All Smiles and Sunshine at Picnic Day

Tens of Thousands Turn Out for the Event’s In-Person Return

A man milks a cow.
The return of an in-person Picnic Day gave many attendees their first chance in three years to milk a cow. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Tens of thousands of people woke up Saturday (April 23) not knowing what to expect as they headed to campus, but what they found was both surprising and familiar.

The 108th Picnic Day, the first held in person since 2019, drew families, alumni, students and community members for research exhibits, performances and other events, food and the warmest weather in weeks.

“I didn’t really have a good concept of what everything was going to be like until yesterday or this morning,” said Amanda Long, a senior microbiology major attending her first Picnic Day, having transferred to UC Davis when the event was held online. She serves as president of the Microbiology Club, which organized an event in the Sciences Laboratory Building to teach people about microscopic life.

She marveled at the size of Picnic Day: “There’s so many people.”

The scale of the event could be seen all over campus, from long lines for attractions like the petting zoo and cow-milking at the Cole Facility, food trucks and Bodega Marine Laboratory’s “Touch Tanks” to the packed bleachers in the University Credit Union Center for the Doxie Derby (another 2,200 people tuned in to the livestream).

The largest student-run event in the nation

Large crowds of people gather on the Quad.
The Quad was home to food trucks, performances and student organization tables, and served as a popular gathering spot during Picnic Day. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Chancellor Gary S. May praised the work of the students who planned this year’s in-person event and the virtual Picnic Days held in 2020 and 2021.

“Picnic Day has been a definitive event at UC Davis for more than a century, and it couldn’t feel better to have it back in person,” he said before the start of the parade. “I know that the founders of Picnic Day in 1909 would be so incredibly thrilled about what’s happening today. Our world has gone through so many ups and downs over time, but Picnic Day has endured.”

Amanda Portier, chair of the Picnic Day board of directors and a senior community and regional development major, said she was “blown away” by the turnout and praised the teamwork of the 15 board members and other volunteers.

“Leading up to the event, we knew the anticipation was big and could sense how much this meant to people, but seeing the impact — the joy it brought — was just so special and something we couldn’t possibly imagine beforehand,” she said today (April 26). “Having the opportunity to rekindle the Picnic Day community back in person was a once-in-a-lifetime experience I am so grateful for.”

Marching band members participate in the Picnic Day parade.
This was the first Picnic Day for the UC Davis Marching Band, which was established in 2019. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)
Dance team members embrace during Picnic Day parade.
The UC Davis Dance Team participated in the Picnic Day parade. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

So much to see

This year’s crowds didn’t keep attendees from enjoying themselves. Jason Dinh ’05 said this weekend was his first-ever Picnic Day because he was always working or visiting family when he was an undergrad. This time, he and his wife brought along their two children, who marveled at an oyster and a crab from the Bodega Marine Laboratory. Dinh described the day as “perfect.”

Victoria Mattsson, a first-year environmental science and management major volunteering at the Aggie Reuse Store’s eco-printing activity, said she was surprised at how large Picnic Day was and how many families it drew.

“It’s really lively,” she said over the sound of participants hammering the impression of flowers from the Student Farm onto fabric.

Children play in sandy exhibit at Picnic Day.
Three-year-old Nico, center, enjoys a table that demonstrates how streams work. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

Elsewhere, attendees crisscrossed the Quad wearing paper dinosaur hats or toting tomato plants. The UC Davis Police Department’s K-9 Charlie was a hit, with one student exclaiming that she was “touching royalty” as she petted the Labrador/border collie mix and posed for a photo.

While this was the first in-person Picnic Day for many, including some of the students who helped plan the event, it was a familiar return for others.

Students in lab coats make bowls of ice cream using liquid nitrogen.
The liquid nitrogen ice cream is a mainstay of Picnic Day. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)
Two men hold a walking stick bug.
A walking stick bug is a Picnic Day star at the Bohart Museum of Entomology. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

“I’ve been to at least 40,” said Roberta Bennett, who grew up in Davis and meets with fellow Davis High School band alumni at Picnic Day. “It’s like coming home.”

Kurt Lomgenbaugh, one of those Davis High School alumni, traveled from Alameda for the event and marveled at another example of things returning to the way they were prior to the coronavirus pandemic. He said he had been attending Picnic Day since he was about 4 years old, adding that the parade is always a highlight.

The parade, with its traditional route from campus into downtown Davis and back, emphasizes the connection between university and city.

“We have the same center of gravity today,” Lomgenbaugh said.

Media Resources

Cody Kitaura is a News and Media Relations Specialist in the Office of Strategic Communications, and can be reached by email or at 530-752-1932.

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