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 kicks off with a morning parade (the Picnic Day site has a map of the parade route) featuring marching bands, student organizations (like the university’s prestigious veterinary school), 4-H clubs, and even local groups like Davis Bike Polo—a nod to the city’s excellent network of bike trails. The rest of the festivities, spread mostly across the campus quad, include a lot of hands-on family-friendly activities like arts and crafts tables, science exhibits, and crowd-pleasing competitions—like a battle of the marching bands, cockroach races, and the highly anticipated Doxie Derby. Check out the site for a full schedule of events. There’s plenty of food to buy around the quad for your own picnic. Then, work off your meal with a visit to the U.C. Davis Arboretum, with 100 acres of gardens and tended landscapes, which is open for strolling year round.
U.C. 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 tour its new dairy barn in 1909. Students put out 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 U.S.
Insider tip: There are several parking lots on the U.C. 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.