Your Perfect Wake Picnic

With its panoramic view of downtown Raleigh and vast green lawns, Dix Park is an ideal place for a picnic.
With its panoramic view of downtown Raleigh and vast green lawns, Dix Park is an ideal place for a picnic.
Don’t miss a single detail with the help of luxury picnic companies like Southern Picnics.
Don’t miss a single detail with the help of luxury picnic companies like Southern Picnics.
RDU observation deck
RDU observation deck
Products of the Capital City, Union Special Bread’s baguette and Miche sourdough and Slingshot Coffee’s coffee soda lead to elevated picnics with local flavor.
Products of the Capital City, Union Special Bread’s baguette and Miche sourdough and Slingshot Coffee’s coffee soda lead to elevated picnics with local flavor.
Historic Yates Mill County Park
Historic Yates Mill County Park

Warm weather, longer days, and clear Carolina skies: As we transition from winter into spring and summer, Wake County has all the makings for a quintessential picnic. However, a memorable experience requires more than just ideal weather. The contents of the picnic basket and where you take it will make your spread stand out. Luckily, Wake County boasts numerous noshable treats to include in your outdoor dining spread, as well as a host of picturesque spots to enjoy an outdoor meal.

The Spots

Sunflower Field at Dix Park

Nestled on the outskirts of Downtown Raleigh, Dix Park is on its way to becoming the City of Oaks’ destination park. Since the City of Raleigh brought the land from the State of North Carolina in 2015, redevelopment of the space has been slowly taking shape. But even as Dix Park is still in a transitional period, it offers plenty of spots for those who want a panoramic perspective of the city.

The wildly popular Sunflower Field is the setting for one of Raleigh’s most beloved summer traditions, snapping selfies in front of the lush canvas of flowers when they are at peak bloom. Beyond a primo social media backdrop, the field also provides plenty of space to spread out along the grass with a meal and take in stunning views of the flowers and skyline.

RDU Observation Park

For those who prefer to marvel at the modern wonders of humankind rather than bask in the majesty of nature, the RDU Observation Park provides a front-row seat to one of North Carolina’s crowning achievements: flight.

The RDU Observation Park offers an elevated platform with clear views of aircraft as they take off and touch down. On the ground level of the park, you’ll find picnic tables, bathrooms, a lawn area, and a playground — all the facilities to set up a pleasant picnic with your fellow aviation enthusiasts.

Ideal for families, the RDU Observation Park offers a lawn for picnics close to the runway and a playground for kids to take off with their imagination.

Historic Yates Mill County Park

Located at the southern tip of Raleigh, the Historic Yates Mill County Park offers a range of scenic settings for hosting a picnic. History buffs can gravitate towards the titular Yates Mill, which is the last operable water-powered gristmill in Wake County. The historic site allows you to get up close to its unique stone dam waterfall.

Nature lovers can find a spot gazing out on the tranquil Yates Mill Pond or settle in along the path of the park’s three hiking trails.

The Food

Bread — Union Special Bread

Whether it’s for a quintessential sandwich or a complement to dips, cheeses, or jams, the right bread is a cornerstone of a classic picnic. At Northeast Raleigh bakery Union Special Bread, head baker and owner Andrew Ullom says their bread program is “not trying to reinvent the wheel — we’re just trying to pay attention.”

Union Special’s attention to detail, like using fresh organic flour from mills less than an hour away, results in loaves like the utilitarian People’s Loaf. “That loaf of bread makes a sandwich that travels really well,” Ullom said. “It can be toasted and then taken in a picnic basket and used for a bunch of different food.”

The bakery’s Miche, a whole-grain rye sourdough, fits perfectly into a picnic spread, Ullom said. “It’s a really hearty rye sourdough bread, something that you can rip apart and literally break bread with friends. It can sop up stuff really well. It’s great for dipping, or putting a massive amount of butter or jam on.”

Alongside the bread program, Union Special bakes an assortment of pastries, from croissants to vegan hand pies. For picnic goers who would rather skip the prep work, the bakery also offers sandwiches, salads, and full dishes from its café.

Charcuterie — Alimentari at Left Bank

One of the original tenants of East Raleigh’s Transfer Co. Food Hall, Alimentari at Left Bank is a unique hybrid of a sandwich shop, boutique grocer, and whole-animal butchery. Alimentari is the brainchild of Josh DeCarolis, chef and owner of the adored Durham Italian restaurant Mothers & Sons, in partnership with the highly regarded Left Bank Butchery in Saxapahaw. Alimentari presents a diverse array of meats and gourmet prepared dishes ideal for enhancing any picnic outing.

Stacked with Italian cold cuts like prosciutto di Parma, Mortadella, speck, pepperoni, and spicy sopressata, Alimentari’s charcuterie board adds an elevated touch to a typical meat and cheese tray.

Head chef Aaron Hopp described the charcuterie experience: “You have all the way from something extremely buttery and fatty from the Mortadella. Then you can go into the prosciutto that’s a little lighter. And then you can go into the pepperoni, which is like, ‘all right, this is familiar.’”

Alimentari also stocks prepared items such as giardiniera, potato salad, house-made desserts, tomato jam, and deviled prosciutto that would be welcome additions to any picnic spread. “We’re just trying to bring local products to the consumer,” Hopp said.

Chef Hopp encourages picnic goers to “go outside of your norm of when you go to the grocery store” and explore the shop’s diverse offerings, which are mostly sourced locally or prepared freshly on-site. Staff are happy to offer their recommendations.

Dorothea Dix Park

Drinks — Slingshot Coffee

Now nationally distributed, Slingshot Coffee was started and is still brewed in the City of Oaks by former barista Jenny Bonchak. The refreshing caffeinated drink has been featured in major publications like The New York Times and counts movie star Reese Witherspoon among its many fans.

Slingshot began its journey in 2012 serving cold brew coffee, expanding into coffee soda in 2014. According to Slingshot, “As a company, we have always wanted to share the incredible versatility of coffee — whether through flavor or texture — and have held a deep desire to take coffee beyond what’s ‘normal’ to show how fun it can be.” Slingshot’s carbonated cold brew teams up with classic flavors of citrus vanilla, black cherry, and root beer to provide a unique offering unlike any other beverage.

Slingshot products are available at Fresh Market, Wegmans, Whole Foods, and Sprouts grocery stores or directly from their website.

Luxury Picnic Companies

If you want a picture-perfect experience without the hassle of setting it up, Wake County offers a plethora of luxury picnic companies happy to do the heavy lifting for you. Southern Picnics, an award-winning example, offers setups for everything from a brunch with friends to a picnic proposal. According to owner Angela Byrnes, “We handle the design, food, location, and photography so you can stay focused on popping the question and being present in the moment.”

Tips for Picnic Perfection

Written by Jaime Nolan

Check it twice

Don’t let forgotten essentials dampen your day! Make a trusty checklist that inclues plates, napkins, utensils, cups, sunscreen, trash bags, sanitizer, and other necessities to ensure your picnic experience is seamless.

Choose wisely

Do you crave a leafy canopy or thrive in the sun? When scouting your locations, consider your intended mood and time of day.

Pick your vibe

Choose a theme and let it guide your fun. It could be as simple as a color or elaborate as a chic girls’ brunch or movie night. Get playful and let your picnic pop!

Amp up the fun

Spice up your picnic with activities like sports, nature exploration, or game time galore.

Level up the luxury

Lay down a tarp to keep everything dry and pristine. Add layers for extra comfort. Stack multiple blankets for softness, and elevate your relaxation game with cozy pillows.

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