Our 10 Best Legal and Sort of Legal Picnic Spots


Despite this week’s sodden weather, spring really is upon us, which means that picnic season is, too. New York harbors untold numbers of excellent picnic spots, be they in Midtown pocket parks, an empty soccer field, or your friend’s tar roof on East 7th Street. Last year, we rounded up our 10 favorites; such is the abundance of options that we’re doing it again this year. Some are perfectly legal, while others require a little bit of craftiness and possibly wire cutters. And no, neither Central Park nor Prospect Park is among them: If you require a list to tell you that either offers some of NYC’s best outdoor dining, then you probably don’t live here, or need someone to tell you that the Empire State Building is tall.

10. The Williamsburg Bridge. The bridge presents some unique and rather versatile picnicking opportunities. For those seeking ambulatory liquid consumption, we can attest to the pleasures of traversing its span at night while sharing a bottle of whiskey with someone you love, or at least want to date for the next hour or so. For those with a hankering for solid foods and someplace to sit, we recommend the open spot next to the pillars on the bridge’s Williamsburg side. You may get harassed by graffiti artists or the gentlemen who always seem to be urinating nearby, but the breezes are lovely.

9. The Pace University High School track. Located at the foot of Sara Delano Roosevelt Park between Forsyth and Chrystie streets, the track is bordered by a lush, gently sloping grassy knoll shaded by large, graceful trees. It’s a good place to take your Xi’an lamb face noodles or Prosperity dumplings, particularly if you enjoy watching 50-yard dashes and small children running wild.

8. Inwood Hill Park’s Indian Rock Shelters. A word of warning: These are hard as hell to find. But if you persevere, you will reap the untold pleasures of feasting in or near an actual cave. Your best bet for finding them is to either stop at the park’s Urban Ecology Center, where the rangers can direct you, or to access the park at the main entrance at Seaman Avenue and Isham Street, then walk straight toward the big rock and veer left so that you’re going south. Keep walking, and you’ll find the shelters on the right. Or just ask the rangers.

7. Carl Schurz Park. The nice grassy knoll around East 88th Street provides some of the city’s best waterfront dining: Think of it as Riverpark, without the pharmaceutical reps and pin lights. Non-budget-minded types can take advantage of the relative proximity to Eli’s, an excellent a source for achingly expensive provisions. There are playgrounds for children, paths for the athletically inclined, and Gracie Mansion for those given to contemplating a mayor who would probably turn New York’s parks into high-rise condos if he could. East End Avenue and East 86th Street

6. The Red Hook Grain Terminal. Sure, the nearby Red Hook Ball Fields are an excellent picnic spot — thanks to the food trucks, you don’t even have to pack a lunch — but they’re also just so, well, earthbound. Much more interesting is the immense and long-abandoned Red Hook Grain Terminal, which towers over the fields like a gloomy old ghost. It is admittedly difficult (and completely illegal) to access, thanks to the concrete boulders and fence that line its periphery, but once you’re inside, the terminal’s massive roof beckons with the promise of some of the best high-altitude dining in the city. On a clear day, you can see halfway to France. Go now, before someone decides to turn it into luxury lofts.

5. The High Line. File under “duh.” Given its massive wooden daybeds (if you can get one), unparalleled people-watching opportunities, landscaping, and proximity to Chelsea Market, the High Line is the Platonic Ideal of urban picnicking. For a similarly elevated but slightly less kosher experience, consider gaining access to its still-undeveloped sections above 30th Street. A friend of ours did this once by finding a hole in the fence and scaling a ladder, and returned looking as though she had seen both the Devil and Jesus. That may have been a result of the rusty nail she stepped on, but still, for rogue dining experiences, cracking concrete pillars, shoulder-high weeds, and a bird’s-eye view of Tenth Avenue are hard to surpass.

4. The Coney Island/Brighton Beach boardwalk. Given its proximity to Totonno’s on Neptune Avenue and all of the Russian specialty stores lining Brighton Beach Avenue, the boardwalk is one of the most ideally situated picnic spots in Brooklyn. Enjoy the hypnotic lapping of the waves while you gobble a pizza or a pile of lox, then throw it all up on the Cyclone.

3. Socrates Sculpture Park. A once-abandoned riverside landfill and illegal dump site in Long Island City is now home to a fantastic outdoor sculpture park and artist residency program. Eating in the shade of large-scale steel installations with a view of the Manhattan skyline is one of the more unique pleasures the five boroughs have to offer. As a bonus, Socrates is across the street from the Noguchi Museum and its gardens, making it easy to ingest even more culture with your meal. 32-01 Vernon Boulevard at Broadway, Queens, 718-956-1819

2. Green-Wood Cemetery. This was one of our picks for last year’s picnic roundup, but we’re bringing it back with good reason: You cannot ask for more peaceful and quiet place to eat than a 173-year-old cemetery. No, picnicking is not allowed here. But if you use common sense and avoid the more touristy parts (i.e., Leonard Bernstein’s gravesite) in favor of the cemetery’s quieter northern side, you can dine unnoticed. Just be sure to show some respect: Clean up after yourselves, leave the iPod speakers at home, and for God’s sake, don’t sit on the gravestones. Main entrance: Fifth Avenue and 25th Street, Brooklyn

1. The Little Red Lighthouse. Located in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge, the lighthouse was immortalized in the 1942 children’s book classic The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge. It also beautifully illustrates the contradictory nature of urban picnicking, which can basically be summed up as finding occasional patches of trees and grass within a steel and concrete web. The climb up the 80-foot lighthouse provides some moderate post-dining exercise, and offers some superb views of New Jersey.