Saturday, August 24, 2013

Family Fun: It's picnic time!

Silicon Valley enjoys over 300 sunny days per year, and this is definitely one of them! What better way to celebrate than with a picnic at one of the South Bay's wonderful parks? Here are a few of our favorites:

1. Topping the list is definitely San Jose's Municipal Rose Garden, located at the corner of Naglee and Dana, across from Trace Elementary School (take either the Bascom or Alameda exits from 880). Just a short walk from our house, it's one of Toddler X's favorite places and we visit several times a week. 

Picnic Pluses: 

  • Huge open lawn with some shade around the perimeter, depending on the time of day. No dogs allowed, so you can walk on the lawn without fear. 
  • A block or so from Zanotto's market (corner of Naglee and Bascom), where the salad bar is excellent, the tri tip panini is fantastic, the homemade chips and guacamole are to die for, and the chocolate chip cookies are the best I've ever had. A block the other way from Starbucks (corner of Park and Naglee). 
  • Easy street parking all around the perimeter of the park, with bathrooms and water fountains available. Park is fenced with limited entry points -- though the gates are open, you can situate yourself far enough from one that you can almost certainly prevent toddler escapes.
Toddler Bonuses: 

  • The huge fountain on the rose side of the park is one of Toddler X's favorite places in the world, and judging from all the toddlers you see running around it, that feeling is universal among the toddling set. 
  • Keep an eye out for the Mallard family who lives in the garden -- we've watched them grow from hatchlings in the spring to bigger than mom now. They're amazingly willing to let toddlers chase them around. 
  • Running/playing hide and seek in the rows between the rose bushes is a great way to tire a toddler out before naptime. 
  • If your toddler still needs to blow off some steam, there's Hester Park, a small but toddler friendly fully-fenced and partly-shaded playground across Naglee/Dana, next door to the Rose Garden library. 
Can you tell we love this place? If you haven't been (or even if you have!), this is a great spot to visit this weekend. 

2. For a pleasant setting, it's hard to beat Oak Meadow Park in Los Gatos (corner of Blossom Hill and University). We've picnicked here a number of times and have never been disappointed. 

Picnic Pluses:

  • Wide open lawn in a beautiful setting, surrounded by trees and hills, with a creek flowing nearby. 
  • Plenty of shady spots around the perimeter of the park. 
  • A short walk down University from Los Gatos Meats and their phenomenal sandwiches. 
  • Free parking on University (though on weekends, you may have to cross to the other side of Blossom Hill). Use the crosswalks, as drivers speed nearby. From University, on the park side of Blossom Hill, you can take one of two path entrances down to the park. It's a steep grade so keep your hands on the stroller! Getting back up is probably not something a toddler can do without a lift. (The park's parking lot on Blossom Hill charges for parking unless you are a Los Gatos or Monte Sereno resident with ID, and often gets full. You can also pay to park in the Vasona lots and cross the footrbidge to Oak Meadow.)
  • Bathrooms, water fountains, a snack shack. 
Toddler Bonuses:

  • The Oak Meadow playground has a few fun toddler items (a little train, a fire truck, baby swings), though much of it is designed with older kids in mind. Be aware that the playground gets very crowded and there are lots of older kids running around. 
  • The Mason Carousel and Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad station are located in the far corner of the park, along with a snack shack. Both the carousel and the train are great and cheap activities. 
  • If you cross the footbridge (at the RR tracks) into Vasona Park and turn left, it's a short walk on the path to the toddler-friendly Vasona Playground. The creek flows along on your left -- keep an eye out for paths down to several little "beaches" where toddlers love to play in the shallow water and mud. Further ahead on your left is Vasona Lake, with great duck/goose watching for the tots. On the path, be alert for speeding cyclists and keep your toddler close. 

3. For a great toddler playground, a water feature and a lawn with plenty of picnic space, try Jack Fischer Park on Pollard in Campbell.

Picnic Pluses:

  • Wide open lawn, with trees around the perimeter for shade. A couple of places to set up picnic blankets within view of the playground itself, but most of the grassy space is on the other side of the park.
  • Just down the street (heading towards Quito) from a Safeway and strip mall with a few food options. In the other direction (heading toward Winchester), just a few blocks from the delicious Purple Onion Cafe. 
  • Plenty of street parking around the perimeter of the park, with bathrooms and water fountains available. 
Toddler Bonuses:

Overall, this park has a great combination of toddler playground/open fields for picnicking. And with a big green hill to roll down, it can't be beat!

4. Finally, on the other side of the valley, you could try out Ortega Park in Sunnyvale. Although we haven't yet picnicked here ourselves, at our last visit I specifically commented that it would be a great place for a future picnic or group get-together. 

Picnic Pluses:

  • Wide open lawns, plenty of shaded areas. 
  • Street or lot parking. 
  • Bathrooms and water fountains. 
Toddler Bonuses:

  • Playground features, including a fully fenced toddler playground. 
  • The BIG draw is the water feature. It's the best we've found. Pack a swimsuit, towel and a change of clothes -- you won't be able to keep your toddler out of it!
So this weekend or on any of the other 299+ days of sunshine we enjoy here in the South Bay, take your toddler out for a fun and free activity at one of these great picnicking spots. Let me know if you have any other picnic suggestions, and Toddler X and I will try them out!

Happy weekend!

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