BEST PICNIC SPOTS:
Open-air dining enthusiasts can grab a seat on a bench along the East River between the Robert F. Kennedy and Hell Gate Bridges, or nab a more panoramic vantage point on the central Great Lawn. (You’ll also find a few nice brown-bag–worthy patches alongside the Hell Gate—but be warned that they suffer slightly from the noise of train traffic overhead.) For a break from boring PB&J, get a taste of the nabe’s history as a Greek-immigrant enclave by ordering takeout from Agnanti. The Mediterranean restaurant has a patio overlooking the park, but appetizers like tyrokafteri (spicy cheese plate) and the Agnanti Wrap (a pastry filled with creamy cheese and bacon) will taste even better on a blanket.
People seeking a waterfront eat-and-nap shouldn’t overlook this beautiful space on Staten Island. And pit masters, take note: The shoreline BBQ area (near the southeast corner of the lake) doesn’t require permits for parties of four or fewer. Nongrillers ought to venture to the daffodil-surrounded middle lawn by the field house or relax under a cherry tree by one of the walkways. Get a caffeine fix before hitting the green at Beans and Leaves Coffee and Tea Cafe. Locals swear by their brews, fresh bread, pastries and baked goods.
This seven-acre expanse (and hipster Eden) sits flush against the river, offering stunning—and previously fenced-off—views of Manhattan’s skyline. Aside from the barbecue platform and children’s playground, it’s a mostly wide-open lawn dotted with picnic tables, making it a perfect locale to set up blankets and chow down on burritos (or bagels or banh mi) from nearby eateries like Rosarito Fish Shack, Bagelsmith and A+ Lollipop. On Saturdays, the epicurean mecca Smorgasburg brings hundreds of food vendors to the park, but beware: you won’t find much room to spread out with your delicious artisanal popsicles or Asia Dogs.
Created when John D. Rockefeller purchased several large estates and donated their land to the city in the early 20th century, this Inwood public park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr, son of the famed Central Park architect. With sweeping views of the Hudson River, lush greenery and its position as the highest point in Manhattan, it may just be the most beautiful 67 acres on the island. And because it’s more than a hundred blocks north of midtown, few tourists know about it. Feel like you’re in another world (and time) with a spot looking at the Cloisters, a re-created medieval monastery that holds 5,000 pieces of art from the Met Museum’s collection. Nestled within this pastoral oasis is the New Leaf Restaurant and Bar, a eatery housed in a restored stone building from the 1930s with a rustic atmosphere that serves lunch, dinner and weekend brunch.
Though not as scenic as some other picnic spots, this park in the Flatiron District is the perfect place for an afternoon break from the office. Take a late lunch on the lawn near one of the temporary public art displays or escape the summer heat in the shade of the trees. Bonus: With the free Wi-Fi, you can answer pressing email without your boss knowing that you’ve stepped out. This public space was a highly desirable address when it opened in 1847 and is now a verdant oasis. It hosts art installations, food festivals and a popular series of summer concerts. The park is also home to Shake Shack, a summer favorite (as evidenced by the shockingly long lines) for burgers, fries and, of course, shakes.
Brooklyn’s big oasis of greenery boasts some of the city’s finest shaded knolls. You can’t beat the finely manicured and tree-encircled Long Meadow, which never seems to run out of available slopes. (The Prospect Park Bandshell is a short stroll away should you want to catch a Celebrate Brooklyn! show after your meal.) Looking for a last-minute snack? On various Sundays through October (11am–5pm), stop by Grand Army Plaza’s Food Truck Rally, where you can pick up seafood from Red Hook Lobster Pound or Philly cheesesteaks from Carl’s Steaks.
You can approach a leisurely lunch at this massive (and more than 60 percent wooded) north Bronx site in one of two ways. You can vie for table and lawn space at the Allen Shandler Recreation Area, which is easy to access via public transportation and close to grills, baseball fields and playgrounds. Or if you’re craving a more off-the-beaten-path experience, disappear into the Northwest Forest’s 188 acres of massive oaks and wildflowers—or, just west of there, Croton Woods, a 158-acre area with gentle streams, plenty of quietude, and hummingbirds and red-tailed hawks. Just don’t let the birds snatch your sandwich. After all that hiking, reward yourself with a cold one at the nearby Bronx Alehouse, which has 16 beers on tap and 30 bottles to choose from.
Once the lush and gorgeous lawn at this Midtown park opens for the season (usually the first week of May), this green space becomes the perfect warm-weather hangout. Why? Because Bryant Park offers a vast list of outdoor programming: Visitors can take a Tai Chi class, learn about Beekeeping, practice fencing and have a picnic, of course! On Fridays, the park is making it even easier for you to dine in the open-air by providing free blankets and lawn games as well as food and drinks for purchase. While you gorge on tasty grub, be entertained by live theater, dance or music performances scheduled through September 1.