In a city where history is made everyday, landmarks, parks, and gardens dot the urban landscape, which means Washingtonians and visitors have plenty of exciting picnic options. For couples looking for romance there are intimate spots for a daytime picnic or a moonlit dinner, nature lovers who want to feel like they’ve left the city behind can be within minutes of the Capitol building and hike over 440 acres of state trees, gardens, and meadows, and families with kids and even the family dog in tow can spend an entire day along the river, listen to concerts, and spread out on a great lawn. No matter what the season, you can enjoy dining al fresco in the heart of the city and even absorb a bit of art, culture, and history. Pack a basket from home, or purchase one from a charming café; either way you are sure to have a fine meal.
The Hirshhorn Museum And Sculpture Garden
Independence Ave. and 7th St. S.W. on The National Mall
Washington, DC 20013
Lovingly referred to as “The Doughnut on the Mall” the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden are stunning expressions of contemporary art and design in a city more famous for its historic art and architecture. Hidden behind stark concrete and stone walls, you would never know that just beyond are the noise and crowds of the National Mall. A deep green carpet of grass is interspersed among the sculptures and makes the garden a quiet place to revive yourself after a visit of the museum. There are amusing works such as pop artist Roy Lichtenstein’s 32-foot-tall bright yellow cartoon sculpture and the more serious, contemplative work Burghers of Calais by renowned sculptor Auguste Rodin. If you are into pop art and modern sculpture it’s the perfect place for an afternoon picnic.
The United States National Arboretum
3501 New York Ave. NE.
Washington, DC 20002-1958
The National Arboretum is one of Washington’s most beloved natural landmarks and you can spend days exploring its 440 acres. Whether you visit in spring and summer when the glorious dogwoods, crapemyrtles, magnolias, peonies, daylilies, and azaleas burst into bloom, or come in fall and winter when the leaves turn to crimson, gold, and burnt sienna, the landscape is always stunning. Meandering dogwood-lined paths draw you toward the banks of the Anacostia River and there are meadows filled with wild flowers, but the park’s most photographed site–twenty-two stately 149 year old Corinthian columns–once graced the east portico of the Capitol building. For a quiet picnic spot, the National Grove of State Trees has picnic tables conveniently located near the entrance, but consider something enriching. The Arboretum is more than a refreshing urban oasis, it’s also an important horticultural research and teaching center that offers exhibits, gardening and photography classes, guided tours, and includes the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum.
If you have a penchant for the finer things a picnic at Hillwood, the 35 acre estate founded by heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, will suit your tastes. She too was a woman of refinement and amassed a priceless collection of Russian imperial art (the largest collection outside of Russia) and exquisite 18th century French decorative art. Like the interior, Hillwood’s grounds are beautifully designed and decorated and include unspoiled woodlands and a variety of walkways, lawns, and lush gardens. Take your time and explore the French parterre garden, Japanese Garden, rose garden, Lunar Lawn, and the Pet Cemetery. For an elegant déjeuner sur l’herbe, bring a hamper from home or purchase your meal from the Hillwood Café, and be sure to make a stop at the Visitor Center for a picnic map and a complimentary picnic blanket.
1703 32nd St. NW
Set atop the highest point in Georgetown, Dumbarton Oaks is tucked away behind aged brick walls and imposing iron gates. The estate’s 53 acres unfold to reveal exquisite Provençal fountains, Art Deco reflecting pools, 19th century trees, and arresting rows of aerial clipped American hornbeam hedges, earning it a spot in National Geographic’s book, “The 10 Best of Everything”. Rolling, terraced hillsides, jewel-toned rose beds, and lush emerald lawns create the perfect backdrop for a picnic, but if you prefer more formal seating, choose one of the outdoor rooms designed by co-founder Mildred Woods Bliss and landscape gardener Beatrix Farrand. Each room is enclosed by stone walls or framed by arches and trellises and is connected to natural vignettes like the Italianate Pebble Garden. After you dine, take a stroll here to breathe in the perfume from draping tendrils of wisteria–it will feel like you’ve stepped back in time to a manicured Victorian park.
355 Water St. S.E.
Washington, DC 20003
Pack a basket full of goodies, grab your friends, family, and dog and head over to Yard Park because day or night it’s DC’s best kept secret. The Park’s design relies on a series of landscaped outdoor rooms to keep things fun and interactive and kids love splashing in the shallow Canal and water features. The Great Lawn is a grassy area that offers soft landing for a picnic, the River Street Gardens let you relax in comfortable on lounge chairs, and the boardwalk is a romantic spot to stand under the moonlight along the river’s edge. The boardwalk steps form an informal amphitheater and weather permitting you can view the regular Friday evening concerts from complimentary portable tables and chairs, benches, or the boardwalk steps. There is even a fenced in dog run with seating to host your doggie parties.
Summer Whitford, known as The Food and Wine Diva, is a chef and wine pro turned writer. She lives in Washington, D.C. and writes about all the tasty things to cook, eat, drink and visit—around the corner and around the globe.