Artsy Spring Picnic at the de Young Museum

Inspired by the Getty Museum picnic that Giada de Laurentiis’ created for her Food Network show, we  recently organized our own artsy picnic adventure with our little ones and a few friends. You’ve got to love the ease of the picnic playdate. Just pick the time and place, make it a potluck (and cross your fingers for good weather) and you’re good to go!

We decided the de Young Museum’s Osher sculpture garden would be the perfect spot for our picnic and selected two dishes from Giada’s menu (pasta with goat cheese and butternut squash, and apple-mint punch), along with some other tasty bites. [Stay tuned — we’ll be posting recipes later this week, along with our checklist for “primo picnicking.”]

Runaway kids are always a concern at picnics, so the sculpture garden turns out to be ideal because it’s enclosed except for one small entrance which is manned by a guard. And the lily pond just outside the museum entrance makes for a perfect rendezvous point since there’s plenty to entertain until everyone arrives. The kids loved running around the little paths and looking for turtles sunning on rocks in the pond. The two stone sphinxes offer a bit of fun climbing, too.

Next we meandered inside the museum and up to the de Young’s observation tower. A lot of people don’t know this part of the museum is open to the public at no charge (we love free!) — it’s a must-do for locals and visitors alike. The elevator lobby has some great hanging wire sculptures by local artist Ruth Asawa, lit so that they cast mesmerizing shadows. Great spot to talk to the kids about shadows, lighting and art.  Have some fun by making your own shadows. 🙂 When you step out of the elevator, you get an amazing 360 degree panoramic view. You really feel like you’re hovering in the air above San Francisco with a spectacular view of our beautiful city.  The day we visited, it was a crisp, sunny day but the view on a foggy day has it’s own appeal.

It didn’t take long before hunger, and the siren call of Giada’s pasta set-in and we headed back down and out to the sculpture garden (again free – yay!). There’s plenty of lawn to set out a blanket and kick a ball and it’s great place to soak in a little bit of art. If you can’t get it together (common problem) to make a picnic, the de Young cafe has a pretty appealing menu. There are also plenty of sandwich, dim sum and snack options in both the Inner Richmond (~8th & Clement) and Sunset (~9th and Irving) neighborhoods for a quick “grab and go” before heading into the park.

In between bites, our young picnickers got up close and personal with the outdoor sculptures, including the ceramic apples by Ulla and Gustav Kraitz and the giant safety pin by Claes Oldenberg. Ria and Luca spent a good part of the picnic sitting under a sculpture pretending it was a tent and that they were on an elaborate camping trip.  Letting their imaginations run wild, the rocks around them became different animals and they sang silly, made up songs. Sitting there in the sun and listening to their chatter was a happy reminder to us, often harried, adults about taking a few minutes to soak up some of life’s simpler pleasures. Picnics have a way of doing that which is another reason we love them so much.

By the time the kids dove into the basket of strawberries one mom had brought, it was almost school time or nap time so our lovely museum picnic wound down to a close. Luckily, for those of you with more time and stamina than us, there are lots of nearby places to continue your adventure.

  • Take a walk to the Conservatory of flowers (Enjoy the fantastic flower displays out front for free and do some log rolls down the sloping lawns. There is an entrance fee for the Conservatory.)
  • Grab a little spot of post picnic tea and climb the rainbow bridge at the Japanese Tea Garden (entrance fee charged)
  • Burn off some more energy at the “Blue Playground” just inside the park at 8th and Fulton (free)
  • Run around in the music concourse between the de Young and the California Academy of Sciences (free)
  • Take in the California Academy of Sciences (entrance fee charged without a membership)
  • Wander though the gardens of the world at the nearby San Francisco Botanical Garden (free)

A few notes on parking, restrooms and coffee!

You can usually find parking along JFK Drive, although you should be prepared to walk a bit since the museum and aquarium draw big crowds. This picnic spot is extra kid-friendly because there are restrooms right inside the museum lobby. The museum’s café opens right into garden, so you can always pick up a little something extra if you need it (a coffee for mom or dad, perhaps?).

10 thoughts on “Artsy Spring Picnic at the de Young Museum

  1. Great ideas – I am passing this along to lots of nieces and nephews with small children to remind them of all the opps for picnics and fun nearby, thanks so much

  2. You give the BEST ideas for child-friendly outings around the city. Last month we took my 2 year old over to Fort Mason and got take-out at Greens, had a little picnic in the park, and then checked out the hidden community garden as you recommended. We’ll definitely be heading to the deYoung for a picnic soon.

  3. Pingback: Super Delicious Apple-Mint Picnic Punch « A Little Yumminess

  4. Pingback: Genmaicha at the Park « A Little Yumminess

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