Spend a little time in the capital city and you’ll realize that the art of the picnic is a key principle for any DCer to absorb.
Whether through a summer afternoon spent lazing next to the Potomac in The Yards Park, or setting up camp under the burnt autumn trees of Rock Creek Park, the city of DC is scattered with opportunities to escape into a world of natural beauty.
Grab a basket and a blanket, package a potato salad or a caprese sandwich, and whisk yourself away to one of these picnic-worthy parks.
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Rock Creek Park
A list of DC picnic spots without Rock Creek Park would be a crime. The capital’s central park stretches all the way from Georgetown up into Maryland and beyond.
Locals well know its vast tree groves, meandering trails and green spaces will serve any outdoorsy desire you might have.
For a picnic, look for “Picnic Area 14” on the map. Although this hillside spot does not have a designated special title, most of Rock Creek Park’s spaces aren’t.
But, if you wind your way up Ridge Road, this is the spot where the trees suddenly open up and you’re met with a perfect grassy hillside, placed at just the right spot to catch an afternoon sunset.
The Yards Park
The Yards Park is great for warm weather picnics. Mark out a spot overlooking the Potomac, and lay out a blanket on the lush grass.
Taking a dip is encouraged here. Meander around the Yards Park Bridge and wade through the water or cool down in the park’s fountains.
For those who like to accompany their picnic with a stroll, check out The Yards runs next to the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail. It extends all the way to Kingman and Heritage Islands Park running east.
If you’d prefer to buy your picnic goods readymade, The Yards has plenty of nearby options. Agua 301’s empanadas are delectable, and Ice Cream Jubilee remains a capital classic.
Meridian Hill Park
No list of DC’s picnic spots would be complete without a mention of Meridian Hill Park. Residents of Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, and Cardozo alike converge on the park for a taste of nature in the crowded midst of DC.
The best green spaces lie in the enclosed area north of the Joan of Arc monument. The gardens below are a natural paradise with spurts of bright flowers and a waterfall.
Stop at nearby Union Kitchen for some lunch grub. Or, snag a gyro from the Amsterdam Falafel Shops’ 18th street location before heading over.
It won’t surprise local DCers that the National Arboretum holds an honored spot among picnic places. Once you’ve designated it as your brunch spot, your next decision will be between its different gardens.
For the picnic prerequisites of a properly flat surface in an open space, I would make my way to the area near the Capital Columns around the center of the park or the grove of state trees just below.
The Dogwood Collection to the park’s northeast also offers a wide swath of green space between two rows of leafy trees. In the autumn, the Maple Collection is also a go-to area for a stunning red and yellow-atmosphere.
Fort Dupont Park
Historic Fort Dupont Park is one of the largest green spaces in the DC area. This park sits just behind the coast of Anacostia.
It was once a fort that was built to protect DC’s borders against Confederate forces. Now, the park is home to a network of hiking trails, an event stage, and a community garden.
Spread out on the wide swaths of grass, set up camp around a picnic table, or stroll through wooded groves.
Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens
Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens is an aquatic spot that escapes the notice of many locals, but don’t sleep on its picnic potential. Anacostia’s arboretum across the river, Kenilworth Park consists of soft green areas interspersed with serene ponds covered in lilies and fields of open flowers.
Pick out a spot on the grass near the playground that lies just to the side of the visitor’s center. After lunch, take a stroll on the catwalks that run over the ponds nearby.
Bird enthusiasts should make sure they remember their binoculars. Occasionally, parkgoers have been able to catch herons and rare butterflies.
Theodore Roosevelt Island
Theodore Roosevelt Island is a mix of different ecosystems and atmospheres, from wood paneled walks over wetlands to the central stone plaza bearing the famous president’s statue. It’s also a popular picnic location, whether you prefer to sit straight on the grass or set up on a table.
The central Memorial Plaza offers plenty of space to lay out a brunch selection. Afterwards, follow the Swamp Trail around the periphery of the island for beautiful glimpses across the Potomac.
Fort Slocum Park
When you think “picnic”, you probably imagine something like Fort Slocum. The park takes up just a few blocks of space in DC’s Northeast near Fort Toten with a generous green space contained within bushy trees.
From its appearance today, you’d be hard pressed to tell that it was played a role in the Civil War. It was constructed in 1861 as a defensive fort in response to the Battle of First Bull Run.
Battery Kemble Park
Battery Kemble has all the space in the world for whatever post-picnic sports are on the menu. These open fields studded with dandelions are sure to set your heart at peace.
Since the park is out of the way of the DC’s Smithsonian-filled center, you will be able to avoid the heavy crowds without losing the natural beauty. With connecting trails that lead to the Potomac Palisades Parkway and Fletcher’s Cove, Battery Kemble will also quickly become both you and your dog’s favorite spot for a quiet walk.
Plan to arrive here early on a weekend morning! Georgetown’s Waterfront is a high contender for DC’s most popular outdoor hangout spot.
A happy medium between land and water, the park features several blocks of grassy space and gardens alongside a path that winds along the Potomac. The waterfront park is perfect for any time of the day or night.
Additionally, Georgetown’s shops carry plenty of spare picnic goods. Grab a treat from Georgetown Cupcake (if you can brave the line), a Sandwich from Cafe Georgetown, or a Mediterranean wrap from the famous Quick Pita on Potomac Street.
If you’d rather see the Washington Monument than sit near it, Gravelly Point is the scenic spot for you. Its expansiveness has few equals within DC city limits.
With plenty of tables situated near the water, there’s no need to panic over a forgotten blanket. The nearby Mount Vernon trail extends in either direction, with other picnic spot contenders situated at points on either side.
Migrate over towards the Navy Merchant Marine Memorial to the north or past the Reagan Airport to the south to reach Daingerfield Island. At all three, your views across the Potomac will be unparalleled.
For those with classy taste looking for a picnic experience worthy of Versailles, try a trip to the Georgetown area’s Dumbarton Oaks. This 19th century estate spills out into a peaceful grassy space surrounded by well-pruned hedges and old-world gardens.
A trip to Dumbarton Oaks will feel like you’ve been transported to a European castle. Mildred Bliss and Beatrix Jones Farrand, owner and gardener of the estate in the 20’s, put in nearly 30 years of work on the gardens only to design their perfect atmosphere.
After an informative tour of the house, wander through their work and take your pick among the many picnic spots.
If a flat field space with room for a kid’s birthday or impromptu yoga practice is more your speed, head towards Peirce Mill. Located in Rock Creek Park, this charming green spot is nestled in the place where Rock Creek’s bike path runs under Tilden Street.
After your picnic, settle on one of the rocks near the creek and dip your toes in the water. Or, take a hike up the many natural paths winding through the nearby trees. Make sure to bring a blanket, as the green space has a few patches of thin grass and stray pebbles.
Out of its nearby neighbors Farragut Square and McPherson Square, Franklin Park has the most space for a full picnic layout. Sandwiched between 13th and 14th Street near the White House, the park is the perfect place to plan a lunchtime respite between museum or landmark visits.
Grab a sandwich from any of the nearby old-fashioned delis, like the Atrium Cafe. Or, get an arepa to go at the Arepa Zone.
The ultimate picnic spot in the capital is none other than the Mall itself. Locals and tourists alike gather here to take in DC’s frequent bouts of beautiful weather. Covering such a wide area, the Mall carries a pick-your-own-adventure of picnic surroundings.
The green space between the Smithsonian museums will offer a flat surface to set down your provisions and ample space for a frisbee game afterwards. The green space outside the Capitol building runs on an incline, but the grass itself tends to be thicker.
The fields around the Washington Monument have less protection from the wind. But, they sit on a hill, offering a panoramic view of the city’s center.
In the summer, stake out your spot early. Crowds have been known to descend on available space in record time!