NYC restaurants offer some great outdoor dining options when the family is craving dinner with a side of fresh air, but summer days are the perfect opportunity to move mealtime out in the open. Take the kids picnicking in NYC parks where they can munch away under the shade of a tree, then hit up some of the best kids' playgrounds afterward. Don't forget to grab some grub from the stellar food trucks that tend to park nearby.
Spots for picnicking in NYC
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.) Once the kids are well-fed, they’ll be ready to tackle the jungle gyms and hopscotch at Charybdis Playground or brave the nearby skatepark. Families can find free summer movies screening on the lawn on Mondays at 8:15pm—check ahead of time to see what’s playing and catch a flick after your alfresco meal.
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. Need something sweet for your spread? Pick up fresh bread, pastries and baked goods (and some java for you) from the local Beans and Leaves Coffee and Tea Cafe.
This seven-acre expanse (and hipster Eden) sits flush against the river, offering stunning 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 tasty eats from nearby eateries like Rosarito Fish Shack, Bagelsmith and Meatball Shop. 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.
With sweeping views of the Hudson River, lush greenery and its position as the highest point in Manhattan, this park 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. Pack your own grub or, if you have adventurous eaters, grab some Venezuelan-style food like arepas or the unique Patacones (green plantain sandwiches) from the Patacon Pisao truck (202nd St between Eighth and Ninth Aves). Post up in a spot with a view of the Cloisters, a re-created medieval monastery that holds 5,000 pieces of art from the Met Museum’s collection, or sit near Anne Loftus Playground so the kids can swing to their hearts’ content after lunch.
With endless kid-friendly attractions like the Hammock Grove, a space with 50 red lounge-ready slings; the Play Lawn, home to two natural-turf ball fields; and the art-filled Liggett Terrace, this urban escape will keep young family occupied before and after you plop down for a picnic. Don’t worry if you forgot to pack your lunch for the ferry ride; Liggett Terrace Food Court sells yummies all week long, while several trucks including Best Burger Surf N’ Turf and Blue Marble Ice Cream and set up shop on King Avenue on weekends.
This park in the Flatiron District is the perfect place for an afternoon break, an easily accessible if you’re running errands in the area. Purchase a to-go cheese plate, melt or salad from Beecher’s Handmade Cheese or gather a few gourmet items from Eataly before you snag a spot on the lawn near one of the temporary public art displays—there’s plenty of shade to be found if it’s a scorcher! The park is also home to Shake Shack, a summer for burgers, fries and, of course, shakes, but better to try this on weekdays to avoid shockingly long lines. During the summer months, come by before lunchtime to get in on creative workshops during Art in the Yard (Saturdays at 9am), kid-friendly concerts (Thursdays at 10:30am) and read alouds with the Reading Rangers (Tuesdays and Fridays at 10am).
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 grilled cheese and tater tots from Gorilla Cheese NYC, empanadas from Nuchas II and frozen treats from Kelvin Natural Slush Co.
Van Cortlandt Park
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.