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How to create the perfect picnic

Young girls at laying on a picnic blanket
Photo by Aline Viana via Pexels
Kristin Braswell
By Kristin BraswellJun 10, 2021 4 minutes read

After a year spent largely inside, we’re so ready to get back out there. And what better way to delight all five senses than with a summer picnic? The al fresco feast allows us to embrace the warmth of the sun (and our loved one), making a sensory connection that’s heightened by the feel of fresh air on our faces and the delicious taste of food and drink.

We polled sommeliers and chefs around the country to share their picnic go-to’s, the must-have ingredients for your basket as well as the ideal places to spread your blanket. Take their tips and then take to the outdoors for a sumptuous summer spread with the one you love.

Houston, Texas

Dawn Burrell, executive chef and partner, Late August

Buffalo Bayou Park with city skyline in background
Buffalo Bayou Park; TripAdvisor

Where to meet

“Downtown Houston is where I live and like to unwind, so when I want to stay close to home, I head to Buffalo Bayou Park. I try to snag a space within the Eleanor Tinsley Park section. The greenspace is so picturesque and right off the bayou, making it a beautiful, scenic backdrop for a romantic picnic. I also spend a lot of time in Houston’s Third Ward, which is home to the historic Emancipation Park. The recently renovated destination is smack-dab in the middle of some of the city’s richest culture and history, and the context of the neighborhood coupled with the modernity of the park’s design appeals to me. If you’re looking for dinner and a show, head to Miller Outdoor Theatre. If you time your picnic just right, you can enjoy a live performance on MOT’s stage from the comfort of your picnic blanket.”

Read More: Tripadvisor's SUMMER OF LOVE

What to eat

“I’m a huge beer fanatic, so my idea of a romantic picnic is centered around beer from True Anomaly, a craft brewery in Houston’s East Downtown neighborhood. [I’d also] grab a unique bottle from Light Years in Montrose, which specializes in natural wines. For food, charcuterie is a flirty and fun starter that’s relatively easy to assemble. I recommend grabbing your meat and cheese from Revival Market in the Heights, then I’d pair it all with handmade bread from Sasha’s Focaccia, the brainchild of Chef Sasha Grumman. Every picnic — especially a romantic one — needs a little cold fried chicken; it’s an amazingly tasty and travel-friendly dish. The Yardbird from Lucille’s in the Museum District makes the perfect cold rendition of the Southern classic. Just pop it in the fridge the day before. No romantic picnic is complete without a sweet finish. Chef Jane Wild’s Sunday Snack Boxes offer a portable selection of sweet baked goods, all of which you can pre-order at”

Harlem, New York

Cha McCoy, sommelier and founder of Cha Squared Consulting LLC

Harlem Meer lake in Central Park
Harlem Meer in Central Park; TripAdvisor

Where to meet

“Walking south from Harlem’s northern section of Central Park at 110th Street and Frederick Douglass Blvd., you’ll cross beautiful pockets of the park that can be very private compared to the more popular sections like the Great Lawn. Here you can find secret ponds, bridges, and amazing views of the Upper West Side architecture.”

What to eat

“Wine, of course, is a perfect picnic item (although water is a must to stay hydrated in the heat!) Choose wines that are easy to travel with and selected perfectly for this season, like the wines from my wine box collection Flight Cru. If you’re trying to travel even lighter, canned wines are perfect; Nomadica and Maker wine great canned wines selections. I would say keep it light when it comes to food; a nice salad, cheese and meat board can go a long way. Don’t forget a comfy blanket that’s wide enough to you both as well as all the elements for the picnic.”

Santa Barbara, California

Lydia Richards, sommelier and founder of Vino Concierge

Rolling hills at Pence Vineyards
Pence Vineyards; TripAdvisor

Where to meet

“I recently took a trip to Santa Barbara and was filled with inspiration for picnic ideas. The city’s beautiful weather is ideal for outdoor activities year-round, and a coastline of sand and gorgeous vineyards provides ample opportunity for the perfect summer picnic. I’d recommend a cabana picnic at the idyllic Pence Vineyards. [Then] with your stomach and hearts full after a long day of eating and drinking, check into the quaint De La Vina Inn, which has eight suites and a cute little courtyard to relax – or maybe to enjoy another picnic!”

What to eat

“[Start] with one of [Pence’s] bottles of Pinot Noir or by picking up a charcuterie platter and a few bottles from the Santa Barbara Collective, which features a number of incredible women-owned wineries, like A Tribute to Grace. I’d also recommend an assortment of wines from local producers with downtown tasting rooms, such as Au Bon Climat, Kunin, and Jaffurs Wines (who’s winemaker also produces his own label, Leitmotif). For your sweet tooth, Gipsy Hill Bakery offers incredible treats that are easy to transport, like a lemon elderflower drizzle cake and cardamom buns. To delve into the region’s produce, there’s no better place than The Lark for Chef Jason Paluska’s inventive takes on crispy Brussel sprouts and spring vegetable tartine. And, since we’re talking romance, don’t forget to order their oysters, topped with cucumber jalapeno granita and borage flower.”

New Orleans, Louisiana

Nina Compton, James Beard award-winning chef and owner of Compère Lapin and Bywater American Bistro

Live oak tree with Spanish moss in City Park
City Park; TripAdvisor

Where to meet

“I think the most romantic place to picnic in New Orleans is at City Park. It's large enough that you could find a solitary spot under one of the huge live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss. Pre- or post-picnic, rent a Swan paddle boat to putter around on the water together watching the ducks swim and egrets fishing near the shore.”

What to eat

“Wine and cheese are a must! I'll swing by Faubourg Wines to snag some tasty wines, then go by St. James Cheese Company to pick a few items from their huge selection. Also near City Park, you can swing by Parkway Bakery and grab a po-boy to share. If the picnic goes well​, visit the park stables and take some horses out for a ride. Or maybe swing over to the pool at The Chloe Hotel to cool off – and have a few more beverages!”

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Kristin Braswell
Kristin Braswell is travel journalist and founder of CrushGlobal Travel. She has penned pieces for Vogue, CNN, USA Today, Essence, NPR, Architectural Digest, Ebony and The Los Angeles Times. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.