The ultimate guide to local picnics

From where to go to what to bring, celebrate all things local with a summer picnic.
plates spread out on a blanket with sandwiches
Photo by Chris Hynes
Professionals like Twisted Radish Catering (who helped make and style this spread) can bring everything needed for a picnic. Slide Gourmet Potato Chips and Forage Kombucha can be added as a side and drink. Additional supplies to round out the experience are picnic baskets and tableware (pictured above) from Little Pop Color Shop.

A-tisket, a-tasket, here’s your guide to packing the perfect basket. From where to go to what to bring, celebrate all things local with a summer picnic.

Pack It Real Good
Plan ahead with plenty of food and supplies for your local picnic.

The Main Course: The king of all picnic components is the sandwich. It’s easy, portable and can be customized in a million different ways. While you can pick up a local option (visit for a list of sandwich places) it can be fun to build it yourself. Both Alimentari and Stalzy’s Deli & Bakery are great spots to get all you need to craft a standout ’wich. Alimentari has Italian meats, oils, spreads and toppings, while Stalzy’s has a deli counter filled with pastrami, corned beef, lox and more — in addition to freshly baked bread. Either way, you can grab supplies, or you can leave it to the pros and opt for one of their specialty sammies.

Cheese, Please: No Wisconsin picnic would be complete without cheese. An easy, shareable choice is Potter’s Crackers paired with a Carr Valley Cheese spread, which comes in 16 flavors ranging from spicy beer cheese to Southern pimento. To make cheese a main attraction at your picnic, compose a cheeseboard using local wedges such as Landmark Creamery Provisions’ Pipit or Hook’s Cheese Co. Inc.’s sharp cheddar. Fromagination, Wisconsin Cheese Mart and Brennan’s Market act as one-stop shops for cheese and other accoutrements, like Underground Meats’ salami and Nutkrack’s candied pecans. Tricky Foods curates beautifully designed platters with all the necessary fruits, meat, cheeses and garnishes for a hassle-free option.

On the Side: The side options for a picnic are almost endless. Typically, there are starters and scoopables you can munch on at any time, and they work in harmony with your main dish. In the snack category are Slide Gourmet Potato Chips, which come in nine flavors. You could make a grazing board entirely of Slide chips! Banzo’s hummus and pita bread are easy to share, especially when accompanied by vegetables or other salty snacks. While you’re at Banzo, pick up a container of the couscous tabouli, a refreshing, light salad with lemon dressing and fresh parsley. Fraboni’s Italian Specialties and Delicatessen Inc. has a full menu of deli salads, including picnic staples like veggie rotini pasta salad and potato salad, but also more specialty options like dill crab salad and spicy marinated vegetables. Gotham Bagels’ chicken salad can be both a side and a topping for a sandwich. For the proverbial cherry on top, pick up some spicy chickpeas from Casetta Kitchen and Counter. They have a slight kick balanced by a crispy breadcrumb topping.

sandwiches and

Sandwiches from Twisted Radish Catering with Slide Chips on plates from Little Pop Color Shop. (Photo by Chris Hynes)

Summer Sips: When it comes to drinks, something in a can or a reusable container is your safest bet, as Madison Parks do not allow glass. Forage Kombucha (pictured left) comes in seven flavors, all of which are refreshing on a hot summer day. If ’booch isn’t your thing, Klarbrunn, headquartered in nearby Watertown, is one of the big sparkling water names that can be found at most grocery stores. One of Klarbrunn’s products is BUBBL’R, an antioxidant-rich sparkling water with natural caffeine. You could also stop at a local bubble tea or coffee shop for an iced beverage.

Treat Yourself: Cap off your picnic with something sweet. Known to some as the best chocolate chip cookie in Wisconsin, the ooey gooey offering from Yummee is a crowd-pleaser (and big enough to split). Summer also means fresh peaches, so consider making a fresh pie or crumble with sweet Chin Drippin’ Idaho Peaches from Brennan’s Market. For a twist on pie, Tart handmakes sweet galettes — French pastries also known as flat cakes — with seasonal fruits and pecan crust that are available through Pasture and Plenty, Vitruvian Farms and Meat People Butcher.

Beyond the Bare Necessities
Unless you snag a picnic table, your outing will also require a surface to lay out your spread. There are other nonedible items you’ll want to pack as well. Here are a few local spots to grab those additional essentials.

  • Pick up a blanket on Monroe Street. Hive of Madison has plenty of outdoor gear, and you can find useful items for a picnic. Across the street, Good Day Shop sells colorful, handmade picnic blankets with leather straps, so you can roll them up after you’re done.
  • If you’re not keen on grazing at ground level, Fontana Sports has multiple chair options, including a Kelty Loveseat, ideal for a picnic for two.
  • For a modern picnic basket, Little Pop Color Shop offers a Sun Jellies Betty Basket (pictured on page 17). Little Pop also sells a lot of bright, colorful party supplies, including cutlery, drinkware, plates and napkins. Don’t be afraid to lean into a picnic theme.
  • Pack the bug spray and sunscreen! The Soap Opera creates a natural bug repellent and a variety of sunscreens.

Hire a Professional
Twisted Radish sets up beautiful custom picnics.

spread from Twisted Radish

Courtesy of Twisted Radish Catering

Twisted Radish Catering takes picnics to a new level by creating experiences where all you have to do is show up. Beau Williams started the catering business in 2016 and later began offering luxury picnics that are constructed on-site.

“We do the setup; you basically just come and enjoy whatever it may be — the scenery, food, whatever — and then we come back later,” Williams says.

Typically, a Twisted Radish picnic involves a grazing table with cheeses, charcuterie, crackers, sweets, fruit and drinks. Williams built tables that are about 20 inches off the ground, so guests can sit around them while eating. He says they’ve hosted picnics in a variety of locations, for groups of all sizes. Many of them happen in backyards and parks, but he’s set up picnics at area venues like The Bur Oak, Farmin’ Betty’s and Barnwood Events. The largest picnic accommodated 50 people, but Twisted Radish has hosted intimate proposals and dates for couples as well.

Twisted Radish aims to take the planning stress out of hosting picnics — the company brings all the silverware, blankets and pillows, and if you host it in your backyard, they can bring a large bell tent along as well. The best part is that there’s no cleanup.

Q: Can I drink alcohol at Madison Parks?
The answer is a bit complicated, but for the most part, yes. Alcohol is permitted in almost all Madison Parks, but there are several restrictions. First, you can’t bring alcohol into any of the conservation parks. Some additional parks, such as James Madison Park and Tenney Park, don’t allow alcohol without prior approval such as an alcohol permit. Regardless of where you are, glass is not allowed, so if you choose to bring alcohol, bring cans, plastic bottles or other nonglass containers. For a full list of restrictions, click here.

A Quick Getaway
Spend a full day enjoying a picnic in a scenic place by getting tickets to an American Players Theatre show near Spring Green. It’s become a tradition to have a picnic on the 110-acre property before a play. While you can bring your own basket and supplies — they also have gas grills available — Hubbard Avenue Diner offers picnic dinners and baskets for groups of people visiting APT. Fat Jack’s Barbecue is also hosting special barbecue events on Aug. 21 and Sept. 4.

Spreads on the Square
Concerts on the Square gives Madisonians one of the best reasons to pack a picnic. The annual concert series offers an option for table service from Heritage Catering, but starting at 3 p.m., blankets begin popping up across the Capitol Lawn. Concertgoers can bring their own food and beverages, or stop at one of the 13 food vendors and two beverage tents. The last event is Aug. 3 if you want to squeeze in one more concert picnic this year.

Beautiful Views to Accompany an Outdoor Spread

  • B.B. Clarke Beach Park
  • Bernie’s Beach Park
  • Capitol Square
  • Garner Park
  • Goodland County Park
  • Hoyt Park
  • James Madison Park
  • Maple Bluff Beach Park
  • Marshall Park
  • Mendota County Park
  • Olbrich Park
  • Olin Park
  • Picnic Point
  • Tenney Park
  • Token Creek County Park
  • Vilas Park
  • Warner Park
  • William G. Lunney Lake Farm County Park
  • Wingra Park

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