San Diego's top spots for picnics

Kate Sessions Park
  • Kate Sessions Park

Our college friends Monica and Fred will be visiting from Indianapolis soon. “We want to spend most of that time outdoors,” Monica told me, “and soak up the sun’s rays.”

There’s nothing like out-of-town visitors to remind us what an amazing blessing we have here in our climate. We live in year-round picnic weather.

So I sent out queries to some fellow San Diegans asking for their favorite picnic spots and then made my own pilgrimage to some of them. I’d love to hear a few of your favorites.

Mission Point Park

2600 Bayside Lane, Mission Beach

Mission Point Park (South Mission Beach)

“For us it is Mission Point Park, hands down,” said Lorraine. “It’s never crowded, the view is serene with boats, kayaks, and paddle boards on the quiet bay. Beautiful rock jetty and walkway for strolling, and there’s always a beautiful breeze. Peaceful and out of the way, we have spent many a great time there.”

I found this spot to be as lovely as Lorraine described. It was almost completely empty on a perfect afternoon. Plenty of shade trees, plenty of grass, and the serenity of sailboats and the tide gliding to and from the ocean between the jetties. I liked the choice of grass or sand picnicking. I’ll be back.

Kate Sessions Park

5115 Soledad Road, Pacific Beach

Kate Sessions Neighborhood Park

“Kate Sessions Park is our go-to spot,” explained Tess. “We’re suckers for a view, and the park offers a bird’s-eye view of downtown skyscrapers, planes lifting off from the airport, Mission Bay, the ocean beyond. A great spot for romance,” she offered.

The park, named after the mother of Balboa Park, features two ample grassy sections: one is flat and features a playground at one end, but not much view. The other slopes enough to make playing ball impractical, but it provides a sort of stadium-seating view to the south. It’s kind of like Mount Soledad, with more room and fewer people. Bonus: The north side of the park is a wild area of coastal sage scrub with hiking trails.

Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve

9310 Fanita Parkway, Santee

Santee Lakes Regional Park

(Weekdays, $3 per vehicle; weekends/holidays, $5; Sprayground wristband, $2 per child)

“Santee Lakes is where we go to picnic,” suggested Sarah. “It’s picturesque, with rolling grassy areas surrounding lakes with islands in the middle. Shady trees, ducks, docks, a concrete path around the entire park for walking or biking after picnics. They also have an awesome spray park for the hot days,” she added. The rental cabins floating on the lake are speaking to me. I’m thinking of extending this picnic to a weekend-long picnic.

Bayview Park

413 First Street, Coronado

Bayview Park

This Coronado spot is a favorite of my pal Kristen. “We love this park overlooking San Diego Bay,” she touted. “It’s tiny and gorgeous, romantic and quiet.” It offers a premier view of the downtown skyline with a couple of benches to sit on and watch boats and the lights of downtown.

Louis Stelzer County Park

11470 Wildcat Canyon Road, Lakeside

Louis Stelzer County Park

“Louis Stelzer County Park is never crowded and always immaculately clean,” replied Bernice. “Giant boulders, lots of live-oak trees, there’s a large loop around the play structure area for scooters and such, and hiking trails. The hiking is lovely, and sometimes after rain, a little stream flows under a bridge.”

Pantoja Park

G Street and India, Downtown San Diego

Pantoja Park (G Street, Marina District/downtown)

“For an urban respite, you can’t beat Pantoja Park,” stated Tom. “It’s the oldest park in San Diego, built in the 1800s.”

I paid a visit. Between noon and 1:00 p.m. on weekdays, it has the feeling of a Spanish or Latin American plaza. Workers on lunch break play soccer and throw Frisbees on the grass in the center while office types in suits and tennis shoes parade around the broad path that circumnavigates the roughly one-acre park. The less active lounge in sun on the fringes or in the shade of four enormous Moreton Bay fig trees. There’s no bay view, but that’s kind of the point. It’s a sort of green cove in the concrete ocean of downtown.

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