Five Spectacular Picnic Spots

Special places for outdoor dining.

Story by T. Wayne Waters

A picnic is a small pleasure.

Even if you just grab a blanket and head for your own backyard, there’s a simple joy in eating in the fresh air.

Some destinations take outdoor dining to another level of scene-setting and memory-making. Whether you pick up local sandwiches or burritos, or just tote some fresh bread, cheese and wine from home, don’t miss the chance to picnic at these five spectacular spots.

Brookgreen Gardens

The nation’s largest and most comprehensive collection of American figurative sculpture is nestled among magnificent foliage, shrubbery and trees that include dramatic live oaks draped in Spanish moss. Not only can you stroll around appreciating and photographing this striking scene, you can picnic at the 9,100-acre Brookgreen Gardens on South Carolina’s Hammock Coast. With 2,000 sculptures scattered about the impressive property, you may find yourself munching near Greek Gods and Goddesses, graceful nudes, wild animals, sprites and satyrs, angels and nymphs. Before or after your picnic, you can explore the grounds that include a restored rice field at the former Brookgreen Plantation, the Oaks Plantation History and Nature Trail, and the Native Wildlife Zoo and Domestic Animal Exhibit.

Photo Credit: Brookgreen Gardens

Insider’s Tip: “I think the Live Oak Allée would be my top pick for a picnic because it’s rustic and really laid back but offers a stunning setting,” says Ann Marcum, associate vice president at Fahlgren Mortine. “You could also picnic near any of the sculptures.” Toss out a blanket near your favorite discovery then  linger over your picnic while appreciating the artwork its surroundings.

Biltmore Estate

There are six glorious gardens at the 8,000-acre Biltmore Estate, which surround the luxurious Châteauesque mansion that is the largest privately-owned house in the U.S.A. The gardens were designed by famed 19th century landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead and are currently the stage for a special exhibit by artist Dale Chihuly—the first art exhibition in Biltmore’s historic gardens and the first garden exhibition of Dale Chihuly’s works in North Carolina can be seen now through October 7. As if that’s not pretty enough, Biltmore is surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains and overlooks Asheville. It all adds up to an exquisite spot to lay out a spread.

Photo Credit: The Biltmore Company

Pack your own basket for a Biltmore Estate picnic or purchase picnic items from one of Biltmore’s casual quick-service eateries or the on-site Biltmore Winery once you arrive. (Note that bringing food and beverages from off-estate establishments is not allowed in areas around Antler Hill Village or Biltmore House. Check with Biltmore House staff on appropriate picnicking spots. No outside alcohol is ever permitted on the property.)

Insider’s Tip: “One of the best spots is the sloped lawn in front of the Diana statue, though space may be limited when private events are in progress,” says LeeAnne Donnelly, senior public relations manager for Biltmore. “The area gives you a spectacular view of Biltmore House with the Blue Ridge Mountains rising above it. The Lagoon is also a primo spot. It provides a gorgeous view of the back of Biltmore House, with a reflection of it on the water’s surface.”

Central Park, New York City

There’s nothing like a Big Apple-style picnic. New York City’s 843-acre behemoth Central Park is a greenspace sanctuary filled with birdsong and to a surprising degree buffers the street noise of the metropolis. Designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the park contains several water elements including a large reservoir, a “lake,” a pond and the Harlem “Meer.” There is also a large wooded area and seven major lawns that vary in size. Central Park is an emerald jewel amongst the concrete canyons of the nation’s largest city and all the extraordinary experiences it offers.

Copyright NYC & Company

Take a blanket and stop by one of NYC’s many delis or markets to gather all your picnic goodies and head for the trees. And for the sake of theme, pack some apples—big ones.

Insider’s Tip: “Central Park is one of the world’s most quintessential and bucolic backdrops for picnicking, especially during the warmer months,” says Christopher Heywood, NYC & Company senior vice president global communications.

Skydeck Chicago

If you’re not prone to acrophobia, it’s a thrilling rather than terrifying experience to be on the 99th floor Skydeck of downtown Chicago’s Willis Tower, 1,353 feet in the air, looking down and out upon the Windy City cityscape. The thrill can be ramped up even more if you walk out onto The Ledge, the all-glass box platforms that extend more than four feet out from the Skydeck and affords a view in all directions—including down!

Photo Credit: Skydeck Chicago at Willis Tower

During one special August weekend each year the thrill level is enhanced: The Willis Tower offers its Skydeck for the Air & Water Show Picnic in the Sky during the annual  Chicago Air & Water Show. For $100 and up, you can enjoy a tabletop picnic next to the Skydeck’s glass walls for an eye-level view of military jets streaking by vvvvery closely. This year the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds will be the show’s major attraction.

But be heartened if those tickets sell out or that particular timing doesn’t work for you. Though the August extravaganza is the only time eating on Skydeck Chicago is specifically called a picnic, the truth is that you can enjoy a picnicky catered breakfast at Skydeck year-round, seven days a week. Lunch in the Sky is also available on the 99th floor, and Pie in the Sky VIP pizza dinners (Chicago style, naturally) are served on the 103rd floor.

Insider’s Tip: To take advantage of the Air & Water Show Picnic in the Sky, make reservations waaaay in advance. In 2018, the big show is on Saturday, August 18; call Skydeck for dates in 2019 and beyond.

Rutherford Hill Winery in Napa Valley

California’s renowned wine grape growing region is beautiful. About 30 miles long and only five across at the widest point, Napa Valley sits between the Mayacamas Mountains and the Vaca Mountains, bisected by the Napa River. Most any spot in the valley makes a great picnic spot, but consider Rutherford Hill Winery, which sits high above the valley floor in the southern section of Napa Valley with the Napa River in the near distance westward and Lake Hennessey to the east.

Photo Credit: Jason Tinacci

Insider’s Tip: “The spacious Oak Grove picnic area offers a serene setting and one of the most picturesque winery settings Napa has to offer,” says Ben Rotnicki, director of direct-to-consumer marketing for Terlato Wine Group.

Plan A Trip

Biltmore Estate
One Lodge St.
Asheville, NC

Brookgreen Gardens
1931 Brookgreen Garden Dr.
Murrells Inlet, SC

Central Park
New York City, NY

Rutherford Hill Winery
200 Rutherford Hill Rd.
Rutherford, CA

Willis Tower – Skydeck Chicago
232 S. Franklin St. (east side of the building)
Chicago, IL

Top 5 Favorite Picnic Foods

According to a 2018 National Today survey, the top five picnic foods are (drumroll…):

  1. Sandwiches
  2. Fried Chicken
  3. Watermelon
  4. Potato Salad
  5. Chips & Dip

Pick Up Your Picnic!

Whenever you picnic, plan to leave nothing behind. Whether you picnic at a spectacular natural or manmade spot, such as those featured in this article or even just at your neighborhood park, be a thoughtful picnicker and clean up behind yourself. Keep America Beautiful and Leave No Trace!

T. Wayne Waters


T. Wayne Waters is a Savannah, Georgia-based independent journalist and public affairs radio show host and producer.