No one embraces summer like a Chicagoan: sunny days call for as much outdoor time as possible, and picnics are the way to dine. Here are four picnic + park recommendations that promise to make for a memorable summer afternoon in Chicago.
Picnic and a Movie at Millennium Park
In the heart of downtown, Chicago's Millennium Park shines with inspiring public-art installations and a beautiful skyline backdrop. Every Tuesday, from June 13–September 5, 2017 at 6:30 p.m., you can spread your blanket on the great lawn before the 40-foot-tall screen of the Jay Pritzker Pavilion for a (free!) movie and a picnic.
Choose from a selection of pre-packed picnics or create your own, from Pastoral (located about a block north from the park at 53 East Lake Street). Their picnics features items such as a fresh baguette, soft, aged and classic cheeses paired with salami made from Wagyu beef, smoked, herbed ham, savory pickled veggies, and fruit and nut crisps complemented by spicy Dijon mustard, single varietal honey and a unique chocolates for a sweet treat.
Don't forget a bottle of wine: Most parks don't allow open alcohol, but you can legally drink beer and wine at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion during scheduled evening events. (Jay Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park, 201 E. Randolph Street)
Post-Tennis Picnic with Dorothy at Chicago's Oz Park
Baum's beloved characters, who jumped from the printed page to the silver screen in 1939, live on in charming Oz Park, located in the North Side neighborhood of Lincoln Park. Tennis courts, a large playing field and a wonderful play park for children make this park a great pick for a morning or afternoon of outdoor fun.
From the corner of Webster Avenue and Larabee Street, follow the yellow brick road toward the park's delightful, flower-filled Emerald Garden, the perfect spot to spread out your picnic blanket. Pick up an Italian picnic feast to go at nearby Bacinos of Lincoln Park (2204 N. Lincoln Avenue), where you'll find hearty salads, stuffed pizzas (including a heart-healthy spinach stuffed pizza) and specialty panini. No picnic is complete without dessert, and Swirlz Cupcakes (705 W. Belden Avenue) has all the to-go treats you'll need to guarantee a sweet picnic. (Oz Park, 2021 N. Burling Street)
Picnic with the Animals at Lincoln Park Zoo
Located in the heart of a charming city park, Lincoln Park Zoo is the 35-acre home to over 1,000 animals. Spend a morning visiting with all your fellow mammalian friends and then head to Lincoln Park, located just outside the zoo, for a picnic.
On Wednesdays and Saturdays, you can gather all your picnic goods at the Green City Market, which sets up shop just outside the Farm-in-the-Zoo. Stop by to pick up tasty and organic picnic provisions, or purchase lunch from one of the onsite restaurateurs—try to catch a chef demo while you're there.
The Patio at Cafe Brauer offers yet another, easier outdoor and in-zoo dining experience: It's one of the most scenic dining spots in Chicago, overlooking the zoo pond with the city skyline in the distance. You'll find all your summer favorites, including gourmet burgers, sandwiches, salads and flatbread pizzas. The Patio at Cafe Brauer also has a breakfast menu, a great option for families looking to beat the summer crowds and heat with an early morning visit. (Lincoln Park Zoo, 2001 N. Clark Street)
Beach-Blanket Bonanza at Foster Beach
With the seemingly endless lake before you and blue skies above, it's easy to feel like your in the Caribbean—and not Chicago—at Foster Beach. If you're picnicking with kids in tow, this beach is the kid-friendliest of them all. Extra amenities include easy parking, a handicap access ramp and outdoor showers, as well as a beach hut where you can rent bikes and boardwalk bicycles perfect for riding on south to the next beach (Montrose Beach) and back.
Pick up all the goods for a Southern-style picnic from Big Jones: Located within walking distance to Foster Beach, Big Jones is best known for its traditional Southern cooking by Chef/Co-Owner Paul Fehribach. The carry-out options allow fried-chicken lovers to grab-and-go a decadent picnic on the way to the beach for a true beach-blanket bonanza.
For dessert, bring some dollar bills for cotton candy and paletas (Mexican-style fruity ice popsicles) that are sold by many strolling vendors. (Foster Beach, 5200 N. Lake Shore Drive)
More ideas for picnic pairings: stop at Plum Market then head to Oak Street Beach, or snack on Italian-style fare from Eataly Chicago while soaking in skyline views at Ohio Street Beach. Check out our Chicago beach guide for other lakefront escapes.
Image of picnic-themed cupcakes courtesy of Swirlz Cupcakes. Additional photo credits: Adam Alexander, City of Chicago