Summer in Melbourne is a magical time: golden light, long days, gorgeous weather and the urge to spend every minute outside in the sunshine. Never is that truer than when it comes to food, because it is widely acknowledged that food cooked and eaten alfresco is at least 15 per cent more delicious than food cooked and eaten inside.
We are very fortunate in Melbourne to have hundreds of free municipal barbecues in our parks, gardens, beaches and other summertime hot spots. That means there are absolutely no excuses not to pack up a picnic, hit up the petrol station to fill your cooler with ice and drinks, and make the most of summer. Leave some room in that cooler for Lipton Ice Tea, ideal for sumertime refreshment... and don't forget your tongs!
Before you head off for an outback adventure, always check for closures and fire bans on the Parks Victoria website and check the air quality rating. Extreme weather conditions and catastrophic bushfires have led to the closures of many national parks in recent months.
Get your summer sizzle on here
It's no wonder St Kilda has one of the most popular beaches in Melbourne. The shore is home to all kinds of sport, whether you're a beach cricket, volleyball or frisbee enthusiast, and the water is safe for swimming and watersports. There are free barbecue facilities in Catani Gardens, which are a perfect (and popular!) spot to get your snag on. A beach in the sunshine, drink in one hand, sausage in the other – is there a better way to celebrate Melbourne summer?
This park is beloved by students of nearby La Trobe Uni, families in surrounding streets and anyone looking for a leafy oasis in Melbourne's northeast. There are picnic and barbecue areas located throughout the park, so all you have to do is pack your esky with drinks and food and park yourself and your mates around the barbie. There's also outdoor gym equipment if you feel like burning off some of those snags, and off-leash areas allow your best mate to enjoy the fun too. Other activities within the park include a heritage village, wildlife reserve, a rustic children’s farm and even a golf course.
Home to the Carlton Football Club, Princes Park has tennis courts, soccer fields and a stack of exercise stations dotted around a 3.2-kilometre long running track. That means you can challenge your mates before you fire up the barbecue. If you're not feeling sporty, you can certainly go straight to the good stuff, we won't tell. Battle your way past the social cricketers and Frisbee throwers to the public barbecues just south of Visy Park, and a short stroll from the public toilets at Princes Hill Tennis Courts. This Inner North oasis is the perfect spot to enjoy a casual barbecue and set up a game of badminton or croquet. That is our kind of party.
The only major park within the CBD, Flagstaff Gardens offers respite from the sun and summertime enjoyment for Melbourne's office workers. But it also includes free barbecue facilities, making it the perfect space for Inner City get-togethers and on-a-whim barbecuing. Next time you’re in the city, grab some bits and bobs from Vic Markets and head to the barbecues on the William Street side of the gardens, close to the Flagstaff Tennis Courts. Fun fact: Flagstaff Gardens was Melbourne's first public garden, established in the 1860s, and it once offered views to Port Phillip Bay. These days, the former pioneer burial site is a lovely place to take time out and share some food and drinks with your gang – or even make new friends.
Opposite a Bunnings on Warrigal Road in Heatherton is a hidden gem of a park. Karkarook Park doesn't look like much from the outside, but drive in and you''ll find an environmental oasis, full of native flora and fauna. An artificial lake is popular for kayaking and canoeing, and you can also try your hand fishing for rainbow trout or red fin. Runners and walkers enjoy the four-kilometre path around the lake, wetlands and bushland at all times of day, and kids are kept entertained by an adventure playground. There are several covered picnic areas with free barbecues, and plenty of open space for dogs to run around, too.
Twitchers, travellers, picnickers and bucket listers from across the city make the breathless march up this stony challenge in the Dandenong Ranges National Park. Actually attempting to count the 1,000 steps as you trudge up is nearly impossible as blood, sweat and adrenaline do battle over your brain. (We reckon there are only 770, anyway.) There is also a newer, adjacent track up the hill, if you'd rather do your climbing in a wide boulevard than a series of stone steps. The reward for your achievement? There’s no shortage of lush picnic spots and barbecue areas back down among the skyscraping gum trees, where you can celebrate your successful ascent with a snag and a cool beverage.
What could be more inspiring than firing up the barbecue and unpacking the salads and bread rolls in front of a backdrop of Melbourne’s stunning city skyline? The banks of the Yarra River feature multiple barbecue spots, most with their own seating. The closest barbecues to the city are at Birrarung Marr, but if you’re prepared to walk a bit further, there are some leafy family-friendly areas on Alexandra Avenue between Swan Street Bridge and Morell Bridge.
A bit of sunshine makes everything better in Melbourne, so fire up the grill and show your buddies your handiness with those tongs (which you definitely remembered to pack).