Going to a new restaurant can be fun, but nothing tops an old-fashioned picnic. By the beach, in the park, or even just sprawling out on a blanket over grass – picnics are a wonderful, inexpensive way to spend a sunny afternoon, especially in California.
We rounded up some of our favorite beaches across the state for the outdoor feasts, and even added in some cooler inspiration if you’re not sure what to pack. Be sure to bring utensils, plates, and of course, plenty of extra napkins!
1. La Jolla Cove
At the northeast end of Ellen Browning Scripps Park, La Jolla Cove is a local favorite for diving, swimming, snorkeling, and picnics with front-row ocean views. If you’re lucky, you may be able to score one of the few picnic tables – but don’t rely on it – this slice of San Diego paradise is so popular, they tend to fill up fast. Bring an extra blanket to lay out on, just in case!
Cooler inspiration: Ham and cheddar wraps. Watermelon. Lemonade.
2. Picnic Beach at Heisler Park
As the name might suggest, Picnic Beach in Laguna Beach has everything you need for a cozy picnic. There are tables sprinkled throughout Heisler Park above the beach and lots of grassy space to spread out your blanket. Adjacent to Picnic Beach is Rockpile Beach which is a popular hot spot for scuba diving and exploring tide pools.
Cooler inspiration: Fresh egg/tuna/chicken salad sandwiches. Caesar salad. Peanut butter cookies. Bottle of water.
3. Lover’s Point Park
With a name like Lover’s Point, you know you can’t go wrong bringing a date to this beach by Pacific Grove, on California’s central coast. Aside from the serene views, and abundance of places to plop down for a picnic, there’s also trails along the bluff for hiking and biking, and dozens of great photo opportunities all throughout the park.
Cooler inspiration: Pasta salad. Coleslaw. Chocolate-dipped strawberries. sparkling water.
4. Salt Creek Beach Park, Dana Point
Overlooking the ocean with sand, tables, and grassy space, Salt Creek is a prime spot for picnics near Dana Point. It’s set just below the Ritz-Carlton, with other fabulous hotels nearby as well. Not only can you enjoy Pacific views with your picnic here, but you can also lay back and watch the surfers hitting the waves. It really is the definition of perfection.
Cooler inspiration: Veggie wraps. Fruit and cheese kabobs. Carbonated flavored water.
5. Goleta Beach
Goleta Beach is a cozy picnic spot beside the UCSB campus. There’s plenty of tables for families or large groups, BBQ grills if you’re not craving cold food, grassy areas, palm trees, volleyball courts, kayak rentals, and a 1,500-foot-long pier that’s perfect for fishing, or just a long walk post-meal.
Cooler inspiration: Fried chicken. Potato salad. Donuts. Flavored water.
6. Sand Dollar Beach, Big Sur
Contrary to the name, Sand Dollar Beach is not packed with sand dollars like you might expect. But it is however, one dazzling place to sit and snack on some PB sandwiches. The sandy beach is set along the southern end of Big Sur’s wild, rugged coastline, about half-way between Cambria and Big Sur Station. The picnic area and beach are frequented by a lot of visitors during the summer, but come winter, it’s much more quiet and still.
Cooler inspiration: Peanut butter sandwiches. Bananas/apples. Lemon bars. Iced tea.
7. Playa Pacifica Park on Mission Bay
Mission Bay has several great parks that are perfect for a picnic, but Playa Pacifica is our top choice. It’s set on the east side of the bay, with a large grassy area and shore that hugs around the cove. Or if you’re not looking to sit right on the hard ground, there are picnic tables provided, as well as restrooms, and a sandy bay area to let the little ones run and play.
Cooler inspiration: Turkey & pepper jack sandwiches. Chips & salsa (or guac). Grapes. Sparkling cider.
8. Crissy Field – West Bluff Picnic Area Beach
With up-close views of the Golden Gate, West Bluff Picnic Area is one of San Francisco’s most cherished spots for a classic picnic. There’s both a grassy area with tables and sandy beach to stroll on. If you’re still hungry after your picnic, we recommend hitting up the Warming Hut (appropriately named for when you’re trying to escape the wind and fog) for even more food and beverages.
Cooler inspiration: Chicken sandwiches. Potato chips. Chocolate fudge brownies. Root beer.
We’ve got our basket ready! Where are some of your other favorite beaches here in California to have a picnic?