With ample parks, the occasional weekend of mild weather, and now years of social distancing to drive the trend, Washingtonians love a picnic. Here are some tips for planning the perfect one.
Choose Your Menu Carefully
Susan Gage of Susan Gage Caterers knows a thing or two about crafting the ideal menu—even when it comes to a picnic. You’ll want food, of course, that can withstand a long stint out of the fridge; for starters, she recommends a few dips such as hummus, which don’t take up a lot of space. It’s always nice, she adds, to have some type of salad, and a chopped-vegetable version can sit with dressing for a while. You’ll probably want a protein—chicken or cold salmon is a good option—but bring something that doesn’t require cutting. For dessert, Gage points out, little cookies or hand pies don’t need a plate; a bowl of strawberries with the stems still attached is also easy to eat with your fingers. For a beverage, skip dealing with ice by choosing something like a wine that you can pour into a thermos or S’well bottle.
People usually bring too much, and that goes for picnics, too. You’ll want to lighten the load you have to carry. Consider only blankets that aren’t too bulky, says Gage, and keep dishes and utensils to a minimum. If you want to lay out a big spread, mind the materials: If you can’t live without that charcuterie setup, look for lighter-weight serving boards made of bamboo, and consider acrylic or melamine plates. Picnic backpacks, though more practical than picture-worthy, are easier to transport than traditional baskets.
Yes, Washingtonians love a picnic. You know what else loves one? Instagram. But with all the logistical challenges, there’s a delicate balance between curating a perfect photo and creating a successful outing. Give yourself a head start, says Picnic & Peonies “picnicker-in-chief” Michelle Ison, by choosing a scenic location—Old Town Alexandria parks and Georgetown Waterfront Park offer pretty water views in addition to proximity to attractions.
Next: Be thoughtful about the spread’s design. “Choose colors that complement the location and reason for celebration,” Ison says. For a picnic doubling as a proposal, choose a neutral palette that allows the two of you to be the focus. For a girls’ day, a vibrant setup may be more appropriate. Anthropologie, for example, has a colorful collection of bamboo melamine that includes plates, pitchers, serving pieces, even a coordinating blanket and lawn games. (Search for the Sarah Campbell collaboration at Anthropologie’s website, or check out Target and Crate & Barrel for other options.)
Finally, says Ison, pay attention to details: Freshly cut fruit, for instance, provides a “nice pop of color” and “looks great on the ’Gram.” More interested in the post than the planning? You can hire a local company, such as Picnic & Peonies or Potomac Picnics, to set it all up for you.
A-Tisket, A-Tasket, a Ritzy Little Basket
We’ve come across a lot of fancy—and pricey—picnic baskets: Williams Sonoma, Pottery Barn, even Saks Fifth Avenue have more than a few to choose from. But high-end designers releasing limited-edition baskets have created a category all their own—such as this $6,700 Fendi version on Farfetch’s website. The set for two comes with a pair of teacups, saucers, wineglasses, and plates—each in a yellow-brown-and-white palette and etched with the Fendi logo—along with flatware: one set in silver, the other gold-toned. Even fancier (and, yes, pricier): The Hermès Park Picnic Basket—with settings for four—currently lists on resale sites like Mightychic for more than $20,000.
1. Georgetown Waterfront Park
“It has gorgeous views of the water overlooking the Kennedy Center,” says Michelle Ison of Picnic & Peonies, “and ample room to spread out. It’s close to many restaurants and shops, allowing picnickers to pick up food prior to their picnic and walk around [after]. ”
2. Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens
Amid 25 acres of lush gardens and impeccably landscaped grounds are designated picnic areas. There’s a cafe where picnickers can buy food and beverages, including beer and wine. Visit Hillwood’s website for hours and guidelines.
3. Yards Park
Along with Anacostia River views, the Southwest DC park offers “dancing” fountains and a wading pool where you can cool off. Nearby restaurants make impromptu picnics easy. See a schedule of events, hours, and rules at here.
4. Founders Park
Potomac Picnics owner Amanda Erickson says this Old Town park has shaded areas and a cool breeze coming from the water.
5. National Arboretum
The National Grove of State Trees—30 acres, with picnic tables—is the only spot in the arboretum approved for picnicking. Click here for hours and rules.
Beat bugs, stay cool, and increase the entertainment factor by packing this gear.
1. Wineglass holders
Anchor them into the ground to prevent spills. $35 for a five-piece set on Amazon.
2. Food tents
Keep out things like insects or blowing leaves. $6 at Crate & Barrel.
3. Battery-operated fans
Are they cute? Not really. Are they powerful enough to turn a July picnic date into a sweat-free fete? Also no. But they will offer some respite from the heat and keep bugs from being quite so annoying. Honeywell fan, $19 at Target.
These, says Picnic & Peonies’ Michelle Ison, are a great way to avoid bites. They’re Deet-free and inexpensive. $15 for a pack of 12 on Amazon.
5. Bluetooth speaker
The Bose SoundLink Micro Bluetooth Speaker is small and waterproof and has more than 18,000 five-star reviews on Amazon. Plus, you can attach the strap to your backpack or handlebars. $119 on Amazon.
6. Practical carryall
Baskets can be awkward to carry—not so backpacks. The Everly Picnic Backpack is insulated and includes a blanket plus a wine cooler on the outside and dinnerware for four inside. $149 at potterybarn.com.
This article appears in the May 2022 issue of Washingtonian.