The Best Picnic Spots in Washington, D.C.

Step away from the crowds on the Mall and enjoy the solitude of the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden | ©   Selena N.B.H. / Flickr
Step away from the crowds on the Mall and enjoy the solitude of the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden | © Selena N.B.H. / Flickr
Photo of Summer Whitford
5 February 2017

Did you know that cities have lungs? They’re the green spaces, parks, and forests that turn pollution into oxygen and provide inviting spaces to have a picnic. Washington, D.C. has dozens of these natural getaways, both federal and local, that offer almost year-round outdoor fun – depending on the city’s notoriously capricious weather. The city has seen blizzards in April and temperatures of 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius) in February, so it’s always a good idea to keep your eye on the weather bug.

When temperate weather arrives, nothing is as relaxing as a picnic, whether it’s a simple sandwich and drink or something more elaborate with china plates, glasses, and flatware. If you want to be impromptu, you can still eat well without a lot of preparations – just track down the local food trucks. To find out where the trucks are and what they are serving, consult Food Truck Fiesta as they can help you find one near your chosen picnic area. And if you want something more substantial, buy takeaway at a gourmet market or local restaurant and use our list of picnic spots to choose where to go.

Dumbarton Oaks

Dumbarton Oaks is an architectural gem and vibrant park, museum, library, and learning center set atop the highest point in historic Georgetown. The splendor of the seasons plays out in the gardens like an impressionist painting. Spreading out from the Manor House like a plush Chinese carpet, the lawn encourages you to seek out a picnic spot. Consider sitting under the dreamy canopy of soft pink-flowered cherry trees on Cherry Hill, beneath the crimson fall leaves on apple trees at Crabapple Hill, or among the colorful blooms in the English Cottage Garden.

Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens

Marjorie Merriweather Post was a wealthy heiress whose expensive tastes and unerring sense of style led her to endow Hillwood, her 35-acre estate, with the most beautiful decorative arts inside and out. The Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens are popular with picnicking couples and families who stroll along the walkways and French parterre gardens, stop to smell the roses, and lounge on the manicured lawns.

What to bring

Two nearby options for delicious, well-prepared food worthy of an elegant picnic at Hillwood are Broad Branch Market and Patissèrie Poupon. Fresh is the byword at Broad Branch Market in Chevy Chase. It sells gourmet cheese, bread, meat, prepared foods, and take-out, and if you are in the mood for French fare, try the French bistro selections at Patissèrie Poupon in Georgetown; don’t forget to buy the exquisitely made French pastries! If you are in a hurry and don’t want to make a stop, head to Hillwood and shop for your picnic at the Hillwood Café and order from the Express Dining Menu, which has everything you need.

Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens, 4155 Linnean Ave NW, Washington, D.C., USA, +1 202 686 8500

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Do you get modern expressionism? Don’t sweat it; no need to be an art expert to appreciate contemporary, outdoor art. More affectionately called “The Doughnut on the Mall,” the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is a quiet haven far from the maddening crowds on the National Mall. Its sculpture garden lies hidden behind tall concrete walls, which deadens loud noise and creates a dreamy place for al fresco dining. Thick grass carpets meander in and out of a kaleidoscope of different genres of sculpture that include pop artist Roy Lichtenstein’s 32-foot-tall (9.7-meter-tall) bright yellow cartoon sculpture and Auguste Rodin‘s darkly brooding Burghers of Calais.

What to bring

If you don’t have the time or inclination to cook, get your picnic goodies on the fly from one of the food trucks on the Mall, like Lily Pad on the Run, which serves Ethiopian food at Sixth St. and Maryland Ave. SW, or pick something up from a nearby brick-and-mortar restaurant like Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken; the crispy fried chicken and sinfully tasty doughnuts are worth a detour.

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Independence Ave and 7th St SW, on The National Mall, Washington, D.C., USA, +1 202 633 2829

Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard

Sweeping vistas and splendor in the grass may make for lovely picnic outings, but D.C.’s unpredictable weather makes things dicey in early spring and fall. Why not bring the outside in and have your picnic in the glass-enclosed Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard? Master architect Norman Foster designed this stunning space, which cleverly connects the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. Its sunlit gallery includes tables and chairs, large marble containers planted with ficus and black olive trees, shrubs, and ferns, and horizontally across the entire floor are shallow water scrims that will remind you of peaceful woodland streams.

What to bring

If you are pressed for time or don’t want to go far for your food, consider buying your meal at the casual Courtyard Café. The seasonal menu has everything from hot dishes like quiche and soup to salads, sandwiches, desserts, and kids’ meals. And best of all, it sells box lunches, so there’s no fuss or mess afterward. For excellent Mediterranean food, head to Zaytinya. The restaurant’s small plates menu includes dishes from Greece, Turkey, and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean, and the variety makes for some perfect picnic food.

Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard, 800 F St NW, Washington, D.C., USA, +1 202 633 7970

Lincoln Park

For a connection to the founding of the District of Columbia and two great American heroes, Lincoln Park is an excellent place for a picnic. For starters, it has a long history no other park can claim – it was always meant to be a public park and was part of Pierre L’Enfant‘s original design for the District of Columbia in 1791. It’s also a park created to honor President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and activist Mary McLeod Bethune’s work for civil rights and education. There are lots of open green areas where you can lay down a blanket and set out your meal, and this is also a dog- and kid-friendly park with ample space for kids and dogs to run and play, and there are two gated playgrounds with slides.

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