As temperatures begin to fall, what better way to enjoy the cool weather than with an evening picnic? Free from pesky birds and harsh sunlight, nighttime picnics have a lot to offer. Bring music and games for entertainment or plan accordingly and enjoy a movie or live music at the park. Picnics offer perks that typical restaurant gatherings do not. They can be inexpensive, intimate, and allow for creativity. A key element to any successful picnic is the food.
Check out our picnic tips -- including where to pick up to-go food and what parks to enjoy it at -- after the jump...
Packing things up
If you're planning on packing a basket be simple.
We all know you're practically Chef Boyardee. No need to showcase your best dishes on a blanket at a park. (You're better than that.)
Our advice: Make the meal D.I.Y.
Pack meats, cheeses, bread and other sandwich toppings so dinner can be constructed at the park. Prepare small dishes like salads in advance. Make a vegetable tray with a variety of dipping sauces and don't forget fresh fruit. Many of these ingredients can be purchased at local farmers markets.
Don't want to be responsible for all of the eats? Turn your picnic into a potluck. It's easy. Tell your guests to, "bring some food" and let them panic over what is appropriate.
Our advice: Decide on hot or cold foods and stick to the plan. If you choose to work with cold foods, then enlist your guests to bring fresh fruit, salads, breads, chips or crackers with dip and other simple food items. If you decide to do hot foods, then encourage your friends to bring their specialty dish. Whether hot or cold, always make sure food is properly stored to prevent spoilage. Keep in mind: With every potluck comes at least one weird dish. Y'know, the one that has everyone pointing. All we're saying is, prepare for the worst.
Get it to go
If you don't want to pack your own basket or eat food brought by others, do takeout. Virtually every restaurant offers a takeout menu and if they don't, it's them, not you.
Our picks for restaurants and parks:
Coyote Basin Park, 2730 E. Beardsley Rd.
This park is special because it offers more than the traditional picnic area and playground. It is also one of the eight Phoenix parks where it is acceptable to fly radio control airplanes. Not that you'll be doing this during the evening, but it's still a luxury. For more information about the Coyote Basin Park, call 602-262-6696.
Humble Pie, 21050 N. Tatum Blvd.
We love this pizza, which started in Scottsdale and now has a north valley outpost. Plus, you can order takeout online. Awesome.
Freestone Park, 1045 E. Juniper Rd.
This 65-acre park is the park of all parks -- ramadas, lakes, playground equipment, basketball courts, sand volleyball pits and a miniature train. The park even hosts a concerts in the park (http://www.ci.gilbert.az.us/parks/concert.cfm) on the second Thursday of the month at the park's amphitheater. For more information, visit the park website.
Siam Orchid, 50 E. Guadalupe Rd.
Switch things up with some authentic Thai food. Siam Orchid offers a party menu that includes entrees large enough for groups to share. The restaurant is a few miles away from Freestone Park and is open till 8:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Civic Space Park, 424 N. Central Ave
This park is in the heart of Phoenix. The park has grassy areas, benches, public art structures, a splash pad and Fair Trade Café in the historic A.E. England Building. It's located within walking distance from a variety or restaurants, bars and coffee shops and the Arizona Center. For more information, visit the park website.
The Breadfruit Authentic Jamaican Grill, 108 E. Pierce St.
Three words: delicious Jamaican food. There's not much more to say. If you've never eaten at the restaurant, don't be afraid to ask the friendly staff about items on the menu. They can help you decide what you might enjoy the most.
Eastlake Park, 1540 E. Jefferson St.
Picnic Area? Check. Grills? Check. Restrooms? Check. This park includes too many amenities to name, so we know it would be a good place to enjoy a picnic with friends or family. To find out more about Eastlake Park, visit the park website.
La Tolteca, 1205 E. Van Buren St.
La Tolteca serves Mexican food just a hop and skip away from Eastlake Park. The restaurant is known for giving generous portions at a generous price. Who doesn't love that?
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Kiwanis Park, 12687 N. 78th Dr.
Not to be confused with Tempe's Kiwanis Park, this five-acre park is situated near 78th Drive and Sweetwater Avenue in Peoria. The park includes barbecue grills and lighted tennis courts. For more information, visit the park website.
Nick's Deli & Pizza, 7582 W. Cactus Rd.
This family-owned business is less than a mile away from the park. The owners hail from the East Coast and serve up pizza, wings, subs, pasta, salads and cannoli's. Place an order for takeout or have your food delivered. Free delivery is applicable for destinations within three miles of the restaurant.
Our advice: Don't forget utensils, napkins and hand sanitizer. If you do, ask the restaurant for plastic cutlery and napkins.
Remember: Be practical. Food may not stay as hot or cold as you would like. Bugs may be present near your picnic site. And some people are just allergic to grass. They can't help it. Enjoy the food, the weather and of course, your company.