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The season for picnics south of Boston

Food cooked over a grill as people picniced at Houghton's Pond in Milton.

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Food cooked over a grill as people picniced at Houghton's Pond in Milton.

Equipped with a backpack, fruit, and a homemade sandwich, Lori Johnson likes to hike to the top of Great Blue Hill before settling in for her picnic.

“Blue Hills has the best views of Boston and the South Shore,” said Johnson, a Randolph resident. “And for some reason, food always tastes better when eaten outside.”

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Becky Finn agrees.

“Picnics are popular in part because food really does taste better outside,’’ said Finn, owner of Picnic Fashion in Chatham. “Beyond that, a picnic allows people to relax in an environment that is different from their everyday routine.”

Partly because of the recession, Finn said, picnics are becoming more popular, as “many families choose a staycation and enjoy outings closer to home.”

With the official start of summer on Friday, the picnicking season will be in full swing. South of Boston, the venues range from the summit of Great Blue Hill to the sands of Nantasket Beach. And if you prefer an active picnic, many locations offer opportunities to hike, bike, swim, and fish.

What about gear? For families, Finn recommends an insulated backpack, and a waterproof-backed blanket to keep people dry when picnicking on damp ground or wet sand. The availability of insulated totes and bags opens up a wide range of food options.

“There really are no limits to what people can bring to a picnic, including ice cream,” said Finn.

Not everyone packs a bag with food. Amy Ricketts said that for her family’s picnics at their hometown Hingham Bathing Beach, “We grab a salad from the Fruit Center [Marketplace], or on more indulgent days, takeout from the Lobster Pound!”

Finn encourages such creativity. “A picnic is an opportunity for you to express your personality,” she said. “It’s no longer just about hamburgers and potato salad, unless that’s your specialty. With some thoughtful planning, any event can become a picnic.”

Here are just a few of the popular picnic spots south of Boston.

Webb Memorial State Park, Weymouth: The park’s location on Hingham Bay offers scenic views of the Boston Harbor Islands and the Boston skyline. Visitors can walk a 1-mile loop designated a “heart-healthy trail” by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation.

“Sometimes I bring a turkey, avocado, and lettuce wrap and eat on a bench,” said Judy Rizzo of Weymouth.

Picnic tables, grills, and restrooms are available for public use. Groups may rent the pavilion from May through October. The park is open from sunrise to sunset; admittance is free and parking is available.

Houghton’s Pond, Milton: At Houghton’s Pond, part of the Blue Hills Reservation on the Canton-Milton line, you’ll find picnic areas, grills, swimming and hiking trails. During summer, the concession stand is open and restrooms are available. Groups of 25 or more require permits. Plenty of free parking is available, and the lot closes at 8 p.m.

Great Blue Hill, Canton/Milton: A moderate hike on the red trail from the Blue Hills Trailside Museum on Canton Avenue (Route 138) in Milton, or a more vigorous hike up the blue trail starting at the State Police barracks on Hillside Street, will get you to the top of Great Blue.

You’ll find picnic tables and shaded areas to enjoy a snack or lunch before your hike back down. The area is open from dawn to dusk.

“It’s an ambitious picnic,” said Cissy White of Weymouth, “but I like to pack a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, an apple, and water to eat after hiking around Blue Hills.”

Hale Reservation, Westwood: Hale is owned by a private, nonprofit educational operation that manages the 1,130-acre property and keeps it open to the public. In addition to a picnic, visitors may enjoy the playground, hiking, mountain biking, fishing (with a permit), and horseback riding. Trail maps and conditions are available online at www.halereservation.org.

A limited number of family beach memberships are available each summer. Large groups must call to rent beach or picnic space. Hale is open from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. (or dusk). Parking is available in designated lots.

World’s End, Hingham: Bring a small cooler, take a short walk, and enjoy a picnic on a bench overlooking Hull, the Boston Harbor Islands, and the Boston skyline. Trails are available for hiking, biking, and bird-watching.

Maintained by the Trustees of Reservations, World’s End is one of the few parks in the area with an entrance fee. The $6 charge is waived for children and Trustees of Reservations members. World’s End is open from 8 a.m. until dusk.

Nelson Memorial Park, Plymouth: This recently renovated park on Water Street in Plymouth includes a picnic area, playground, boat ramp, bike path, and concession stand.

“The views of Plymouth Harbor, Long Beach, and Saquish are absolutely gorgeous,” said town resident Mary Ellen Bavaro. The park is open from dawn until dusk. Restrooms and free parking are available.

Nantasket Beach, Hull: Pack a cooler or buy your food from nearby shops and vendors with a plentiful array of options, including pizza, seafood, burgers, salads, and kebabs. Picnic tables are located on the sidewalk, near the pavilion, and by the playground near the bathhouse.

During low tide you can spread a blanket and enjoy your picnic right on the beach. Open dawn to dusk, with a daily parking fee of $10 per vehicle between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Street parking is limited.

Duxbury Beach, Duxbury: The public beach area just over Powder Point Bridge offers parking for the daily rate of $15, with the lot open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Here you can bring your own picnic, or purchase food from the snack bar or at Blakeman’s, a full-service restaurant open from 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

Typically, owners of four-wheel-drive vehicles can purchase a seasonal permit allowing them to park right on the beach, which is leased to the town by the nonprofit Duxbury Beach Reservation organization. But until at least mid-July this year, access is being restricted in order to protect the nests of the endangered piping plover.

Restrooms and showers are available at the Duxbury Beach Park bathhouse.

Stacey Shipman can be contacted online at www.staceyshipman.com.
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