Each April, the University of California, Davis, invites the public to its annual and unabashedly friendly Picnic Day—an open house that offers a chance to learn, play, taste and enjoy the leafy campus in Davis, just north of Sacramento.
The day begins with a morning parade (the Picnic Day website has a map of the parade route) featuring marching bands, student organisations (like the university’s prestigious veterinary school), 4-H clubs (a youth organisation) and even local groups like Davis Bike Polo—a nod to the city’s excellent network of cycle paths. The rest of the festivities, spread mostly across the campus quadrangle, include a lot of hands-on family-friendly activities such as arts and crafts tables, science exhibitions and crowd-pleasing competitions—like the battle of the marching bands, cockroach races and the highly anticipated Doxie Derby. Visit the website for a full schedule of events. There’s plenty of food to buy around the quadrangle for your own picnic. Then, work off your meal with a visit to the UC Davis Arboretum, with its 100 acres of gardens and tended landscapes, which is open to the public year round.
UC Davis has long been known for its excellent agricultural programs, so perhaps appropriately, the picnic first started when the University Farm invited locals to come and tour its new dairy barn in 1909. Students put on a spread of coffee, cream and sugar, and community members showed up in droves, bringing food and picnic blankets—and a tradition was born. Today, the event is considered one of the biggest student-led events in the US.
Insider tip: there are several car parks on the UC Davis campus, but they tend to fill up fast during picnic day festivities. The Picnic Day site has a map of where you are most likely to find a spot.