As the sultry, sticky summer days settle in with a vengeance, it might seem all too easy to meet your hunger and entertainment needs by hanging out on the couch in the air-conditioned comfort of your home and ordering pizza — nobody wants to be chained to a hot stove in this weather.
But certainly we can get out, explore and, even if we don’t feel like cooking for ourselves, be a bit more creative with the eats. It’s time to go on a picnic. Whether you’re a family looking for recreation or a couple looking to relax and unwind, the Tristate is filled with plenty of beautiful places to throw down a blanket and spend a few hours in the great outdoors. Here are some favorites to suit whatever mood you’re in.
Doggie Day in Amberley Village
When your canine companion is scratching at the door to get out for the day, ditch the dog park and head to French Park (3012 Section Road, Amberley Village, cincinnatiparks.com) for exploration and exercise.
Tell me more: With 275 acres of woods, meadows, trails and creeks, the centrally located French Park is the perfect place to picnic with your pooch. The park is the former estate of Herbert Greer French, the Cincinnati Art Museum’s first print curator and a former vice president of Procter & Gamble. The property was willed to the city in 1943 upon French’s passing, and it is the second-largest property belonging to the Cincinnati Park Board after Mount Airy Forest. The crowning jewel of the park is the two-story French House, which can be reserved for private events.
What to eat: Picnics traditionally call for sandwiches, so before you go to the park, Rascals’ NY Deli (9525 Kenwood Road, Blue Ash, 513-429-4567, rascalsdeli.com; Editor's Note: Rascals is now closed) is the place to grab lunch. While Rascals’ is best known for its Reuben, the take-out menu is full of traditional East Coast deli favorites including corned beef, pastrami and brisket. Don’t forget the requisite potato pancake on the side, and if there’s a chill in the air, try Rascals’ matzo ball soup. For vegetarians, there’s a black bean burger and assorted salads. Dessert offerings include rugelach (a rolled pastry similar to a strudel), cheesecake or New York-style black-and-white cookies.
Make sure you: Look closely while exploring the creek bed at the park. “My son Caleb and I love to go down in the creek and look for fossils,” says Happy Chicks Bakery owner and Amberley Village native Jana Douglass. “I spent a huge part of my childhood there having picnics and looking under rocks for salamanders, crawfish and water striders.” Leave a little room for a foraged snack. Douglass notes that there are wild raspberry bushes in the woods at French Park.
On the way home, stop at Everybody’s Records (6101 Montgomery Road, Pleasant Ridge, 513-531-4500, everybodysrecords.com). When Everybody’s opened its doors in 1978, vinyl records and cassette tapes were bought and sold for cash or trade. The store has since expanded to a huge collection encompassing every genre of music and is a great source for imported labels as well as used collections.
Bonus: Before you head to the park hit up the Ohio-based chain Moochie & Co. in The Kenwood Towne Center (7875 Montgomery Road, Kenwood, 614-526-3145, moochieandco.com; Editor's Note: Moochie & Co. is now closed). Moochie has a huge selection of things to catch and fetch. Some of our favorites include the Zisc Disc, the Orbee-Tuff Zoom Flyer, the Bionic Toss-N-Tug and the Orbee-Tuff Football. When your furry friend is good and tired, hand him a piece of Earth Animal Chicken Jerky-Fresh so you can relax and enjoy your lunch without interruption.
Cultured Kids in Hamilton
Let your young ones run free and infuse them with a healthy dose of culture at the same time at Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park and Museum (1763 Hamilton Cleves Road, Hamilton, 513-868-1234, pyramidhill.org).
Tell me more: Pyramid Hill is an outdoor museum featuring more than 70 sculptures from the 1960s to the present, set on 335 acres of woodlands, meadows, lakes and gardens. Once the home of businessman Harry T. Wilks, Pyramid Hill was opened to the public in 1997 to provide a place for art to exist in a natural environment. In addition to the art, the park features three separate one-mile hiking trails, acres of open fields and manicured gardens. While no climbing is allowed on the sculptures, you are most welcome to relax, explore and touch.
“The different materials give a very tactile experience,” says Shaun Higgins, Pyramid Hill’s interim park director. Two examples he points out are the 22-foot-tall “Shhh,” by artist Chakaia Booker, made of cut-up steel-belted radial tires and stainless steel, and “The Cube,” by artist Tony Rosenthal, which children and adults are welcome to spin.
What to eat: Before you venture out, open up a world map and involve everyone in a bit of the planning. Have each member of the clan pick a foreign country and head to Jungle Jim’s (5440 Dixie Highway, Fairfield, junglejims.com) to load up your picnic basket with global goodies. With more than 200,000-square-feet of American and international foods, wines and spirits, Jungle Jim’s is undeniably worthy of a full day of exploring on its own (but save that for another time). Today, you’re here for your lunch fixing and nothing else. Grab an authentic French baguette, a selection of meats and cheeses, olives and a bottle of wine. Introduce the kids to unique items perfect for traveling, such as unusual, tiny varieties of bananas from Central America; labneh, a fresh cheese from the Middle East similar in consistency to Greek yogurt; and all of the fresh sweets available in the Indian section.
Make Sure You: Take advantage of Pyramid Hill’s “Summer Series for Kids.” Every Wednesday at noon the park presents a different program specifically aimed toward children. Find the most unusual spot you can in Pyramid Hill to throw down your blanket. Our favorites: underneath artist Voss Finn’s super cool, futuristic “Dragonfly Dome,” or among the branches of Thin Air Studio’s all-natural sculpture formed from river wood collected from the area. Rent an “Art Cart,” if you’re not inclined to walk. Pyramid Hill offers golf carts to tool about the grounds. They’re available for $20 for the first hour, $15 each additional hour.
Bonus: If the kids haven’t passed out and you’re still hungry at the end of the day, stop at Flub’s Dari Ette (981 Eaton Ave., 513-896-6696) on the way home. A Butler County staple for more than 40 years, Flubs is best known for its fresh sherbets, cyclones and blizzards.
Urban Greenspace in Clifton
If big city living has you clamoring for a little bit of green underfoot, look no further than Clifton’s Burnet Woods (3251 Brookline Ave., Clifton, cincinnatiparks.com/burnet-woods).
Tell me more: This almost 90-acre urban park is a small yet perfect spot for city-dwelling nature-lovers, with a large lake surrounded by a walking path, hiking trails and plenty of greenspace. Bring along your fishing gear; there’s no need to acquire a permit for angling at the lake. Just keep in mind the daily four-fish bag limit, and you’re free to have a go at the stock of largemouth bass, channel catfish and bluegills. Picnic tables, swing sets, grills and a covered shelter are located in a clearing near the Brookline Drive entrance.
What to eat: Scheduled to open its doors this week, fill your picnic basket at the brand-new Gaslight District location of Clifton Natural Foods. Doomed to a wrecking ball after 30 years, the original West McMillan location of this neighborhood grocery store owned by Bob Craig and his wife Aline has found itself a new home on Ludlow Avenue. “We’re delighted to be able to bring a full-service grocery store to the neighborhood,” Bob says. He is quick to suggest that the perfect picnic lunch would consist of prepared vegetarian salads and sandwiches from chef Melissa Howard of East Walnut Hills’ Kitchen 452, GT’s Kombucha, Sabra hummus and pita and selections from the store’s organic cheeses. Choose from a wide selection of fresh fruit as well as dried fruits and nuts for a well-balanced meal. Happy Chicks Bakery’s (4035 Hamilton Ave., Northside, happychicksbakery.com) new brick-and-mortar location in Northside offers a wide selection of vegan treats, including cookies like chocolate pistachio cardamom and blueberry lavender thumbprints.
Make sure you: The Audubon Society named Burnet Woods an Important Birding Area, so pack a pair of binoculars and make a pit-stop at the Clifton Public Library for a copy of American Bird Conservancy’s field guide: All the Birds of North America. While on Ludlow, stop by Lentz & Company (339 Ludlow Ave., Clifton, 513-739-0193, facebook.com/lentzandcompany) for vintage serving ware — plates, trays and possibly a vintage picnic basket.
Bonus: Check out the Wolff Planetarium (513-751-3679) at the park’s Trailside Nature Center — it’s one of the best-kept secrets in the park system and the oldest planetarium west of the Allegheny Mountains. Its intimate dome plays host year-round for up to 20 stargazers. Reservations are required.
Covington with a View
If you desire nothing more than a leisurely meal while taking in a jaw-dropping view, look no further than Covington’s Devou Park (1233 Audubon Road, Covington, Ky., covingtonky.gov, devouparktrails.com, devouparkgolf.com).
Tell me more: Devou Park was established in 1910 when brothers William P. and Charles P. Devou donated 500 acres to Covington on the condition that it would be named after their parents. On the highest overlook of the park sits the 10,000-square-foot Drees Pavilion, built by the Drees Company in 2003 to celebrate its 75th year. Picnic tables behind the pavilion provide a panoramic view of downtown Cincinnati, the Ohio River and Northern Kentucky. If it’s possible to grow weary of the scenery, Devou also offers a wide range of activities on its sprawling 700-plus acres, including an 18-hole golf course, swimming pools, a water park, both hiking and bike trails, basketball courts, soccer fields, multiple playgrounds and the Behringer-Crawford Museum (1600 Montague Road, Covington, Ky., 859-491-4003, bcmuseum.org). Located in the 19th century Devou family home, the museum is a center for the collection, presentation, study and enjoyment of the natural, cultural and visual and performing arts heritage of the area. Permits are required for some of these activities, so make sure to check the park’s website before heading out.
What to eat: Plan your picnic on a Saturday to coincide with a visit to the Covington Farmers Market (9 a.m-1 p.m. Saturdays. Third Street and Pike Place. Covington, Ky., facebook.com/covingtonfarmersmarket).
Make sure you: Before you do anything else, grab a cup of coffee at Left Bank Coffeehouse (701 Greenup St., Covington, Ky., 859-431-4655, leftbankcoffeehouse.com). This charming neighborhood shop features Cincinnati’s own ethically sourced Deeper Roots Coffee, and it’s the perfect place to start your Covington adventure. Then stop by Roebling Point Books and Coffee (306 Greenup St., Covington, Ky., facebook.com/roeblingpointbooksandcoffee) for lunchtime reading material. Located at the foot of the Roebling Bridge, this independently owned bookstore focuses on niche books you won’t be able to find at the mega-monsters. Don’t miss the second floor, which houses a small publishing firm specializing in books on the outdoors. Stop at The Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar (629A, Main St., Covington, Ky., facebook.com/1OKBB) on the way home. Alcoholic beverages are not allowed in Devou Park, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying a bit of America’s native spirit during your day of ease, and OKBB offers hundreds to choose from.
Bonus: Walk off your lunch during a scenic stroll alongside the south side of the Ohio River. Covington’s spectacular Riverside Drive Historic District (covingtonky.gov) is located where the Ohio meets the Licking River. The entire district is on the National Register of Historic Places and is the location of many notable homes, including the Greek-revival style Grant House, once belonging to the parents of President Ulysses S. Grant. There are also seven bronze statues of historic figures placed in life-like poses on riverside benches, so if you get tired you can rest your legs alongside John James Audubon or Daniel Carter Beard.