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 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—a dachshund race featuring regular and mini categories. Check out the site for a full schedule of events. From liquid nitrogen-frozen sorbet to a festive pancake breakfast, there’s plenty of food to buy around the quad for your own picnic. Afterwards, work off your meal with a visit to the U.C. Davis Arboretum, where 100 acres of gardens and tended landscapes, which are 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 coffee, cream, and sugar, and community members showed up in droves—2,200 to be exact—bringing food and picnic blankets. With that, a tradition was born. Today, the event is considered one of the biggest student-led events in the U.S. To get involved, check out the Picnic Day site for a full roster of events.
Insider tip: There are several parking lots on the U.C. Davis campus, but they tend to fill up fast during picnic day festivities, so arrive early to nab your spot.