Picnicking is an art form to be taken seriously.
You need flawless weather (sunny and with a light breeze, ideally), just the right amount of foot traffic for people-watching, stimulating activity for the kids (but a relaxing atmosphere for the grown-ups) and—perhaps most importantly—unparalleled refreshments to fuel your afternoon of play.
Slap on the sunscreen, place your favorite floppy hat atop your head, grab the checkered blanket and follow our recipe to picnicking perfection in Chicago.
Start with a base of fun
Location, location, location. A fabulous picnicking experience is highly dependent on where you lay your blanket.
If you’re in a low-key mood, the Lucy Flower Playlot that straddles the Bucktown and Logan Square neighborhoods is the hidden gem you’ve been searching for. Surrounding trees provide shade over a charming play structure, splash pad, picnic tables and a blooming community garden.
If you’re looking for a quintessential Chicago day out, set yourself up on the grass in front of the Jay Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park. Not only is this stage home to some of Chicago’s favorite summer festivals (sunset picnics for the win), but after eating, you can also skip over to Maggie Daley Park or the Lakefront trail to prolong the outdoor fun.
Have your pup along for the day? The lagoon in Humboldt Park is a gorgeous backdrop for your picnic, with plenty of ducks and turtles to watch and even more space to run around for kids and canines alike.
To get away from the city altogether, check out the newly renovated Woodscreek Park for nature trails, climbing, sliding, swinging, fishing and all the play and nature your picnic party can handle.
Combine with the ultimate sandwich
Any picnic basket would be lonely without a delectable sandwich. And though your PB&J might suffice for an average lunch, picnics are special occasions and their sandwiches should be treated as such.
Nonna’s Sandwiches and Sundries is a cute grab-and-go style shop that crafts a signature meatball sub fit for the sandwich gods.
And because all true carb lovers know that food trucks do it best, check out the BLT that puts all other BLTs to shame at fave food truck The Fat Shallot.
Finally, for a classic picnic sammy, make sure to pick up the spicy chicken sandwich at The Roost Carolina Kitchen. It’s on a buttermilk biscuit—’nuff said.
Add in a splash of sunshine
Lemonade is basically summer in a cup, and it’s a definite must-have for any self-respecting picnic.
Lucky for us, Mario’s Italian Lemonade exists and is everything you need to drink up summertime. Pack your cups in a cooler or drink them all melty. Either way, we can’t picture life in Chicago without Mario’s sweet concoctions.
You can also get a little fancy with your beverage of choice, and try Alliance Bakery’s incredibly refreshing hibiscus tea and lemonade hybrid. Be warned, the pastries inside this Wicker Park bakery will be hard to resist.
Stir in a side of awesome
As good as that sandwich might be, an outdoor meal just doesn’t feel complete without a little extra somethin’-somethin’.
Fit in your dose of comfort food with a carry-out order of The Smoke Daddy’s gooey, breadcrumb-encrusted mac and cheese.
And Fontano’s Subs in University Village is your one-stop shop for all things potato salad, pasta salad and coleslaw. The neighborhood favorite also has a long list of top-notch subs, including a veggie option, in case you’re still missing that key ingredient in your basket.
Top it off with something sweet
Last but definitely not least, no picnic would be ethically sound without pie.
Beloved by all Chicagoans (who know what’s good for them), Bang Bang Pie has spectacular seasonal options, like Triple Berry Jam pie, that will have you with your back against a tree, hat over eyes, dreaming about how amazing picnics in Chicago are.
Because, c’mon, it doesn’t get any better than this.