I’m a big fan of dining al fresco, whether it’s a luncheon in a formal garden, getting away to nature with a hearty meal on lazy creek, or a good old-fashioned picnic in a park. So I’m grateful that there are prime outdoor dining spots within easy biking distance of home. For big group cookouts with barbecuing and outdoor games, city parks like Rengstorff Park or Cuesta Park are perfect. But I prefer picnics in quiet hideaways where the setting is just as important as the food and friends, and where we keep the food and gear simple enough that it all fits on the back of our bikes. Where exactly we go just depends on our mood.
Picnic in the Garden: Elizabeth Gamble Garden
If strolling thorough formal gardens on a historic estate suits your fancy, ride up to the Gamble Garden near Palo Alto’s Professorville neighborhood. The three-story home and carriage house were built in 1902 by Edwin Percy Gamble, the son of the co-founder of Proctor & Gamble. His daughter Elizabeth cultivated elaborate gardens on the two and a half acre property and bequeathed the family home and gardens to the city with her passing in 1981.
Today, the impeccably maintained grounds include a flower garden that offers something new every month, vegetable plots, fruit trees and a restful shade garden between the main house and the carriage and tea houses. For picnickers, there are three large tables under a heritage oak tree with adjacent bike parking. The gardens are open every day during daylight hours, although the bathrooms were closed when we visited in the evening earlier this week.
The Ride: If you like flat rides on shady neighborhood streets lined by beautiful homes, you’ll love this route. See map link below for details. Approximately six miles from downtown Mountain View.
Picnic in the Woods: Stevens Creek County Park
Founded in 1924, Santa Clara County’s first county park is just upstream from Mountain View on Stevens Creek. At the center of the park is a 92 acre reservoir formed by the Stevens Creek Dam that was built by the Work Projects Administration (WPA) in 1936. The reservoir is open to non-motorized boating and fishing and has hiking trails on its eastern side. Mountain biking is allowed in adjacent Fremont Older Open Space Preserve which is accessible from the park, albeit after a long, steep climb up a dirt and gravel road.
Picnic sites are sprinkled throughout the park, with the Lakeshore, Cooley and Canyon Picnic Areas along Stevens Canyon Road being most popular. But my favorite sites are the tables in the quieter Bay Tree Picnic Area along the banks of Stevens Creek. Grills are available at each site for those who are willing to lug more than chips and sandwiches up to the park.
The Ride: Unfortunately, the Stevens Creek Trail does not extend this far south so you’ll need to ride on Foothill Expressway and Stevens Canyon Roads, which have shoulders or bike lanes for most of the route. You can avoid the Hwy 280 interchange on Foothill by taking the secret passageway at Rancho San Antonio, though. A general uphill grade with a few short and steep hills means this is not a fun ride on a heavy cruiser bike. Approximately eight miles from downtown Mountain View.
More Picnic Destinations
Shoup Park: For those who want to picnic in the woods without riding up hills, Shoup Park is a shady delight under big redwoods just across Foothill Expressway from downtown Los Altos.
Shoreline Park: Mountain View’s premier park keeps it low-key with blanket picnics only. For those who want to keep it really low-key, you can order food to go at the Lakeside Cafe and sit on the lawn to watch the sailboats, paddle boats and boardsailors.
Palo Alto Baylands: Tucked between the duck pond, small plane airport and nature center is a picnic area with tables that’s ideal for filling hungry little stomachs between kid-friendly attractions.
Bike Picnic Tips
* Bike with racks and baskets are easiest for carrying food and picnic gear. Backpacks will work too, especially if you pack light and spread the load across members of your group.
* If you plan to eat on arrival, you don’t need an ice chest or insulated bag if your ride is under an hour. Just pack cold items together and use a table cloth, picnic blanket or paper bags for insulation.
* A mini-broom or brush comes in handy for sweeping picnic table tops and seats. I highly recommend one if you plan to sit at a table and aren’t bringing a tablecloth.
* Don’t forget a small bag for garbage and cloth or paper towels for cleanup.
* Be careful with sparkling water and carbonated drinks. Bumps on the ride can make for a messy opening.
* Please consider using reusable plates and cups and cutlery. It cuts down on waste going to the landfill and I swear the food tastes better when it’s not on a paper plate.
* My favorite easy picnic foods are: cheese, bread, smoked sausage, olives, green salad, sushi, fruit, cookies.
* Want to keep it really simple? Pack sandwiches and a drink in a backpack and just ride!