Tuck into Great Food and Views at These Picturesque Al Fresco Settings
Come spring the best table in the house is outdoors. Here in the Carolinas, picnicking possibilities this time of year are bountiful — white sand beaches, spectacular mountaintops, and ethereal gardens bursting in bloom. Here are four ideal places where you can indulge your appetite while celebrating the glories of the season.
If winter has you craving a beach fix, Southport’s Waterfront Park is a great place to munch while bird watching or gazing at boats heading into the Atlantic. This nine-acre park between the town’s historic homes and the Cape Fear River offers sheltered tables, a public fishing pier, benches and swings. Top grab-and-go eateries nearby include Taylor Cuisine Café and Catering, known for its fried chicken and fresh shrimp; Moore Street Market; or Dry Street Pub & Pizza.
Sarah P. Duke Gardens
The crown jewel of Durham’s Duke University, this 55-acre garden comes alive in spring with 65,000 flowering bulbs and azaleas galore. Benches are scattered throughout the grounds, but two favorite picnicking spots are the south lawn next to the Terrace Gardens, and Beverly and Bert Welch Woodland Garden Overlook and Stream. Or, stop by the information desk at the Doris Duke Center and ask what is looking especially vibrant that day and head in that direction. You can bring your own repast or fill your hamper at the Terrace Café.
Home to over 35 wineries, this beautiful valley at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains meanders along the Yadkin River through seven North Carolina counties and the charming towns of Elkin and Mount Airy. One of the prettiest picnic sites is a table on top of a hill at Raffaldini Vineyards in Ronda, where the surrounding countryside is reminiscent of Tuscany. Order ahead and stop by the DownTown Deli in Mount Airy or Roxxi and Lulu’s Bistro and Bakery in Elkin for a basket of goodies.
Near the end of Hickory Nut Gorge, Lake Lure beckons with miles of crystal clear waters. Morse Park, next to the marina in the town of Lake Lure, offers views of the lake on all sides, level grassy spots and tables with plenty of shade. Morse Park is also within close walking distance to the “Flowering Bridge” teeming with blooms tended by local residents. An ideal place to find a tasty lunch for your basket is at Medina’s Village Bistro in Chimney Rock Village, just down the road.
Huntington Beach State Park
A Grand Strand beach with three miles of pristine white sands, Huntington Beach State Park in Murrells Inlet is popular for sea breeze camping and tours of Atalaya, the Moorish-style compound built there by sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington and husband Archer Huntington. Two large picnic shelters accommodate up to 75 people, but smaller tables are located throughout the park’s 2,500 acres. Picnic goers hankering for fresh seafood can order up steamed crabs and shrimp from Harrelson’s Seafood or Seven Seas Seafood Market nearby.
Magnolia Plantation & Gardens
Magnolia Plantation & Gardens, ten miles from Charleston, was named one of “America’s Most Beautiful Gardens” by Travel + Leisure. It’s the last large scale Romantic-style gardens left in the U.S., and picnic tables are found throughout. However, the most coveted spots are the lawn near the garden’s iconic white bridge and gazebo, the maze across the pond along the oak-lined driveway, and the summer garden with billowing Indica Azaleas, which were the first azaleas to be planted outside (in the 1840s). Visit The Peacock Café for delicious breakfast or lunch items.
One of the largest urban forests in the country, Hitchcock Woods in Aiken is beloved by residents for its treasure trove of longleaf pines and 70 miles of trails for hikers, dog walkers and equestrians. The Aiken Horse Show, which has been held there for 100 years on the first weekend in April, features a splendid picnic you can reserve in advance. Or, bring your own basket that weekend or any day the park is open. Best bets in town for scrumptious treats are New Moon Café, What’s Cookin’ Downtown, or Magnolia Downtown.
Caesars Head State Park
If awe-inspiring views are your idea of the perfect picnic setting, place Caesars Head State Park on the top of your list. Stretching 3,208 feet above sea level, this scenic spot is located in northern Greenville County. Believed to have been named for a gigantic granite rock resembling the Roman emperor’s profile, the park affords panoramic views of the Blue Ridge escarpment. Tables are available throughout the park. Note: the road from Greenville winds a lot, but the route from Brevard is less sinuous. Favorite foodie haunts in Greenville to stock your picnic basket include Swamp Rabbit Café and Caviar & Bananas.
Hungry for an outdoor escape? Call 800-398-0379 or visit AAA.com/TripTik and plan your meal-time road trip.
(March/April 2017 issue of Go Magazine)