Going on a picnic is one of the simple joys of living in or visiting Tallahassee. The great outdoors beckons, whether we want a day full of family activities or a spur-of-the-moment retreat under a shady tree. We’re even willing to brave the heat to savor burgers and hot dogs sizzling on the grill.
Tallahassee has a variety of parks/attractions that suit both large outings and romantic getaways. All some of us need are sandwiches, cold drinks and a blanket. Others may prefer an elaborate feast with homemade spreads and a fine bottle of wine. Regardless, picnics are all about finding a pleasant spot, being with good company and sharing good food and drinks.
In order to pick the right picnic spot, consider what amenities you’ll need. If this is a mega family outing with kids in tow, you’ll be considering the quality of activities (you still might want to bring Frisbees and other games), the availability of restrooms, the amount of walking required and picking a place that accommodates a bigger group. If the grandparents are coming along, you’ll probably want to tote some lawn chairs in the event you can’t get a table.
And that’s another noteworthy mention -- get an early start or send a scout to find the place you want because a lot of tables at Tallahassee parks are first come, first served and go quickly.
So dig out the picnic basket, the gingham tablecloth and check out some of these top picnic picks in Tallahassee. For more information, you can also go to VisitTallahassee.com.
A.J. Henry Park: Families flock to this 72-acre park in the Killearn area. A.J. Henry features lots of amenities, including a wooden dock on the lake, nature and hiking trails, a colorful playground, tennis courts and baseball fields. You’ll find open grassy areas, picnic shelters with outside grills and a large pavilion available first come, first served. 2710 A.J. Henry Dr.
Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park: Arrive early if you want to claim one of the four shelters along scenic Lake Hall. It’s first come, first served for these shelters, which each have grills and two long picnic tables that seat a total of 16. If you’re planning a big event, you can rent the large pavilion, which accommodates approximately 100 people ($50 half day; $100 full day). For a simpler outing, scope out a peaceful spot under shady trees. The park provides plenty of amenities, including five miles of shared-use trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding and five miles of trails for bikers twisting through the woods surrounding Lake Overstreet on park property next to the gardens. Cost: $6 per vehicle (up to eight people, $2 each for extra passengers), $4 for a vehicle with a single occupant, $2 for everyone else (pedestrians, bikers). The fee increases during the park’s prime blooming season, from January 1-April 30. At that time, it’s $6 per adult and $3 for children ages 2 to 13. This includes the entrance fee and access to the Maclay House, gardens and all amenities. 3540 Thomasville Rd.; 850-487-4556.
Cascades Park: Parents won’t have to worry about keeping the kids entertained at the Tallahassee’s new, 24-acre park, hailed as a downtown “oasis”. Located on land where the Spanish settled in 1520, Cascades Park offers modern amenities including the interactive Imagination Fountain. Along with providing free entertainment for the kids from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, the fountain attraction includes two pavilion areas with tables. Grills are prohibited at the park but as Cascade’s event coordinator, Charla Lucas, says, “pack a sub and some chips and you\'re good to go.” Pavilions and tables are all available first come, first served. You’ll find umbrella-shaded tables throughout the park as well as plenty of grassy spots for a blanket. Imagination Fountain features a music, water and light show at 8, 8:30 and 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The park also offers a Discovery children’s play area, amphitheater and trails. 1001 S. Gadsden St.
Central Park: OK, we’re not in Manhattan, but Southwood residents know they have a lovely green space at their own Central Park. The 123-acre park, with its tranquil view of the lake, is a pretty site for a picnic. No towering city skyscrapers in the skyline but plenty of trees draped with Spanish moss. It’s also a destination for biking, walking or bird watching and there are plenty of benches. Some parking is available at the community center lot, 4675 Grove Park Dr.
FSU Reserve: You don’t have to be a student to take advantage of the Florida State University Reservation at Lake Bradford. Amenities at the "Rez" include canoeing, kayaking, swimming, sand volleyball, disc golf , ropes course, a climbing wall and other activities along with picnicking. Admission for non-FSU students is $2 and $1 for children ages 6-15. There are additional fees for canoe/kayak rentals, the rock wall and ropes course. You can also rent a pavilion with grills and picnic tables. 3226 Flastacowo Rd,; 850-644-2449.
Lafayette Heritage Trail Park: The park offers three picnic shelters, a small playground, restrooms, drinking fountains and a picturesque pedestrian bridge. For a more adventurous outing, there are hiking and bike trails, docks and floating docks and a hand-launch-only boat ramp. The Lafayette Passage Paddling Trail is for canoes and kayaks. The park entrance is at the east end of Heritage Park Boulevard in the Piney Z Plantation subdivision. Multi-use trails run from Tom Brown Park, along and across Lake Lafayette to Pedrick Road and the Swift Creek Middle School. 4900 Heritage Park Blvd.
Lake Ella: You’ll find plenty of picnic tables in the shade at this greenspace, just off busy Monroe Street. You can take a leisurely stroll on the .6-mile loop encircling the lake, scope out a variety of birds and ducks, then stop at the lovely gazebo (lots of selfie opportunities) and watch the fountains. Don’t miss the nearby shops and eateries in the historic cottages that were once part of a 1920s vacation spot. Stop by for Food Truck Thursday at the park and enjoy a variety of dishes while watching live music, from 6 to 10 p.m. each Thursday. For more information about the weekly food truck event, visit https://www.facebook.com/FoodTruckThursdayTallahassee
North Monroe Street and Lake Ella Drive. The shops are on the 1600 block of North Monroe Street.
Miccosukee Canopy Road Greenway: The Greenway is a hidden treasure off tree-lined Miccosukee Road. Leave behind the dense canopy and check out peaceful pastures for a quiet picnic destination, where you can observe more than 40 species of birds (along with other critters). Spread out a blanket or head to the picnic tables. The Greenway features a six-mile trail (with side trails) that draws hikers, bikers and equestrians. You can access the greenway off Miccosukee Road at Fleischman, Edenfield, Crump or Thornton roads. 5600 Miccosukee Rd.; 850-606-1470.
Myers Park: The park, with nearly 31 acres, has lots of amenities, including picnic shelters, a large pavilion, open field, playground and nature and hiking trails, tennis courts and the Wade Wehunt Pool. 912 Myers Park Rd.
San Luis Mission Park: Not to be confused with Mission San Luis, this nearly 70-acre park sits on its own, with Lake Esther at its heart. There’s a roughly four-mile loop around the lake, with a boardwalk, nature and bicycle trails, a fenced dog park and picnic area with covered pavilions and restrooms. 1313 San Luis Mission Rd.
Tom Brown Park: It’s easy to have an action-packed day at this popular 225-acre park, with its play areas, 24 holes of disc golf, tennis, baseball and softball fields, basketball and handball courts, dog park, BMX track, radio control track, and various trails for hiking, biking and jogging. The park has large grassy areas for picnics, plus there are several first come, first served picnic shelters, grills and larger pavilions for rent. There’s plenty of room to fly a kite or toss a Frisbee. If you get ambitious, the longest trail is the 1.5-mile, paved Goose Pond Trail that extends from the park\'s northwest tip to its southeast corner and includes a boardwalk that winds along the edge of the lake. 501 Easterwood Dr.
Rochelle Koff is a foodie and former restaurant critic for The Miami Herald for 20 years. Now a freelance writer, reporter and editor, Rochelle was most recently a legislative reporter for The Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times. Reach her at email@example.com