Step up your picnic game with these pro tips and products
General statement: Whether you want a laid-back family picnic or a Gram-worthy outdoor meal, scroll down for expert advice.
With sprawling parks, occasional balmy weekends, and now years of social distancing to spur the trend, Washingtonians love to picnic. Here are some tips for planning the perfect one.
Susan Gage Susan Gage Caterers knows a thing or two about putting together the perfect menu, even when it’s a picnic. You’ll need foods, of course, that can last a long time out of the fridge; for starters, she recommends a few dips like hummus, which don’t take up much room. It’s always nice, she adds, to have some kind of salad, and a chopped vegetable version can sit with the dressing for a while. You’ll probably want protein – cold chicken or salmon is a good option – but bring something that doesn’t require cutting. For dessert, Gage points out, small 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 drink, skip the hassle of 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 have a large spread, pay attention to materials: if you can’t live without this charcuterie setup, look for lighter bamboo serving boards and consider acrylic or melamine plates. Picnic backpacks, while more practical than picture-worthy, are easier to carry than traditional baskets.
Yes, Washingtonians love to picnic. You know what else someone loves? Instagram. But with all the logistical challenges, there’s a delicate balance between maintaining a perfect shot and creating a successful outing. Give yourself a head start, says Picnic & Peonies “Chief Picnicker” Michelle Ison, choosing a scenic location – Alexandria’s Old Town Parks and Georgetown Waterfront Park offer lovely water views in addition to proximity to attractions.
Next: consider the design of the spread. “Choose colors that complement the location and the reason for the celebration,” says Ison. For a picnic that doubles as a proposal, choose a neutral palette that lets you be the center of attention. For a girls day, a dynamic setup may be more appropriate. Anthropologie, for example, has a colorful collection of melamine bamboo which includes plates, pitchers, serving pieces, even a coordinating blanket and lawn games. (Look for the Collaboration with Sarah Campbell on the Anthropologie website, or check out Target and Crate & Barrel for other options.)
Finally, says Ison, pay attention to detail: fresh-cut fruit, for example, provides a “nice pop of color” and “looks great on the Gram.” More interested in the job than the schedule? You can hire a local company, such as Picnic & Peonies or Potomac Picnicsto set everything up for you.
We’ve come across plenty of fancy and expensive picnic baskets: Williams Sonoma, Pottery Barn, even Saks Fifth Avenue have more than a few to choose from. But high-end designers launching limited-edition baskets have created a category of their own, like this $6,700 version on the Farfetch website. The set for two includes a pair of teacups, saucers, wine glasses and plates, each in a yellow-brown and white palette and engraved with the Fendi logo, as well as cutlery: one in silver , the other in gold. . Even fancier (and, yes, more expensive): The Parc Hermès Picnic Basket– with settings for four – currently lists on resale sites like Mightychic for over $20,000.
“It has a great view of the water overlooking the Kennedy Center,” says Michelle Ison of Picnic & Peonies, “and plenty of room to spread out. It’s close to plenty of restaurants and shops, allowing picnickers to grab some food before their picnic and go for a walk [after]. ”
Amidst 25 acres of lush gardens and immaculately landscaped grounds, picnic areas are designated. There is a cafe where picnickers can buy food and drink, including beer and wine. To visit Hillwood website for times and directions.
Along with views of the Anacostia River, Southwest DC Park features “dancing” fountains and a kiddy pool where you can cool off. Nearby restaurants make impromptu picnics easy. Check the calendar of events, times and rules on here.
Potomac Picnics owner Amanda Erickson says this Old Town park has shaded areas and a cool breeze from the water.
The National Grove of State Trees – 30 acres, with picnic tables – is the only place in the arboretum approved for picnics. Click on here for times and rules.
Fight bugs, stay cool, and up the fun factor by packing this gear.
1. Wine glass holders
Anchor them in the ground to prevent spills. $35 for a five-piece set at Amazon.
2. Food tents
Keep things like insects or blowing leaves away. $6 at Crate & Barrel.
3. Battery powered fans
Are they cute? Not really. Are they powerful enough to turn a July picnic into a sweat-free party? Also no. But they will provide some respite from the heat and keep the bugs from being so annoying. Honeywell Fan, $19 at Target.
These, says Michelle Ison of Picnic & Peonies, are a great way to avoid stings. They are Deet-free and inexpensive. $15 for a 12-pack on Amazon.
The Bose SoundLink Micro Bluetooth speaker is small and waterproof and has over 18,000 five-star reviews on Amazon. Additionally, you can attach the strap to your backpack or handlebar. $119 on Amazon.
6. Convenient tote
Baskets can be tricky to carry, but not backpacks. The Everly Picnic Backpack is insulated and includes a blanket plus a wine cooler on the outside and tableware for four on the inside. $149 at potterybarn.com.
This article appears in the May 2022 issue of The Washingtonian.