Great places all around Raleigh to enjoy your favorite to-go meal outside this spring and summer.
by Riley Bensen
One thing we love about Raleigh: its balance between bustling city streets and quieter spaces. From the expansive fields at Dorothea Dix Park to the NCMA’s art-woven landscape and Union Station’s urban escape, we have an abundance of spots to grab a picnic. So grab a blanket and consider this list of great picnic spots in Raleigh for your next packed lunch or takeaway meal — with some food suggestions, as well!
Carl Alwin Schenck Forest
There are just as many possibilities of where to picnic in the 245 acre Carl Schenck Forest as there are Longleaf pine and oak trees on the land. The forest is owned by NC State and is often used for teaching and research by professors and students. There are picnic facilities–consider bringing takeout from the strip mall gem Chubby’s Tacos in the area–and walking trails to trek. Don’t forget to check out the Braham Arboretum on the property while you are there!
Carl Alwin Schenck Memorial Forest, Raleigh, NC 27607
Court of North Carolina at NCSU
The Court of North Carolina is a central green space on NC State’s campus, surrounded by the university’s humanities and social science buildings. Choose any restaurant on Hillsborough Street for a takeout picnic: Guasaca Arepa and Salsa Grill is a favorite for a fresh but filling meal. Hide out in the shade of the tall oak trees, or soak up the sun in the large open space.
Court of NC North Trail, Raleigh, NC 27607
The Raleigh Rose Garden
The Rose Garden behind Raleigh Little Theater is a popular spot for proposals and professional photographs, but it’s also a great place for the casual picnic. The garden offers greenery all year round, including its signature roses in spring, as well as various perennials and trees. Match the elegant vibe of the Rose Garden and pack sandwiches from La Farm Bakery or sweets from Lucette Grace. There are benches all throughout the garden as well as a covered area, and the steps of the outdoor amphitheater are another possible spot to spread out for your picnic.
2703 Everett Avenue, Raleigh, NC 27607
Raleigh Union Station
There’s just something about watching trains arrive and depart — maybe it’s the anticipation of an adventure? Raleigh’s Union Station offers a large outdoor space perfect for a picnic with a view of the train tracks and the city skyline (pack your own meal, or grab takeout from any one of the vendors in the nearby Morgan Street Food Hall). If you head inside to explore the station don’t forget to grab a coffee or pastry from Pigtrain Coffee while you’re marveling at the beautiful architecture of the building. And who knows? Maybe you’ll even buy a ticket and head to Durham for the afternoon.
510 W Martin Street, Raleigh, NC 27601
Drive through the stone gate and deep into Oakwood Cemetery to find open fields and wooded areas to picnic. The historic cemetery is filled with magnificent magnolia and oak trees that will lend you some shade as well as pink star azaleas that are currently in bloom. Oakwood Cemetery and the surrounding neighborhood is incredibly peaceful, especially in the springtime, and is the perfect place for an afternoon stroll. Pick up food from nearby Side Street Restaurant or SmokeStacks Cafe to enjoy inside.
701 Oakwood Avenue, Raleigh, NC 27601
CAM, Raleigh’s contemporary art museum downtown, is transformed for different innovative, relevant, and boundary-stretching exhibitions throughout the year. A picnic in the outdoor space adjacent to the entrance to the museum (set up with a blanket on the gravel or perch on the side of the concrete flower bed) will allow you to appreciate the work of modern art that is the architecture of the museum itself and the energized feeling of the Warehouse District. There are plenty of restaurant options closeby, we recommend the Humble Pie. While you eat, look around for the murals of Disney princesses reimagined for modern times on various walls surrounding the museum.
409 W Martin Street, Raleigh, NC 27603
Lake Raleigh Recreation Area on Centennial Campus
Pick up hotdogs and hamburgers from Cloos’ Coney Island and then picnic and appreciate some time by the water at Lake Raleigh on Centennial Campus. Just a hop, skip, and a jump from the Hunt Library, park in the access just off Main Campus Drive in the early evening when the light is shimmering off the lake. There are picnic tables around the water and fishing piers with benches as well. Wander around the lake and through the woods on the walking trails and enjoy various other activities such as fishing, boating, and most unique to the space, like disc golf.
2300 Main Campus Drive, Raleigh, NC 27606
JC Raulston Arboretum
Pick up some lunch platters from Neomonde, fantastic Mediterranean food right around the corner, and then step into the ethereal JC Raulston Arboretum for your picnic. It recently reopened for weekday afternoons, and there is always something blooming year round and you could be left wandering and gazing at the endless species of trees, flowers, and various plants for hours. With shade provided by the trees of the arboretum as well open areas to soak up the sun, this is a great option for the summer months. The kids (and adults!) will leave feeling they have been somewhere truly magical.
3415 Beryl Road, Raleigh, NC 27607
The Gregg Museum, a museum widely known for having the largest collection of North Carolina craft, folk, and art objects, is located in the old NC State Chancellor’s Residence right near the Bell Tower on Hillsborough Street. There is a large green lawn in front of the museum perfect for picnics, and the outdoor space behind the museum is beautifully landscaped with winding pathways, fountains, and a grassy area. There are a variety of different nearby food options for your meal or afternoon snack. Feeling a protein shake or juice? Blend Raleigh is right across the street. Coffee and a pastry? Jubala Coffee is just on the other side of the roundabout. Full on lunch spread? David’s Dumplings, offering takeout, is on the corner of Hillsborough and Oberlin and has fantastic dumplings and fried rice. See here for the upcoming exhibitions at the Gregg Museum to coordinate your picnic to with an engaging visit to the museum.
1903 Hillsborough Street, Raleigh, NC 27607
Dorothea Dix Park
Dix Park, on the property of what was once Dorothea Dix Hospital, is the largest city park in the Triangle. Many first explored Dix Park during those long months last spring when any chance to get outside and safely spend time with friends was enthusiastically welcomed, others have been regular walkers, bikers, and picnickers at Dix for years. There are endless options throughout the park for a possible picnic spot, although a fan-favorite is the hilly area near the Flower Cottage as it offers a beautiful view of the downtown Raleigh skyline. The Pit, just a few minutes from Dix, has a menu perfect for a picnic—all things North Carolina barbeque and Southern comfort food. The seasonal sunflower field will be back this summer (blooming in July), perfect for post-picnic strolls in the early evening, and furry friends are always welcome for some time in the enclosed off-leash dog park. Consider the free guided walking tour that will take you 3.5 miles through the park; it’s great exercise and an opportunity to learn more about a Raleigh park so closely tied to the city’s history.
2105 Umstead Drive, Raleigh, NC 27603
Pack up some hotdogs and hamburgers and grill out at one of the picnic shelters at Falls Lake. Sola or Sassol aren’t bad options either! The shelters which include tables and outdoor grills operate on a first come, first serve basis but can be reserved for a fee. The 12,000 acre lake and 26,000 acres of woodlands will allow you to truly connect with nature while having some fun with family and friends. There are five swim beaches for blanket-picnicking if you want to cool off in the water and trails through the woods for walking or biking. Of the seven access areas scattered around the lake, Sandling Beach, Rolling View, and Beaver Dam offer restrooms in case you are planning for a full-day trip.
13304 Creedmoor Road, Wake Forest, NC 27587
Fred Fletcher Park
Grab some takeout from your favorite Village District restaurant, perhaps Tazza Kitchen or Tupelo Honey Cafe, and then head to Fred Fletcher to find your own private alcove of the landscaping to hideout for a picnic. There are beautiful flowers blooming this spring and the park is buzzing with life and activity. There are covered picnic tables for a larger group and the outdoor amphitheater is another great spot to plop down for a meal and to soak up the sun. Afterwards, there are swing sets for the kids (and adults alike!) to play on and even tennis courts if you bring a racket and are feeling up to it.
820 Clay Street, Raleigh, NC 27605
Historic Oak View County Park
With a beautiful white barn against the backdrop of green grass and blue skies, Historic Oak View County Park is the picture-perfect place for a morning breakfast picnic, pick up donuts from Krispy Kreme on the way! The 27 acre park is home to chickens and goats and has an air of yesteryear, connecting visitors to what farmlife was once like on the property. Oak View includes a dedicated picnic area as well as a Gazebo (first built in the 1910s!) and walking trails for visitors to explore. The grove of pecan trees is open to the public for picking in the fall and visitors are also welcome to fishing in the lake.
4028 Carya Drive, Raleigh, NC 27610
Lake Crabtree in Morrisville not only offers picnic facilities and playgrounds for children, but also canoe, kayak, and sailboat rentals in the summer. As you start heading that way down Wade Avenue, there are food options at Ridgewood Shopping Center to take with you: pizza from Whole Foods or sandwich bagel from Brugger’s. At Lake Crabtree, there is a sand beach to stretch a blanket out on and floating docks where you can throw a line in the water. Climb the steps of the tower for a look out at the entire lake and the surrounding woods (maybe even have lunch at the top!). After your meal and some time by the water, consider venturing into the walking and mountain biking trails.
1400 Aviation Parkway, Morrisville, NC 27560
Many are familiar with Lake Wheeler, south of Raleigh, for its fishing, canoeing, and sailing—but while the boat rentals are closed, consider this scenic spot for a picnic instead, with plenty of spots around the park with beautiful views of the lake. Just a few minutes from the State Farmer’s Market, don’t forget some fresh strawberries for your picnic spread (they are in season!) and set up at the end of the long docks stretching out into the water, any one of the benches along the shore, or rent a picnic shelter ahead of time for a larger group.
6404 Lake Wheeler Road, Raleigh, NC 27603
After a trip to a museum or art exhibit downtown, head to Moore Square for an impromptu picnic. The park, which reopened in 2019 after a major renovation, has a large green space perfect to spread out a blanket on, but also has a large patio with outdoor seating for the spontaneous visitor. No need to pack food ahead of time, just order from Square Burger located right in the park! They’ve got burgers, hotdogs, salads, milkshakes, and even adult beverages. There is a natural energy to the park as it feeds off all the activity that surrounds it and kids will be excited by the opportunity to run around in the sunshine in the heart of the city.
226 E Martin Street, Raleigh, NC 27601
Nash Square is a large public park downtown filled with green space interspersed with various perennials and oak and magnolia trees for shade. The pathways of the park which converge at the Carolina Fallen Firefighters Foundation Memorial, bronze statues to honor North Carolina firefighters lost in the line of duty, are lined with benches great to sit down to enjoy the atmosphere of the park while you eat. Nash Square is a breath of fresh air in the middle of one of the busiest areas of downtown–many spend their lunch hour here throughout the week during the warmer seasons, but it is also a great spot for a weekend picnic with food from a nearby restaurant such as A Place at the Table or Carroll’s Kitchen. 200 South McDowell Street, Raleigh, NC 27601
North Carolina Museum of Art
What might make the North Carolina Museum of Art most special is the Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park–164 acres of open fields and woods with permanent and temporary outdoor sculptures scattered throughout. It also just so happens to be the perfect place for a family picnic. Grab the kids and head to the NCMA for an afternoon in the sunshine, surrounded by art and nature. Pick up Lebanese from Neomande and set up at one of the outdoor tables or on a blanket in a grassy area or grab something to-go from the Exhibition Cafe now open on Level C of the East Building, now open for hot meals, salads, and more. Walk through Thomas Syre’s Gyre, rings of red North Carolina clay erupting from the earth, or spend a few minutes in the Cloud Chamber for the Trees and Sky, off a walking path just in the woods. As another picnic option, take the pedestrian bridge to Meredith College to picnic in the calm atmosphere on campus.
2110 Blue Ridge Road, Raleigh, NC 27607
While there are many exciting amusements at Pullen Park for people of all ages from the Carousel to the train to paddle boat rides, sometimes a peaceful picnic tucked in a less busy area of the park can be just as fulfilling. Pack your picnic basket with sandwiches made with bread from Boulted Bread and deli meat from the Butcher’s Market and have your picnic by the lake watching the ducks swim by. As an alternative to packing your own picnic lunch, Pullen Cafe’s menu has a wide variety of options from burgers and hotdogs, to quesadillas and tacos, to your staple sandwich options. Perhaps most importantly, they serve LocoPops!
520 Ashe Avenue, Raleigh, NC 27606
Walnut Creek Wetland Center
The Walnut Creek Wetland Center’s central goal is to help people understand the importance of the wetland to the greater ecosystem as well as the importance of connecting with nature. The center has various free activities, many catered to children, such as scavenger hunts and interactive displays as well binoculars, boots, and other outdoor materials that can be checked out. Bring some homemade sandwiches and picnic on the large porch of the center or bring your food with you to snack on while you venture into the walking trails. If you are up for some serious exploring wear some clothes you aren’t afraid to get dirty and take the opportunity to center yourself with nature. Read more about the story of the Wetland Center here.
950 Peterson Street, Raleigh, NC 27610
William B. Umstead State Park
William B. Umstead Park is the home of many nostalgic memories of cookouts, camping trips, and picnics for Raleigh natives. The state park includes 20 miles of trails for both seasoned hikers and casual walkers alike and is home to some of the most well preserved nature in the Triangle. Picnic shelters with tables and grills operate on a first-come first-served basis, but can also be rented ahead of time, perfect for a birthday celebrations or graduation picnics for members of the class of 2021 (consider ordering premade meals from Catering Works for occasions such as these). Apart from the dedicated shelters, there are also infinite possibilities of places to stretch out a blanket for a picnic throughout the park, from under a tree just off a trail to on a large rock by a stream.
2100 N Harrison Ave, Cary NC 27513 (Reedy Creek Entrance)
Yates Mill is the last operating of what was once over 70 water-powered grist mills (mills that grind corn and wheat into meal and flower) in Wake County and was restored in 1988 so that it could be a place that the community can now appreciate and enjoy. When visiting this unique and historic Raleigh location, the 104 acre property has multiple options for your picnic, covered dedicated picnic shelters, gardens, and even a boardwalk over the pond (where fishing is also allowed!). On the way home, don’t miss out on a stop at NC State’s Howling Cow Creamery for a cup, cone, or pint of ice cream made from milk and cream from their Raleigh farm! Tours of the old mill are currently put on hold due to covid, but hope to be back up and running soon.
4620 Lake Wheeler Road, Raleigh, NC 27603