By Matthew Stafford
Between the temperate climate, impressive acreage of urban parkland, and global reputation for good eating, San Francisco may be the best city in the country for hamper-packing, blanket-spreading, and al fresco chicken-chomping. Here are some of our favorite places to enjoy a festive meal in the great urban outdoors.
Bounded by Church, Dolores, 18th, and 20th streets
With its grassy, hilly setting; often toasty microclimate; and lovely views of the bay, the city, and the East Bay hills, Dolores Park (est. 1905) is a perfect place for a picnic. This isn't your typical urban parkland, though. Hula hooping and tightrope walking are recurring probabilities. Impromptu concerts, political rallies, street theater, and outdoor movies are even likelier. The neighborhood's colorful residents add plenty of rampant ambience, and the frequent convergence of some of the city's finest illegal food carts makes picnicking easier than ever. (Dolores Park is scheduled for major renovations during 2011; if it's closed when you drop by, another neighborhood picnicking option is Garfield Square, just across the Mission at 25th and Harrison streets.)
Runs along Mason; parking at Mason at Javowitz
Crissy Field's 100 or so acres of reclaimed marshes and meadows are a pristine setting for a sunny, breezy picnic, what with the glorious views of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge and the bay right there at your elbow. If you're in the mood for a beach picnic, Crissy's sand dunes are somewhat balmier than Ocean Beach's, and the Warming Hut out toward Fort Point has a menu of tasty gourmet-casual fare ideal for the hamper.
Between Bryant, Brannan, Second, and Third streets
A more urbane picnicking option is this classy oval of greensward and shade trees dating back to the 1850s. Back then, South Park was San Francisco's toniest enclave, and although the old Regency-style townhouses are a memory, this is still an elegant place to enjoy some takeaway from one of the nearby eateries and observe the birds, the bees, and the well-dressed bipeds.
Entrance at the end of Deforest Way (between Beaver and Flint)
Just 10 minutes from Castro and Market is this wild, secluded getaway of steep cliffs, mountain meadows, dramatic rock formations, and dazzling 360-degree urban panoramas. Conquering 510-foot Corona Heights via its mountain-goat trails and climbable outcroppings of prehistoric chert is something of a workout, but you'll be rewarded with intimate vistas of Diamond Heights, Mission Dolores, Buena Vista Park, and the skyscrapers of downtown S.F.
San Francisco Botanical Garden
Between MLK Drive and Lincoln Way, Golden Gate Park
Purchase noshes and nibbles from your favorite Irving Street deli, enter Golden Gate Park, and wander through 55 diverse and beautifully composed acres of succulents, wildflowers, cloud forests, Japanese gardens, redwood groves, burbling creeks, and 8,000 plants from around the globe. This quiet, sylvan setting offers several inviting picnic spots; the fun is choosing the perfect one for your loaf of bread, jug of wine, and so on.