Picnic Perfection

By Kerstin Kuhn

The English writer W. Somerset Maugham once wrote that “there are few things so pleasant as a picnic lunch.” And who would disagree? After all, what can beat the delightful simplicity of spreading a blanket and relaxing in nature with your favorite friends and a basket of food?

Indeed, the enjoyment of picnicking is a timeless tradition that has been celebrated for centuries, dating back from Medieval hunting feasts to Renaissance-era country banquets and Victorian garden parties. And although there doesn’t have to be anything complicated about a picnic, our favorite alfresco repast has certainly evolved into something quite sophisticated. Since Covid-19 reignited our love for outdoor dining, so popular have picnics become in recent years, there is now a whole industry dedicated to creating the perfect picnic for any occasion.

Photo by Brandi Crockett A picnic for two overlooking Lake Casitas.

From forests to mountain tops, riversides and sandy beaches and everything in between, luxury picnic companies across the Central Coast will set up in gorgeous locations to make your picnic dreams come true. Whether you’re looking for a romantic lunch for two or a birthday bash for 50, picnic parties come in all shapes and sizes and turn any gathering into a memorable outdoor experience.

And far beyond just laying down a blanket and serving up some chips and dips, professional picnic companies go to great lengths to elevate the humble picnic to new heights. Beautifully designed and fitted with low tables, exquisite décor and tableware, luxe tepees or umbrellas, and delectable spreads of fine foods, these high-end picnics are whimsical affairs that delight all the senses and create an ideal setting for your Instagram feed.

Feeling inspired? We’ve rounded up some of the best luxury picnic companies for your next outdoor celebration, whatever the occasion may be.

Ojai Picnic Moments – Ojai

Ojai Picnic Moments is the brainchild of sisters Lauren and Cassandra VanKeulen, who concocted their idea inspired by the beauty of the Ojai Valley. “We’ve always wanted to find a way to pair our love of Ojai’s scenic beauty with local talent to create an experience that’s both memorable and effortless, and Ojai Picnic Moments is just that,” explains Cassandra.

The duo makes the most of the area’s spectacular scenery, offering a selection of eight distinct locations for their picnics — ranging from public settings such as the Old Creek Ranch Winery to more exclusive spots like the Ojai Labyrinth or Rolling Oaks. “One of our favorites is Taft Gardens because there’s so much to explore,” enthuses Cassandra. “After enjoying their picnic, guests can wander freely around the botanical gardens, visit the Artist’s Cottage, or hike up to the lookout to take in the Topa Topa Mountains.”

Oiaj Wedding Fancy Free Photography Brandi Crockett

Ojai Picnic Moments offers the aptly titled Pink Moment Picnic package, named after Ojai’s famous sunsets. This accommodates up to 32 guests and includes handmade, low wooden picnic tables complete with stunning table settings, comfy pillows and rugs for seating, cozy throw blankets and umbrellas, as well as dried floral arrangements, LED candles, and a custom message board with a personalized note. “Our picnics last three hours and include setup and cleanup,” Cassandra says. “If our picnickers prefer a more customized affair, we can curate their picnic with add-ons such as fresh floral arrangements, celebration cakes, or photography.”

All picnics include a charcuterie grazing box with an assortment of cheeses, meats, nuts, fresh fruits, crackers, and spreads. This can also be substituted for a crudité option which comes with raw veggies and more fresh fruit. There’s also the option to supplement the grazing boxes with a heartier meal, and the VanKeulen sisters have partnered with local restaurants such as Ojai Rôtie, The Nest, or Marché Gourmet Deli. “We’ve also worked with several local chefs and caterers for clients who prefer a more tailored menu,” Cassandra adds.

Events are as diverse as the offerings and locations. “We have hosted almost every type of event you can think of from bachelorettes, birthdays, and baby showers, to corporate retreats and brand collaborations,” Cassandra says. “Some unique events we have been a part of were goat yoga for a Toyota company excursion, a beachfront rehearsal dinner at the Rosewood Miramar in Montecito, and styling for a Ninakuru photoshoot.”

A picnic for two starts at $400 and each additional guest is $30. “Pricing can range into the thousands just depending on the location choice and any enhancements that might be added on,” Cassandra concludes. In Ojai, the sky is the limit.

Learn more at ojaipicnicmoments.com

California Dreaming Picnic Company – Orcutt

Suzanne Ambrecht dreamed up the idea for her Central Coast based picnic company in 2021 when her son was graduating from high school. “We were still in the midst of the pandemic and people were still being very careful, so I was trying to come up with an idea to celebrate our graduate while still caring for others’ wellbeing,” she recalls. Inspired by her travels to Japan and Morocco, Ambrecht set up her elaborate graduation picnic and it was such a big hit that the idea for her California Dreaming Picnic Company was born.

Hosting groups from one up to 30 people, Ambrecht offers a variety of different packages for any occasion and budget. The Simple Pleasures package includes rugs, a low table complete with full table setting, blankets, games, and non-alcoholic drinks. It is perfect for an intimate picnic for two, allowing clients to bring their own food. Her packages go all the way up to the Jetsetter, which includes both food and drinks and a beautifully designed dining area, along with a comfortable teepee, cabana, or special umbrellas for photographs. Her packages range from $199 per person, to whatever it takes to meet her picknickers’ imaginations.

Photo courtesy California Dreaming A rhinestone cowgirl picnic on a Central Coast bluff.

“Our most booked events are bridal showers and bachelorette parties,” Ambrecht says. “We also love creating beautiful settings for proposals. We’ve had the privilege of helping to surprise future brides with unforgettable moments and coordinating with local photographers to capture those moments. We set up a surprise first date at the beginning of 2022 and a surprise engagement at the end of 2022 for one client. We’ve done anything from “just because” dates to 60th birthday parties, and we’re here for them all. We love seeing the smiles, the hands-over-mouth kind of reactions and the happy tears when our clients arrive and surprise their loved ones.”

Of course, no picnic is complete without the food, and California Dreaming works with a number of Central Coast charcuterie vendors to provide stunningly delicious gourmet boxes with locally sourced fruits, nuts, cheeses, meats, crackers, breads, and sweets like artisan chocolates. And the boxes can be gluten free, vegan, vegetarian, allergy friendly, all depending on clients’ needs and preferences.

In terms of locations, there’s no shortage of gorgeous Central Coast spots where Ambrecht and her team will set up their luxury picnics. From ocean views at Shell Beach, Pismo Beach, and Morro Bay, to bucolic bliss in places like Waller Park in Orcutt, or cozy backyards at homes or Air BnB properties, the California Dreaming Picnic Company will make all of your picnic dreams come true, and then some.

Learn more at californiadreamingpicnicco.com

Santa Barbara Picnic Company – Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara native Nicole Leza launched her luxury picnic company in the summer of 2018 because her favorite pastime was picnicking with friends. “I loved to elevate each picnic by using different blankets, or incorporating vintage glassware,” she recalls. “That’s when I realized I wanted to create a styled picnic service for locals and visitors to experience the beautiful parks and beaches around Santa Barbara in a new and fresh way.” Her business flourished during the pandemic, as people sought creative ways to experience the outdoors in small groups.

Making the most of beautiful Santa Barbara, Leza has selected a number of optimal picnic spots in and around the city, from the beaches to the Mission Rose Garden, each offering unique views and backdrops. “We love East Beach for its perfect sand, palm trees, and the fact that we can set up with a wide ocean backdrop and never have to worry about any tide issues,” she explains. “And the Mission Rose Garden offers the quintessential Santa Barbara experience with a backdrop of the Mission, the mountains, and full blooms of garden roses.”

Leza’s packages range from intimate dates to large group gatherings for up to 50 guests. Each package includes a styled picnic set up with a low table, umbrella, table settings, linens, and pillows, as well as floral arrangements that guests get to take home as a special souvenir. “Our picnics are personalized through each person’s color selections, style preferences, and occasion,” Leza adds. “Our couple’s picnic package begins at $575 for two and it’s from $3,500 upwards for picnics for up to 40 plus people.”

Photo by Jodee Debes A bridal shower luncheon at Miramar Beach, Montecito.

Leza has created picnics for events ranging from intimate dates to backyard house concerts and wedding ceremonies and everything in between. She says the most popular occasions vary throughout the year, but during springtime it’s mostly proposals, engagements, and bachelorette parties. “Anniversary picnics are always very popular, too, and farewell wedding brunches are becoming more popular each year,” she says.

While Santa Barbara Picnic Company focuses all its attention on its décor and settings, it doesn’t offer food or beverages. This gives clients the freedom to bring their own food or order from their favorite restaurant or caterer. “We also offer recommendations to our picnic clients, and these vary from those who specialize in grazing platters to private chefs and drop off caterers that supply sandwiches, salads, onsite taco bars, and any custom menu that a client might create for their event,” Leza adds. “Picnics are timeless, and I think people will always enjoy gathering outside and connecting over our food and drinks in a cozy setting.”

Learn more at santabarbarapicnicco.com