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San Diegans lie in the sun at Kate Sessions Park in Pacific Beach in April 2020.
San Diegans lie in the sun at Kate Sessions Park in Pacific Beach in April 2020.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

San Diego’s best picnic spots

With one of the best climates in the nation, it’s rarely a bad day for a picnic in San Diego.

Throw in a wide range of terrain, picturesque views and plenty of outdoor space and you get a city that’s perfect for picnics. From Carlsbad and Vista to La Mesa and Chula Vista, there no shortage of parks, beaches and reservoirs across the county where you can enjoy an afternoon in the sun with friends and family.

So if you’re up for an adventure, grab a picnic basket and check out one of our favorite picnic spots in San Diego.

Did we miss your favorite picnic location? Email sara@pacificsandiego.com with your go-to spot for possible inclusion on the list.

Showing Places
Carlsbad State Beach
(Sara Butler)

Carlsbad State Beach

Carlsbad
Carlsbad State Beach, which runs along Highway 101, is perfect spot for an ocean view picnic — whether or not you want to get to sandy. Lay out a blanket on a grassy area next to Harbor Fish Cafe that overlooks the water, or head down the hill for a true beach picnic. Benches are also scattered along the walkway. A bathroom, outdoor shower and water fountain are located at the bottom of the hill.

Getting there: A parking lot on Ocean Street offers close-to-the water spots, but can be a bit tight getting in and out. For less stress and more space, try one of the side streets off Highway 101, which offers lots of residential street parking. Just be aware that cars move quick on that highway, so don’t skip the crosswalks.
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Brengle Terrace Park in Vista
(Sara Butler)

Brengle Terrace Park

Vista
Nestled in a residential area of Vista, Brengle Terrace Park is quite the attraction. Picnic tables are scattered throughout the premises, as well as expansive grassy space to spread out a blankets. If you opt to sit on the ground, just watch out for frisbees ... disc golf is very popular at the park. There are multiple bathrooms and water fountains, with a playground for kids along with athletic courts for nearly every sport — including baseball, basketball, tennis, pickleball and bocce ball. It’s also home to Moonlight Amphitheatre and Alta Vista Botanical Gardens.

Getting there: Take one of the two entrances on Vale Terrace Drive, which gets you to the main road that loops around the entire premises. Parking lots greet you at both entrances, with a few more located inside the park. Street parking is also allowed on Vale Terrace Drive, but watch out for fast cars.
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Sunset Cliffs Natural Park
(Sara Butler)

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

Ocean Beach
True to its name, Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is best to enjoy at sunset. Grab dinner at a restaurant in Ocean Beach and a few blankets — it gets cold in the evening — to enjoy the light show over the Pacific Ocean. There is a flat dirt area to set up a picnic, as well as various benches to sit at along the trail. While you’ll see multiple signs warning visitors about the dangerous bluffs, you’ll usually find many people picnicking on the rocks, sitting on lawn chairs or thicker blankets.

Getting there: Two small parking lots are located along Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, directly in front of the park. If you are able to snag one in the lot — and have a hatchback or truck bed — try backing into the spot and opening your truck for an ocean view picnic from the comfort of your own car. For busy days, plenty of parallel parking is available nearby.
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Kate Sessions Park in Pacific Beach
(Sara Butler)

Kate Sessions Park

Pacific Beach
Kate Sessions Park, also known as Kate O Sessions Memorial Park, is home to a large hill that overlooks Mission Bay. It’s common to see groups of friends sprawled on the grass or couples on romantic dinner dates. Stake a spot on the grass for the best view, but picnic tables are also located at the bottom of the hill, as well as on the other side of the park (north of Park Drive). A bathroom and water fountain are easily accessible from the parking area.

Getting there: Take Soledad Road up the hill and turn into the entrance on Park Drive. The slow street, which runs through the park, has lots of parking spots. On busy days, turn around and parallel park along Soledad Road.
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La Jolla Hermosa Park
(Sara Butler)

La Jolla Hermosa Park

La Jolla
La Jolla Hermosa Park is small in size, but worth the trip. A white wooden gate borders a small patch of land, which has two round picnic tables and three benches, that overlooks Bird Rock. Make sure you bring a thick blanket in case you can’t snag a table or bench — despite some misleading green, the ground is covered small rocks and pubbles. There’s also no restroom or water fountain, so don’t plan for a long visit.

Getting there: This hidden spot is easy to miss, so make sure you pay close attention to your GPS. The park has no parking lot, but you should be able to snag street parking along Chelsea Avenue or a side street in the residential area.
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Trolley Barn Park in University Heights
(Sara Butler)

Trolley Barn Park

University Heights
Located in University Heights, Trolley Barn Park is a neighborhood park named after the old trolley car barn that used to be there. A large grass area runs along Adams Avenue, which offers plenty of space to lay down a blanket or some lawn chairs, with a couple picnic benches off to the side. For a view, walk down to the edge of the park and sit on one of the many benches that overlooks Mission Valley. Despite its residential feel, a quick walk up Adams reveals its proximity to many businesses, restaurants and cafes on Park Boulevard.

Getting there: There’s no parking lot, but you can park along Adams Avenue or another side street in the residential area of University Heights.
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Grant Hill Park
(Sara Butler)

Grant Hill Neighborhood Park

Golden Hill
Grant Hill Neighborhood Park’s large hill slopes up to an area clear of trees, offering an unobstructed view of the city, including Downtown San Diego and the Coronado Bridge. There’s only one picnic table at the top of the hill, but the grassy ground is comfortable. Though the top of the hill is ideal for the view, there is also another picnic table, bench seating and grass situated below, which also has a tennis court and playground.

Getting there: At the bottom of the hill, you’ll find lots of street parking in the quiet neighborhood.
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Mt. Helix
(Sara Butler)

Mt. Helix Park

La Mesa & Mount Helix
Known as “The Crown Jewel of East County,” Mt. Helix Park is beloved for many things, especially its panorama view of San Diego. The historic park, which is famous for its large white cross at the top of the mountain, offers two picnic tables and a few benches. If you can’t score one, try sitting on the steps of the historic amphitheater or on the rock walls surrounding the area. After your picnic, take the Yawkey Trail — which forms a semi-circle around the park — for some exercise and more amazing views.

Getting there: A narrow, one-way street takes you up the mountain, so follow signage and watch out for pedestrians. There is small lot by the kiosk with a handful of spots, as well as parallel parking along the street.
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Lake Murray
(Sara Butler)

Lake Murray

Del Cerro & San Carlos
Located in Mission Trails Regional Park, Lake Murray — which is technically a reservoir — is popular for water activities like kayaking or boating. But you don’t have to get into the water to enjoy Lake Murray. There’s no shortage of picnic tables along the reservoir’s perimeter, which is lined by a 3.2 mile (one-way) paved trail. Consider bringing a bike and hitching a picnic basket on the handlebars to get some exercise while staking out your picnic destination. But leave the blanket at home — you won’t have trouble finding a table, and the rocky terrain isn’t very picnic-friendly.

Getting there: Lake Murray is very large, with multiple entrances and areas to park. We recommend starting at the trail head on Kiowa Drive, which has a nearby parking lot and leads into the rest area.

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Chula Vista Bayfront Park
(Sara Butler)

Chula Vista Bayfront Park

Chula Vista
Chula Vista Bayfront Park has the best of all worlds. The small peninsula is surrounded by boats, with a marina and pier to the south and boat launching ramp to the north. In the middle is a calm, tree-filled park overlooking the water and sandy shore, which is accessible to pedestrians. While the park is flat and ground is comfortable to sit on, the area is also full of picnic tables and benches, including concrete tables with built in checkers/chess boards.

Getting there: With the park directly in front of Chula Vista RV Resort, it can be tricky to find the entrance. Drive down Marina Way and turn left at the sign, where a roundabout leads you into a medium-sized parking lot. On busy days, you can also park on Marina Way and walk up to the park through the sidewalk along the marina.

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Pepper Park in National City
(Sara Butler)

Pepper Park

National City
Drive through an industrial part of National City to find the slightly secluded Pepper Park. Overlooking the Sweetwater Channel, you can enjoy the waterfront view from the grass, picnic tables and benches — two of these benches are actually colorful pieces of public art — or opt to walk out onto the fishing pier for a closer look. There’s a water fountain, but if you’re in the mood for soda, grab a drink from the vending machines by the restroom. It has a playground and is also home to the National City Aquatic Center.

Getting there: Tidelands Avenue takes you straight into the park, with a large lot on the south side that has plenty of parking spots.
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