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The 10 best lesser-known spots for a lovely NYC picnic

Where you can find New York's under-the-radar picnic spots

Written by
Bao Ong

New Yorkers can’t wait to unfurl their blankets and (discreetly) drink outdoors with Memorial Day around the corner and picnic season about to kick into high gear. But as the state slowly lifts its stay-at-home orders, we’re all antsy to leave our shoebox-sized apartments while abiding by appropriate social distancing norms. Like us, you’ve probably seen on social media how crowds have swarmed Central Park, the Christopher Street Piers and even McCarren Park. To that, we say: thanks but no thanks. Luckily, the city is dotted with other lesser-known parks and hidden gems to picnic all summer long.

Roosevelt Island

It’s easy to forget about Roosevelt Island, that funny little sliver of an island that sits in the middle of the East River between Manhattan and Queens. But don’t let that stop you from staking out a spot at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park (just take the F train or even better, hope on the tram for a bird’s eye view of the city skyline for the same price at the subway station). This park, which was designed by the late Louis Khan and opened in 2012, sits on a triangular-shaped lawn with trees framing views of the water and city that’s perfect for a lazy afternoon hang.

Red Hook Waterfront

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The nearby Brooklyn Bridge Park is always packed with families and tourists, but if you make your way down to Red Hook, Louis Valentino Jr. Park and Pier is an urban gem. There’s a small patch of beach sand and benches with serene views of the surrounding waters as well as a green space ideal for picnics.

Isham Park

Isham Park
Photograph: Leland Clark

Isham Park is a 20-acre oasis that’s easy to overlook because of its location at the northern tip of Manhattan. But once you’re there, it’s a perfect backdrop for a picnic on a sunny day and just a short walk away is Inwood Hill Park, where you can spot the area’s favorite neighbor: a harbor seal nicknamed “Sealy” that often sunbathes on the rocks and wooden dock in marsh.

Ridgewood Reservoir

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Highland Park is home to Ridgewood Reservoir, which spans 50 acres and rises above the surrounding Jamaica Bay outwash plain. The elevated area affords sweeping views of nearby cemeteries, the Rockaways and even the Atlantic Ocean in certain parts—you’ll forget you’re on the border of Queens and Brooklyn.

The Church of St. Luke in the Fields 

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This private, seemingly hidden garden at The Church of Luke in the Fields feels like it's meant to be part of the picturesque West Village. It’s a small garden, but during the peak of summer, it’s teeming with blooming flowers and 100 species of birds. You’ll want to grab a seat at one of the benches for a respite that feels meditative whether you’re eating lunch, sipping a coffee or reading a book. 

Socrates Sculpture Park

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Art lovers can still flock to this waterfront park known for its museum-quality installations on a former landfill site that’s now a popular spot for families. Picnic and picturesque artwork, anyone? 

Governors Island

Governors Island
Photograph: Courtesy The Trust for Governors Island/Timothy Schenck

We’re not expecting popular concerts and events to take over Governors Island like in past summers, but it is expected to open (“While we don't have an opening date right now, we're hoping to announce one and welcome visitors back to the Island soon,” Clay Grable, marketing manager for the Governors Island Trust, shares with Time Out New York. “We want to make sure people don't think we won't be opening at all this season!”). There’s plenty of room to spread out for picnic on this 172-acre island with sweeping views of New York Harbor, the downtown skyline and Lady Liberty.

Van Cortland Park

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The city’s third largest park doesn’t receive the same attention as Central or Prospect parks, but it’s true treasure with its acres of ridges and valleys that’s also home to the borough’s largest freshwater lake. You’ll find lots of shady oak trees for that idyllic summer picnic.

Flushing Meadows

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It’s unclear whether the Mets will be taking over CitiField or if the U.S. Open tennis championships will even take place this year. But Flushing Meadows, a stone’s throw away from both sporting venues, and its lakes, trails and expansive lawns are open. Flushing’s Chinatown is also just one stop away on the 7 train if you want to pick up dumplings or bubble tea for your picnic.

Clove Lakes Park

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If you’re willing to hop on the ferry to Staten Island, you’ll be rewarded with a lush park that’s dotted with lakes, ponds and even a 300-year-old tulip tree. You can eat and nap on the waterfront as easily as you can throw a barbecue without a permit for a party of four or fewer.

Collier Sutter contributed reporting to this story. 

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