There's something irresistible about autumn picnics. Summer's heat has waned and the crisp air makes us long for al fresco feasts – perhaps with a Thermos of something warm and hearty to accompany those sandwiches, cider and sides.
The foothills of California's Gold Country are dotted with beautiful picnic spots. Here are just a few of our favorites.
HETCH HETCHY VALLEY, YOSEMITE
At 3,900 feet, the Hetch Hetch Valley enjoys some of the mildest weather and longest hiking season in the park. Tuck a sandwich in your day pack to enjoy on your hike, or grab a perch at one of the picnic tables closer to the dam or parking lot. Either way, grab that sandwich in Groveland, where Kevin and Randi's Old-Fashioned Meat Market makes veggie wraps and sandwiches ($8) to order. The Corned Beef Molly is especially popular.
Details: Purchase a pass to enter the park ($30 per car) at Yosemite's Big Oak Flat entrance or – even more convenient, if you're there between May and October – at Groveland's Visitor Center, which is in the same shopping center as the deli. Find Kevin and Randi's at 18687 Main St., Groveland.
COLUMBIA STATE HISTORIC PARK, COLUMBIA
Picnic tables are tucked among the trees and meadows of this wonderfully preserved Gold Rush Town, behind the Fallon Theatre, near the City Hotel, by the Columbia Engine Company No. 1 firehouse and oh-so-conveniently near Columbia Kate's Bakery. So pack up that checkered tablecloth and plan to pick up picnic fare when you arrive in town. The bakery offers quiche, pot pies and Runsas, hot pocket sandwiches whose fillings vary from ground beef and swiss to a breakfasty egg, bacon and cheese. (But if you choose to picnic on cinnamon rolls or scones instead, we wouldn't blame you. They're delicious.) Need sarsaparilla to wash that down? Brown's Coffee House sells sarsaparilla as well as lemonade, espresso drinks and ice cream on Main Street.
Details: Columbia Kate's Bakery is open daily at 11256 State St., Columbia. Find Brown's Coffee House at 22760 Main St.; www.visitcolumbiacalifornia.com.
INDIGENY RESERVE, SONORA
The views alone would make this a perfect picnic destination: 160 acres of apple orchards, rolling hills and scenic vistas. That you can nip inside Indigeny Reserve's tasting room to buy chilled hard cider and non-alcoholic sips to accompany your picnic just makes it all the better. Stop off first in Sonora's historic downtown to pick up pulled pork sandwiches ($9.75) at the Lighthouse Deli – or, if you're feeling spontaneous – head for Indigeny directly. The ciderhouse gift shop sells crackers and salami and cheese packs and, if you skipped the whole picnic basket thing entirely, small sets of paper plates and napkins.
Details: Indigeny Reserve is open daily at 14679 Summers Lane on the outskirts of Sonora. The Lighthouse Deli is open Monday-Saturday at 28 S. Washington St., www.thelighthousedeli.com.
PINECREST LAKE, PINECREST
During the summer months, this popular lake is such a draw, cabins and campgrounds book up months ahead and traffic slows to a crawl. But the lake turns serene and peaceful in the fall, and all those barbecue grills and picnic tables are yours to enjoy, sans crowds. Grab sandwiches ($6.50-$8.75) first at Alicia's Sugar Shack in Sugar Pine, where the Tall Classic Club and The Emily – a turkey, bacon, avocado and jack sandwich – await.
Details: Open daily at 24191 Highway 108, Sugar Pine; www.aliciasugarshack.com.