The lack of usable Mall space due to construction might be stealing your favorite grassy square but never fear there are more magnificent picnic spots to choose. It’s time to pack up the basket loaded with tasty treats and libations and head over to one of the DMV’s other ideal places to while away an afternoon outdoors as a family of foodies.
A favorite go-to for families of all sizes since its creation, The Yards located on the Potomac nears Nats Park is a waterfront haven that engages small ones and encourages you to sit back and rest for a spell. Make a day of it by hitting up the Eastern Market area pre-picnic to find vendors shilling fresh foods. The nearby Spring Mill Bread Company is happy to oblige you with delectable dishes to nosh on, too.
Water St., SE
The US National Arboretum
With over 400 acres to explore the US National Arboretum is tons of outdoor fun with a little bit of history and education thrown in. Pick a spot to eat and then let the preschool set play amid the old National Capitol Columns in the Ellipse Meadow. Work up an appetite while on a family hike to check out the gazebos and take in the trees from all 50 States.
US National Arboretum
3501 New York Ave., NE
Theodore Roosevelt Island
We all need a day to cool our heels and absorb some of the plentiful presidential history that surrounds the District. Roosevelt Island has over 90 acres bursting with short hikes that even the tiniest tyke can tackle. There is wildlife aplenty and a guest-starring statue of Roosevelt himself for the kiddos to take in. At the end let the fountain tickle their toes before heading home.
George Washington Memorial Pkwy (Arlington, Va)
Northbound lanes between Roosevelt Bridge and Key Bridge
Peaceful and picturesque, this southern part of the East Potomac Park offers views of both the Potomac River and the Anacostia. Picnic tables are a plenty as well as public bathrooms, which is perfect for the newly potty-trained set. Spend the day on the playground, watching planes fly by and close out the day with a round of mini-golf.
National Mall & Parks SW, Ohio Dr., SW,
The Adventure Park at Sandy Spring Friends School
With a self-guided aerial forest, a high ropes course of 190-plus platforms in trees, 13 trails of varying difficulty, 29 zip lines, nearly 200 challenge bridges, a labyrinth, and the new Monkey Grove, which has 10 trees outfitted for climbing, it’s amazing this place has any room left for picnic tables. But it does! And that’s a good thing because you’ll need to refuel after all that climbing. Check the website for age and size restrictions for each activity, but in general, everything is open to kids 5 and up. Entry fees also vary by activity.
16701 Norwood Rd
Sandy Spring, Md
Elementary schoolers can navigate rope bridges, soar on a zip line, climb rocks and swish down slides at this playground, which was built in 2013. Made from natural materials with natural finishes, the playground at the private National Cathedral Elementary School is open to the public when school is not in session. Pop a squat on a tree stump or enjoy a bite on the playground.
3500 Woodley Rd., NW
Rock Creek Park
The National Zoo may be this park’s biggest draw, but you can munch among wildlife minus the cages too. Scan the foliage from your blanket for the three kinds of owls that live here and keep watch for the newest mammal to take up residence: coyotes. NPS rangers also take kids on free nature tours. There’s also a nature center, planetarium and the Horse Center, which offers pony rides. Park admission is free, but some activities require reservations. Eight picnic spots must be reserved for a fee, but you can also find free ones along the waterway and many have grills or fireplaces. Bonus: When nature calls, many picnic groves are near flushable toilets.
5200 Glover Rd., NW
Meridian Hill Park
Grab a seat and open a bagged lunch on the recently repaired or replaced benches. Munch by the largest cascading fountain in North America and take in the views. As part of the National Park Service, this 12-acre site also has a memorial to President James Buchanan and a weekly drum circle for dance enthusiasts. Children can bring their own handmade or commercial instruments to play along the beats.
16th and Euclid St., NW
Clark’s Elioak Farm
Eat among storybook images come to life in the Enchanted Forest. It’s home to Mother Goose, Cinderella’s pumpkin coach, a giant atop a beanstalk and more – all renovated from a now-defunct storybook park. Between bites at the large designated, covered picnic area, take a cow train or pony ride and check out the petting farm. Hayrides, pony and cow train rides are $2 apiece.
10500 Clarksville Pike (Ellicott City, Md.)
Burke Lake Park
It’s OK to dine and dash here. You need all the time you’ve got to take in the 218 acres. As part of the 888 acre Fairfax County Park, this lake offers fishing, boating, rowboats, a miniature train, a carousel, three playgrounds, a mini golf course, a Frisbee golf course and an ice cream parlor in case you forget to bring dessert. Make it a big family and friends day and reserve the picnic spots with grills, which is between the lake and play areas.
7315 Ox Rd. (Fairfax Station, Va.)
Where are your family’s favorite spots to soak up the sun? Let us know in the comments below!
— Victoria Mason and Stephanie Kanowitz