lake views and granite outcroppings perfect for picnicking. Meanwhile, Inspiration Point, nestled in the heart of the High Sierra, treats visitors to breathtaking panoramas, ensuring a truly memorable dining experience. Whether you explore the public beaches and parks of South Lake Tahoe or opt for a secluded spot, each picnic area promises unforgettable views and a rejuvenating retreat into nature’s embrace. Remember to pack your essentials and practice Leave No Trace principles to preserve the pristine beauty of these environments.

Griffith Park

In the bustling heart of Los Angeles, Griffith Park stands as a serene haven for picnickers seeking respite from urban clamor. Encompassing over 4,210 acres, it ranks among North America’s largest urban parks, offering a diverse array of peaceful settings for outdoor dining. Within its expansive grounds, notable picnic spots include The Bird Sanctuary, now rejuvenated post-2007 Griffith Park Fire, providing a charming retreat amidst avian company, and Fern Dell, enveloped by verdant foliage and the soothing melody of trickling streams.

For those craving post-meal activities, options abound with Pan Pacific Park’s barbecue pits and open spaces for impromptu soccer games, or Lake Hollywood Park’s captivating vistas, perfect for capturing Hollywood Sign selfies. For a touch of history, the Old Zoo Picnic Area offers a unique ambiance amidst the remnants of the former LA Zoo. Always mindful of preserving its natural beauty, visitors are reminded to check park hours and adhere to Leave No Trace principles to ensure Griffith Park remains a pristine oasis for all to enjoy.

Napa Valley

In Napa Valley, renowned for its world-class wines, picturesque vineyards offer some of the most idyllic picnic spots. Rutherford Hill Winery, nestled along the Silverado Trail, beckons visitors to its Oak Grove picnic area, providing sweeping views high above the valley floor, with reservations ensuring a delightful outdoor dining experience. Complementing the ambiance, V. Sattui Winery offers a historic backdrop with expansive picnic grounds suitable for families and groups, where guests can enjoy excellent wines in a friendly atmosphere. To complete your gourmet picnic, consider stopping by Bouchon Bakery or Soda Canyon Store for sandwiches crafted with artisan breads and fresh ingredients, ensuring a memorable Napa Valley excursion.

Golden Gate Park

In your California explorations, Golden Gate Park stands out as a must-visit destination for scenic picnics amidst San Francisco’s urban landscape. Spanning over 1,000 acres, this green oasis offers diverse picnic settings, from serene lakeside spots to vibrant flower gardens.

Notable areas include Stow Lake, encircled by Strawberry Hill’s charm, providing an idyllic setting for a leisurely meal with paddle boats gliding by, and the expansive green of Hellman Hollow, perfect for games or relaxation under the sun. Explore highlights like secluded Strawberry Hill, the colorful Conservatory of Flowers, and the historic Dutch Windmill for an enriching picnic experience. Remember practical tips like picking up provisions from nearby shops and bringing sunscreen for comfort. Golden Gate Park seamlessly blends urban convenience with natural beauty, offering an unforgettable picnic adventure.

Santa Monica Pier

For a quintessential California picnic experience, look no further than the Santa Monica Pier. Combining historic charm with breathtaking ocean views, it offers the perfect setting for a leisurely outdoor meal. Enjoy your picnic amidst the sounds of the Pacific and the lively atmosphere of the surrounding area. Nearby, the iconic merry-go-round adds to the nostalgic ambiance, while the neighboring Playland Arcade offers retro and modern games. If you plan to visit, arriving early is recommended due to its popularity among tourists. With beach access, amusement park rides at Pacific Park, and educational opportunities at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. So pack your blanket and snacks, and prepare for a delightful day by the Pacific Ocean.

Malibu Creek State Park

Nestled in the heart of the Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu Creek State Park offers an enchanting setting for a picturesque picnic, providing a serene escape just moments away from the urban hustle of Los Angeles. Spanning over 8,215 acres, the park invites visitors to explore its diverse landscapes and historical sites.

Embark on the renowned Malibu Lake Trail, spanning 6.4 miles and offering breathtaking vistas as you traverse through the natural beauty. Choose your ideal picnic spot by the tranquil waters, whether seeking family-friendly areas or quieter, secluded corners. With activities like fishing, bird watching, and mountain biking, along with 15 miles of scenic trails, oak woodlands, and rolling hills to explore, Malibu Creek State Park promises a rejuvenating retreat into nature. Remember to adhere to the park’s guidelines for trail etiquette, ensuring a peaceful environment for all.

Point Reyes National Seashore

A visit to California isn’t complete without a tranquil escape to Point Reyes National Seashore. Along the Marin County coast, this serene stretch offers not only awe-inspiring vistas but also an array of charming picnic spots.

Drakes Beach boasts impressive cliffs and ocean views, making it perfect for a family outing, while Limantour Beach offers a quieter experience amid serene sands, ideal for wildlife sightings. At Bear Valley Visitor Center, accessible picnic tables and nearby amenities cater to your convenience, with reservations available for larger groups. Each location within Point Reyes offers a unique charm, from diverse bird species to the haunting beauty of the S.S. Point Reyes Shipwreck, echoing the area’s rich maritime history. With limited picnic spots and high popularity, plan an early visit to secure your slice of tranquility amidst Point Reyes’ natural splendor.

Joshua Tree National Park

Sunlit rock formations, scattered juniper trees, and a serene desert landscape at Joshua Tree National Park's best picnic spots in California

When exploring Joshua Tree National Park, you’ll encounter a landscape that effortlessly blends tranquility with adventure, offering numerous idyllic spots for picnicking amidst nature’s rugged beauty.

At Hidden Valley, marvel at unique rock formations while enjoying the convenience of picnic tables, shade options, and restrooms. Ryan Campground, near the iconic Headstone Rock, provides a scenic backdrop for outdoor dining, with climbing spots nearby for added adventure. Barker Dam offers a historic water reservoir with serene surroundings and opportunities to observe local wildlife, while Arch Rock boasts a picturesque natural feature ideal for a relaxed picnic experience. Remember to pack essentials like food, water, and sunscreen, and practice Leave No Trace principles to preserve the park’s pristine environment. Be sure to familiarize yourself with park regulations and secure any necessary permits for certain areas. With careful planning and respect for nature, your visit to Joshua Tree National Park promises to be unforgettable.

Related Posts:

Dad and son paddleboarding at a lake

Best Paddle Boarding in California

California is a haven for paddle boarding enthusiasts, offering a plethora of breathtaking locations that cater to every level of expertise. From serene lakes cradled