A summer picnic is a longstanding tradition that brings to mind images of red and white checkered tablecloths and cold slices of watermelon. While you can have an impromptu picnic practically anywhere, there are many local spots that would make a lovely setting for the perfect picnic. Did you know that Jacksonville has the largest system of public parks in the country? Parks occupy 111,669 acres in Jacksonville. Choose one of them and plan a romantic picnic for two. Check out www.coj.net for a searchable database of the 337 locations included in the JaxParks system.
In Riverside, Willowbranch Park is a verdant oasis in the middle of a trendy neighborhood. Located on Park Street, this picturesque park is between Cherry Street and Willow Branch Avenue, close enough to restaurants that you could get take-out instead of packing a picnic basket. Shaded benches provide a comfortable spot to share a snack with your sweetie, or spread out a blanket beneath an immense oak tree. Across from the park is Willowbranch Rose Garden, where members of the Jacksonville Rose society began cultivating roses in 1955.
Another city oasis is Memorial Park, a little farther north on Park Street and closer to the action in Riverside. This park has more of an urban park vibe, but there’s a beautiful view of the river. On weekends, it’s a popular place to play and people watch, so don’t expect privacy. However, if you want a convenient spot to grab a sandwich and enjoy the sunshine, Memorial Park could fit the bill.
If you’d like more room to spread out, Losco Regional Park has 210 acres near the intersection of I-95 and Phillips Highway. The entrance is on Hood Road. Losco Park features huge live oaks garlanded with Spanish moss to provide shade for your picnic blanket. For those seeking civilization, this park also features a picnic pavilion and a public restroom.
If you feel like combining your picnic with a scenic Sunday drive, head north to Big Talbot Island, or south to Saint Augustine. There are many different opportunities for a quick road trip around the area.
In Saint Augustine, you can picnic on the grassy shore beside Castillo de San Marcos fort, and enjoy the view along the water. Also located in Saint Augustine is Canopy Shores Park, a 33-acre park located in the Shores Community along Christina Drive adjacent to the Riverview Club. It’s named for the large oak hammock canopy on the grounds. The park includes a 1.5-mile loop paved trail for walking, biking and bird watching.
Take a scenic drive north of town along Heckscher Drive to Big Talbot Park. Drive on the beach at Huguenot Memorial Park, or head up to Big Talbot Island Florida State Park, a popular place with local photographers. There are picnic pavilions overlooking the water, or make the short hike down to the enormous fallen oaks on Boneyard Beach.
Once you’ve found your perfect picnic location, you’ll want to make sure you have everything you need. Don’t forget utensils unless you plan to stick with finger food. Either way, you’ll need napkins or hand wipes. If a bottled beverage is on the menu, don’t forget the corkscrew or bottle opener, but be aware of park restrictions regarding alcoholic beverages. Plan ahead and freeze a few water bottles to serve double duty as ice packs and drinks. Try using a fabric tablecloth instead of a picnic blanket, as they are easier to toss into the wash when the picnic is over. And remember, when everything is packed, you’ll have to be able to carry your movable feast.
Enjoy a perfect picnic in beautiful North Florida, and remember to bring along a camera to preserve your memories long after summer is over.