Dining Al Fresco: Summer Picnicking in Orange County
When you’re lying on a blanket at one of Orange County’s stunning parks or beaches, gazing out over the ocean, the soggy sandwiches and lukewarm macaroni salad that have long been hauled along on picnics just won’t do! This time, you need a unique and tasty spread that matches the spectacular setting and provides you with an even more special experience.
Assembling a gourmet picnic is easy – so easy that you can even put it together in your hotel room if you’re away from home. A quick trip to the farmer’s market or one of Orange County’s specialty food stores like Mother’s Market or Native Foods Café is all you’ll need to gather the makings of a delicious basket of goodies you can take just about anywhere.
Here are some ideas for what to bring:
Cheese & Crackers – Pick one soft cheese (like goat, brie, or feta) and one harder cheese that’s pre-cut into cubes, to serve alongside artisan crackers or rustic breads (buy these at a bakery or specialty store like Whole Foods) torn into hunks. Look for local cheeses or varieties you haven't tried before, to help make this seemingly ordinary snack extraordinary.
Fresh Fruit – Berries, stone fruits (like plums, peaches, apricots), grapes, and Valencia oranges are all easy to eat and transport on-the-go. Also look for California dates and other dried fruits at the farmer’s markets – they go especially well with nuts and chocolate.
Nuts – Our farmer’s markets have candied, spiced, salted, and raw nuts for your snacking pleasure. Bring a little container of your favorite variety to accompany your gourmet cheese platter.
Chocolate – A picnic wouldn’t be complete without something sweet! Choose a couple of chocolate bars that you can break into pieces, or try bite-sized chocolate covered toffee, dried fruit, and nuts.
Veggies with Dip – Nearly every farmer’s market sells a wide variety of hummus, tzaziki, pesto, and tapenade that are great for veggie-dipping or spreading on bread or crackers.
Beverages – Bring some sparkling water and freshly squeezed lemonade and mix them together in a glass (try a mason jar!) with a sprig of fresh mint – you’ll feel refreshed after just one sip.
If you’re looking for an even lower maintenance picnic, there are lots of great take-out options that will do the prep work for you. Two of my favorites are Wahoo’s Fish Tacos (multiple locations) - a classic California joint offering fresh and healthy Mexican cuisine that won’t disappoint - and What a Dish Cafe in Dana Point: they make fantastic sandwiches, salads, and desserts that will make you feel as if you’ve gone to Paris to dine al fresco!
A Few Tips To Make Your Picnic a Breeze:
- Spend a few minutes prepping your ingredients before you leave your hotel or home, so that everything is ready when you arrive at your picnic destination.
- Bring a small cooler or insulated reusable grocery bag with a few ice packs so that the perishable items, and beverages, remain cold until they’re enjoyed.
- Bring compostable utensils, paper or bamboo plates and bowls, and cloth linens so that your picnic leaves only a light eco-footprint. These items are available at Whole Foods and other specialty stores around Orange County.
- Focus on quality not quantity. It’s tempting to buy and bring everything when you go on a picnic, but you will save yourself a lot of work, money, and leftovers if you just buy a few lovely items and enjoy them to the fullest, with beautiful landscape or seascape as your backdrop!