America’s 10 Best Restaurants in Parks

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One of these is an ice cream shop that uses the recipe of Thomas Jefferson himself

America’s 10 Best Restaurants in Parks

When planning a day trip or a longer vacation to a park, you’re not necessarily taking into consideration the types of restaurants you’ll find there. Whether it’s a cherished city oasis (hello, Central Park!) or a national park (yo, Yosemite!), the dining establishments probably aren’t a motivating factor for your decision. But what if they were?

#10 Restaurant 1915 and Blue Roof Tapas Bar

Photo Modified: Flickr / Russ / CC BY 4.0

Restaurant 1915 and Blue Roof Tapas Bar is located in Bear Mountain State Park in the Hudson Valley of New York State. The restaurant boasts a 100-year-old walk-in fireplace as a focal point, along with panoramic views of the park with the Hudson River in the distance. When you’re there, you must order the Hibernator, a barbecue meatloaf stuffed with three-cheese mac and cheese, served with roasted garlic smashed potatoes and sautéed spinach.

#9 Carlsbad Caverns Underground Lunchroom

Photo Modified: Flickr / David Fulmer / CC BY 4.0

Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico is home to ancient sea ledges and deep canyons tucked below the desert terrain. There are more than 119 known caves here, all formed when sulfuric acid dissolved the surrounding limestone. The Carlsbad Caverns Underground Lunchroom is located 750 feet underground, right inside the caves. Enjoy local, Mexican-inspired fare like pork adovada and tortilla-crusted tilapia.

#8 Memorial Ice Cream Shop

Located at Mount Rushmore, near Keystone, South Dakota, the Memorial Ice Cream Shop is a must-stop for any visitor. Mount Rushmore co-star Thomas Jefferson, known as the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, is also credited with having written the first ice cream recipe in the United States (vanilla), in 1780 — and it’s still used here today. He served his recipe to his guests at Monticello during his presidency, and the tradition continues for park visitors.

#7 The Ahwahnee Dining Room

Photo Modified: Flickr / John Buie / CC BY 4.0

Inside northeastern California's Yosemite National Park, one of America's most famous, is the Ahwahnee Hotel and its famous Dining Room. It has played host to presidents, royalty, and celebrities. A Native American theme is incorporated into the décor and furnishings to pay tribute to the earliest Miwok Indian tribe in Yosemite, the Ahwahneechee. The 34-foot-high beamed ceilings reinforce the rustic ambiance that is reflective of the mountain surroundings. When you’re here, Sunday brunch is a must-do. If you can swing it, try to reserve a spot at the Bracebridge Dinner, a four-hour pageant of classic carols, Renaissance rituals and entertainment of the Middle Ages, which takes place every Christmas. 

#6 The Pavilion

The Pavilion inside New York City’s Union Square Park’s north plaza is a market cafe highlighting farmers market items for seasonal farm-to-table fare. The open-air space provides a perfect spot for one of my favorite pastimes: people watching! They excel at market vegetables, which are offered on all their menus and includes items like rainbow cauliflower with tahini and zucchini riata with roasted tomato and fennel. 

#5 Pollock Dining Room

Photo Modified: Flickr / bigbirdz / CC BY 4.0

The Pollock Dining Room at Skyland Resort is located at the highest elevation along Skyline Drive in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. This Shenandoah National Park location features primarily locally sourced ingredients, and the menu changes depending on what’s in season. When you’re there, try the Rapidan Camp pan-seared trout, Skyline shrimp and grits, and the signature blackberry ice cream pie.

#4 Metate Room

Perched high in southwest Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park is Far View Lodge. From its 8,250-foot elevation, visitors can overlook four states while enjoying a contemporary menu at the Metate Room. Inspired by regional foods and flavors, the Metate Room does a stellar job of incorporating history into their menu. Specialty items to order: pork and chili stew, pueblo portobello stack, or roasted vegetable salad.

#3 Ptarmigan Dining Room

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Hands down, the Ptarmigan Dining Room at Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park boasts the most stunning view in Montana. From their seats in a 100-year-old Swiss-style chalet on the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake, restaurant patrons may even glimpse bears and moose. Order the smoked Montana trout, seared Montana bison tenderloin, or a bison burger.

#2 The Loeb Boathouse

We certainly couldn’t leave out Central Park’s Loeb Boathouse, perhaps one of the most iconic restaurants in all of New York City. Enjoy lakeside dining in an urban oasis right within the city’s cherished green space. The Boathouse is the only Manhattan venue right on the lake — you’ll love watching park-goers coast the waters in actual rowboats, as has been the tradition for 150 years.

#1 Tavern on the Green

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This iconic restaurant has proudly served locals, presidents, royalty, artists, actors, and first-time visitors since 1934. You may recognize it from movies like Arthur, Ghostbusters, and Crimes and Misdemeanors. All that aside, it’s the restaurant’s commitment to excellent local fare that positions them on the top of this list. Order the Narragansett clams casino, sweet corn pudding with scallions, or pastrami smoked salmon platter in the afternoon, or go big with dinner and order their whole roasted leg of lamb, which comes with summer black truffle pommes frites.