Plan the perfect picnic party. / Uwe Krejci/Getty Images
What not to forget
Sunscreen. Transport enough for the crowd — someone is bound to forget.
Insect repellent. Take along some citronella candles, too.
A knife and scissors. Without fail, there’s always something that needs cutting.
A shower curtain. For under the picnic blanket, says Gand, in case the ground is wet.
Hand sanitizer or wipes. After playing in the grass, people are going to need to clean up before chowing down.
A first-aid kit. Picnics seem to be boo-boo magnets.
Napkins. Cloth is the eco-friendly option. Even bandannas from the dollar store make guests think This is something special.
In picnics, as in real estate, it’s location, location, location. In fact, the secret to a good picnic is not as much about what you make as it is where you go and what you bring along — the music, the drinks, the games, the seating.
The food should be easy. “Picnic fare is flexible,” says Chicago chef, author and TV personality Gale Gand. “You can serve dishes that are cold or room temperature. Nothing has to be hot — in fact, you probably don’t even want it to be at the height of summer.”
With that in mind, here’s all you’ll need to pull off an oooh & ahhhh-worthy picnic at any hot spot this summer.
Hitting the Beach
Sand makes picnicking on the beach tricky. Give each person his own set of small lidded containers so he can try each course. And avoid finger foods, since hands that appear clean might be covered in sunscreen.
Festive fare: “You’re working with the elements — sand, water and sun. So you definitely want to bring an umbrella. And choose foods that can withstand the heat,” says Laura Lim, managing partner with Eventfull Planning in Indianapolis. That means no cheese or dairy. Instead think refreshing. Asian flavors work really well when cold — chicken satay, kabobs, and noodle salads.
Thirst quenchers: To please a crowd, Gand opts for a multipurpose drink. She fills a jug with apricot-mango juice, and then cuts it with lemon-lime soda for the kids or prosecco for the grown-ups. Another option is margarita or daiquiri “packets” from companies like Dailys Cocktails. “They’re like Capri Sun for adults,” says Lim.
High-spirited tunes: Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora , suggests a mix of the Beach Boys, the Ventures, Dick Dale, Jan & Dean — which are all on Pandora’s Surf Rock genre station. For a mellower mix, the Laid Back Beach Music genre station has the likes of Bob Marley, Jason Mraz and Sublime.
Get the goods: A dispenser with a tap, like this patriotic one from World Market ($29.99, worldmarket.com), is a must — no sandy hands screwing and unscrewing caps.
Partying at the Park
Luckily, parks often come equipped with grills and tables. Just check : Can you reserve a picnic shelter? Is alcohol allowed? Are there restrooms?
Festive fare: Break out of the hotdog rut with chicken-cherry bratwurst or game sausages, says Gand. Sara Moulton, cookbook author and host of PBS’ Sara’s Weeknight Meals, suggests a Mexican-style grilled-corn bar, where people can slather cobs with flavored butters, cheeses and spices.
Thirst quenchers: “Here in Raleigh, July Fourth marks the tail end of blueberry season, ” says Fred Thompson, author of Lemonade. “So I like to do a lemonade flavored with fresh blueberry puree.”
High-spirited tunes: Build a patriotic soundtrack —including Whitney Houston’s rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, Philadelphia Freedom by Elton John and Living in America by James Brown — at one of the many Internet radio sites, including Playlist.com; blast the tunes with portable mini-speakers. If you’re expecting a wide range of ages, says Lim, opt for songs you’d hear at a wedding .
Get the goods: Even grownups like to play games. Lawn bowling can be done in style with a hand-carved mango-wood set from Pottery Barn ($129, potterybarn.com).
Jammin' at an Outdoor Concert
Bluegrass musicians, the philharmonic or an outdoor movie — it doesn’t matter what you’re watching. Communing under the stars is always a good time (especially when it’s free).
Festive fare: Hors d’oeuvres–style bites reign at events like these, says Lim, because people like to nibble throughout the evening. Bring a selection of cheeses, cured meats and a rustic loaf of bread. Flip over your picnic basket to double as a table.
Thirst quenchers: Mix flavored sparkling waters with juice for the kids or with flavored vodkas for the adults, says Lim. Orange sparkling water, tangerine vodka and an orange slice — voila!
High-spirited tunes: No need to bring your own — just look up at the stage!
Get the goods: The super-light Monarch chair from Alite Designs gets you off the ground without blocking the view ($70; alitedesigns.com). Plus, it lets you rock back and forth to the beat.
On the Town
Some of the best spots for picnicking might be hiding in plain sight, like the steps of a museum or monument. Think outside-the-park for a spot that offers a nice vantage point from which to observe — the wildlife (or the people).
Festive fare: Buy some tiered bento-style lunchboxes and fill them with an antipasti feast, says Moulton: sliced salami, a tomato-mozzarella salad or marinated sardines. “It’s fun to picnic with a theme.”
Thirst quenchers: Freeze juice or milk boxes ahead of time, says Gand, and that serves as the ice pack. “When it’s time to drink, they’re unfrozen but chilled.”
High-spirited tunes: Take advantage of the museums and monuments that offer free apps for your smartphone. Just be sure to bring earphones like the über-hip Urbanears, which allow for more than one person to plug in, so you won’t disturb the people around you.
Get the goods: Portable cushions like REI’s four-ounce Lite-Core Sit Pad are conveniently compact, and easy to inflate and deflate ($19.50, rei.com).