Southern California residents can enjoy the great outdoors during just about any month of the year, but July is a particularly special time to bask in the sun as it marks National Picnic Month.
South Bay resident and Bravo's “Top Chef” alum Brooke Williamson, a Season 10 finalist on the popular chef competition show, said she can often be found picnicking this time of year beachside with her husband, Nick Roberts, and son Hudson, 6, when she and Roberts aren't manning their three restaurants.
“We like to hike as a family up in the Santa Monica Mountains or enjoy a day at the beach without having to clean up to go to dinner after,” the busy mom said, adding that Hudson especially loves picnics at LACMA during the summers.
“I love the flexibility in planning an entire outing based on where I'd like to spend my morning or afternoon, what my ideal meal would be, and then be able to eat whenever I feel like it. It's the best of three worlds,” she said.
And while Williamson — who owns with her husband Hudson House in Redondo Beach, The Tripel in Playa Del Rey and the recently opened Playa Provisions, also in Playa Del Rey — is an accomplished chef, she said it doesn't take a culinary master to pack a perfect picnic.
“Finger foods and items that don't need much on-site assembly are great, in my opinion,” Williamson said. “Think about foods that travel well and don't need too much execution once pulled out of a basket. For example, it is really difficult to slice a steak on a blanket on top of sand. If you've packed a steak salad, slice your steak ahead of time.”
And picnic meals don't have to be as elaborate as those made for dinner at home.
“I like to bring small bites of a little bit of everything,” Williamson said. “Depending on location and outside temperature, it's usually food that can be prepped ahead of time and boxed up with no fuss. A great bottle of cold rosé is the perfect way to keep your food chilled as well.”
She also emphasized that when it comes to salad, “always put the dressing on the side.”
“No one likes a wilted, over-dressed salad,” she said.
Even if it's a spur-of-the-moment kind of day, there are plenty of restaurants that pack picnics for you — Mendocino Farms has a classic picnic box lunch starting at $11.95 at locations in Sherman Oaks, downtown Los Angeles, Marina del Rey and West Hollywood, or purveyors like Ingallina's Box Lunch in Los Angeles offer free deliveries in L.A., Glendale, Burbank and Pasadena.
“The food is prepared fresh to order. We bake our bread, we roast our meats, we prepare our dressings and spreads, we bake our cookies,” said Giovanni Ruggeri, Ingallina's general manager. “For a perfect picnic, I will recommend the regular box lunch. ... People can pick the cookie of their choice and the box can even be customized, making it more of a memorable experience.”
For large box lunch orders of $100 or more, Ingallina's will deliver to Encino, Long Beach and Irvine, he added.
So with that, grab that picnic blanket and enjoy summer under the sun at these perfect spots in the greater Los Angeles area:AMIR'S GARDEN
Off Zoo Drive, past Water Tank No. 73 in Hollywood. amirsgarden.org
Featured on legendary TV host Huell Howser's show, Amir's Garden in Griffith Park is a picnic favorite because of its scenic views. Take a healthy hike to the area and find picnic tables at the entrance of the garden or find a spot on the many benches on the grounds.BROOKSIDE PARK
360 North Arroyo Blvd., Pasadena. www.ci.pasadena.ca.us
The largest park in Pasadena, Brookside Park is 62 acres of fun with a playground, a fitness trail and more. Bring a picnic and some outdoor games for this family-friendly spot.THE DESCANSO GARDENS
1418 Descanso Drive, La Cañada Flintridge. 818-949-4200; www.descansogardens.org
The beautifully manicured gardens of the Descanso Gardens provide a delightful escape from the bustling urban life of L.A. Internationally known for its botanical collections and horticultural displays, it is an oasis for picnickers seeking a lush landscape. General admission is $9, $6 for students and seniors 65 and older, and $4 for children age 5-12. Guild members and children under age 5 are free.EL DORADO EAST REGIONAL PARK
7550 E. Spring St., Long Beach. 562-570-3111, www.longbeach.gov.
This Long Beach park has just about everything for the outdoor lover, from fishing lakes, an archery range, barbecue grills and designated model aircraft and sailboat areas. There is even a food and beverage concession stand open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday during the summer in case you forget something in that picnic pack.
Vehicle entry fees are $5 Monday-Thursday, $6 Friday, $7 Saturday and Sunday or $8 on holidays (except Christmas Day, when the park is closed).DEANE DANA FRIENDSHIP PARK AND NATURE CENTER
1805 W. Ninth St., San Pedro. 310-519-6115, parks.lacounty.gov.
Enjoy views of San Pedro, Santa Catalina Island and the harbor at this 123-acre park. You might even catch a glimpse of the endangered Palos Verdes Blue butterfly that calls this park home.GRABER OLIVE HOUSE
315 E. Fourth St., Ontario. 800-996-5483; graberolives.com
Olive lovers will enjoy this historic spot, which is home to the famous Graber Olives grown and produced by the Graber family since 1894. In the middle of a quiet neighborhood is a sprawling greenbelt with big trees and picnic tables where visitors can eat a leisurely meal while taking in mountain views. A specialty shop is on site offering unique foods, food accessories, wine, gifts and, of course, Graber Olives. Tours are also available.GRAND PARK
227 N. Spring St., Los Angeles. grandparkla.org.
With a recent makeover, Grand Park is among favorite spots outside of the downtown bar scene as it hosts several outdoor concerts and public events during the weekend. The 12-acre park will host the highly-anticipated Made in America music festival presented by Jay Z during Labor Day weekend. In the meantime, however, grab a spot for a picnic in the heart of L.A.POINT VICENTE INTERPRETIVE CENTER
31501 Palos Verdes Drive West, Rancho Palos Verdes. 310-377-5370, www.palosverdes.com
Enjoy a meal while listening to the waves at this South Bay hot spot. While barbecues and fire pits are prohibited, picnic tables are available allowing picnickers a great view of the Point Vicente Lighthouse and the coast. It's also a great place for whale watching.
5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. 323-857-6000, www.lacma.org.LOS ANGELES COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART
Celebrity chef Brooke Williamson of Bravo TV's “Top Chef” loves heading to this cultural hub in L.A. Not only can visitors enjoy the public art on the museum's grounds — including the popular giant rock known as “Levitated Mass” — they can enjoy a picnic on its lush green lawns between the LACMA and the La Brea Tar Pits. Just be careful of the tar, which is known to still breach the surface outside of the designated tar pits viewing area.MEMORIAL PARK
840 N. Indian Hill Blvd., Claremont. www.ci.claremont.ca.us.
Memorial Park is just one of several Claremont parks perfect for picnicking in the Inland Valley. Spanning 7.2 acres, there's even a wading pool in case it gets too hot.WESTERN MUSEUM OF FLIGHT
3315 Airport Drive, Torrance. 310-326-9544, www.wmof.com
For those with children who love planes or even those who are just a kid at heart, the Western Museum of Flight is a fun spot to visit during the summer. Picnickers can even grab a seat right along the runway at this Torrance museum. For those interested in checking out the museum before or after that picnic meal, the museum is open 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and closed Mondays.
Reporters Diana Sholley and Wes Woods contributed to this story.
Follow Mariecar Mendoza on Twitter: @LANGMarMendoza