by Ally Gibson | Last Updated: Jul 17, 2020

Picnicking in Central Park is one of my all-time favorite summer activities. 

Every summer I attempt to picnic there as much as possible. Sadly, this is the first summer in over a decade that I haven’t spent most of my time in Central Park.

My favorite summer experience is bringing a platter of wine, cheese, and chocolate at sunset to The Great Lawn—all in front of Belvedere Castle before seeing Shakespeare in the Park.  

That’s the perfect summer night to me. 

Daytime in the park is equally wonderful—I love taking shade in the rambles with an iced coffee in one hand and my latest book in the other. There’s also no judgment if you want to lay out in the sun to tan (lots of people do).

Use the information I’ve gathered below to plan the perfect picnic in Central Park for yourself. 

6 Best Places to Picnic in Central Park

The Great Lawn 

With a view of Belvedere Castle on a hill above Turtle Pond, The Great Lawn is definitely Insta-worthy. This is one of my favorite spots to picnic. 

Sheep Meadow 

This is one of the most popular picnic spots in the park. Sheep Meadow has plenty of grass and people watching, plus it’s pretty close to midtown.

The Ramble 

I love spending afternoons getting lost on the winding paths of The Ramble. It’s a wonderfully quiet place to read or revel in nature with a picnic.

Cherry Hill 

Cherry Hill is named for the cherry trees that bloom there every spring. There’s plenty of benches and shade for picnics. It’s a picturesque spot that’s perfect for a date. 

Strawberry Fields 

Strawberry Fields is a beautiful spot where fans leave flowers daily in Lennon’s memory. There are also a lot of grassy areas just off the path with trees that provide a lot of shade.

The Hallet Nature Sanctuary

This spot is the perfect place to relax with a picnic and take in the beauty and serenity of The Hallet Nature Sanctuary.

A lot of locals don’t even know about this area of the park (it only re-opened a few years ago). It’s a peaceful and beautiful spot to choose for your picnic.

Where to Pick Up Food Near the Park

Depending on where in the city you’re coming from, you’ve got a few options. I’ve set out instructions for both the East and West sides of the park.

If I’m going with a friend, we usually divide up the errands—one gets drinks, other brings food. We always get a baguette, at least one cheese, soppressata, fruit, hummus, hummus, and prosecco or wine.

Pro-Tip: Technically, drinking in public is illegal in New York. But as long as you keep the bottle out of sight and the liquid is in a cup, then you should be fine. I’ve never seen anybody get in trouble drinking during a picnic but just be respectful and smart about it. 

Where to Get Picnic Food on the West Side?

Zabars: This place is a New York institution—Zabar’s deli is incredible and perfect for grabbing cheese, pre-made sandwiches, salads, and pastries. 

Whole Foods Columbus Circle: I would always grab salads here during my lunch break. It’s right next to the park, and assuming you qualify for the express line, you can get in and out in under 30 minutes.

Levain Bakery: This place has epic cookies—if you want something sweet at your picnic, get an assortment of these sweet treats.

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Trader Joe’s: TJ’s is an adventure of its own. Be prepared for total chaos unless you go right when they open. Trader Joe’s is easy on the wallet and they have lots of quality snacks.

Fairway: This is one of the more affordable grocery chains. Like Trader Joe’s, it can get hectic inside, but it’s worth it for the deals.

Bouchon Bakery: Located on the third floor of the Time Warner Center, this bakery is a great spot to get a pre-made sandwich and pastry from. I love getting the gruyere baguette and cinnamon buns.

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Le Pain Quotidien: I love grabbing baguettes and cappuccinos from this place. Sometimes I’ll order ahead on their app—their avocado toast and salads are delicious.

Salumeria Rosi: Pop in to the front portion of this restaurant and hit up their deli counter. This place has the best soppressata and cheese. Try their Caponata—it’s a delicious roasted eggplant spread.

Where to Get Picnic Food on the East Side?

Marche Madison: This place is kind of like a high-end bodega—-a fast spot to grab a salad and sandwich. Try the cajun chicken sandwich, it’s got a nice kick to it.

Citarella: This gourmet market is the perfect spot to grab some cheese, meat, freshly cut fruit, and pre-made salad.

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Grace’s Marketplace: It’s easy to grab a pre-made sandwich or order ahead and pick up one of their pre-made picnic baskets.

Via Quadronno: This is the best spot to grab an Italian panini, pastry, or refreshing salad. If you’re in the mood for dessert, grab some tiramisu—it’s one of my favorites from this place. 

Bluestone Lane: On East 90th Street at the corner of 5th Avenue, this is one of the closest spots on the East side of the park to grab a quick bite. The Avocado Smash and the granola are two of my favorite items to get.

Le Pain Quotidien: I love grabbing baguettes from this place. Sometimes I’ll order ahead on their app—their avocado toast and salads are delicious.

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Todd English Food Hall: This epic food hall is in The Plaza Hotel—-if you’re coming from Midtown East, absolutely stop in here. I love stopping by Lady M and grabbing a slice of signature Crepes Cake and taking it to the park with coffee.

Fairway: Fairway is one of the more affordable grocery chains. It can get hectic inside, but it’s worth it for the deals.

Where to Order the Perfect Central Park Picnic?

Grace’s Market Place: Grace’s offers about 10 different sandwich options within their pre-made picnic menu. Just order ahead and pick it up on your way to the park.

Perfect Picnic NYC: This is the easiest way to plan a picnic. You choose the package you want and these guys set up the whole thing. And the best part? They even clean up.

Things to Pack for a Picnic in Central Park

  • Picnic Blanket 
  • Corkscrew
  • Water
  • Wine or Beer 
  • Silverware
  • Cups
  • Napkins and Plates
  • Plastic Bag to Collect Garbage
  • Sunscreen
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Knife 

Don’t Forget Dessert

My last piece of picnic advice is absolutely to bring something sweet for your picnic. A picnic should be an indulgent experience. It’s about enjoying life, nature, and that special energy only New York possesses. 

I seriously cannot wait to be picnicking in Central Park again—it’ll be one of the first things I do the next time I’m in the city (unless it’s the middle of winter). 

I hope you enjoy your picnic in Central Park. What are your picnic must-haves? Let me know in the comments down below.

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