America's 9 Best Parks for Picnicking
June 15, 2015
A guide to finding urban, or non-urban, picnic-friendly greenery throughout the United States
America's 9 Best Parks for Picnicking
A good picnic may depend on the quality and presentation of food prepared, as well as the company you keep, but what makes a good park for picknicking? We believe a good one is contingent on great views, plenty of shady spots, and activities available for you to partake in — after you’ve filled yourself up with great food, either packed in a picnic basket or bought from someplace nearby, and taken a nap, of course. With these criteria in mind, we have gathered America’s nine best parks for picnicking.
#9 Railroad Park, Birmingham, Ala.
While an interesting history goes a long way in making a park scenic and picnic-perfect, there’s something to be said for parks built in recent history. They are engineered so perfectly to fit modern needs and, as is the case of Birmingham’s Railroad Park, often add a much-needed greenspace to the middle of cities. Despite its location in the middle of downtown Birmingham, Railroad Park boasts a beautiful lake, nine acres of open lawn, and great views of the city. You don’t have to go far to get food; the park-owned Dining Car offers seasonal fare right in the center of the park.
#8 Walden Pond, Concord, Mass.
The corner of rural Massachusetts that Henry David Thoreau made famous is ideal for a tranquil picnic when you feel you need to get away from the city. The area is so well-preserved that it seems almost unchanged from when the young author penned his American masterpiece. Get some cheese, olives, crackers, or whatever to-go item you want at the nearby Concord Cheese Shop.
#7 Lake Harriet, Chain of Lakes Park, Minneapolis
In the giant Chain of Lakes Park, Lake Harriet stands out for its amazing views of sailboats, a rose garden, a bandshell, and two beaches. Bread & Pickle, which is only open during the summer, offers great sandwiches and a must-try coffee drink called “Crack Press,” which is made with condensed milk, chocolate, and cold-pressed iced coffee.
#6 Schenley Park, Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh’s Schenley Park, particularly Flagstaff Hill, has been called one of America’s best parks. Besides walking by beautiful, storybook sights like Panther Hollow Bridge, you can grab a hot dog from the legendary Essie’s Original Hot Dog Shop nearby. If you have a car, don’t miss S&D Polish Deli or the Farmers at Firehouse Market, a short drive away from the park.
#5 Liberty Park, Salt Lake City
Liberty Park has plenty of shade where you can set up a spot to serve your perfect picnic menu. It is also home to Tracy Aviary, America’s largest bird park, as well as tennis, bocce, and volleyball courts, among other sports facilities. Grab some cheese, charcuterie, or freshly made sandwiches at Liberty Heights Fresh before you go.
#4 Fort Williams Park, Cape Elizabeth, Maine
This 90-acre park, located in Cape Elizabeth — roughly a 20-minute drive from Portland — is home to Portland Head Light, one of the oldest lighthouses in the country, and the beautiful ruins of the Goddard Mansion. The nearby Two Lights State Park is also spectacular, so why limit yourself to one park, right? The view of the Atlantic Ocean is just breathtaking. Pair that view with goodies (like a seasonal lobster roll) from C Salt Gourmet Market or Gorgeous Gelato, which is setting up a stand in the park this year, and you’ll have no doubt that you are in one of America’s best parks.
#3 Transmitter Park, Brooklyn
New York boasts plenty of excellent places to picnic, be it Riverside Park by the Hudson River, a particular alcove of Central Park, or in plain view of the two bridges at Brooklyn Bridge Park. But we chose to highlight the more off-the-beaten-path Transmitter Park in Greenpoint. Not only is it a stone’s throw from Ovenly, a fantastic bakery where you can grab a slice of decadent Guinness-infused Brooklyn blackout cake, but the view of midtown Manhattan is stunning. You’re likely to avoid the crowds, too, which tend to gather a few blocks south at the waterfront parks in neighboring Williamsburg.
#2 Gas Works Park, Seattle
Though it doesn’t have the prettiest name, Seattle’s Gas Works Park, which juts into Lake Union, provides the best views of the Space Needle and the surrounding buildings. It is so named because it used to be the site of the former Seattle Gas Light Company gasification plant, which still stands today, providing the park with an interesting, Dada aspect. Get a sandwich at the popular Paseo Caribbean Restaurant on Fremont Avenue, a short drive from the park, or grab some street food or bread and cheese at the Fremont Sunday Market and take a walk along the water.
#1 Dolores Park, San Francisco
With 16 acres of picnic space to choose from and fantastic views of the city’s picturesque Mission district, Dolores Park is one of the most vibrant, fun-filled places to picnic in the world. Cultural events, like San Francisco Mime Troupe performances, Aztec ceremonial dances, and, our favorite, the “Hunky Jesus” competition that happens every Easter, show that the legacy of the 1960s is still alive in San Francisco — especially in this legendary park. It’s a great place to make new friends, and maybe you’ll even share some of the sandwiches you pack (get them from the Sandwich Place on Mission Street) with them.