Essentials for a Great Madison Picnic

picnic food

By Jane Houseal | Photo by Anna Guerrero via Pexels

The best way to soak up this late-summer weather in Madison is with a picnic. Whether you’re going on a date, planning a family outing or a solo adventure, read on to find the best picnic spots, on-the-go eats and more.

Where to Go

James Madison Park
614 E Gorham St.

Located in downtown Madison, just a short walk from the Capitol, is James Madison Park. The 12-acre park sits on Lake Mendota, so come here to watch the sunset over the water. This park has a playground and a sprawling field for running around, so it’s a great family-friendly spot.

Willy Street Park
1002 Williamson St.

Willy Street Park is a lush park tucked on a corner of Willy Street. This shady garden spot is ideal for relaxing and people-watching. Grab sandwiches on your way there from Alimentari, an Italian deli, just a short walk away. 

Period Garden Park
110 E Gorham St.

A hidden gem downtown, Period Garden Park is a Victorian-era park with flower gardens and a fountain. This quiet spot is perfect for a date or to relax in and read your favorite book.

Picnic Point
2000 University Bay Dr.

The walk or bike ride to Picnic Point is a bit of a hike, but the scenery is worth it. As the name suggests, this mile-long peninsula on Lake Mendota is the prettiest place to enjoy a picnic. Depending on where you find yourself, there are fire pits, a small beach and plenty of photo opps.

Picnic Eats

306 S Brearly St.

Run by Daniel Bonnano, a James Beard Award semifinalist and owner of A Pig in A Fur Coat, Alimentari is an Italian deli serving decked-out sandwiches, charcuterie and pastas. Try one of their delicious sandwiches (our favorite is the prosciutto) for an easy, elevated picnic.

Fresh Cold Drinks Food Cart
Library Mall and the Confluence

The Fresh Cold Drinks food cart, usually referred to simply as the “Spring Roll Cart,” sells spring rolls and fresh smoothies. Head here if you want a bang for your buck — the serving sizes are huge and the food is great.

Willy Street Co-op
1221 Williamson St.

For a more DIY approach, head to Willy Street Co-op. At this grocery store and cooperative you can find plenty of snacks, a hot bar with daily international food choices (Tex-Mex Tuesday, East/Southeast Asian Thursday, Indian buffet Friday) and more. Try your hand at putting together your own charcuterie board, or just pick up some of your favorite snacks and beverages.

111 S Hamilton St.

If you are having a group picnic, Canteen is a convenient choice. The casual Mexican eatery offers DIY tacos and nachos that feed up to five people. They also serve “tacos by the twos” if you want to sample a few options.

 Picnic Supplies

Picnic Blanket, Good Day Shop
1925 Monroe St. #120

A good picnic is not complete without the right picnic blanket. This one from Good Day Shop is handmade in Mexico and it comes in several different colorways.

Tote Bag, Little Luxuries
230 State St.

In order to haul your treats and other essentials, you’ll need a sturdy tote bag. Head to Little Luxuries on State Street to find totes in a variety of patterns and prints. These bags are big enough to carry all you need on any outing.

Books, Mystery to Me
1863 Monroe St.

Whether you’re reading to a partner, to kids or on your own, a good book is essential. Mystery to Me, a local independent bookstore, has something for everyone.

Tarot Cards, Mimosa
409 State St.

Try something new and pick up a tarot deck that speaks to you at Mimosa. Tarot cards are easily portable and are the perfect activity for sparking interesting conversation.

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