Boom! Summer’s finally here. Make the most of these sunny days and take advantage of Philly’s plethora of great picnic spots, from parks to squares to waterfront piers.
If there are fewer than 10 people in your group, you can simply show up at almost any of these locales with no advance planning required. Anywhere within the official city park system, the permit requirement doesn’t kick in until you have 75 guests or more. However, Parks and Rec policy director Barry Bessler offers this tip: You can always get a permit anyway — for any size party — if you want to call dibs on your favorite spot.
(Another interesting note from Bessler: While alcohol consumption is not officially condoned at any city park, most of them — such as East and West Fairmount Park — don’t have actual written restrictions against it.)
So pack up your food and drink, or plan to snag something from a deli nearby, and head out for a relaxing outdoor feast in the heart of Philadelphia.
Philly is dotted by so many smaller parks — some no bigger than a half-city block — that whatever neighborhood you’re in, there’s probably one nearby that’s great for a quick and easy picnic. If you’re willing to travel, here’s a few potential destinations.
This is like a South Philly version of the city’s main squares — think Rittenhouse with fewer manicured flower beds or Washington Square with smaller trees. There’s a playground right next door, too. You don’t even have to pack a lunch; the Taco Loco truck is almost always posted up along the north side, and the original Federal Donuts is less than two blocks away.
Neighbors labored for years to turned this deserted Northern Liberties lot into a two-acre park, and it now flourishes as a family-friendly gathering spot. There’s a community garden, a few grills, several picnic tables and a kids play area. NB: If you want to host a large group, you’ll have to make a reservation in advance.
This Port Richmond park is flanked by several churches, but that didn’t keep it from being derelict as recently as 15 years ago. That’s definitely no longer the case, as it plays host to various festival and even concerts at night. When that’s not going on, the grassy areas or many benches are a good place to enjoy an outdoor meal.
It’s just a snippet of space at one of the odd-angled intersections branching off Fishtown’s Frankford Avenue, but it’s an especially beautiful one. A central grassy lawn is good for games and blankets, or choose a spot on a bench by the profusion of roses in the flower beds along the edges.
Whether it’s the twisting figure-eight layout of the sidewalks or the fact that a pretzel vendor could always be found here, this pocket of grass and shrubbery in Manayunk was known by this name decades before a group of fans petitioned local government to make it official. In addition to a large metal pretzel statue, it’s home to a playground, a farmers market and plenty of space to spread out your feast.
In the heart of Point Breeze, this green recreation area has two tennis courts, a play area and plenty of lawn space. There’s also several sets of concrete benches for those who prefer to eat their picnic food a few feet above the grass.
This wisp of a park in Bella Vista is usually so tranquil, you’d never know you’re less than two blocks off busy South Street. When the serenity is broken, it’s by kids and families playing with the communal toys stored at one side, or the dogs who play on the lawns at the other edge (yeah, definitely lay down a blanket before unpacking your food).
It was only within the past couple years that this patch of urban greenery next to the busy Germantown-Chelten Avenue intersection was restored. Now that it is, picnickers can take advantage of the eight acres of space, which is dotted with benches, paved paths, sculptures and a play area.
Big City Parks
Fairmount Park proper has lots of picnic-perfect spots (see below), but there are several other Philly parks that offer great surroundings for outdoor meals with friends or family.
There’s something for everyone at this giant, lake-filled complex at the southern tip of the city. Seriously: It sports 20 tennis courts, eight ball courts, a rugby field, a golf course, a skate park and the American Swedish Museum. Most relevant to the picnic idea, there’s a set of grills you can use to BYO BBQ, or plan on scoring a few dollar skewers from one of the Cambodian families that pop-up and vend tantalizing charcoal-grilled meat and veggies there on summer weekends.
There might not be a more lush seven acres in the Riverwards than this enclave tucked next to Delaware Avenue. Most of the landscape is flat and green, with a few areas along the edges offering cool shade from trees. There’s also a set of benches and paths leading to a lookout with a view across the river. Bonus: The grand opening for this park’s brand new playground is June 14.
Share your meal with the ducks, turtles and fish swimming between the fountains in the pond at the center of this 16-acre park nestled behind Germantown Avenue in Chestnut Hill. There’s also a whole network of walking trails, plus an outdoor amphitheater that’s’ often used for concerts.
Bring your ingredients to the charcoal grills on one edge of this nine-acre Baltimore Avenue meadow. After your feast is cooked, lay it out it on one of the picnic tables around the rim or take a blanket down to the center of the grassy green “bowl” that makes up the park’s center.
Woodlands, wetlands, rolling hills and open meadows make up this 1,300-acre tract in Northeast Philly. There’s dirt trails to follow if you want to take your basket of goodies into the woods, or set up at one of several designated campfire and picnic areas, some of which have grills you can use.
A handful of various picnic sites — some with just tables, some also with charcoal grills — await along the 50 miles of biking, jogging and walking trails that wind through this park that follows the creek up through Northwest Philadelphia.
Philadelphia is finally starting to take advantage of its long stretch of riverside shoreline. Ten years ago, this list would have been slim-to-nonexistent, but now it’s full of solid options.
Eat your meal at tables beneath the Ben Franklin Bridge on the well-manicured promenade, or spread out on one of the terraced steps at the western tip for the best view of the water and a cool breeze off the river. (Note: Laughing at Duck Boats as they entered the water used to be an entertainment option here, but the amphibious tours never relaunched after being indefinitely suspended last October.)
This slip of a pier at Delaware and Allegheny Avenues offers the perfect set-up for fishing, with a stone-paved walkway lining its fenced-in edges. There’s also a grassy lawn at the center for relaxing after you’ve hauled in the day’s catch.
Formerly an overgrown brownfield full of debris, this nook in the shadow of the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge is now cleaned up and fully equipped to host picnic parties. There’s a set of tables, a brick patio, a green lawn and a lookout that stretches into the river.
Benches and planted gardens line this thin wharf that juts out behind the big box stores along Columbus Boulevard. It used to be one of the city’s biggest immigration landing spots, and historical markers tell that story, plus there’s also a climb-able public art sculpture at the far end.
At the southern edge of the riverfront, near the still-active port, this site of a former raw sugar warehouse now features inviting space to chill with friends. Relax on one of the wave-shaped lounge chairs at the far end or set-up your meal on the grass next to the concrete walkways. Also good for fishing.
The 5 Main Squares
All five of the original squares William Penn designed for his “greene country towne” are open for picnicking, although each has a very different vibe.
Sport your best lawn-casual if you take your lunch to this oasis in the middle of Philly’s shopping district — it’s scenester central, even in mid-summer. Bonus for being on display: There’s a ton of easy take-out nearby, like sandwiches from Metropolitan Cafe, tacos from Revolution Taco or spam musubi from Poi Dog.
Much more tranquil than its crosstown sister, with a lot of shade from giant leafy trees. Definitely bring a blanket, because the lush lawns are a favorite place for neighborhood dogs to do their thing. For grab-and-go eats, score a bagel sando from Knead, crisp salad from Talula’s Daily or burrito from El Fuego.
There’s a built-in snack shop and mini golf course here, which makes it worth navigating across the somewhat treacherous stretch of Race Street that separates this park from the grid. NB: You can access the park during the day for free even during the Chinese Lantern Fest — it’s a nighttime only event.
Thanks to all the construction on the Vine Street Expressway bridges, the view here isn’t as scenic as usual this summer, but there still one thing no other big square has — a fountain. Officially you’re not supposed to go in, but everyone does, and you can at least dip your toes as you snack on your lunch.
Penn’s Centre Square is now mostly taken up by City Hall, but the east apron is now a perfect picnic plaza. Choose a wide stone bench or umbrella-covered table for your bring-along feast, and watch the kids playing in the fountains as you eat (just don’t drink the water).
Schuylkill River Trail
The southern run of the river that divides Center City from West Philadelphia has several distinct locales that invite outdoor feasting.
You can’t take food into the curated horticultural grounds or historic houses in this 46-acre complex, but there are several sites specially designated for lunchtime spreads. The Picnic Pavilion that used to exist is no longer up, but there’s a new area at the foot of Eastwick Hill (with a view of the water) and a whole slew of tables set up in the North Meadow.
This little sliver has everything from a skate park to a fishing pier to green lawn for frisbee and catch. There’s also a plaza with benches and lighting. The only downside is the waste management facility behind it — but keep your eyes toward the river and you’ll be golden.
From around Locust to Chestnut, the riverside bank next to the jogging path has just enough room for groups to set up a blanket and put out a great meal — sometimes you can even catch an outdoor yoga class beforehand.
This skate park has a few seating areas that could accommodate small picnic set-ups, plus there’s plenty of built-in entertainment watching people do tricks up and down the stepped concrete. Tip: If you follow the alternate trail path that branches downward just before the park, you can find a hidden rock ledge to perch on while you enjoy a sandwich, surrounded by bushes and trees.
Just past the big dip in the trail where it goes under the highway, the South Garden of this historic water plant-turned event center is open to the public, with benches, a fountain and a view of the Art Museum cliffs.
Walk or bike your basket o’ goodies up to this bend in the river, or there’s also a big free parking lot there if you prefer. A handful of tables are spread across the grassy banks, with some located beneath shady trees and some out in the bright sun.
Of course the largest city park on the East Coast has a ton of killer picnic locales. Here are some of the best.
The giant, 16,000-square-foot playhouse is the main draw to this complex behind the Philadelphia Zoo, but the outdoor spaces are also accommodating of family fun. There’s no grilling, but pack prepared food and you can take advantage of space on the front lawn or the tables on the side porches.
As long as you follow the rules (no tree-climbing, no dirt bikes, no picking the flowers, no rubbing the graves), this historic estate with a mansion, cemetery and gardens is open to the public. Groups of 10 or more need to call ahead for permission.
The best view of the Philly skyline is an added bonus at this huge open field off West River Drive. Spread out under the giant trees on the plateau itself, or head down the hill to use the on-site grills and picnic tables.
Along this meandering drive through the west tip of the park before the East Falls Bridge, you’ll find a set of tennis courts, an ultimate frisbee field, an equestrian center and a whole picnic area with tables and other amenities.
This former estate stretches out in front of the gorgeous Federal-style mansion, offering views of Center City, several basketball courts, and lots of lawn space to host a picnic. Permits may be necessary, depending on group size.