Unraveling my smoked turkey bacon sandwich, dressed lightly with tomato jam and held together on a brioche bun, I marveled at finding an open picnic table. After all, the skies were soaked in deep, crystal blue and pecked with cottony clouds, which meant there was no threat of rain anytime soon.
Ohio was made for picnics. The wide variety of picnic spots prove it — whether your family looks for seclusion, something scenic, or both, our state has it all. While I don’t mind packing my picnic basket, I like to find a local eatery near my picnic spot. Serene scenery plus local eats equal a perfect afternoon as far as I’m concerned.
Squaw Rock, South Chagrin Reservation + Butcher’s Pantry in Solon
Butcher’s Pantry is my family’s go-to spot for loading up on picnic fixings. That’s where I discovered my personal favorite – the house-smoked turkey. My kids tend to order the brisket sandwich, peppered with pickled onion and a garlic barbecue sauce. All of the meat comes from local farmers and is butchered on site. While they do offer sides, including potato salad, one sandwich is filling enough even for my teenagers.
Just under 10 minutes away, we followed the Hawthorn Parkway, which curves its way through South Chagrin Reservation, offering picnic spots around every corner. We chose Squaw Rock, equipped with multiple picnic tables, a mini park and several trails to venture through once you finish your meal. Sometimes, we’ll wear our swimsuits and head to the natural pool that forms beneath the falls.
Cuyahoga Falls + Lemon Falls
At the corner of North Main Street and East Orange Street right past the center of Chagrin Falls proper, you can easily miss Lemon Falls if you are not watching for it. I like to use the street-side parking on Orange Street (so much easier than on Main) and walk to Lemon Falls.
Order the four cheese panini if you’re in the mood for something decadent, but familiar – the creamy combination of cheddar, provolone, fontina and gruyere cheeses pairs well with the acidity from the roasted tomato tucked inside. My kids prefer the parmesan chicken cutlet sandwich on a brioche bun. While we are always up for trying a different sandwich, dessert is non-negotiable. The well-named Everything Cookie includes nuts, coconut, chocolate chunks and several other mixins’ I can’t quite place. The cookies are big enough to split, but trust me you’ll want one all to yourself.
I have seen people make their way down the wood staircase to watch at the falls while they eat but I prefer taking my pick from the tables that line Riverside Park Path along Chagrin River. There are also a couple tables on the opposite side of the street nudged right into a garden, so you can eat among the flower beds.
Squire Castle, North Chagrin Reservation + Café Europa Bistro
While I’m doubtful I will ever have a chance to dine inside a castle, I can eat at a picnic table just outside of it in Squire’s Castle, part of the North Chagrin Reservation. Picnic tables lines both sides of the greenway that lead up to the castle.
On a recent Saturday, our family stopped by Café Europa Bistro in Willoughby before venturing to the castle. After all, it just seemed right to open up a spread of monte cristo and chevapchichi (Balkan sausages) sandwiches with desserts like cherry-infused black forest cake and crisp apple strudel.
Headlands Beach State Park + Ginger Sushi Burrito & Hibachi
With the longest stretch of sand in the state, Headlands Beach State Park is usually checkered with sun bathers on beach towels. On the pathway from the parking lot to the beach, look for picnic tables available all around. Take your pick from spots in the sun or under the trees.
We stopped by Ginger Sushi Burrito & Hibachi in Mentor on our way. My teenagers created their own rolls with crab and avocado wrapped in seaweed and served with tangy dipping sauce, while I ordered the chicken hibachi. The generous portions are enough for two. We ate our picnic then walked along the long beach in search of sea glass.
Maumee Bay State Park + Water’s Edge Restaurant
A short drive east of Toledo, Maumee Bay State Park includes a mix of meadow trails, wetlands and beach that make it a fun place to explore with your family – and to have a picnic. You can pick up something to eat in Toledo, but I find it’s easier to grab sandwiches at the restaurant in the Maumee Bay Lodge and Conference Center for a quick, impromptu bite. Located inside the lodge, I recommend a Maumee Bay Patty Melt or the Maumee Bay Club. For something a little different the Citrus Seafood Salad, with shrimp mixed in a tangy-mayo sauce and then served on a croissant.
These are an abundance of picnic spots available throughout the state. While it’s easy to find a table, you can always pack a blanket and create your own.