Restaurants with patios aren’t the only way to enjoy outdoor dining. We’ve rounded up the best places to grab a basket, throw out a blanket and enjoy all the family fun. It’s time to pack up your picnic basket loaded with tasty treats and libations, we found some of the most picturesque places to nosh around the city. From a park where you can practically touch the planes overhead to an outdoor venue that boasts frequent performances, here are the best places to spread out and dine alfresco (plus near-by DC restaurants offering picnics and meals to-go).
You don't need a ticket to take in the sights and sounds of The REACH on the North Plaza. Have you ever picnicked on a roof before? This outdoor space is the largest green roof in the city, measuring over 69,000 square feet. It often plays host to a number of outdoor performances and movies, but once the crowds disperse it's the ideal gathering place for an informal meal with family and friends. After lunch, let the littles chase the birds near the two reflecting ponds.
Pack a picnic: Grab something to nosh on Thurs.-Sun. at Victura Park, a small cafe housed inside the River Pavilion. For more kid-friendly options, you can also grab food at the KC Cafe 7 days a week.
The REACH at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
2700 F St. NW
There is shortage of Instagrammable picnic spots on the National Mall and practically every spot has easy-to-grab food options thanks to the food trucks and museum restaurants that line the green open spaces. Some of our favorite places to enjoy a spread include the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, the Tidal Basin and the Hirschhorn Museum Garden. If you need to fill up your water bottle or you just want to run off your meal with an epic game of hide and seek, check out the Summerhouse on the US Capitol Grounds.
Pack a picnic: If you don't want to duck into a museum, head to the Pavilion Cafe which offers salads and sandwiches and worth-the-calorie pastries.
Constitution Ave. to Independence Ave., From 3rd St. to 14th
Gravelly Point Park
Pint-size aviation buffs will love hanging out at Gravelly Point Park, which is conveniently situated just off of the George Washington Parkway. It's there where they're able to watch planes take off (right above their heads!) from Reagan National Airport. Pack a picnic or bring popcorn to make plane watching a serious spectator sport.
Pack a picnic: If you have adventurous eaters, head over to Pentagon Row to grab some modernized Taiwanese "gua bao" at Bun'd Up. Kid-favorites include chicken wings and fried ice cream sandwiches.
Gravelly Point Park
George Washington Pkwy.
Theodore Roosevelt Island
We all need a day to cool our heels and absorb some of the plentiful presidential histories that surround the District. Roosevelt Island has over 90 acres bursting with short hikes that even the tiniest tyke can tackle. There is wildlife aplenty and a guest-starring statue of Roosevelt himself for the kiddos to take in. At the end let the fountain tickle their toes before heading home.
Pack your picnic: Order online from Miami’s smash-hit Southern eatery that just opened in DC this spring—perfect for a fried chicken craving. Yardbird dishes up large family-style boxes for takeout or even delivery to your favorite park. Combinations feed six and include 24 pieces of crisp chicken, mac and cheese, and warm biscuits or a backyard barbecue box that adds ribs, cracklings, and brisket to the poultry mix.
George Washington Memorial Pkwy, Arlington, VA
Northbound lanes between Roosevelt Bridge and Key Bridge
Georgetown Waterfront Park
Who is ready for some summertime water views? We've got the perfect family-friendly spot for your whole crew to enjoy. Lay out your blanket along the Georgetown Waterfront Park overlooking the Potomac River or sit on the steps. More than just a beautiful green space, the park has a labyrinth, fountain and rain gardens (collects and holds rainwater and stormwater runoff). If people and boat watching are your things, then this is the place. You can scope ducks, cyclists, joggers, kids playing in the fountain, kayakers, rowing regattas, and larger boats too.
Pack your picnic: Order food to-go from Farmers Fishers Bakers. You'll find snacks like pretzels and dip or pop kettle corn and easy-to-carry lunch options like hand-tossed pizzas, sushi and mussel pots.
Georgtown Waterfront Park
Wisconsin and K St. NW
Burke Lake Park
It’s OK to dine and dash here. You need all the time you’ve got to take in the 218 acres. As part of the 888 acres Fairfax County Park, this lake offers fishing, boating, rowboats, a miniature train, a carousel, three playgrounds, a mini-golf course, a Frisbee golf course and an ice cream parlor in case you forget to bring dessert. Make it a big family and friends day and reserve the picnic spots with grills, which is between the lake and play areas.
Pack your picnic: Grab some unique picnic food on your way to the park at Senberry. This local spot specializes in superfoods, specifically some amazing Acai Bowls. You won't be disappointed!
Burke Lake Park
7315 Ox Rd.
Fairfax Station, VA
Peaceful and picturesque, this southern part of the East Potomac Park offers views of the Potomac River, Washington Channel and the Anacostia. Picnic tables are aplenty as well as public bathrooms, which is perfect for the newly potty-trained set. Spend the day on the playground, watching planes fly by and close out the day with a round of mini-golf.
Pack your picnic: Stop by Grazie Grazie on your way to the park. Just under a half-mile away, you can choose the perfect picnic fare from the Build Your Own sandwich menu. Don't forget to add their famous cannoli to the order.
National Mall & Parks SW, Ohio Dr., SW
Rock Creek Park
The National Zoo may be this park’s biggest draw, but you can munch among wildlife minus the cages too. Scan the foliage from your blanket for the three kinds of owls that live here and keep watch for the newest mammal to take up residence: coyotes. NPS rangers also take kids on free nature tours. There’s also a nature center, planetarium and the Horse Center, which offers pony rides. Park admission is free, but some activities require reservations. Eight picnic spots must be reserved for a fee, but you can also find free ones along the waterway and many have grills or fireplaces. Bonus: When nature calls, many picnic groves are near flushable toilets.
Pack your picnic: Bread Furst, just over a mile from the park, offers a delicious baked goods to go. Make sure you try the cinnamon chocolate monkey bread.
Rock Creek Park
5200 Glover Rd. NW
Meridian Hill Park
Grab a seat and open your picnic basket on one of many cozy benches. Munch by the largest cascading fountain in North America and take in the views. As part of the National Park Service, this 12-acre site also has a memorial to President James Buchanan and a weekly drum circle for dance enthusiasts. Children can bring their own handmade or commercial instruments to play along with the beats.
Pack a picnic: Dinner and a show are ready and waiting if you grab a picnic kit from Officina. Each basket includes a selection of our favorite salami, preserves, and snacks. Feeling extra? You can upgrade to the Dom Perignon picnic box.
Meridian Hill Park
16th and Euclid St. NW
A favorite go-to for families of all sizes since its creation, located along the Anacostia River waterfront, Yards Park provides lots of activity. The great lawn, dog run, boardwalk, shaded overlook, and gardens are open to all. And, the Dancing Fountains are open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. The fountain pours into a large canal (11 inches deep) where kids are free to wade, splash, and plunge.
Pack a picnic: Make a day of it by hitting up La Famosa. This all-day eatery brings soulful Puerto Rican cooking to the neighborhood. They even offer signature cocktails and virgin drinks to-go.
Water St. SE
Capitol Riverfront District
The Adventure Park at Sandy Spring Friends School
With a self-guided aerial forest, a high ropes course of 190-plus platforms in trees, 13 trails of varying difficulty, 29 zip lines, nearly 200 challenge bridges, a labyrinth, and the new Monkey Grove, which has 10 trees outfitted for climbing, it’s amazing this place has any room left for picnic tables. But it does! And that’s a good thing because you’ll need to refuel after all that climbing. Check the website for age and size restrictions for each activity, but in general, everything is open to kids 5 & up. Entry fees also vary by activity.
Pack a picnic: You'll need a filling meal after all that fun, and we found the perfect picnic carry-out. Founded in 1997, Sister’s Sandwiches and Such is a family-owned business that prides itself on quality ingredients and the unique and delicious food options that our customers have come to crave. The only thing missing is the basket.
Sandy Springs Friends School
16701 Norwood Rd.
Sandy Spring, MD
US National Arboretum
With over 400 acres to explore the US National Arboretum is tons of outdoor fun with a little bit of history and education thrown in. Pick a spot to eat and then let your little ones play amid the old National Capitol Columns in the Ellipse Meadow. Work up an appetite while on a family hike to check out the gazebos and take in the trees from all 50 States.
Pack a picnic: Hogs on the Hill offers open pit BBQ for take-out down the street from the US National Arboretum entrance.
US National Arboretum
3501 New York Ave. NE
Clark’s Elioak Farm
Eat among storybook images come to life in the Enchanted Forest. It’s home to Mother Goose, Cinderella’s pumpkin coach, a giant atop a beanstalk and more – all renovated from a now-defunct storybook park. Between bites at the large designated, covered picnic area, take a cow train or pony ride and check out the petting farm. Hayrides, pony and cow train rides are $2 apiece.
Pack a picnic: Stop by Little Market Cafe to order one of their signature sandwiches. The vegan menu options are delicious. Not a sandwich crew? Don't worry. They've got great pizza too.
Clark's Elioak Farm
10500 Clarksville Pike
Ellicott City, MD
Jonas Green Park
Throw open your picnic or beach blanket, and get ready for a waterfront picnic. This small park is located on the Severn River and features picnic areas, fishing, and a beach for free cartop boat launching. There are incredible views in every direction. The epic view of the Naval Academy across the river is breathtaking. The park closes at dusk, but the fishing pier is open 24/7, so grab your rod and stick around for a beautiful sunset.
Pack a picnic: It wouldn't be Annapolis without a picnic featuring Maryland Blue Crabs. Yes, the mess is worth it. Cantler's Riverside Inn is the perfect place to order a little crabby carryout. Ask for brown paper, and you'll have easy cleanup.
Jones Green Park
2001 Baltimore Annapolis Blvd.
Great Falls Park
Dine by an incredible natural wonder at this beautiful park. Choose from a picnic table or tons of green space for your lunch spot. After you wrap up your meal, head out on one of many hiking trails perfect for even in the tiniest hiker. Or, find your way along one of the accessible paths to get a fantastic family photo op in front of the falls. The snack bar is still closed, but you can often find a local food truck in the parking lot.
Pack a picnic: If you'd rather order something on your way in, stop by Mookie's BBQ for delicious picnic options.
Great Falls Park
9200 Old Dominion Dr.
Blue Ridge Center of Environmental Stewardship
The name makes it sound like a museum, but don’t let that stop you from visiting this gorgeous area. The small nature-based playground will keep little ones running and jumping for a while. The Farmstead Loop trail is easy and accessible for all ages (even a jogging stroller). Keep an eye and an ear out for the babbling brook just off the trail. Your crew will love splashing around and drying off on the bank while enjoying a picnic together.
Pack a picnic: On your way to the outskirts of Northern Virginia, stop by Fabbiolli Cellars, a locally-owned and operated winery (a great picnic spot for another day). In addition to a delicious selection of wine and cider, they have fresh-baked bread on-site and lots of picnic treats to choose from.
Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship
11661 Harpers Ferry Rd.
— Meghan Yudes Meyers, Angelica Kajiwara, Victoria Mason, Carolyn Ross and Stephanie Kanowitz
featured photo: iStock