How to: Plan the Perfect Picnic in Central Park

by  Alex Schechter | Jun 3, 2014
NYC aerial view
NYC aerial view / Mak3t/iStock

If you're heading to New York City this summer, you'll probably hear about the city's popular rooftop bars, which fill to capacity as the weather warms up. We get it – the views, the fancy drinks, the pools. But for the more down-to-earth traveler, nothing beats a picnic in Central Park. But which part of the park? And how to get there? And where to stock up on smoked turkey pinwheels and apple strudel? Leave it to us – your Central Park picnic awaits.

The subway ride there
You can enter vast, varied Central Park from dozens of locations, but try this for a perfect picnic:  From your hotel, ride the 4, 5, or 6 subway up to 86th street, which places you right in the heart of the Upper East Side, land of fancy kitchenware shops, prestigious private schools, and two of the world's most famous museums (the Guggenheim and The Metropolitan Museum of Art). There's a park entrance just a few blocks west of the stop. But first, you've got some important supplies to pick up.

The take-out meal
Keep your picnic spread classic with sandwiches, salads, and a sweet treat or two from Yura, a trusted Madison Avenue caterer that also operates a takeout cafe. Here, a gourmet deli case is packed with roast beef, grilled salmon, string beans, and potato salad. Yura's takeaway list also includes ready-to-go lunchboxes priced at just $6.95. The Smoked Turkey Pinwheel is a favorite, as well as a boxed arugula salads topped with Greek chicken.

The path to your picnic site
You can enter the park at 86th Street, or head up Fifth Avenue to the park's 96th Street entrance, where you'll likely pass a hot dog vendor peddling lukewarm wieners. Keep walking with the knowledge that you've made a better culinary choice. Continue north up the path (against the direction of street traffic), keeping the reservoir to your left, until you come to the East Meadow. Here, pick your favorite green spot alongside the baseball diamonds and winding tarmac paths, lay out your blanket, and dig in.

The al fresco entertainment
Check Central Park's calendar of events to synchronize your visit to one of the many tours and performances offered throughout the summer. Just a few examples: Most Tuesdays in June and July, you can sign up for open hours at the Hallett Nature Sanctuary, a woodland garden otherwise closed to visitors. Or come on a Sunday to enjoy the Harlem Meer Performance Festival, a three-week series featuring jazz ensembles, ballet, and more (2-4 p.m. at the Dana Discovery Center at 110th Street).

The post-picnic pick-me-up
Once you've wrapped up your meal, had a chance to lie in the sun, and maybe wandered off to explore a nearby attraction like the Untermeyer Fountain or the Pool Grotto, it's time to make your way back. Before that, however, stop in for a refresher at Cafe Sabarsky, a posh Austrian coffeehouse serving up strudel, sachertorte, and espresso in the lower level of the Neue Galerie.

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