5 DC parks to make the most of your takeaway picnic

Looking for the best places to picnic in DC?

Over the weekend, I met my friend at Tatte in downtown DC. We picked up a hot coffee and a bite to eat and walked over to Dupont Circle. We were probably the only people brunching—it was a little too cold, to be honest. But with our lattes to keep us warm it was still really nice to catch up outdoors. 

Even in the freezing cold, we enjoyed our outdoor brunch as we watched the steady stream of people walk by and even caught a peek at some urban wildlife.

Does this scene sound familiar?

During COVID, we’ve all done a lot more outdoor dining. With over 600 public green spaces to choose from, there is no better city than Washington, DC to park your takeout picnic and dine al fresco.

This park-side brunch got me thinking of all of the parks around town I’ve enjoyed as restaurant extensions over the past two years.

My top places to picnic in DC:

1. Dupont Circle Park

Dupont Circle is one of the most iconic places to picnic in DC
Pigeons fly off of the Dupont Circle fountain. Image credit: Katy Cain.

With nearly infinite food options nearby, Dupont Circle is at the top of my list for peak park picnic vibes.

During the warmer months, the park is always full of people from all walks of life listening to music, lounging on picnic blankets, and catching up with friends. You might even be able to find a chess partner at the built-in chess tables!

During the pandemic, it’s been a literal lifesaver for many who want to go out for dinner in a way that feels safe. Its location in the city, food options, and peak D.C. vibes make it one of the best places to picnic in Washington, D.C.

Learn more and plan your visit:
Dupont Circle BID
National Park Service
Things to do near Dupont Circle

2. Georgetown Waterfront Park 

Want a waterfront picnic?
A sea of black-eyed Susans at the Georgetown Waterfront Park. Photo credit: Katy Cain/NPS

Somehow, this spot feels even more touristy than Dupont Circle, but there is something so romantic about being able to sit on a bench or blanket by the Potomac River and enjoy a bite to eat. My favorite spot is the River Steps, but you might find yourself competing with ducks for your last bite of sandwich. 

The River Steps are a great place to set up your picnic blanket
A family poses for photos on the River Steps in Georgetown Waterfront Park. Photo credit: Katy Cain

Unfortunately, my favorite grab-and-go spot for fancy picnic fare, Dean & DeLuca, closed over the pandemic. But there are whispers of an Italian market coming in its place! 

In the meantime, there are so many good restaurants nearby Georgetown Waterfront Park, so take your pick! I’ve personally enjoyed the German bites at The Berliner.

If you’re looking to add some activity to your day out, make sure to bring your bike and explore Rock Creek Trail or the C&O Canal, both of which start at the Georgetown Waterfront.

Learn more and plan your visit:
National Park Service
Friends of Georgetown Waterfront Park

3. Crispus Attucks Park

A favorite neighborhood picnic spot
Summertime picnic vibes abound at Crispus Attucks Park. Credit: Katy Cain

This has got to be one of my favorite parks in the city. This secluded alley park in the Bloomingdale neighborhood is a labor of love from the surrounding neighbors, who over the past decade have transformed this abandoned alley into a truly gorgeous public park. 

When you get there, find yourself a spot to lay down your picnic blanket. The tree-side spots tend to be the first to go.

There aren’t as many restaurants or food options as the first two parks, but a quick pop by nearby Yang Market should provide all the picnic essentials you could ask for.

The perfect spot for COVID celebrations in all weather
Me and my friends meeting up for a breakfast hangout in Crispus Attucks Park in November 2020. Credit: Katy Cain

Learn more and plan your visit:
History of Crispus Attucks Park
Urban Turf Review: Crispus Attucks Park

4. Rock Creek Park at Peirce Mill

The only working Mill in the DC area
A view of the historic Peirce Mill. Credit: NPS/Katy Cain

A bit harder to get to if you don’t have a car, this spot offers plentiful picnic tables and even a covered picnic pavilion (Picnic Grove #1) which you can reserve for larger gatherings. There are also several spots where you can use an NPS grill or firepit nearby, so BBQs are not out of the question. 

The two main hiking trails and the Rock Creek Park trail I mentioned in the Georgetown Waterfront entry go through this area, so it’s always pretty busy. You’ll see full-blown birthday parties, hikers, bikers, dog walkers, and runners. 

I personally like to metro up to Van Ness, pick up cheese, charcuterie, and a cheeky drink at Calvert Woodley, and then hike down to Peirce Mill on Soapstone Valley Trail.

Is there anything better than a picnic by Rock Creek Park
Prepping for a picnic along Rock Creek at Pierce Mill. Credit: Katy Cain

Learn more and plan your visit:
National Park Service
Reserving Picnic Grove #1
Friends of Peirce Mill

5. Kenilworth Aquatic Park and Gardens

Lotus blooms are just one benefit of this DC park
Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in peak lotus bloom! Credit: Katy Cain

Nothing beats biking up the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens for a picnic and some premium wildlife watching! One method is to start around RFK stadium where there is plenty of parking. You can always drive up to Kenilworth instead or take the metro to Deanwood and walk the 12 minutes to the park. 

The bike ride from RFK is only about 20 minutes along the Anacostia River. When you finally get to Kenilworth Park you’ll see a sign leading the way. There you’ll find plentiful picnic tables and a veritable oasis of lotus flowers and some of the best wildlife peeping in DC. (I haven’t been to Kenilworth and NOT seen a blue heron picnicking with me.) 

You’ll have to pack in your own lunch, which means bringing in some homemade sandwiches or popping into a neighborhood spot like The Hill Cafe before you begin your journey. 

Learn more and plan your visit

National Park Service
Friends of the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

Bonus Park: Looking for a park close to the Metro Branch Trail or the Fort Totten Metro? Fort Totten Park has picnic tables, history, and nature. Learn more here.

Boozy brunch in the park?
One thing I’ve noticed over the pandemic is an extremely relaxed approach to alcohol in parks. Whether people are sneaking sips or popping bottles of bubbly in the open, drinking publically has become increasingly acceptable.

However, it is still illegal to imbibe in public and especially on federal and city parkland in DC. Please drink responsibly and be careful when it comes to adventuring under the influence. 

Do you have a favorite place to picnic in DC? Let me know in the comments and maybe I’ll include it on my next list!