I Think I See a Pic-a-nic Basket

Even the average bear knows S.F. has the world's best parks for summer picnicking. Let us show you where to buy first-class, outdoor-friendly food and drink.

Stern Grove Park
Ah, the smell of eucalyptus. It might remind you of runny noses and mentholated Halls in winter, but in June, for many city natives, the scent evokes a stroll in Stern Grove (19th Avenue and Sloat). This popular picnicking destination has plenty of secluded nooks and boasts bocce ball and putting greens, tennis and croquet courts, and a playground. Because of the park's abundance of towering trees and lush foliage, the mood here is decidedly tranquil, but Stern Grove does have another side. At 2 p.m. Sunday afternoons, from June 15 to August 17, the park's amphitheater is packed with music lovers for the Stern Grove Festival, a popular free concert series held every summer since 1938. This year's lineup includes a string quartet, an Afro-Celt band, and a jazz-funk group. (For a complete list of concerts, check out www.sterngrove.org.) For goodies, you'll need to make a pit stop on West Portal Ave first. The modest Café Rain Tree (118 West Portal between Vicente and 14th Ave., 7 a.m.-9 p.m. daily) has a generous menu of salads, soups, and grilled sandwiches. For your fruit, check out West Portal Produce (222 West Portal at 14th Ave., M-Sat 6:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m.; Sun 6:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.), where they'll even help you pick out your persimmons.

Buena Vista Park
Even if your Spanish is a little rusty, there's no way you won't remember that Buena Vista means "good view" after a visit to this park. Named by 18th-century Spanish settlers as the place to get the lay of the land, this 36-acre spread (off Haight between Buena Vista East and West) has hiking trails, tennis courts, and a children's play area with killer views from its two vista points. Bring your camera. Your best bet for grub is among Haight Street's secondhand stores, tattoo parlors, and head shops. Taqueria El Balazo (1654 Haight at Belvedere, M-Sat 10 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; Sun 10 a.m.-10 p.m.) isn't the most convenient eatery, but it's well worth the walk. The flautas, tacos, tamales, and burritos make perfect portable picnic fare. However, if you're feeling especially hungry, indulge in an El Balazo platter, with entrée-size portions that are the perfect precursor to a park siesta. If your tastes run more toward sipping soy milk and nibbling asparagus on a hemp blanket, check out the Haight Street Market (1530 Haight, between Ashbury and Clayton, M-sat 7 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun 7 a.m.-8:30 p.m.), which has an excellent selection of organic produce, fresh juices, and healthy snacks like pita chips and hummus.

Portsmouth Square
Just a block away from the towering Transamerica Building, Portsmouth Square proves that parks don't have to be grassy to be good. This mostly concrete commons in the heart of Chinatown bustles with tourists and city traffic, making it a great place to people-watch. The Chinese Cultural Center is nearby, and the park is a mecca for players of mah-jongg, Go, and chess. You might even be able to get in on some early-morning tai chi. On Saturday nights during summer, the Square becomes the site of the Chinatown Night Market Fair -- a weekly cultural festival with lion dancing, martial arts, Chinese operas, karaoke singers, and musical performances. Markets and restaurants surround the square. The Chinatown Restaurant (744 Washington at Kearny, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. daily) across the street serves delicious dim sum all day. For a quick snack, Hong Kong franchise Aji Ichiban (two locations: 704 Kearny at Clay, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily; 905 Grant at Jackson, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. daily) is worth a visit. This self-proclaimed "munchies paradise" sells a huge assortment of exotic Asian treats, from spicy squid rolls to sugar-crusted licorice whips. Also nearby is Ross Alley (between Washington and Jackson), one of the city's oldest. Once known for its brothels and gambling halls, Ross is now home to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookies (56 Ross Alley, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. daily), where you can watch your fortune get wrapped in a cookie, fresh every day.

South Park
The name may remind you of fat, irreverent cartoon characters, but this lazy, tree-lined South of Market park (off Third Street between Bryant and Brannan) is surrounded by designer clothing boutiques, art studios, and fine sit-down dining. Still, if ever there were a place that warranted breaking away from the usual wine-and-cheese affair, this is it. Grab "nuclear" wings or a chili-loaded bratwurst at Zeke's Sports Bar and Grill (600 Third St. at Brannan, seven days a week until two a.m.) or head to the 21st Amendment (563 Second St., M-Sat 11:30-2 a.m.), a trendy brewery, bar, and restaurant, for burgers, pizza, and an excellent roasted half-chicken. While you're at it, pick up a "Growler" -- 64 ounces of your favorite specialty brew to go. Incidentally, Pac Bell Park isn't too far off; consider South Park for your next pre-game rendezvous.

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