Dear Glutton: How to Step Up Your Picnic

Going beyond the typical bag of chips and cooler of beers

Picnic fixin's from Wheatsville Co-op (Photo by John Anderson)

Dear Glutton,

My friends and I hike the Greenbelt almost every weekend, but our typical bag of chips and cooler of beers routine is getting old. Help us step up our picnic game!

– Hungry Hungry Hiker

Dear Hiker,

In my experience, the only thing Austinites take more seriously than our outdoor time is snack time. And there are few things better than finding an activity that combines both. Fortunately for you, in a city that's rife with urban parks, there are many places where you can grab an excellent picnic on your way to swim. If I were you, I'd step up my Greenbelt game by focusing each excursion on its potential culinary accompaniments. Also fortunately for you, I am an expert excursion planner; I don't like to brag, but in high school I was the founder and president of the picnic club (to date, probably my proudest accomplishment).

For your first outing, I'd start with a trip to the Twin Falls access point of the Greenbelt, which this early in the summer should still be running high. Just off the MoPac Expressway, this hidden trail has no right to be as bucolic as it is. And yet, about 100 feet into your hike, the sound of traffic will fade and vanish, drowned out by the sound of rushing water from the titular falls, where you can swim, sunbathe, and, if you're a jerk, blast trance music as loud as possible from your portable speaker. Just 10 minutes outside of Downtown, it's the ideal place to kick off your urban(ish) picnic adventures!

Since it's summer, and you'll be sweating buckets by noon, you'll want to get an early start. Reward yourself for getting out of bed with a couple of the legendary conchas from Casa Maria, dense and rich with butter and eggs, their tops crackling with a sugar glaze. I'm particularly fond of the pink-topped variety, which look as festive as they taste. Your next stop should be Radio Coffee & Beer, for a rocket-fuel strength cold brew or, if you're avoiding caffeine this month, some house-made kombucha on tap. If you're as greedy as I am, you'll also want to pick up a couple of tacos from the Veracruz All Natural taco truck parked out back. You really can't go wrong, but I find that their potato & chorizo taco has the perfect amount of spice, and their migas taco is consistently crispy, laced with caramelized onions and tomatoes. Grab a couple of packs of salsa for the road, too.

By now, it's probably close to noon, and you're ready to start hiking. Make your way down the road to Wheatsville Co-op, where you can pack yourself a supplementary picnic of locally made hummus, nice cheese, a baguette, maybe some veggies or grapes. You're in this for the long haul, and excessive provisioning is the secret to picnic success. Throw everything in your backpack with some cold drinks from the cooler, and start hiking. Twin Falls is ridiculously popular on the weekends, but the crowds of boombox-toting frat boys and hordes of children that populate the lower pools rarely make it more than a mile up; persist in your hiking and you will be rewarded with relative solitude, although a few curious dogs may still wander through your picnic.

And after you're tired of the outdoors, you can gather your crew and make your way to the delightfully old-school Casino South Side Lounge, where you can eat peanuts, shoot pool, and listen to selections from their fantastic jukebox while nursing a gin & tonic or two. It's the perfect way to unwind after a long day in the sun.

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