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Travel tips, upcoming events and information on all things New York City.

How to Picnic Like a Pro in NYC

How to Picnic Like a Pro in NYC

With summer winding down, it’s important to make the most of what remains, especially when you’re in the northeast. The good news is that August happens to be National Picnic Month, and what represents summer more than a good old-fashioned al fresco feast with an epic view? From picnic tips to why picnicking is an ideal option for travelers, where to picnic in New York City, and recommendations on where to pick up the best NYC picnic foods, we’ve got you covered.

NYC Picnic Tips 101

The idea may seem simple, but it’ll be much more enjoyable if you properly plan ahead of time. Here are some tips for how your outdoor dining adventure can go off without a hitch:

  • Choose your spot / location ahead of time. When you know where you’ll be eating, you can take the time to understand materials and resources that may be necessary for your outing. For example, if the location does not have picnic tables, then you know you’ll need blankets or towels, and perhaps throw pillows if you can muster them up, to ensure ground comfort.
  • Keep it simple. If you know that you’ll be picking up pre-made sandwiches from a nearby deli or market, then bring a cooler to keep everything chilled. If you know you’ll be making your own sandwiches or food, then make a list so that you leave enough space to pack everything you may need.
  • Pack the essentials. Remember to have paper plates, plastic ware, napkins, and a trash bag on-hand. If you’re going to be in a wooded area, you may want to bring bug spray. If it’s a particularly hot day, remember to pack sunscreen and an umbrella or something to create shade.
  • Flat surface for food. The idea of a picnic is romanticized, and rightfully so, but remember to be practical when setting up your spread. A tray or a small folding table can do wonders in the way of making your afternoon more pleasant.

Why Picnicking in NYC is a Good Option for Travelers

Sure, you’re visiting New York City for the first time and have to sample the local fare. We get it. But going out to eat can add up quickly and there are ways to indulge in a city’s culinary claims without breaking the bank. Here are a few reasons as to why picnicking in NYC is a solid option for travelers, aside from money:

  • It can provide awesome views. New York City is the home to many beautiful parks, each with its own unique characteristics and attractions. So have no fear, you may still be able to check an item off your list while enjoying an affordable, calm meal.
  • It can be fun and relaxing. It can be tough to pencil in down-time when you’re in a new city and are committed to checking everything off that bucket list. A picnic can provide a less stimulating environment than the hustle and bustle of a restaurant, and can help you to unwind and recharge before your next tourist stop.
  • It can be healthier. One of the most difficult tasks to accomplish when traveling is sticking to a standard routine, which can include maintaining your regular diet. If you plan ahead, you can make food choices that are more aligned with your “normal” way of life.
  • It can provide free entertainment. New York City is a diverse and eclectic metropolis with a dynamic entertainment scene. Don’t be surprised to see animals, jugglers, musicians and much more. And if all else fails, there will be no shortage of people watching, which is always an entertaining past-time.

Where to Picnic in NYC & What to Eat

There is no shortage of parks in the concrete jungle, but we’re highlighting a few of our favorite grassy knolls and where you can grab grub nearby to make your outing as easy and enjoyable as possible.

  • Central Park: How could we not mention one of NYC’s most iconic landmarks? But what you need to know is that your ideal picnicking spot within the confines is referred to as The Great Lawn. Located mid-park between 79th Street and West 85th Street, The Great Lawn is connected to Turtle Pond and offers a prime spot for a picnic with shade around the periphery.  The 55-acre lush pastoral meadow is the geographical center of the park. It remains popular among locals and tourists alike, and also features nearby theater bathrooms, which is a bonus! If you know your picnic destination will be The Great Lawn at least 24-hours ahead of time, then check out the option of ready-to-go picnic bags for convenience.
  • Fort Tryon Park: Located 250 feet above the Hudson River in the Hudson Heights and Inwood neighborhoods of Manhattan, Fort Tryon Park sits on three meticulously landscaped acres. The grounds feature sloping and drooping elms as well as 48 varieties of heaths and heathers, and are reminiscent of those of an English country estate. From perusing art and enjoying nature to a playground area, magnificent people watching and splendid scenery, serene Fort Tryon Park is located right off the A train near the Cloisters. Pop into Cafe Kolmaro for wraps, sandwiches, smoothies, salads and more before you plant yourself in the grounds of Fort Tryon.
  • Governor’s Island: Take a day trip to Governor’s Island! Located in New York Harbor, it’s literally yards away from Manhattan and Brooklyn. The 10-15 minute ferry land will take you to a unique land that’s a world unto itself. You’re welcome to bring your own food as there are a number of picnic tables as well as grilling stations for reserve, but you can also expect to see a variety of food vendors throughout the island. If you prefer to picnic the old-fashioned way, there are plenty of shaded green spaces, ideal for laying a blanket in the grass. While you’re not allowed to bring alcohol onto the island, it is available for purchase and can be consumed in designated areas.
  • Prospect Park: A 526-acre oasis of greenery in Brooklyn – who would have imagined? Well, that would be urban visionaries Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux! Long Meadow is the name of its finely manicured, tree-encircled area with a seemingly never-ending space of slopes. If you’re planning to visit Prospect Park on a Sunday, be sure to check out Smorgasburg, a range of cuisines from 100+ local and regional food purveyors available from 11a-6p from April through October.
  • Riverside Park: If you find yourself on the Upper West Side, plan to picnic in Riverside Park. Not only is it incredibly long, but it’s also a solid alternative to the crowds that can gather at Central Park. Located between 116th Street and 124th Street, Riverside Park is also home to the bird sanctuary so if you’re traveling with kids and they need some stimulation, that’s an easily accessible option. Before you find your refuge for the afternoon, stop at Zabar’s for some tasty eats.

If you’ve successfully set up and executed a sensational picnic in a New York City park, we’re eager to hear where and when. Feel free to share your expert picnicking tips, too!

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