Summer is drawing to a close, bringing about crisper weather, less humidity, changing leaves and the perfect ambiance for one of our favorite pastimes–picnicking. And though you may live in the nation’s capital, a shrine to marble and concrete, there are some choice havens to spread out a blanket, lean back and take in the sights.
And because we love nothing more than a good homemade pie/tart/donut as we enjoy some of the most scenic spots in the District, we teamed up with Nothing in the House Baking Co. to bring you some very inspirational picnic food photos (Pro Tip: If you’re craving more than inspiration, you can order any of the made-from-scratch items here for your picnic plans.)
Here you’ll find some of the most perfectly poised locations for picnic bliss; some old, some new, some along the beaten path, some hiding in plain sight. Follow these spots and hot tips for your perfect urban picnic. Happy adventuring, DC…
- Ladybird Johnson Park
Located near the Pentagon and Arlington Cemetery; accessible via GW Parkway, I-495, I-395, and I-66
Though fall is fast upon us, DC still catches days of smothering humidity; escape the heat and do it with a view at LBJ Memorial Grove (more commonly known as Ladybird Park). The grove is an oval almost one-quarter mile around, overlooking the potomac. Scenic:
- National Cathedral Gardens
3101 Wisconsin Avenue NW
Some of DC’s best picnic spots have been hiding in plain sight for over a century; head to the National Cathedral to explore acres of grounds, natural woods and beautiful gardens specifically designed to be “an urban oasis.” (Sounds fairly perfect, no?) The Bishops Garden alone features stone walls, herb gardens, a rose garden, two perennial borders, a Shadow House, a twelfth century arch and winding stone paths.
- National Mall
900 Ohio Drive SW
It’s an obvious choice but a goodie and obviously deserves its dues; while much of the Mall is still a dirt pit of aesthetic despair, you can still find some choice spots to park your picnic–and when you’re done, head to a free museum! (Learning!) Just be sure you’re not in the way of a kickball game (seems dangerous) and be prepared to witness a lot of tourist pointing, posing for photos, getting hit by a kickball, etc. But hey–this only makes the location prime peoplewatching territory.
- Gravelly Point
Located just north of Reagan National Airport
Just outside the District is a perfect spot for an outdoor bite, a romantic afternoon and some planespotting. Bring a blanket and get cozy watching Reagan National’s planes come and go. (Granted, this sounds like something out of Garden State but, you know, that doesn’t mean it won’t woo your date). PRO TIP: If you’re driving, be sure you are on GW Parkway heading towards DC because you can’t access the park heading south.
- Meridian Hill Park
Located between 16th Street NW, Euclid, 15th Street NW and W Street NW
This is another classic standby for DC picnics, sporting Italian-style gardens, one of the most beautiful fountains in the city, reeds, trees, tree stumps and a solid view. Lay down a blanket on the park’s upper level–a long rectangular fiels flanked by trees–or take a seat on a slope, framed by foliage; you’ll have a somewhat private picnic area in no time.
- Jefferson Memorial/Tidal Basin
While the Jefferson Memorial can easily fall prey to tourism (I mean, come on, who doesn’t love a good paddleboat outing now and again?), there are a number of hidden gems around the tidal basin to lay down that blanket and take in the scenery. If you’re driving or biking, try parking in the memorial’s lot (across the basin from the paddle boat docks). Take a seat on the grassy banks so you’ve got a view of not only the Jefferson memorial and the paddleboats but the Washington Monument as well.
- Rock Creek Park
If you’ve ever driven along GW Parkway you’ve probably been near dumbstruck to see so much nature still surrounding the city. From trees, creeks and amphitheatres to historic stone houses and mills, Rock Creek Park houses some of DC’s best scenery. Check out over 30 picnic locations featuring grass, tall trees, picnic tables, plus the occasional BBQ pit and shelter. This map tells you the picnic areas; the numbered blue circles are reservation sites and the numbered black circles are first come, first served areas.
- WWI Memorial
Located on the National Mall
This is a prime (and somehow very private) spot for picnicking in plain sight. The WWI memorial is small and almost hidden in comparison to its memorial counterparts, making its stealth one of its greatest assets. Spread a blanket and relax in a pristine white marble rotunda or hang out on the grass nearby, taking in the trees.
- Fort Reno Park
While DC’s (arguably best) summer concert series has already come to a close, you can still enjoy the beauty of Fort Reno Park sans live music. (Might we suggest bringing a phone or any other portable music device with you?) Fort Reno Park is located off the Tenleytown metro stop and if you’re not in the mood to cook/schlepp picnic food with you, there’s a Whole Foods and a Chipotle right there. (So convenient.) Stroll the grounds and get a look at the fort itself–still standing since 1861.
- Georgetown Waterfront Park
Take in the Potomac in a whole new light at the Georgetown waterfront; the park curves along 10 acres of the river, extending from the Washington Harbour complex to Key Bridge. Watch bicyclists and joggers pass by, see kids playing in a fountain, check out some boats coming and going. You know, all that quant picnic sh*t.
- President Lincoln’s Cottage
Approx. 300 Randolph Street NW
Grab your picnic gear and put on your history helmet because you’re going to learn in one of the District’s most scenic spots. Make a day of your trip to President Lincoln’s country home, where he’d escape the pressures of the presidency and all that pesky buggy traffic. Admission gets you access to the picnic facilities behind the education center. hidden historical gem. Makes for a perfect day date, we promise.
- Franklin Square
Bordered by K Street NW, 13th Street NW, I Street NW and 14th Street NW
Right in the heart of the city is Franklin Square (slightly less populous than McPherson though close in proximity). Here you can lounge by a statue of Ben Franklin, park it on a park bench, or (dare we say it) climb a tree. Is it legal? Probably not, but hey–this one’s for you, adventurers. Avoiding Mall treeclimbing for security reasons, climb one of Franklin Square’s options. If you’re feeling sassy, get granola bars and bananas; for added effect, throw bananas, shake branches and make monkey sounds–preferably targeting businessmen at lunchtime on a weekday.
- Dupont Underground
And if this doesn’t appeal to you, try sneaking into Dupont underground. (PRO TIP: Also probably not legal.) Cale says he left a slice of Sbarro down there in 1995. He’s cool if you use that as your picnic grub. (Dupont Circle aboveground is also prime picnic/peoplewatching grounds.)
- National Gallery of Art – Sculpture Garden (/Jazz in the Park)
Located in the 6.1-acre block adjacent to the West Building, the sculpture garden marks a perfect place to add some culture to your picnic. Take in canopy trees, flowering trees, shrubs, ground covers and perennials, not to mention a beautiful fountain and some very thoughtfully executed pieces of modern art; just be careful where you sit, as occasional spots of grass are part of the exhibits.
- Dumbarton Oaks
1703 32nd Street NW
Last but not least is possibly the most scenic spot in the city, located at the highest point in Georgetown. Stroll through gardens of stream, woodland, meadow, orchards, herbs, vegetables, arboretums, hillsides sprinkled with forsythia, an antique pool, and gorgeous walkways flanked by trees in bloom.