Ah, summer—the sun is shining, the weather is consistently decent, and it’s time to stop putting off that picnic you’ve been telling your friends you’re going to throw, and actually do it.
In New York, the options for throwing an event outside—for free or on the cheap—are limited, if you’re not looking to take over the patio at your favorite bar. Fear not, though: Many of NYC’s parks have BBQ and picnic areas, and these seven outdoor spaces are especially well-suited to a summer celebration.
Take note: Many city parks require a permit if you plan to host an event with more than 20 people, and while these typically only cost $25, they take at least a month to process, so plan ahead. If your group is on the smaller side, you’ll be good—just remember that the early bird gets the grill.
Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 5
Not only is Pier 5 located far enough away from the both the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges that you’ll actually be able to hear yourself think, but you can fire up one of the dozens of hibachi-style grills dotted throughout the Picnic Peninsula, provided you get there early enough. (BBQers are capped at an hour if others are waiting, and there’s no grilling after 10 p.m.) There are plenty of benches, tables, and umbrellas, so you can relax in style as you chow down and take in the towering skyscrapers of downtown Manhattan.
If the picnic fare isn’t for you, grab pizza from Fornino at Pier 6 and ice cream from the nearby Ample Hills outpost. Fair warning: The bathroom situation is a bit limited, so if you’re hydrating heavily, be sure to have a plan.
Van Cortlandt Park
Getting to Van Cortlandt Park requires a ride to the end of the 1 train, but once you and your cohort arrive, you’ll be glad that you made the journey. At more than a thousand acres, it’s New York City’s third largest park, meaning you’re sure to find a spot where you can spread out and stretch your legs uninhibited by other big groups.
There are a pair of barbecue areas on the premises, one of which is located right next to the park’s free pool. The other, the Allen Shandler Recreation Area, also has plenty of grills and colorful picnic tables, in addition to bathrooms nearby. If you need a respite from the sun beating down on you, dip your toes into the largest freshwater lake in the Bronx.
East River State Park
This Williamsburg spot is best known for playing host to Smorgasburg on Saturday afternoons, but it’s also an excellent space for your own fête, provided you’re planning it for another day of the week. There’s no barbecue area, but this seven acre park has a dozen or so picnic tables and a nice sized lawn to stretch out on.
Did you bring a ball or a frisbee? Snag the soccer field that’s right next door if it’s not booked up and get a little exercise in to burn off calories from your picnic feast. The rocky shoreline, with its Insta-worthy skyline view, will be perfect for your group photo at the end of the day.
Pro tip: As the only park on this list that’s managed by the state instead of the city, there is a $30 processing fee if you want a permit, regardless of group size.
It’s the summer, so a list of outdoor event spots wouldn’t be complete without a little sand between in your toes. If you’re looking to grill, head to the eastern tip of the beach, where the small O’Donohue Park (just off the sand between Beach 15th and Beach 17th streets) is home to a few picnic tables and grills. If you’re lucky, you’ll avoid the hordes of people who head to the more crowded areas near Rippers and the other food stands at Rockaway Beach—but you’ll still have to get there early to stake your territory.
Governors Island’s 43 acres include six barbecue spots in Nolan Park (at the northern end) and Picnic Point (at the southern tip), which make picnicking that much easier. If this is your move, act fast—reservations are required if you want a grill and a couple tables, and permits are doled out on a first come, first serve basis.
The $26 permit includes a classic Radio Flyer wagon to lug your gear from the ferry landing to the picnic spot, a sweet offering if you’re hauling a lot of food. If you’ve got kids along for the ride—or want to get in touch with your inner one—don’t miss Slide Hill, which features four slides, including New York City’s longest at 57 feet.
Ferry Point Park
For a bit of a different perspective, head to Ferry Point Park in the Bronx, another expansive park with great views. The easiest route is to take an express 6 up the Parkchester for this one, at which point a quick ride on the Q44 will leave you with just a brisk walk to the park to end your journey.
Located east of the Whitestone Bridge, the waterfront stretches a mile and a half long, perfect if you want to see the bridge lit up at night or watch the summer sun set over the East River and the Manhattan skyline beyond. There’s space to grill on both the north and south ends, and there’s a lot of green space if you want to toss around a frisbee. Be warned—bathroom access is limited here.
The 526-acre crown jewel of Brooklyn boasts 12 barbecue spots across its expanse. The one thing this park doesn’t have is views, but it doesn’t lack for amenities, space, and a plethora of trees to grab some shade under.
You’ll have to get there early if you want snag a grilling spot, as the park fills up quickly on the weekends, but the upside is you shouldn’t have to worry about dealing with permits. If a cookout feels like too much work, plan your outing for a Sunday and simply have your group grab a bite to eat at Smorgasburg, then camp out on stretches like the Long Meadow or the Nethermead.