It’s always a gamble if warm weather is actually here to stay (it seems like right when we think we’re in the clear, nature says, “gotcha!”), but at least it’s officially spring. In New York City, that means getting outdoor time with sunbathing, sports and picnicking.
No matter which borough you’re in or which park you’re closest to, there are great nearby places to outfit your baskets or coolers for a day of outdoor leisure. Whether you’re in the mood for a killer sandwich, a spread of gourmet meats and cheeses or something pre-boxed, this is where to stop from Brooklyn to the Bronx (and in between). All that’s missing is a blanket!
59th Street to 110th Street, between Fifth Avenue and Central Park West
Though Upper West Side favorite Salumeria Rosi on Amsterdam offers a stylish dining room, stay at the front for the salumi counter. There you’ll find cuts of Italian cured meats like sopressata and salami, different varieties of Pecorino cheeses, and sides like orange peel-marinated olives and caponata (roasted eggplant spread). Then grab fresh-baked bread from cult favorite Levain Bakery — up one block between 74th and 75th — and maybe one of their famous cookies for dessert.
If you want something pre-packed, try the “Parm Box” from Italian eatery Parm on 71st and Columbus — which includes one of their signature deli sandwiches (choice of chicken caprese, spicy avocado, roast beef and more), potato chips and homemade brownie — or a salad from the popular Sweetgreen on 75th and Amsterdam. You’re about halfway between the Great Lawn and Sheep Meadow, both perfect green spaces for lounging.
If you’re on the opposite side of town, have no fear, there are still plenty of delicious options. Order homemade tacos and burritos to-go at part-grocer-part-restaurant El Tepeyac on 102nd — and be sure to pick up a container of their fresh guacamole and one of their homemade salsas. A little farther down off 97th Street is espresso bar Da Capo Aperitivo e Caffè, where you can bring out paninis and Italian pastries. Grab a spot next to the picturesque Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir or on the East Meadow.
State Street and Battery Place, Manhattan
With a view right on the water, Battery Park is a great choice if you want to get that beach-like feel in a city park. Going this far downtown gives you the perfect excuse to check out the new Eataly location at 4 World Trade Center on Liberty Street. Counters like La Piadina (grilled flatbread paninis), Le Insalate (salads) and La Gastronomia (take-away dishes like lasagna and grilled vegetables) offer perfect to-go options.
Make your way down to the park via Broadway, and stop at GFG Bakery & Cafe to round out your Mediterranean meal, with either one of the traditional phyllo dough pies (with flavors like leek and honey-cheese, and even a vegan spanakopita option) or some sweet treats for dessert. Watch the ferries go by and spy the Statue of Liberty while snacking on baklava or kataifi.
Van Cortlandt Park
Broadway and Van Cortlandt Park South, The Bronx
Though Lloyd’s Carrot Cake has since expanded to an East Harlem location, the original bakery and flagship store is in Riverdale in the Bronx, across the street from the sprawling Van Cortlandt Park. Grabbing a slice for dessert is a must when you’re this close.
For your main meal, though you’re likely to run into a bunch of college kids heading to class, grab a sandwich from New Riverdale or Jasper’s Deli up on 238th Street. The latter is known for hefty sandwiches named after New York crime bosses both real and fictional, like the “Henry Hill” (chicken cutlet, pepperoni, provolone with balsamic vinegar) and the “Vito Corleone” (chicken cutlet, roasted peppers, fresh mozzarella with oil and vinegar).
If you want to cook yourself, Van Cortlandt Park also has a variety of grills for barbecuing, both in front of the pool at Broadway and 242nd Street, and farther into the park at the Allen Shandler Recreation Area near Jerome Avenue, south of 233rd Street. In that case, there’s a Stop and Shop just down the street at 235th where you can pick up hot dogs and burgers.
Prospect Park W., Parkside Avenue between Flatbush Avenue, Ocean Avenue and Prospect Park SW, Brooklyn
Be sure to walk down Vanderbilt Avenue if you’re picnicking in Brooklyn’s flagship park. Hit up Olde Bagel Shoppe for a wide variety of bagels and/or sandwiches, like the “Carroll Gardens” (smoked turkey, arugula, mozzarella, sun dried tomatoes, oil and vinegar) and vegetarian options like the “Park Slope” (arugula, tomato, onion, avocado, roasted peppers, cheese and balsamic vinegar).
Then grab ice cream at Ample Hills only one block away — this location was its first-ever scoop shop, and the signature flavor is “The Commodore” for the namesake of the street it’s on, Commodore Vanderbilt. He was the supposed inventor of the potato chip, so this flavor includes salty honey ice cream mixed with chocolate-covered potato chips clusters and housemade honeycomb candy.
19 19th St., Queens
The last stop on the uptown N or W train, Astoria Park offers gorgeous views of the East River and Manhattan skyline, and is right in between the Triborough Bridge and Hell Gate Bridge. It’s also the home of New York City’s oldest and largest pool, if you want to take a dip pre-picnic. When you get off at the Ditmars stop, first head in the opposite direction of the park to Chip on Ditmars and 33rd Street, the Astoria cookie joint.
Once you have a few of those safely tucked away, make a left on Ditmars and walk down until you hit Vintage Wine Bar between 23rd and 24th streets. By the second week of May they’ll have pre-packed picnic baskets with different combinations of meals, from vegan kale caesar salad to lobster rolls, charcuterie plates and spicy feta dips. They’ll also have cans of wine and cups of frose available, though they must be opened in-store, sold with food and accompanied by a receipt to be taken to the park.