There’s something about the humble picnic – the simple pleasure of sharing a meal outside with great company while the sun shines happily from above – that makes it feel good to be alive. Now that we can gearing up to celebrate the beginning of summer and all the good things that come with it, we can also start getting excited about all the picnics to be had in spectacular places. HI Marin Headlands hostel, which is lucky to call one of Northern California’s national parks home, is a paradise for spending time outdoors, especially if you’re up for a bit of al fresco dining. So, with the help of resident picnic-goer and hostel manager Meghan Ellwood, we’ve picked the perfect spots, from beaches to mountain tops and all the lovely places in between, where you can enjoy a good old-fashioned picnic.
The Fort Barry Parade Ground
“On a sunny day, there’s no better place!” says Meghan of the big green patch of lush lawn just in front of the hostel. If you’re in the mood for all the trappings of a picnic without the hiking or driving to get there, you can just set up here, and it’s not even a problem if you forget something! There’s plenty of room to kick a ball around or do some Frisbee tossing after you’ve had your picnic sandwiches, and there are trees for shady spots if an afternoon nap is in order. Since you don’t have very far to go, you can even make your picnic a little more extravagant – take a look at these recipes for hostellers for inspiration – and you won’t have to worry about a long trek home when the day is done.
Pretty much anywhere on Mount Tamalpais is a good spot for a picnic, especially if it’s a foggy day down in Marin because this peak is above the fog line. Your reward for making it to the top of the mountain is a panoramic view of gorgeous green hills, the San Francisco Bay, the East Bay and the awesome, endless ocean, making for arguably one of the best places on the planet to lay down a blanket and watch the world do its thing. There’s an amphitheater in the park, which is also good for a picnic, especially in May and June when the Mountain Play theatrical company presents lively outdoor Broadway productions. Meghan’s suggestion? “Stop by Good Earth on the way up from Tam Valley for fine picnicking supplies.”
Nothing says summer quite like a picnic on the beach – the sand, the sea and the feeling that all is as it should be. The beaches near HI Marin Headlands are prime for all-day hanging out and sun bathing while snacking, plus each one has different perks depending on what you’re looking for: Rodeo Beach is a short and sweet hike from the hostel; Schoonmaker Beach in Sausalito has calm waters which make it ideal for stand-up paddle boarding; the Muir Beach overlook has some of the most amazing views, and the beach itself has rings for fires; and Stinson Beach has a snack bar in the summer months in case you need more provisions.
This is an idyllic little spot in Sausalito where you can “watch the bay and the quirky boat dwellers,” according to Meghan. With an expanse of green, green grass, a sand volleyball pit and bocce ball court, Dunphy Park is great for a fun, simple afternoon outside, and also gives you a taste of local life in the North Bay. There are plenty of delightful stores where you can pick up your picnicking goodies; otherwise, you can just come prepared so the only thing you have to worry about is finding the just-right patch of grass to lay your blanket on.
There’s more to explore – and more breathtaking picnic spots – just north of the Headlands at HI Point Reyes.
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