Picnics make for a simple yet fun family outing, with the potential to create lasting memories. And with so many beautiful, culturally enriched parks in each of the five boroughs, there are plenty of options when it comes to planning an al fresco family meal in NYC. Some of these spots are hidden gems while others are more well-known, yet all of them provide a taste of nature, lots of space to run around and have fun, and the opportunity to enjoy a meal together in a peaceful setting.
Central Park – Arthur Ross Pinetum
Picnic tables, swing sets, and plenty of space to run around and play ball are just some of the reasons my family chose to celebrate my daughter’s 3rd birthday together at the Pinetum this summer. The way the tables are spread out also makes this Upper West Side spot ideal, since each group of picnickers has plenty of their own space. There’s also a nearby circular path where the birthday girl spent a lot of time happily testing out her new scooter alongside other kids on their own sets of wheels.
Carl Schurz Park – The Lawn between Gracie Mansion and the East River
Some of the best moments of my childhood were spent picnicking at Carl Schurz. The park has changed somewhat over the years, but the lawn between Gracie Mansion and the East River still remains a great spot for a picnic because it’s not only peaceful, but you’re also surrounded by both beauty and city history. When you’re done eating, there’s plenty to do—the kids can run around a bit, watch boats along the East River, bike ride on the boardwalk right next to it, visit one of the dog runs, or enjoy the park’s large playground.
Fort Tryon Park – Cafe Lawn or Billings Lawn
It’s a long way to the top, but once you’ve made it, reward yourself with a picnic at Fort Tryon—situated at one of the highest points in Manhattan. Set up a blanket just inside the park on the Cafe Lawn for a view of the city, or go a bit west to the Billings Lawn and Billings Terrace, where you can look across the Hudson River to the Palisades. At the northern end of the park, you’ll find The Cloisters, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection of medieval art, including the Unicorn Tapestries. Even the buildings, some of which were shipped over from Europe and re-assembled brick-by-brick are worth checking out.
Owl’s Head Park – The Southern Slope
If you’re looking for a quiet place to set out a blanket on the grass, the slope directly southwest of the newly renovated terrace gives you that as well as a clear view of Staten Island and New Jersey. Plus, the terrace itself is perfect for a peaceful stroll—just be sure to check if there’s a cultural event scheduled that day. For a more lively, communal atmosphere, try the field in the middle of the park near the playground, surrounded by other large playing fields and a skate park.
Sunset Park – Grassy Slope just West of the Playground
Sunset Park is best known for its public pool, but as one of the highest points in Brooklyn, it also boasts spectacular views of Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, Staten Island, and even New Jersey. With large open fields, a playground, and an ice cream truck often parked at the entrance, it’s certainly a great place for kids. As you may have guessed from its name, the park is also a wonderful spot to watch the sun set. But before the day is over, take some time to visit the living memorial to September 11th, which contains a garden surrounded by a grove of 70 trees planted in 2002.
New York Botanical Garden – Picnic area adjacent to the Everett Children’s Garden
Conveniently located right next to the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden, the picnic area is complete with tables and a roofed section in case of rain. Before you choose a date, you may want to check the calendar for special exhibits, though the interactive children’s garden always provides young visitors the opportunity to run through mazes and learn about plants from age-appropriate displays. If you’re looking to spend more time in a natural setting, take a stroll through the 50 acres of original old-growth forest that forms the core of the Botanical Garden to see what the first European settlers would have found when they arrived in New York.
Orchard Beach at Pelham Bay Park – Section 12
Though the park has grill-equipped picnic sites on the north and south lawns, there is still something special about spreading out a blanket and picnicking right on the sand, where kids can dig and build sandcastles while you set up. Children will love Section 12 in particular, as the Orchard Beach Playground offers play equipment right on the beach. But you may also want to take them to the larger Pelican Bay Playground on the other side of the boardwalk in Section 6-7, which has cool sprinklers for hot summer days. One note of caution: As the only public beach in the Bronx, Orchard Beach tends to get crowded on summer weekends, so aim for an early start.
Alley Pond Park – Picnic Area off 76th Avenue
Right next to the parking lot on 76th Avenue is a popular picnic area where you’ll need to bring your own blanket or table. On the plus side, you’re allowed to fire up the grill. Plus, there is a playground right across the field and a separate fun yet challenging ropes course.
Cunningham Park – Picnic Area off Union Turnpike
Starting from Union Turnpike, you’ll find a picnic area just on the other side of the tennis courts from the parking lot. Enjoy a leisurely meal, then once you’re done, start exploring with the kids! From red oaks to flowering dogwoods to sweet gums, there are plenty of different trees to learn about, not to mention the smaller plants that grow underneath, including various kinds of seasonal flowers. If you’re looking for other recreational activities, try the Vanderbilt Motor Parkway, which, despite its name, has been a bike trail since 1938.
West end of Clove Lakes Park – Near Dog Run
Clove Lakes offers a picnic area at the west end of the park as well as a barbecue area near Clove Road and Victory Boulevard. If your little ones love animals, be prepared to make a stop at the dog run right next to the picnic area first. After everyone is finished eating, consider heading to the Lake Club, where you can rent paddle boats for a trip around the picturesque lake. While you’re at the park, be sure to check out the largest living thing on the island: a tulip tree that is more than 350 years old.
Greenbelt – Moses Mountain
At 200 feet, Moses Mountain provides a unique place to picnic while enjoying a breathtaking 260-degree view of the series of connected parks that make up the Greenbelt of Staten Island. Moses Mountain isn’t even a natural peak; it’s a pile of boulders and other rock from the unfinished construction of a highway. Now, many New Yorkers regularly enjoy the extensive network of hiking trails throughout the preserve.