I'm a freelance writer/photographer living in the East Village neighborhood of New York City.
Published November 22nd 2010
Provided the temperature isn't freezing, any time of the year is perfect for eating outdoors. Besides being entertaining and affordable, eating al fresco is a wonderful way of encouraging recreational activity with a partner or the whole family. During the fall and winter months, planning a picnic gets city dwellers out of stuffy, overheated apartments and into invigorating, crisp air. Below are some tips for planning an impromptu outdoor get together.
Choose A Great Location
When considering where to picnic, plan ahead. Scout locations while going about your daily business and note available seating, whether or not fido can be in attendance, noise levels, amount of privacy, and more. Let's face it: In a city of eight million, finding a prime spot can be a real challenge. Consider some old favorites: Rooftops, balconies, rooftop gardens (many of the city's museums have them), public and community parks, isolated neighborhoods in the outer boroughs, such as DUMBO, Red Hook, and Greenpoint in Brooklyn, or Astoria or Long Island City in Queens. Many of the city's parks are now outfitted with WiFi hotspots, too, such as Madison Square Park, Union Square, Bryant Park, Tompkins Square Park, City Hall Park, and Battery Park. Each park has different amenities, such as children's playgrounds, public art installations, mobile furnishings, outdoor public grills, and public restrooms. Be sure to check out individual websites for rules and regulations, seasonal schedules, special events, and more.
Pack Only The Essentials
A picnic is no longer fun if you attempt to cart too much to your location. Instead of a cooler, consider a knapsack or backpack. Juice boxes and bags can be substituted for ice packs to save space while keeping food items cool. Just a couple of sandwiches, some fruit and cheese, and a hunk of crusty bread can keep most folks happy. Instead of wasting money on disposable paper goods and plastics, use cloth napkins, drink out of reusable containers, and if you need disposable cutlery, invest in Cereplast utensils, which are made from natural ingredients and biodegrade without harming the environment. Remember to pack a plastic tarp and/or a blanket so you can sit comfortably on the ground (even if it's damp) and your food items are kept on a clean surface. Re-useable containers with lids help keep items from getting contaminated. If temperatures are warm, keep food items out for only a short period and throw any uneaten food away. Individually wrapped items like granola or cereal bars are small enough to carry and will not be easily wasted. Obviously, "finger foods" are a convenient addition to any picnic. If picnicking during the fall and winter months, be sure to take a Thermos filled with a hot soup or beverage. An extra blanket is also a must since relaxing in place often makes people feel chillier than normal.
Relax, Or Not
For entertainment, consider your location. If an open space like Central Park is your top choice, you'll likely want to pack a Frisbee or kite. If you are more interested in one of the city's smaller neighborhood parks, consider a board game, a deck of cards, books and magazines, and even things like bubbles and ribbon sticks for kids. Remember to pack a camera. Electronic gadgets go nearly everywhere, but consider an external add-on component that enables your digital music player to be amplified for group listening. Others might find having a sketchpad and a few pencils handy is more inspirational. Whatever you choose, plan your picnic accordingly, and leave no traces of it behind.