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Picking a Park for That Picnic Basket

August 29, 1993|ANTONIA ALLEGRA

Looking for the perfect place for a Napa Valley picnic? Here are my choices for lovely spots, including public parks--which are varied and abundant--and wineries.

Before setting out, you may want to obtain a map ($2.41) or free publications that contain maps of area wineries from the Napa Valley Conference and Visitor's Bureau: 1310 Napa Town Center, Napa 94559; telephone (707) 226-7459.

Alston Park: This relatively unknown expanse of hills and paths at the south end of the Napa Valley is the perfect park for flying kites while picnicking. There is a natural breeze, welcome on hot summer days, which whispers through the mini-canyons of the land here, and that breeze has been known to blow kites of all weights and designs to soaring heights. In contrast to most picnic parks from Napa to Calistoga, Alston Park has few stands of trees; however, the land is tablecloth-smooth and the hilltop views are well worth the visit. Ideal in autumn and spring.

Dry Creek Road and Trower Avenue, Napa; turn west from California 29 onto Wine Country Avenue and follow it to the end; the park is in the hills on the west side of the city; tel. (707) 257-9529.

Bothe-Napa Valley State Park: This often overlooked park features stands of coastal redwoods, madronos, Douglas firs, oaks and wildflowers along six miles of scenic trails, including one that leads to nearby Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park. In addition to picnic areas, this 2,000-acre park offers campsites ($3 for firewood) and a swimming pool ($3 per adult, $1 per child).

West of California 29, near Larkmead Lane between St. Helena and Calistoga; tel. (707) 942-4575.

Lyman Park: Imagine Victorian families, picnic baskets in hand, arranging their picnic cloths on the lawn near the white wooden gazebo situated in the middle of Lyman Park. Clearly, the producers of "Pollyanna" understood that image, as they filmed an entire scene of that film in the park. Nothing has changed here, with the exceptional additions of picnic tables, barbecues, restrooms and a colorful playground on the east side of the area, which makes an ideal break for the kids, after driving the length of the valley visiting wineries.

On California 29 (called Main Street within St. Helena) across the street from the post office, near Adams Street on the east side of the street, St. Helena ; tel. (707) 963-5706.

Veteran's Park: This is a community picnic place on a grassy plain at the foot of downtown Napa. It's easy to walk around the quaint Victorian town center, pick up picnic fare nearby (at Andrew's Meat Co., for example) and spread a blanket on the grass, stretch back and enjoy the scene. Check the local newspaper for schedules of Napa River concerts; music is often performed either on the river-bound barge just below Main Street Landing or on the green, adding an extra dimension to an afternoon's picnic.

Downtown Napa on Main Street, between 3rd and 1st streets, above the banks of the river in Napa ; tel. (707) 257-9529.

Pioneer Park: In turn-of-the-century manner, Pioneer Park has a gazebo and a central grassy area ringed with Parisian-style park benches. Despite the fact that Calistoga's bustling main thoroughfare, Lincoln Avenue, is a mere block away, the park is secluded and in a quiet neighborhood dotted with Victorian homes and a bed and breakfast. A variety of trees--eucalyptus, maple, redwood, pine, oak, birch, bamboo--shade the area and edge a creek running behind the property. Find the secret path and bridge over the creek to walk directly to the Sharpsteen Museum, which highlights Calistoga's romantic pioneer history.

Turn north off Lincoln Avenue at Cedar Street, Calistoga. The well-marked park is within the first block, on the east side of the street; tel. (707) 942-2838.

Robert Louis Stevenson Memorial State Park: What a place to honeymoon. This majestic park, which straddles the slopes of Mt. St. Helena at the north end of the Napa Valley, was the post-nuptial destination for author Robert Louis Stevenson and his bride in 1880. It is unknown whether they hiked the steep five-mile trail to the former Silverado Mine or climbed 1,400 feet to the summit to take in the breathtaking panoramic views of Napa vineyards, as well as Mt. Shasta, the Sierra Nevada and Mt. Lassen. No hiking boots? Your plans needn't take you any further than the picnic tables for a quiet site in the woods.

Take California 29 east around the face of Mt. St. Helena, 7 miles north of Calistoga. The park is well-marked; tel. (707) 942-4575.

Skyline Wilderness Park: Weekend fishermen and children enjoy picnicking at Skyline due to the small lake there that offers fishing for bass and bluegill. On the 850-acre property, there is also space for group picnics, 35 miles of hiking, bicycling and equestrian trails, 30 RV campsites with water and electrical hookups.

East Imola Avenue and 4th Avenue, on the eastern edge of Napa; tel. (707) 252-0481.

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