Where to go, what to bring
Dining al fresco in D.C. doesn’t have to break the bank. In fact, if you want to avoid making reservations, waiting in line and eating elbow-to-elbow with strangers, planning a picnic is a great alternative. There are so many scenic (Instagram-worthy) spots to throw down a blanket and enjoy this simple and charming tradition. Here we’re sharing some of the best places in D.C. for a picnic – as well as some tips to make your picnic pleasant for all involved.
Hauling your provisions
Although traditional picnic baskets are cute, your best bet is to purchase a modern, sensible picnic backpack since activities in D.C. typically involve walking some distance from your car or taking the metro and hauling a heavy hand-held basket will be cumbersome. Check Amazon for some great options. You can find backpacks with comfortable padded straps and efficiently organized compartments for cutlery, plates, napkins, a cooler, a blanket and more. You might want to invest in two backpacks and share the load with a friend.
Picnic food ideas
Reimagine the ordinary sandwich, chips, and soda. Take it up a notch and serve baguettes; or take it up two notches with quiche, charcuterie boards, fancy salads, and refreshing cocktails. Make sure most of your meal consists of finger foods (easy to eat) so you don’t have to worry about multiple plates/cutlery. And don’t forget dessert!
Another culinary option: order food-to-go from your favorite D.C. restaurant. You’ll still need a method to transport it to your picnic destination, but letting someone else prepare and pack the meal will involve less work on your end.
Don’t forget to pack
- Anti-bacterial wipes
- Wet naps
- Garbage bags
- Bug spray
Places to picnic
We’re providing some tried-and-true venues here, but there are so many more possibilities. Wherever your destination, make sure you learn about parking options (or Metro stops) in advance. Also, do a little research to make sure your spot is picnic friendly and open for visitors.
Between Constitution and Independence Ave., SW
Known as “America’s Front Yard,” this iconic spot is punctuated by the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument and flanked by Smithsonian museums. The long, grassy swath is often crowded, but people-watching can be just as fun as gazing at the patriotic landmarks.
1100 Ohio Drive SW
Located at the southern tip of East Potomac Park between the main branch of the Potomac River and the Washington Channel, Hains Point offers beautiful views of the Potomac River, the Anacostia River and the Washington Channel. It’s an ideal spot for bird watching and also has a playground and restrooms. A four-mile loop allows you to take in the many different species of cherry trees while hiking or biking.
Located on the Potomac River and accessible by George Washington Memorial Parkway
This 90-acre island is a memorial to America’s 26th president and features miles of trails through wooded uplands and swampy bottomlands. Ranger-led programs are available.
16th Street and W Street NW
A spectacular cascading fountain, reflecting pool, statues, and more will be your backdrop at Meridian Hill Park (also known as Malcolm X Park). If you’re there on a Sunday afternoon, you’ll most likely be able to watch a full-blown weekly drum circle party starting at 3 p.m., a tradition that began in the 1960s.
The Yards Park (and Dancing Fountains)
355 Water Street SE
This public space along the Anacostia River has gardens, water features, a dog run, a boardwalk and a shaded overlook.
Wisconsin and K St., NW
This 10-acre park curves along the Potomac River shoreline and includes a large fountain, benches, overlooks and large open lawn areas. A labyrinth with geometric turns encourages quiet contemplation as you wind your way from the outer edge to the center. Stadium-like steps leading to the river edge are a favorite place for picnickers.
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
Independence Ave. SW and 7th St. SW
The sculpture garden is free to enter, offering more than 30 works of contemporary and modern art displayed year-round — and picnics are permitted.