Picnic Spots in San Diego

Tired of the typical fancy restaurant where you spend more time flagging down your waiter than you do actually eating? Consider planning a low-key and intimate outing at one of the several picnic spots in San Diego. 

While almost anywhere in San Diego qualifies as picturesque, don’t settle for the bare minimum when you have access to picnic areas with a waterfront view, playgrounds, or proximity to more after-meal entertainment. With so many San Diego tours to take explore, experiencing these picnic spots will have you feeling like a true native.

San Diego Perfect Picnic Spots

Okay, first thing’s first. You need to grab a great spot; otherwise, it was all for naught. However, you don’t need to be concerned because we have countless secret places to let you in on. 

Look into these prime locations with ample open space and see which one fits your vibe.

Balboa Park

Photo Courtesy: Balboa Park

This historic landmark has a guaranteed spot on this list. With its iconic architecture and seven bridge walk, there’s more than enough to fill your whole picnic day itinerary. Not to mention, the San Diego Zoo and Botanical Gardens are in close proximity if you get the urge to explore some of the most popular San Diego attractions pre or post-picnic. This is one of the most recommended picnic areas for not only native San Diegans, but also for those visiting on a weekend getaway to San Diego

Our preferred spot is near the botanical building, but if that’s too standard for you, head on to 6th Ave. You’ll be able to watch planes fly across the San Diego skyline. That’s a two-for-one: Lunch and a show. 

Also, to elevate your picnic to a 21+ experience, there are nine designated lawns with plenty of grassy area where you can legally drink alcohol from noon to 8 PM:

  • Botanical Building East Lawn
  • Botanical Building West Lawn
  • Federal Building Lawn
  • House of Pacific Relations Lawn
  • International Lawn
  • Mall Lawn
  • Moreton Bay Fig Lawn
  • Pan American Lawn
  • Recital Hall Lawn

Make a day out of it and invite all your friends for a boozy brunch with wholesome activities. Or, maybe a date for two. Just remember to exercise caution and be sober before getting behind the wheel. Uber and Lyft run operate in these picnic areas. 

For a list of other alcohol-friendly parks in San Diego, click here.

Mission Bay

Photo Courtesy: @MissionBeach.SD

The parks here at Mission Bay are expansive, and there’s plenty of parking. So there’ll be no need to stress about that very Californian problem for once.

Also, if you’re looking for more outdoor pastimes, the San Diego bay trails are ideal for riding bikes, rollerblading, and skateboarding. Exploring San Diego on foot is so overrated. Roll out! For those San Diegans who like to stick to the good ole’ ground, there are basketball courts, tennis courts, and playgrounds to work up a sweat on too. If you are up for an adventure after your picnic, ride on over to the Mission Beach boardwalk and fishing pier to feel the ocean breeze.

Kate Sessions Park

Photo Courtesy: Google Reviews/Jay Michael

Quite the natural playground, you’ll have no difficulty finding room for you and your friends. Relax or get active playing frisbee or an initially-friendly game of flag football. 

All of this would take place with a truly enviable view of San Diego’s cityscape and water as your backdrop. It’s one of the best spots in town for a panoramic view. You won’t want to pack up at least until after sunset.

La Jolla Cove and Ellen Browning Scripps Park

Photo Courtesy: Google Reviews/ Jc-Jc

There’s no complete to-do list in San Diego without at least one beach-related venture. Stroll in the sand, take a dip, or observe sea lions lounging in the tide pools a few footsteps away from your setup. Then you can browse around some stores until all the sand has parted ways with your clothes. Not only is there plenty of great shops to explore in the area, you will find some of the best vegan food in La Jolla

While it’s usually crowded, if you can snag a perfect picnic spot, you are guaranteed to enjoy quality people-watching. 

Powerhouse Park

Powerhouse Park Photo Courtesy: TR Davis Vacations

Take a ride down to Del Mar to stay close to family-friendly activities. In addition to the lovely grassy area, you’ll be close to some fun San Diego attractions and shopping to hit afterward (you can ward off the post-picnic food coma). 

And your kids can burn off energy on the nearby playground—or you, by all means. Show those kids that seniority rules for swing privilege in any play area!  

The Setup

Don’t drop the ball. Don’t forget to bring all the necessary picnic equipment. 

This can include: 

  • Beach towels – Often offered at the hotel, a towel can keep your picnic outfit cute and clean for that social media shot.
  • Chairs – Not everyone likes to lounge on grass or sand. There’s no shame in bringing along chairs if there are no picnic tables nearby.
  • Cups – Maybe you’re going for whimsical and want to pass around the bottle for communal swigs. If you’re not, don’t forget the cups. 
  • Napkins – Picnics can get wonderfully messy. Bring napkins, especially if you don’t have easy, immediate access to a sink.
  • Plates – Group picnics are definitely made easier when everyone can make their own plate of food.
  • Utensils – If you’re going to be petting dogs, chucking footballs, building sandcastles, or swinging from the monkey bars of a play structure, then using a fork might be a good idea.
  • Games – For those who can only spend so long sitting in one spot, be sure to bring your favorite lawn games to take advantage of the open space: frisbee, a volleyball net, flag football, soccer ball and cones, etc.
  • Sunscreen – There’s no worse way to mar a great memory than having to deal with tender skin that makes you say “ouch” with each movement the next day. Bring sunscreen!
  • Umbrella – It can get quite hot out, so bringing along your own spot of shade can be a saving grace!
  • Cooler – Stay hydrated and keep your food fresh. Nobody likes lukewarm wine or macaroni salad. 

And, an important note: we agree that San Diego is beautiful. We’d like to keep it that way. Please don’t forget to bring a trash bag and pick up while you pack up your picnic area!

The Menu

Photo Courtesy: Café 21

Combine your outdoor activity with mealtime. There’s no better time to multitask. Plus, what’s a picnic without the food? 

Let’s dare to stray from peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and McDonald’s. Take advantage of the gastronomical scene in San Diego and enjoy eating.

Get started with these:

  • Cheese platters from Venissimo Cheeses and Cafe 21
  • Sandwiches from Mona Lisa, Grab n’ Go subs, or Boards and Brews
  • Italian pizza, pasta, and salads from Roma Express in the Liberty Public Market
  • Burritos, quesadillas, chips, and salsa from any number of the local taco shops in the area (Be sure to order the local favorite—California Burrito)

Back to the Classics

With the gorgeous weather and stunning views around every corner, picnics in San Diego are highly underrated. 

Take these last tips before you run off:

  • Check the weather in advance!
  • Bring a light jacket if you’re staying past sunset.
  • There’s no such thing as too many napkins.
  • Securely discard food waste or seagulls will bombard you.
  • Pack what you need, so getting back to your car isn’t a pain.

Now, you should be ready to go. Reconnect, enjoy all San Diego has to offer, and save some money by planning your next picnic now! 

Sources: 

NBC San Diego. Picnic Pairings: Where to Dine Outside and What to Eat. https://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/national-picnic-day-san-diego-yelp-spots/57404/ 

There San Diego. Here Are the San Diego Parks Where You Can Legally Drink Alcohol. https://theresandiego.com/san-diego-parks-can-legally-drink-alcohol/