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Picnic Time: The Standard Guide to San Francisco’s Favorite Park Hangs

Written by Maryann Jones ThompsonPublished Sep. 02, 2022 • 9:10am
The newly renovated Helen Diller Playground at Dolores Park is a favorite picnic spot for San Franciscans on Feb. 9, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

Didn’t go to Burning Man... Can’t get near the bay… No plans for the weekend’s gorgeous weather

No problem! 

San Francisco’s parks are glorious, free and waiting for you to gather your friends for a lazy, sunny hang this weekend. In fact, the city’s parks are the second most popular reason why people love living here.

Check out our map and guide below to locals’ favorite spots for hanging out in SF’s parks.  Happy picnicking!

The Best Picnic Areas & Park Hangs in San Francisco

The Views of The Presidio

If you’ve not yet been to the two stunning new parklands in the Presidio that opened in the last couple of months, this weekend is the perfect time to visit.  Tunnel Tops provides lawns and tables for picnicking among its trails for hiking that stretch from the Main Post to Crissy Field. For those who loathe to pack a picnic, food trucks park around the park every weekend and entertainment is usually on tap, as well. 

Looking for a less busy spot to hang out? Just a bit west along the Presidio Promenade trail, Battery Bluff opened in April. Named after the four U.S. Army gun batteries Blaney, Baldwin, Slaughter and Sherwood, the new park area is tucked along the hillside just above Chrissy Field. New picnic tables offer breathtaking views of the Golden Gate, Angel Island, Alcatraz and San Francisco Bay.  

Battery Bluff picnic area on April 22, 2022 | Maryann Jones Thompson/The Standard

For a classic Presidio picnic, head down to West Bluff. The bayfront site offers plenty of picnic tables, charcoal-burning barbeques, public restrooms and big, beautiful bridge views. For more fun nearby, check out The Standard’s guides to Crissy Field and other adventures around the Presidio.

Dolores Park, The Mission

Dolores Park is the picnic destination for SF locals. The city views from the top of the hill are legendary, the weather is magically always sunny and certain vendors want you to love the whole experience even more.  In fact, the hardest part can be finding a spot to spread out! The newly renovated Helen Diller Playground reopened in February and was an instant hit with families who love the return to old-school sand for slide landing zones. 

Allan Ndovu, 26, and Allison Lettiere, 23, sunbathe with Lettiere’s roommates’ dogs in San Francisco in Golden Gate Park.
Allan Ndovu, 26, and Allison Lettiere, 23, sunbathe with Lettiere’s roommates’ dogs in Golden Gate Park, on August 14, 2022. | Marissa Leshnov for The Standard

The Meadows of Golden Gate Park

It isn’t hard to find a picnic spot in the miles of grassy expanses in Golden Gate Park. What can be tough is finding your friends on a busy holiday weekend. If you want to aim for a spot to meet, consider these lovely meadows. (Remember the JFK Promenade is currently car-free.) 

  • Robin Williams Meadow One of Golden Gate Park’s happiest places renamed in memory of a soul who gave much joy to the world, this stretch of green lies between the drumbeats of Hippie Hill and the kids’ squealing at Koret Playground.  Though parking here is never easy, it exists.
  • Conservatory of Flowers  Grab a patch of grass among the seasonally curated flowerbeds on the front lawn of this 19th-century greenhouse and watch the skaters, strollers, bikers and joggers pass by on the JFK Promenade. 
  • Bunny Meadow As cute as its name, Bunny Meadow sits hidden in the trees just across Conservatory Drive West from the Conservatory of Flowers. 
  • Mother’s Meadow An expansive meadow north of MLK Jr. Drive with a small playground popular with families. Accessible by car.
  • Marx Meadow  A mid-size spot north of JFK Drive, just west of Park Presidio. A bit quieter and smaller than the grassy areas on the other side of JFK. 
  • Hellman Hollow The massivest of the massive lawn areas on the south side of JFK. 
  • Lindley Meadow  Yet another wide lawn area on the south side of JFK. This is a better spot than Hellman Hollow if you want a big spot, but not a huge spot.

Washington Square, North Beach

In the shadow of the double spires of Sts. Peter and Paul, North Beach gathers in its square every day to do tai chi, stroll, read, eat and listen to the cathedral’s bells toll. It’s a picnic spot equally great for people-watching and for closing your eyes as you lay on the grass after a big meal.

Francisco Park just prior to its opening in April 2022 | Courtesy Francisco Park Conservancy

Francisco Park, Russian Hill

Community effort and SF Rec & Parks combined to transform the once-abandoned reservoir site into the newly opened Francisco Park, flourishing in native landscaping and boasting some of the most awe-inspiring views of Alcatraz, Angel Island, Marin County, the Golden Gate Bridge and SF Bay. In addition to a fenced-in dog park, Francisco Park has a fully ADA-compliant pathway beginning at Bay Street that leads to the lawn area and children's playground. Picnickers can enjoy hearing the hum and clanging of the Hyde Street cable cars as they ascend and descend Russian Hill.

George Christopher Playground, Diamond Heights

Known by neighbors as one of SF’s “best-kept secrets,” George Christopher Park’s panoramic views and Glen Canyon trail access have been enhanced by a brand new playground that opened in April 2021. A $5.2 million renovation added structures for big and little kids, swings, an imagination garden, a playhouse, a dry nature riverbed and a performance stage. 

Salesforce Park, SoMa

A walk around San Francisco’s version of the “High Line” is truly a must-do for locals and visitors, alike. Loop through several blocks of elevated lawns, incredible gardens, fountains, and up-close-and-personal views of the skyscrapers. There’s even a play structure for youngsters and young tech workers to climb around. The park isn’t really a great spot to picnic but it is absolutely a place to laze about on a sunny afternoon.  There are several entrances to the park but the most convenient is to aim for the east end of Natoma alley, just past 2nd Street, where an elevator brings visitors up to the park.

San Franciscans enjoy the sun at McLaren Park on Feb. 7, 2022. | Camille Cohen

McLaren Park

You could spend a whole day adventuring in the second-largest park in S.F. Miles of trails pass marsh, meadows, redwoods, and lakes on their way to stunning views, including an intimate look at the landmark La Grande Water Tower. But when you just want to lay out a blanket and hit the grass, aim for the McLaren Park Playground Picnic Area (also known as the “Redwood Picnic Area”) that reopened in 2020 after a big refurbishment. The Peru Picnic Area is another pleasant place to picnic. Both picnic areas sport A-1 play structures if you’re so motivated.

Crane Cove Park, Dogpatch 

Opened in September 2020, the seven-acre Crane Cove Park on San Francisco’s Pier 70 includes a multi-purpose lawn, plazas, barbecue areas, and a pocket beach. The park also features pathways for pedestrian and bicycle access, gardens, and historic interpretations of the rich history of Pier 70. It’s easy to spend a long afternoon watching the rollerskaters and bikers enjoy the nearby paths. Afterward, wander over to the new Souvla in Dogpatch for some crispy Greek fries.

Palace of Fine Arts, The Marina 

Yes, it’s crazy touristy, but it’s just gorgeous. And with tourism a bit off, there will be fewer folks to fight with when you’re trying to feed the swans. In all seriousness, a blanket plopped on the lawn facing the pond and the columns will provide a day’s worth of solid people watching and lovely, historic views.

Alta Plaza Park, Pacific Heights

Trek up the sets of stairs to the top of this Pacific Heights park and you’ll get a pleasant lawn, a great dog zone, and views around the city. Remember to bring a jacket—it gets chilly up there!

People walk in the Bernal Heights Park with the San Francisco skyline in the background on Friday, June 10, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

Bernal Heights Park, Bernal Heights 

Possibly one of the highest parks in SF, Bernal Hill is known for its namesake summit, where a telecommunications tower shoots up into the sky. This picnicking location is not for the faint of heart: many of the pathways to the summit are steep and sloped, and getting from base to top is pretty much a full workout. But once climbed, you’ll find breathtaking 360-degree views of the city and the bay. Though it can get chilly and windy at night, the mountain has plenty of flat spots for a sunset picnic or afternoon sunbathing session.

Maryann Jones Thompson can be reached at [email protected]

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