The word "picnic," fittingly derived from the French, evokes summer and leisure - and, most crucially, food. A beach picnic may just be the best kind of picnic, especially in L.A., where the options are plentiful. A picnic brings a level of festivity that is difficult to resist, whether on a date or just a day out with the family. Of course, if you can avoid the shopping, cooking and packing part of the equation, and go directly to purchasing a ready-made feast, all the merrier.
The American mainstay of sandwiches, potato salad and lemonade never goes out of fashion for a day in the sunshine and there are some classic options here - maybe a little more scrumptious than what you would come up with on your own. There are other, more offbeat choices to be had as well on this list, from the Mexican flavors of Cerveteca Boardwalk to the Eastern European finds at J & T European Market. Sometimes a picnic is the most fun when you scoop up delicacies, like unusual honeys and cheeses you have never heard of and just go for it.
Below are a list of places near or on the way to the beach, listed alphabetically. From Malibu down to Playa del Rey, with Santa Monica and Venice in between, find your ideal place to furbish your picnic fantasies. The little bit of sand that invariably creeps into your fruit salad gives just the right amount of authenticity to your experience.
8. Zelda's Corner Deli
Right off the Venice Boardwalk, Zelda's sandwiches come in a wide variety, both pressed and cold. The melts range from the lux ham and brie to a flavorful olive, feta and cucumber (with housemade tapenade). The panini are just as diverse: The turkey reuben comes topped with fontina cheese and cranberry sauerkraut, and the grilled cheese (cheddar) can be made with or without prociutto, an egg or tomato. Daily soup specials are fresh and diverse, with options such as Cajun red bean, and a large, fuschia jar of "farm house" pickled eggs decorates the counter. And do not forget Zelda's made-to-order doughnuts. A small bag holds a dozen and can be easily transported a few steps west for a bit of seashore bliss. 9 Westminster Ave., Venice; 310-314-6458.
7. Uplifter's Kitchen
Newly opened in June by Tara Amiel and Elizabet Spaulding, Uplifter's Kitchen gets its name from the Rustic Canyon social club founded in the early 20th century. The two owners share a commitment to seasonal ingredients and shop at the farmers market bi-weekly for vegetables. Those vegetables then multitask, filling sandwiches and quiches, making up salads and topping flat breads. The flat breads, including beet and beet greens drizzled with a balsamic reduction; and potato, onion, thyme and Comte, come directly from the kitchen behind the shop. Uplifter's also bakes bread, focaccia and sweets daily. The Stumptown coffee cake exudes strong coffee goodness - it may just be the coffee-est coffee cake ever - and the salty chocolate chip pecan cookies are gooey perfection. 2819 Ocean Park Blvd., Santa Monica; 310-664-8868.
6. Tehran Market
Tehran Market is one of those nondescript, small stores dotted around the city that you may not think to stop for. You should. Tehran Market specializes in Mediterranean, Persian and Middle Eastern foods, perfect for picnicking. The front glass case showcases olives and feta (Bulgarian and French) and behind the counter are numerous nuts and seeds, sold by the pound. Exotic drinks such as red grapefruit, sour cherry and guava can be found in the cold case and the back of the small shop showcases seasonal produce, including blueberries, figs and cherries. Other great components for an outdoor feast are stacks of lavash, jars of honey (Ari's peanut-walnut-hazelnut) and various Middle Eastern string cheeses. For your sweet tooth, head for the honey sohan (almond brittle) or, for an immediate fix, grab the Mashti Malone's ice cream in pistachio saffron or creamy rose. On Sundays Tehran Market serves grilled kebabs in a variety of meats, from salmon and chicken to kidney and heart. 1417 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica; 310-393-6719.
5. Malibu Kitchen & Gourmet Country Mart
Good value and Malibu don't generally overlap on a Venn diagram but Malibu Kitchen & Gourmet Country Mart is the exception to the rule. The meatloaf sandwich ($8.95) and the BBQ pulled pork sandwich ($9.50) are large enough to split. Both come with cole slaw on top and a choice of bread - go for the rustic roll. The sandwiches are juicy enough to rely heavily on the crisp white paper they come wrapped up in, and some extra napkins besides. The cozy take-out café gives great picnic with a lavish dessert counter, a wide variety of cold salads and sundry other delectables, like Dr. Brown's cream soda and salt and vinegar potato chips. 3900 Cross Creek Rd. Malibu; 310-456-7845.
4. The Larder at Tavern
For those who like their picnics on the posh side, the Larder at Tavern will do a whole basket up for you, bursting with goodies. From sandwiches to charcuterie platters, there's a lot to choose from no matter who you are trying to impress. The Young Frenchman includes a choice of either a prosciutto and radish sandwich or a soft cheese, apple and watercress sandwich. The accoutrements include a beet and horseradish salad, sweet potato chips and a choice of either oatmeal or chocolate chip cookies. You can also customize your selections to suit yourself. 11648 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood; 310-806-6460.
3. J & T European Gourmet Food
Just how authentic is J & T European Gourmet Food in Santa Monica? For one thing, the first three customers in line in front of us conversed solely in Polish. The second thing is the twenty-five varieties of sausage and fifteen kinds of mustard awaiting you. Combined with cheeses, like smoked gouda and ramzes, and fresh loaves of bread, this Polish deli has all the fixings for a delicious picnic. There are daily meat specials (meatloaf, baked tenderloin with pepper or paprika or smoked pork shank) to choose from. And don't miss the fresh strudels, available in poppy seed, apple or walnut, to satisfy your sweet tooth. 1128 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica; 310-394-7227.
Tucked into the Brentwood Country Mart, Farmshop is an airy, stylish restaurant and market. The possibilities seem infinite, especially if you appreciate all that's available from the craft food movement. Assemble yourself a moveable feast with mix and match items of charcuterie, lemon marmalade, Point Reyes blue cheese, apricots and Dandelion chocolates. Or order something from the cafe, maybe a Dungeness crab cake sandwich with fennel and tarragon remoulade. Farmshop also bakes loads of desserts (butterscotch chip brownies) and you can buy beer and wine. 225 26th St. Ste. 25, Santa Monica; 310-566-2400.
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1. Del Rey Deli Co.
Slightly off the beaten path, Playa del Rey feels like a secret. And Del Rey Deli serves up sandwiches that make you feel like an insider too: large, yummy and inexpensive. They make both hot and cold versions and there are many delicious choices but the Cubano is the most spectacular. Brimming with ham, roasted pork and melted Swiss cheese, this sandwich will fill you up and leave you ready for a cozy nap on the beach. Del Rey also offers salads, like the lemony kale Caesar and the spinach with gorgonzola and shallot vinaigrette, if you're looking for something on the lighter side. The deli also serve up daily specials, such as a seasonal arugula, fig, blue cheese and fingerling potato salad, and a variety of sides, including roasted cauliflower with cilantro and chili sauce. 8501 Pershing Drive, Ste. #3, Playa del Rey; 310-439-2256.