Park + Eat: 7 Peaceful Outdoor Spaces and Where to Grab Food Nearby
Beautiful Bernal Heights Park couldn't be more ideal for a picnic with views. (Trevor Felch)

Park + Eat: 7 Peaceful Outdoor Spaces and Where to Grab Food Nearby


In this summer of social distancing, many of us are spending more time outside, whether in our favorite parks or discovering new green spaces. And though San Francisco restaurants are beginning to open for limited outdoor dining, takeout is still de rigueur for foodies seeking a taste of normal life.

This new normal does beg a question: How can we eat out, without eat out? Picnic in the park, anyone? A hike plus lunch?

Now, we don't have to tell you it's a great idea to grab a pie from Pizzeria Delfina to take to Dolores Park or a slice of toast from The Mill to scarf on the walk to Alamo Square. But there are also more than 150 public parks in San Francisco—not to mention countless beloved neighborhood coffee shops and eateries—meaning there are endless possibilities for park-food pairings that provide more personal space than you'll ever find at Dolores and, perhaps, some surprising new flavors.

Remember to keep six feet of distance between people and wear your masks until it's time to bite into that sandwich. Also, please note the information here regarding opening hours and menu items is current as of press time, but we live in a rapidly changing time; please check the restaurants' websites before you visit.

Now, go get some fresh air. Enjoy a picnic, or find take-home lunch or dinner near your park of choice.

John McLaren Park

San Francisco's second largest park (named for the city's legendary longtime parks superintendent) resides at the southern edge of SF, situated a few residential blocks away from the main commercial stretches of the Portola and Excelsior neighborhoods. At a little more than 300 acres, there are all kinds of trails to explore, grassy areas for picnics, and beautiful vistas in all directions. The main thoroughfare, John F. Shelley Drive, is mostly closed off to cars right now to allow pedestrians and bikes to roam freely.

Morning: Before your hike, swing by Excelsior Coffee(4495 Mission St.) for a cappuccino and fresh pastries, including various ube-based sweets and desserts by Ube Area.

Noon: When it comes to great picnic provisions, the Excelsior's Calabria Bros. Deli(4763 Mission St.) is pretty much a one-stop shop. Go for one of the sandwiches served on SF's own Boudin bread with meats from SF's own Molinari & Sons. Round things out with a Italian pantry items and cheeses for a wonderful lunch in McLaren Park.

Evening:Gentilly(4826 Mission St.) serves an excellent taste of New Orleans in the form of maple-glazed fried chicken, grilled mac 'n' cheese, beignets, and adult bevvies including Hurricanes and frozen lime-hibiscus daiquiris. Grab and go (via DoorDash or UberEats), or dine in on the patio for lunch or dinner. If you're more into pub grub, you'll find some of the city's best on Geneva Avenue, a little southwest of the park: Broken Record(1166 Geneva Ave.), which is open for sidewalk and patio imbibing; and The Dark Horse Inn(942 Geneva Ave.), which is taking online orders for pickup of Reuben sandwiches, draft beers, and more.

Bring home: One of SF's lesser known but most impressive tiny breweries, Ferment Drink Repeat(2636 San Bruno Ave.) resides on the Portola's main commercial stretch. FDR (no, not the President) just started canning some of its beers, so stop by for IPA, pale ale, and Mexican-style lager—plus locally made Lev's Kombucha—by the four-pack or growler (and homebrew equipment!); curbside pickup is available from 5 to 7pm, Wednesday through Sunday.

Stern Grove

Known citywide for its beloved summer music festival (not this year, sadly), Stern Grove is a truly special midsized park. It's quiet and spacious, popular with dogs and families, and packs a lot of scenery into 33 acres in the vicinity of Lake Merced—think beautiful meadows and towering redwoods.

Morning: Parkside's Taraval Street corridor is a few blocks north of Stern Grove. For breakfast, head over to the charming and relatively new Argentine café, Chalo's(2240 Taraval St.) to pick up any of 15 flavors of empanadas (including classic carne and jamon & queso), churros, and a housemade vanilla cold brew made with Sightglass beans.

Noon: The father-daughter run Dumpling Specialist(1123 Taraval St.) is an excellent choice for a lunch of xiao long bao (often considered SF's best), pan fried pork buns, and noodle dishes.

Evening: The neighborhood's longtime Italian favorites are both open for dinner takeout. At Marcello Ristorante(2100 Taraval St.) pick up carpaccio, tomatoes Campagnola, a variety of pastas; The Gold Mirror(800 Taraval St.) has been serving the likes of eggplant parmigiana and salmon picatta since 1969. For dessert, head over to another Parkside mainstay, Marco Polo Italian Ice Cream(1447 Taraval St.), for terrific gelato in flavors like rum raisin, durian, and fresh mango.

Bring home:Lost & Found(1439 Taraval St.) is a newish high-quality yet super-relaxed cocktail bar serving SF-themed drinks, like the pineapple-driven Mission Dolores Margarita, alongside bites including excellent fried tom yum wings and a wagyu burger. Takeout is available through DoorDash or you may also enjoy service on the patio.

Glen Canyon Park

While San Francisco has several small, commuter haven neighborhoods like Glen Park, you'll be hard pressed to find many canyons—this is probably the only one. Glen Canyon Park provides a perfect pairing of nature and neighborhood with its rugged 66 acres of park along Islais Creek plus a handful of great places to eat and drink nearby.

Morning: Call in your order at Tyger's Coffee Shop(2798 Diamond St.) ahead of time, then enjoy a late diner-style breakfast (starting at 10am for now) of an egg scramble or raisin walnut French toast. If you're strictly a coffee-in-the-morning person, find carefully made cups at Cup Cafe(6 Monterey Blvd.) and Bello(2885 Diamond St.).

Noon: If you're thinking about having a picnic in Glen Park or on one of the rocks in the canyon, swing by Cheese Boutique(660 Chenery St.) for fromage, meats, homemade dips, plus great sandwiches.

Evening: In a city full of outstanding pizzerias, Gialina(2842 Diamond St.) is absolutely one of the greats, and is currently open for pickup and delivery from 4 to 8:30pm daily. You can't go wrong with a wild arugula salad, Amatriciana pie, and a bottle of lambrusco.

Bring home: Croissants, cookies, scones, seasonal fruit desserts—Destination Baking Company(598 Chenery St.) is both Glen Park's favorite local bakery and one of SF's best.

Bernal Heights Park

Best view in San Francisco? It would be hard to disagree with the panoramic vista of the city skyline and the Bay from atop Bernal Heights. The short-but-steep climb to Bernal Heights Park rewards hikers with an unparalleled perspective. For food (and beer) plan to hit Mission Street to the west or Cortland Avenue to the south.

Morning: Spy artist Leah Rosenberg's colorful wall art while you wait for your capp to go at the adorable Pinhole Coffee(231 Cortland Ave.), then stroll over for pastries and brunch-y items at Black Jet Baking Co.(833 Cortland Ave.).

Noon: Currently open for takeout Thursday though Saturday, El Buen Comer(3435 Mission St.) is a fantastic destination from La Cocina alum Isabel Caudillo for enchiladas, tacos, and sopes with guisados (sauces stewed with meat or vegetables) inspired by her hometown of Mexico City. If you're looking for picnic fixings, look no further than Bernal's mainstay butcher shop, Avedano's(235 Cortland Ave.), for sliced meats, organic produce, cheeses, olives, and more.

Evening: The Insta-favorite uni crème brûlée isn't on the Thursday through Saturday takeout menu at 3rd Cousin(919 Cortland Ave.), but there are still plenty elegant, creative dishes including duck breast with sprouted legumes, smoked date, and Nikita pear. But when you're in Bernal, you're in the presence of pizza greatness: Order up Cellarmaker House of Pizza's(3193 Mission St.) Detroit-style pies; PizzaHacker's (3299 Mission St.) Top Shelf Margherita (now available in square shape); or the wonderful Indian-inspired versions at Zante(3489 Mission St.).

Bring home: Where's there's pizza, there's beer, so plan to take cans or growlers back with you. Cellarmaker, along with its neighborhood peer Barebottle(1525 Cortland Ave.), can fairly be called the two most impressive small breweries in SF. Old Devil Moon(3472 Mission St.) has a deep selection of cans and bottles; it's also right next to Mitchell's Ice Cream(668 San Jose Ave.), so a cone of buko (young coconut) or ube ice cream is in order.

Mt. Sutro Open Space Preserve

At the heart of San Francisco rises Mt. Sutro Open Space Preserve, an urban cloud forest that feels like a mystical surprise no matter how many times we visit. With multiple short and easy-to-moderate trails, this spot is ideal for both a quick escape from the daily grind or a leisurely Saturday breathing in the eucalyptus and spotting birds. Nearby Cole Valley provides all the eats you'll need.

Morning: Before you tackle the mountain, fuel up with coffee and a breakfast sando from Reverie Cafe(848 Cole St.) or Wooden Coffeehouse(862 Cole St.).

Noon: Get on the Yelp waitlist for brunch at Zazie(941 Cole St.), where the patio was packed before it became the restaurant's only available seating during the time of COVID; then relive the glory of the Miracle pancakes. For something a little spicier, Beit Rima's (86 Carl St.) Arabic comfort food—mezza, shakshuka, kabobs—is consistently choice.

Evening: Enchiladas, ceviche, and tacos pair with excellent margaritas at Padrecito(901 Cole St.), which has reopened for sidewalk seating in addition to offering takeout and delivery. Open for pickup, neighborhood wine bar InoVino(108B Carl St.) is always a hit for pizzas, pastas, a very noteworthy lasagna, and pinsettas (think oval-shaped flatbreads).

Bring home: Lucky Cole Valley is home to The Ice Cream Bar(815 Cole St.), a vintage-style soda fountain loved for its old-fashioned offerings like root beer floats as well as boozy dessert creations such as the Dublin Honey, which is especially satisfying after a hike. Pints of ice cream as well as pies, brownies, and cookies are on offer to take home.

Strawberry Creek Park, Berkeley

Toward the west side of Berkeley in the neighborhood dubbed Poet's Corner, Strawberry Creek Park is a roughly four-acre green space whose namesake sliver of water runs through the heart of UC Berkeley campus. It's perfect for picnicking, and there are several foodie options nearby on bustling University and San Pablo avenues.

Morning: There are two excellent options for grabbing coffee and morning bites: Highwire Coffee Roasters(2049 San Pablo Ave.) and Fellini Coffeebar(1401 University Ave.), which serves 100 percent organic espresso.

Noon: In a fun twist to the usual Bay Area park experience, there is a lovely cafe literally next to Strawberry Creek Park. The Hidden Cafe(1250 Addison St.)—it's right there!—is only doing drinks and pastries as of press time, but look out for updates since lunch will eventually resume. In the meantime, you can pick up a burrito, some pupusas, and pan dulce from Casa Latina Bakery(1805 San Pablo Ave.) or sandwiches, soups, and brunch items from Homemade Cafe(2454 Sacramento St.).

Evening: San Pablo Avenue is home to one of the Bay Area's premier spots for Spanish tapas and paella—La Marcha(2026 San Pablo Ave.), which is serving some pretty wild croqueta burgers during the pandemicas well as a top destination for traditional and California-accented German cuisine at Gaumenkitzel(2121 San Pablo Ave.). Both are open for takeout.

Bring home: Be sure to pick up some of the wonderful nut butter and nut-flour-based cookies baked by Whitney Singletary, owner of Nuttin' Butter Cookies, (2521 San Pablo Ave.), a mobile cottage food operation. The storefront is currently closed, but pickup is available at the production site just south of the park.

Doyle Hollis Park, Emeryville

This new-ish park in the heart of Emeryville might not be particularly large or have spectacular views, but it's a quaint piece of green space ideally located near several tempting food choices. It's part of the Emeryville Greenway, which has walking and bike paths that connect to Berkeley and Oakland.

Morning: Start the day with homemade bagels and scones at Dee Spot(1195 65th St.) or find a fuller breakfast (organic buckwheat pancakes, smoked salmon scramble) at Doyle Street Cafe(5515 Doyle St.).

Noon: Make a beeline for the Emeryville Public Market(5959 Shellmound St.) and pick up the outstanding rosemary-flecked fried chicken from Minnie Bell's Soul Movement (11am to 2pm Saturday and Sunday; 3-7pm Thursday-Friday). Also in the market, Paradita Eatery is open daily for outdoor dining or takeout of empanadas, Peruvian sandwiches, and rice bowls.

Evening:Honor Kitchen & Cocktails(1411 Powell St.) is as great an example of craft cocktails and gastropub fare you'll find anywhere. Order the smoked chicken wings with a bourbon-barbecue glaze and one of the pastas, or share one of the pandemic-era family meals.

Bring home: Many Bay Area farmers' market-goers know all about the special cheesecakes and desserts from Charles Farrier of Crumble and Whisk Pâtisserie (another La Cocina alum). Well, the bakeshop's kitchen is right by the park! Make sure to order cheesecakes in advance (there is no ordering on site) for pickup on Fridays from 11am to 2pm. Call 415.237.3318 or email us

A little further away from the park but still very much within walking or very-short driving distance, you'll find one of the East Bay's leading cocktail bars Prizefighter(6702 Hollis St.) and breweries Novel Brewing(6510 San Pablo Ave.). Both are offering delicious libations to go.

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