NYC Picnic Spots Near Free Outdoor Entertainment

Best Picnic Spots to Eat Outside in Manhattan and Brooklyn

There are lots of lovely picnic spots in New York City. The city is home to many parks and unique outdoor spaces, many of which host cool spring and summer entertainment, the perfect complement to your alfresco meal.

Around this time of year, my family starts picnicking. My son adores it, and we don't have to worry about correcting his table manners or tell him to use his indoor voice.

Some days we enjoy a bona fide feast in a wicker basket; at other times, we just pack a lunchbox with sandwiches. I like to bring a fancy picnic blanket with a waterproof lining, but you can just sit on a park bench, picnic table or a patch of grass. In addition to the food, remember to pack napkins, utensils, dishes and cups (try to avoid disposable if you can. No reason to add to landfills!), and a plastic bag for garbage.

Read on for my family's list of favorite picnic places in Manhattan and Brooklyn, many nearby great outdoor performance series.

Central Park
No post on outdoor anything is complete without mentioning Manhattan's iconic green space, which is filled with lawns, picnic tables and benches. We've spread our blanket outside the Marionette Theater, by the Harlem Meer and on the benches in the Conservatory Garden. However, my favorite Central Park picnic place is the East Green. A designated quiet zone dotted with flowering trees, it's a great dining destination for families because afterward, the kids can hit the nearby East 72nd Street playground.

Of course, Central Park hosts many fantastic and free outdoor performance series. So consider timing your picnic to coincide with some of these offerings.

A Clearing in the Forest
The Peter Jay Sharp Children's Glade
Enter at Central Park West and 106th Street
Every other Sunday through October 7 at 12pm
These bimonthly performances include music, theater, dance and storytelling, all with eco-friendly and multicultural themes. It's a lovely grassy area, and there's even a public bathroom at the nearby Great Hill. Click here for the complete schedule.

Harlem Meer Festival

Outside the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center
Enter at 110th Street between Lenox and Fifth Avenues
Every Sunday June 24-September 2 at 2pm
Each week, enjoy jazz, gospel, blues or world music. Chairs are set up for the concerts, which take place alongside the water, and people often get up and dance. If you want to picnic, you can listen from the nearby lawn, although you won't have a clear view of the performers. There's a bathroom here, too, in the Dana Discovery Center. Click here for the complete schedule.

Central Park SummerStage
Enter at 69th Street and Fifth Avenue
Most of the events in this series are aimed at grownups, but a few will be of interest to families.

The Metropolitan Opera Summer Recital Series
At Central Park SummerStage
Wednesday, July 25 at 8pm
The iconic opera company presents an evening of amazing arias. Warning: This event is extremely popular and very crowded! Might be better for a date night.

Central Park also traditionally hosts a free outdoor family film series in August. Details for 2012 have yet to be released, but when they are you'll find the lineup here.

Good Morning America also sponsors free performances by big-name stars (think No Doubt and Counting Crows) in Rumsey Playfield, but to get in you need to arrive by 6am, not exactly picnic time. Click here for the schedule, additional acts will be announced this summer.

Battery Park City
There are many beautifully landscaped and serene parks in this area. We particularly love the spot just south of the World Financial Center Plaza by the marina. There are picnic tables located next to an enclosed grassy lawn, so adults can relax and eat while kids run and play. If you don’t want to bring your own food, there are nearby places to buy your meal, including an outdoor area that serves hamburgers, hot dogs and lobster rolls.

Add entertainment to your meal with the River & Blues series.
Wagner Park, off Battery Place
Every Thursday in July at 7pm
Click here for the complete schedule

Brooklyn Bridge Park
One of our favorite family outings is walking across the Brooklyn Bridge and picnicking in Brooklyn Bridge Park, right between the bridges. There is plenty of room to spread out, lots of cool playgrounds, plus a rocky cove area where you can explore the water. There are a handful of concessioners where you can buy food if you don't bring your own. Make sure to bring a kite—it's a great place to fly them.

Although the park hosts events every weekend, here are two special offerings to mark in your calendar.

Syfy Movies with a View
Pier 1, Harbor View Lawn
Thursdays, July 5 - August 30 at 6pm
Enjoy a free alfresco film and the stunning view (New York harbor and the Manhattan skyline) at this series. Although it's primarily aimed at adults, they'll be screening E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial on Thursday, July 5 and Clueless on Thursday, July 26. Features are preceded by a short and a set by a DJ. Come early as space is limited. Click here for the complete schedule.

The Metropolitan Opera Summer Recital Series
Brooklyn Bridge Park
Friday, July 27 at 7pm

Prospect Park
Like Central Park, this 585-acre oasis offers numerous spots to sit down and snack. The Long Meadow near the appropriately named Picnic House is a popular picnic place and boasts bathrooms. The park's interactive map lists spots with picnic tables as well as areas with barbecue grills. In addition to lots of playgrounds, there's also a carousel, the Lefferts Historic House and many others attractions.

Celebrate Brooklyn! 2012
Prospect Park Bandshell
Enter at 9th Street and Prospect Park West
June 5-August 11. Dates and start times vary.
Like Central Park SummerStage, this series is primarily aimed at adults. But mark your calendar for the annual Ezra Jack Keats Family Concert on Sunday, July 8 at 4pm. Sweet Honey In The Rock, a Grammy award-winning African-American female vocal group, will be performing and there will be readings of Keats' classic stories. Click here for a complete schedule.

Madison Square Park
This fantastic little park is jam-packed with big attractions, including cool public art, a popular playground, free Wi-Fi, the Shake Shack (and its inevitable line) and frequent entertainment.

Madison Square Kids Concerts
Tuesdays and Thursdays, June 12-August 9 at 10:30am
Relax on your blanket as your children pogo to kiddie bands like the Suzi Shelton Band, Princess Katie & Racer Steve, Recess Monkey and Shine and the Moonbeams. Afterward, hit the playground or lounge on the grass. Click here for the complete schedule.

Mad. Square Music: Oval Lawn Series
Wednesdays, June 20-August 8 at 6:30pm or 7pm
Or come back at night when the park puts on concerts for adults. Click here for the complete schedule.

Hudson River Park
My favorite picnic spots in this giant park are the large expanses of lawn between Pier 62 and Pier 63 (West 23rd at the Hudson River). This small grassy hill overlooks the water. Plus the greens are dog free. The only worry here is that the river breeze might blow your blanket away, although that makes it a great place to fly a kite. Plus there's a carousel and playgrounds nearby. If you don't want to bring your own food you can pick something up at nearby Chelsea Market.

River Flicks For Kids
Pier 46, Charles Street at the Hudson River
Fridays, July 13 - August 24 usually around 8:30pm
Add entertainment to your outing with this free alfresco family film series. Movies begin at dusk, and this year's lineup includes 2011 hits like Hugo and Kung Fu Panda 2. Click here for the complete schedule.

Don't Forget About Your Local Playground
I often bring lunch to the playground so I don’t have to drag my son away from his friends to eat. If there's a table, grab it, but if not just sit on a bench or on the jungle gym. Sometimes I invite others parents to have a potluck dinner at the playground so the adults can chat while the kids play until dusk. You can even order a pizza from the local parlor. Yes, most of them deliver to the playground!