Get Outdoors and Enjoy Washington, D.C.’s Top 5 Picnic Spots

Dynamic and ever-evolving, the nation’s highly walkable, 68-square-mile capital city is beckons residents to get outdoors. It’s no wonder, since about half of the capital is dedicated to park space and 98% of residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park.

Needless to say, amid all that open land you’ll find plenty of picnic-friendly spots. From urban oases with monument views to lush gardens, al fresco-worthy environs — like these — await.

U.S. National Arboretum

Home to the beautiful National Herb Garden and National Bonsai & Penjing Museum — which showcases North America’s largest collection of bonsai trees —  the U.S. National Arboretum (3501 New York Ave. NE, usna.usda.gov) is a glorious space. That’s particularly true when its proliferation of azaleas signal spring. From the meditative reflecting pool — filled with Japanese koi and aquatic plants — to its intoxicating rose garden, this 446-acre nature haven affords another perk: it’s likely to feature more flora than folks. 

Netherlands Carillon Park

Offering striking views of the Lincoln Memorial, White House and the Washington Monument from its grassy expanse, sprawling Netherlands Carillon Park (North Meade St., Arlington. Arlington, VA, 703-289-2553, nps.gov) is located just across the bridge from the capitol, adjacent to the Marine Corps War Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery. Gifted to the United States by the Dutch in 1954, its soaring, namesake belltower rings periodically with the sound of 50 bells. While picnic tables here are limited, the grounds are a welcoming place for an atop-grass feast (blanket advised).

Socrates Sculpture Park

Set in Queens, reclaimed Socrates Sculpture Park (Vernon Blvd. bet. Broadway and 30 Dr.) is an open-air museum, where artists exhibit sculptures and multimedia installations that are rotated every few months. Situated at the confluence of the Harlem and East Rivers, it overlooks "Hell Gate," or "Hellegat." a moniker originally coined by Dutch colonists. While smaller than other city parks, it offers a real cultural immersion, with ample green space to linger over an al fresco meal.

Rock Creek Park

More than double the size of New York City’s Central Park, gorgeous Rock Creek Park (3545 Williamsburg Ln. NW, nps.gov/rocr) dates back to 1890, making it the country’s oldest urban park. Come to traverse its 32 miles of trails, explore 1820s-era Pierce Mill, take a scenic horseback ride or go for a peaceful paddle by kayak. Alternately, you can arrange a tee time at the onsite golf course or tackle the tennis courts. After fueling up on your picnic spread, swing by the park’s nature center, with its planetarium and showcase of local flora and fauna.

National Mall & Memorial Park

A celebration of our nation, the National Mall and Memorial Parks are an unrivaled outdoor expanse in the heart of the city. Home to world-class museums, the Lincoln Memorial and the World War II Memorial, “America’s front yard” features 1,000 lush acres of green space ideal for picnicking. While its boundaries vary depending on who you ask, it’s said to be bounded by Constitution and Pennsylvania Avenues,1st Street NW to Independence and Maryland Avenues, and 14th Street NW. Flanked by Smithsonian museums, its lawns and pathways welcome school groups, joggers and sports teams. Nearby, the Tidal Basin reservoir offers a spectacle of cherry trees when they blossom each spring.

Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park

Extending 184.5 miles along the Potomac River, the waterway at Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park (1850 Dual Hwy #100, nps.gov/choh) was used for the transport of agricultural products, coal and lumber for nearly 100 years. Today, the pathway is filled with natural, historical and recreational treasures. A pretty place for a fresh air feast, you can also take a mule-drawn boat ride on a replica canal boat; hike the Billy Goat Trail above the Potomac River; and view the Great Falls, a series of rapids and waterfalls along the Potomac River, situated 14 miles upstream from Washington, D.C.

Naturally, the beauty doesn’t stop there. Explore more of the city’s inspiring places with our insider’s guide to Washington, D.C.

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