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New York: Picnic in the park

New York Insider
Central Park (Photo: Angus Oborn / Lonely Planet Images)
"I do not know of a park that offers a better view than this one on the East River between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges."
New York Insider

Throughout the spring, summer and fall I try to eat alfresco all over the city while wiggling my toes in a patch of grass. Here are some of my highlights.

Central Park

This is the park of all city parks, literally in the centre of Manhattan. It is gigantic and impossible to see in one visit. If you want to check out Conservatory Water (known by locals as the Boat Pond), Bow Bridge or Bethesda Fountain in the lower half of the park, go to Whole Foods in the Time Warner Center first and take some of their dizzying selection of hot and cold prepared food to go.

If the Reservoir, Turtle Pond and Shakespeare Garden are more appealing to you, fill up your picnic basket at legendary gourmet food market Zabar's on 80th and Broadway. Go to www.centralpark.com to download free audio walking tours of the park.

The Conservatory Garden

Now this gated formal garden is actually part of Central Park, but I think it deserves a special mention. Even though it is 30 blocks north of the park's Alice in Wonderland statue, this flower-filled spot at 106th Street and 5th Avenue offers a more authentic "Alice" atmosphere. No Mad Hatter tea party would be complete without cupcakes, so on your way, make a stop Make My Cake at bakery on 116th Street in Harlem. The candy-coloured cafe makes a mean red velvet cake. If you’ve got some extra time duck into the Museum of the City of New York across the street from the garden. It always has something interesting on show.

The High Line

This brand new park sits on a former elevated freight rail line. The High Line will eventually be a mile and a half long, but for now only the Meatpacking District and Chelsea section is open from Gansevoort Street to 20th Street. After climbing a flight of stairs from the street, concrete pathways and planted areas with movable seating are revealed. It is a very unique spot in this urban jungle.

For a lunch to go in this area there is no contest. Head to Chelsea Market. Taking up a full city block, it houses more than a dozen gourmet shops offering everything from the most delicious brownies I have ever tasted, to sushi, pad thai, guacamole, salads, soups and much more. Two new spots deserve special mention, Jacques Torres chocolates and Bar Suzette Creperie bring a whole other level of decadence to the market.

Battery Park City Park

This is a smaller park sitting on a sliver of land between the Hudson River and the luxury high-rise apartment buildings of Battery Park City. In addition to lawns, a playground and ball courts, there are many hidden gardens and coves — all with a views of the Statue of Liberty. On your way towards the water, make a detour into the Amish Market on Park Place where you will find a delicious selection of salads and prepared foods.

Brooklyn Bridge Park

I do not know of a park that offers a better view than this one on the East River between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. This relatively new greenspace is still being developed and every few months there is something new to celebrate. One of the latest adds is a longer bike and pedestrian walkway. There are lots of places nearby to pick up provisions for your picnic or even bike front basket. My recommendation is either the Bridge Fresh Food Market at 68 Jay Street or Peas & Pickles Grocery at Washington Street and Front Street. The former has sharable snack packs of olives, cheeses, hummus and vegies in addition to the standard deli fare. The latter will certainly satisfy most cravings with its gourmet cheese selection, fresh produce and prepared burritos and wraps.

Socrates Sculpture Park

This is not a park in the traditional sense, but the Socrates Sculpture Park located in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens is certainly worthy of a picnic if you have the time. The park is four subway stops out of Manhattan and requires about a 10 block walk once you get off the train, however the thought provoking modern sculptures and Manhattan views make it more than worth it. Pick up some Italian cookies or pastries at any of the many bakeries that line Broadway between the subway and the park. You may also want to pack some doggie treats if you want to make friends with the local population who enjoy a good run around the art. While you’re in the area you may want to check out Noguchi the sculpture museum down the street.

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