At its best, a family picnic is a mini vacation: a chance to leave day-to-day routine behind, spread out under the open sky and spend some time together.
These seven favorite picnic spots around Seattle offer a range of experiences, from farm fun to tide pooling to hiking. What they have in common are beauty, bathrooms (important!) and that sense of getting away from it all, which makes an open-air meal taste just a little bit better.
Photo: Mount Baker Park, CC 1. Neighborhood charm
This leafy lakefront park is the northern launching point for this year’s Bicycle Sunday, an event held on 14 Sundays in spring and summer when the city closes three scenic miles of Lake Washington Boulevard to motorized traffic, and bicycles roll free (2521 Lake Park Dr. S., Seattle). The most popular place to picnic is probably near the lifeguard-posted swimming area on the lakefront, but there are many lovely shady spots in the inland part of the park; look for the spiffy new playground on the south end of the park by South McClellan Street.
Eats: Pick up locally sourced deli items, farmers-market-quality produce, smoothies and fresh-pressed juices at The Feed Store, a new gourmet bodega across the street from the Mount Baker Park playground. Sit on one of the 1940s stools and order a pour-over coffee while the kids “ride” the old-fashioned, coin-operated pony ride (3605 S. McClellan St., Seattle).
Photo: Farrel-McWhirter Farm, Redmond.gov 2. The farm in the woods
Located just 10 minutes from Redmond Town Center, Farrel-McWhirter feels like a world away. Walk through a forest of tall trees, surrounded by birdsong, to the children’s farm. There, kids can encounter goats, pigs, chickens, horses and rabbits. The best picnic area, with a shelter, tables and a wide lawn, is between the farm and Mackey Creek (19545 N.E. Redmond Road, Redmond).
Eats: Grab excellent banh mi sandwiches, which are rapidly becoming Seattle’s version of hoagies in Philly or burgers in L.A., at Yummy Pho Vietnamese Restaurant, about 10 minutes away (8920 161st Ave. N.E., Redmond).
Photo: Dr. Jose Rizal Park, CC 3. The city at your feet
Perched on the northwest corner of Beacon Hill, this park boasts a sweeping view that overlooks the bustle of Elliott Bay and downtown Seattle. Long before it became a park, this hillside was a favorite picnic spot for Filipino families in the neighborhood. It’s named after Jose Rizal, a brilliant writer, scientist and a hero in the Philippines’ struggle for independence. The park also has a playground, an off-leash area for dogs and walking trails (1007 12th Ave. S., Seattle).
Eats: Beacon Ave Sandwiches, a small neighborhood joint, offers an array of internationally themed sandwiches, including a creation called “The Filipino,” comprising pork adobo, mango and pineapple salsa (2505 Beacon Ave. S., Seattle).
Photo: Magnuson Park 4. Where all sports meet
If you live in Seattle, and you or your kids have any inclination to be sporty, chances are you’ve spent time in this sprawling park on the shore of Lake Washington. It plays host to a huge variety of organized and disorganized sports, from soccer to cricket (on the specially built pitch south of the Tennis Center) to boating (at Sail Sand Point). There’s even a miniature golf course.
But there’s a quieter side to the park: the woods, natural meadows, lovingly restored wetlands and a children’s garden, just north of the large Junior League playground. Environmental educators run a
variety of programs at the park.
The best picnic spots are by the lake, near the swim beach and its spacious bathrooms, which are a stone’s throw from Kite Hill (7400 Sand Point Way N.E., Seattle).
Eats: Pick up freshly baked bagels, sandwiches and other goodies from the beloved Wedgwood bakery Grateful Bread, which also has a few toys for kids (7001 35th Ave. N.E., Seattle).
Photo: Dash Point State Park, Elisa Murray 5. Big, beautiful beach
This state park has woods and trails, but the main attraction is the beach. At high tide, it is broad and sandy. At low tide, it grows enormous, with acres of sand flats to explore. Seattle Aquarium will send beach naturalists here during the first weekend in June and July 2–5 to answer questions about starfish, moon snails and other tidal life. Discover Pass is required for parking (5700 S.W. Dash Point Road, Federal Way).
Eats: Located near Interstate 5, about 15 minutes away from the park, Marlene’s Market & Deli carries a variety of wholesome sandwiches, salads and baked treats. If your family can’t agree on a picnic food (mine certainly can’t), you can order, say, a roast beef sandwich for one person and quinoa salad for another (2565 S. Gateway Center Plaza, Federal Way).
Photo: Poo Poo Point, Amy Brockhaus 6. Gateway to the sky
For kids and adults who have the energy to take on a two-mile hike uphill, this amusingly named destination in the Issaquah Alps offers huge rewards. (Not that it makes any difference to a sniggering 7-year-old, but the name refers to the loggers’ steam whistles that once resounded through these hills.) After ascending the Chirico Trail (look for a view of Mount Rainier along the way), you come to a broad, clear area, with a sweeping view of Lake Sammamish, Issaquah and Bellevue. Watch the paragliders set themselves up, check and recheck the wind, and finally launch themselves into the breeze. As for where to set up picnic camp, there are two picnic tables and a composting toilet. (No running water here.).
Eats: Pick up artisan bread, sticky buns and other baked goods from Forest Fairy Bakery (485 Front St. N., D-1, Issaquah; closed on Sunday). For decent sandwiches and salads, stop at Panera Bread (775 N.W. Gilman Blvd., Issaquah).
Photo: Richmond Beach, City of Shoreline 7. Wind and waves
Cross a narrow pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks at Saltwater Park in Shoreline and you’re in a world of sun, sea and sand dunes. This is one of Puget Sound’s windy places, so you’ll often spot kiteboarders frolicking in the waves near here. Even on a sweltering day, you’re likely to find a breeze. Kids will love climbing and playing pretend among the driftwood, and you can eventually head to the castle-themed playground above the parking lot (2021 N.W. 190th St., Shoreline).
Eats: Pick up fresh tortillas, superb cheeses, sushi and much, much more from Central Market (15505 Westminster Way N., Shoreline), a local supermarket wildly popular with families with global tastes (and with 2-year-olds who enjoy pushing their own carts).
Photo: Bellevue Botanical Garden, Rebecca Randall 8. Garden fantasy
The carefully tended spaces in this 53-acre garden seem designed to please the senses and encourage the imagination. Spot hummingbirds hovering near the delicate dangling blooms of the fuchsia garden. Say hello to the big bronze frog in the Spring Courtyard, wander the quiet pathways in the Yao Garden and walk across the gently swaying 150-foot suspension bridge over the ravine (The Ravine Experience). Admission is free. There are picnic tables near the parking lot, or pick a spot in the garden (12001 Main St., Bellevue).
Eats: From May through October, you can buy coffee and snacks in the Shorts Visitor Center at the garden. For more diverse fare, stop at the Bellevue location of Uwajimaya, the extraordinary Asian grocery that offers literally everything you could think of, less than five minutes away (699 120th Ave. N.E.).
Picnic fixings: sandwiches or baguettes and cheese, fruits, cut veggies, sparkling juice, etc.
Layers (for the changeable weather)
First aid kit — including bandages, antibiotic ointment and wipes
T owel — in case of wet seats and play equipment
Trash bag Nice to have:
Tablecloth — adds to presentation, and prevents food from falling through the planks of the picnic table
Waterproof or water-resistant blanket or cloth
Bug and bird guides
Condiments — salt, pepper, Sriracha, mustard
Knife and cutting board
Cooler with ice packs
Playthings: stomp rockets, footballs, soccer balls, kites, buckets, nets