The picnic grove at the gorgeous Shofuso, the tranquil Japanese House and Garden at Fairmount Park, is one of dozens of prime picnicking spots throughout Philadelphia. (Photo by G. Widman for GPTMC)
Technically, July is National Picnic Month. But in our opinion it’s never too late for a useful guide to DIY outdoor eating in Philadelphia.
Below, we’ve outlined all the best summer festivals and concerts coming up to which you’re encouraged to BYO picnic basket and blanket; the most picnic-friendly parks and other swatches of green space that cry out for picnicking pairs and groups; and some of the best cafes and other grocery spots that you can rely on to supply aforementioned picnic basket with delicious food and drink.
The definitive Philadelphia picnic guide, below:
• Fireworks & Fountains at Longwood Gardens: August 13, 9:15 p.m. $38, ages 16 and up; $22, ages 15 and under. Fireworks and music will bathe Longwood’s 1,050-acre horticultural showplace of colorful waterworks and meticulously manicured flora. Picnics unfortunately aren’t allowed on the Conservatory grounds (either the upper or lower level in front of the Conservatory provides the most direct viewing experience), but there is a special picnic area nearby from which you can view the fireworks. As you’re approaching Longwood Gardens, turn left onto Longwood Road rather than going straight through the gardens, and the area will be about a quarter mile to your left.
• Fantastic Fridays at Penn Treaty Park: August 19 and 26, 6:30 p.m. Free. Free concerts and fireworks over the Delaware River make for an awesome al fresco beginning to a summer weekend. Penn Treaty Park is super picnic-friendly, so make sure to pack some tasty nibbles to enjoy throughout the evening.
• Screening of The Sixth Sense in Rittenhouse Square: Saturday, August 13, 8:30 p.m. Free. The Philadelphia Film Society and the Friends of Rittenhouse Square are hosting a free screening of the awesome, iconic, shot-in-Philadelphia movie, The Sixth Sense, in Rittenhouse Square Saturday night. If you want to picnic, make sure to arrive early so you can stake out a good spot.
• Smooth Jazz Summer Nights Concert Series at Penn’s Landing: Fridays in August, 7:30 p.m. Free. Cool off on scorching summer nights with a free smooth jazz concert on the waterfront. Supplement the free live music with a pre-packed evening meal to enjoy as you listen.
• August concerts at the Mann Center: There is ample time left this summer season to take in an under-the-stars concert at Philadelphia’s iconic Mann Center. Go for the family-priced lawn tickets ($10!) if you want to pack a picnic. Lounge on the grass with sandwiches and other portable bites for an unforgettably magical evening.
• Screenings Under the Stars: Thursdays in August, 8 p.m. Free. Nothing says summer quite like (free!) open-air movie screenings, so pack up your blanket and a picnic basket and head to the River Stage at Penn’s Landing Thursdays through this month. Last three movies are, in order: This Is It, Twilight Saga: Eclipse and Despicable Me.
• Scribe Video Center’s Street Movies: Now through August 27, 7:45 p.m. Free. Held at various venues throughout the city from Clark Park to Mill Creek Playground, the Street Movies! series was inspired by the tradition of outdoor screenings at African film festivals and Philadelphia’s street theater movement of the 60s. The picnic-friendly programs are family-friendly and start with a live performance by a local band or performer, followed by the movie screening.
• South Street Headhouse Annual Summer Indie Film Series: Wednesdays through August 31, 8 p.m. Free. Looking for a fun, open-air and free way to spend your Wednesday nights this summer? Grab a chair and head over to Headhouse Square for this annual film series. Bring a chair, a blanket, a picnic basket — and enjoy a summertime evening in one of the city’s most historic locales.
• Schuylkill Banks 2011 Movie Nights: Thursday, August 18, around 8:20 p.m. Free. Bring your friends, blankets and picnic baskets for a great time watching The Incredibles under the stars on the Schuylkill Banks. Last one this summer!
• Liberty Lands Park Summer Movie Series: Tuesdays until August 23, 8:30 p.m. Free. Every Tuesday night at nightfall, popular films ranging from Where the Wild Things Are to Raiders of the Lost Ark will be shown in Liberty Lands park, courtesy of the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association. Pack a picnic!
• International House Philadelphia Outdoor Movie Screenings: August 17 and 31, 8 p.m. Free. International House Philadelphia is joining the outdoor movie fray with free screenings in the picnic-friendly courtyard, replete with tables and chairs.
• XPN Kids Corner Concert at Morris Arboretum: August 11, 6:30-7:30 p.m. Free. The concert, featuring Alex and the Kaleidoscope Band followed by Yosi and the Superdads, is held at Azalea Meadow, a gorgeous and spacious outdoor venue on the grounds of Morris Arboretum. Fun craft activities precede the concert. Get your blankets and picnic baskets ready!
Below, we’ve laid out a host of prime picnicking spots, in addition to a guide to the best grab-and-go food and drink sources.
Nary a summer day passes in Rittenhouse Square without picnic blankets and baskets cloaking the lush grass of the park. (Photo by J. Smith for GPTMC)
• Rittenhouse Square: Despite the constant buzz of activity in warmer months, there is always picnic space aplenty at what is arguably Philadelphia’s most popular town square. The beautiful plaza, housing a reflecting pool and planted with gorgeous flowers and trees, is surrounded by a balustrade and ringed by a circular walk with ample benches for seating. Large planes of grass are also prime picnic blanket real estate. Ornamental lampposts contribute to an air of old-fashioned gentility, in addition to the sophisticated restaurant row and building surrounding the square on three sides.
• Washington Square: One of Philadelphia’s five original public squares laid out by William Penn in his original plan for the city, Washington Square is a leafy retreat with tree-shaded benches steps from Independence Hall. With dogs trotting happily along the stone paths, a fountain bubbling in the park’s center, and benches and grassy green space galore, the square is a prime picnicking spot in Philadelphia. The 60+ species of trees planted around the scenic square don’t hurt.
• Franklin Square: After you (and the kids) are tuckered out from Philly Mini Golf, a carousel ride, catching up on history at the park’s Once Upon a Nation storytelling bench, settle in one of the benches or tables surrounding the central fountain, or else on the grass encircling the park, for a pre-assembled picnic.
• Love Park: It’s lacking in grass, or even astroturf, but the serene fountain, the iconic LOVE statue and the Center City lunchtime concerts (Wednesdays from noon–1:30 p.m. through August 31) make the park a great picnic option, especially for the downtown office crowd.
• Fairmount Park: With more than 9,200 acres of rolling hills, gentle trails, relaxing waterfront and shaded woodlands, Fairmount Park keeps a wealth of natural landscapes within easy reach. The Grove is a gated picnic area with two picnic pavilions, water and electric hook-ups, eight picnic tables, three charcoal grills, two horseshoe pits, a volleyball court and asoftball field. The site offers indoor restroom facilities, 135 vehicle fenced parking lot and sports equipment (horseshoes, volleyball, badminton, softball & bats and football) for rent. Note that for a group of 75 or more, or for smaller groups just as an optional precautionary measure to ensure you get a spot, you’ll need to download and print a special picnic permit (PDF). Shofuso, the tranquil Japanese House and Garden, is another option with its picnic grove available to picnickers, and Belmont Plateau affords a dramatic view of the Center City Skyline so you can cap off a summer picnic with a gorgeous sunset. Check out an overview of the whole park system to scope out other spots for picnicking.
• Clark Park: Established in 1895, Clark Park is in the heart of University City. With more than 300 trees, the park covers nine acres and hosts the super popular farmers market, May through November on Saturdays and Thursdays and December through April on Saturdays. Your picnic will be made all the more pleasant by the recent changes made to the park, including: recycling receptacles, a new park center with moveable tables and chairs, a new lighting system and newly planted trees.
• Liberty Lands Park: This popular neighborhood park, complete with picnic tables, in Northern Liberties is a great spot to hang out and snack under the sun. Bonus: there’s playground equipment to keep the kids occupied.
• Penn Treaty Park: At the heart of Philadelphia’s burgeoning riverfront, Penn Treaty Park welcomes neighbors and visitors alike with seven acres of open green space, clean picnic areas, new playground equipment and seasonal community events. You’ll forget, within minutes of unpacking your picnic, that you’re in a major city.
• FDR Park: Known to generations of South Philadelphians as “The Lakes,” enjoy a picnic by the lagoon, creek and lakes nestled among the neighborhoods of South Philly. You can work up a picnic appetite by playing golf, tennis, rugby, baseball and softball, or skating in the FDR skate park designed and built by local volunteer skateboarding enthusiasts.
• Race Street Pier: The park story of 2011, the gorgeously scenic new Race Street Pier is open for your picnicking pleasure daily from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. for the summer season. There’s free wifi, spectacular night lighting including 200 LED Solar Light Blocks embedded into the paving, tiered seating terraces, 37 full-grown trees all on two levels — an upper level with a grand sky promenade and a lower level for gathering and recreation. It’s a sensational addition to Philadelphia’s park system, one that you should definitely take advantage of while it’s still sunglasses weather!
• Rodin Museum Gardens: The first phase of the Rodin Museum’s renovations, the re-landscaping of the museum’s courtyard and beautiful gardens, was recently unveiled. The gardens now enhance the entire block between 21st and 22nd Streets on the Parkway, making for prime picnic grounds, especially given the proximity to one of the world’s most impressive collections of Rodin sculptures. Plus the museum is located just a few blocks from the Philadelphia Museum of Art on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, convenient to Center City and Fairmount.
• Bartram’s Garden: With its riverfront location and beautiful view of the Philadelphia skyline, Bartram’s Garden is a fabulous summer destination for boating, strolling through fragrant flower gardens and, of course, picnicking. The garden includes a playground, ball fields and a covered picnic pavilion as well as the boat dock, so you can make a full day out of it. Note: picnicking is prohibited in the botanic garden.
• Tyler Arboretum: Tyler Arboretum (which the American Public Gardens Association recently named the “Official Local Garden” of the Philadelphia region) features 20 miles of trails, 650 forested acres and more than 1,000 varieties of trees and shrubs, 23 specimens of which date back centuries. Visitors are welcome to bring food and beverages; picnic tables are located just outside the Visitor Center. The center sells beverages and snacks if you want to supplement your own picnic.
• Azalea Garden: Located directly behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art, this picturesque spot features more than four acres of luminous plantings, including 150 different species of azaleas, rhododendrons, irises, tulips, sycamores, oaks and more. Aside from providing a great photo-op, the garden is a cozy spot for picnicking among the flora.
• Schuylkill River Banks: Spanning eight miles of riverfront winding through the heart of Philadelphia, Schuylkill Banks is open year-round for walking, jogging, cycling, dog-walking and, importantly, picnicking. The verdant park stretches along the Schuylkill River and links the western edge of Center City to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Fairmount Park and Kelly Drive via the Schuylkill River Park and Trail.
With all the magical options outlined above, the makings of a great picnic really lie in the locale rather than haute cuisine. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t grab-and-go sources aplenty for both gourmet and casual bites and beverages in Philadelphia.
• Milk & Honey: Celebrating the Philadelphia region’s foodways and indigenous ingredients, this West Philly market stocks its shelves with locally grown and produced wares. Think of it as your dream pantry. Pick up fresh cheese from local farms, or house-made sandwiches assembled with said cheese plus local meats and produce from Lancaster Farm Fresh Co-op and bread from Metropolitan Bakery.
• Green Aisle Grocery: This South Philly store may be tiny, but it’s offerings are vast. The picnic-friendly bounty includes farm produce from Lancaster County and New Jersey, duck and quail from Griggstown Quail Farm, Wild Flour breads, Market Day Canelés, Better Together Brownies, and Remedy Teas. Green Aisle also showcases products made by Philly chefs, like hummus, cured meats, barbecue sauce and pumpkin bread.
• Picnic: It’s literally named Picnic. How could you go wrong? The prepared foods at this carry out store and café in University City are all made on site, plus they carry seasonal local produce and dairy products, not to mention vintage picnic baskets in which you can carry all your freshly assembled food.
• Garces Trading Company: First things first: Garces Trading Company offers three varieties of pre-packed picnics that can be custom designed for up to 20 guests. Picnics To-Go are available for walk-in customers, but you can also place an order by calling the café 24 hours in advance, at (215) 574-1099. If you want to go the a la carte route, the cafe offers luscious cheese, bread, pastries, charcuterie, wine and more, the ideal picnic assembly ingredients.
• Reading Terminal Market: The city’s oldest and most storied local market’s only obstacle to picnic preparation is the potentially overwhelming smorgasbord of options. How to pick? Vendors sell everything from Pennsylvania produce, eggs and meat to Amish baked goods and pickles to Philly specialties like cheesesteaks and Famous Fourth Street cookies. With the addition of the Fair Food Farmstand, which specializes in connecting shoppers with small sustainable area farms and producers, Reading Terminal is more local-centric than ever.
• Metropolitan Bakery: There are five locations, but the Rittenhouse Square and University Cit outposts offer delicious prepared foods in addition to the scrumptious bread and pastries and coffee sold at the other locations. Go for the granola (careful, it’s like crack) as a sweet ending to a crusty baguette and local cheese, or pick up a salad or sandwich at the University City shop.
• Le Bus Bakery: LeBus artisan breads, rolls, and pastries have been in Philadelphia since 1978. Pick up a prepared soup, sandwich or salad if you want something more substantial than (albeit delicious) bread.
• Plenty: East Passyunk’s Plenty is the 21st century’s version of the old-school deli. Handmade cured meats and perfect local produce abound. Pick up jarred and pickled preserves to accompany your other items.
• Di Bruno’s: A glistening specialty food emporium providing a veritable feast for the senses, Di Bruno’s originated in the Italian Market and migrated north as well to Center City. There’s an extensive selection of picnic-perfect specialty products from around the world, from cheese to gourmet meats, pates and a delectable selection of smoked fish and caviar. The Rittenhouse location has a huge wall of prepared foods, from soups to salads to sushi, that are also great for picnic packing.
• Fork:etc: Fork:etc., a combination gourmet take-out spot, charcuterie and specialty market, opened in 2004 right next door to Fork. Stop by for prepared foods like soups, sandwiches and entrees, or for gourmet desserts, artisan cheeses and special gifts from Fork’s kitchen.
• Pumpkin Market: Pumpkin Market offers a little bit of everything — so long as it’s grown locally — from fresh yogurt parfaits, smoked salmon sandwiches, sustainable meats, dairy, produce and breads, all great picnicking options.
Bonus: Stephen Starr’s Perfect Picnics: Stephen Starr Events offers up a summer classic with style with their Perfect Picnics. You choose the location, and then leave it to them to handle the rest. All of the several varieties of picnics come with staff and appropriate dining materials.
• Food & Friends: The beer selection at this Rittenhouse gourmet grocery and beer spot is heavily skewed towards quality American craft and good local seasonals. Youcan also pick up snacks like vegetables, hummus and pita to complement your refreshing pours.
• The Foodery: With two locations, Washington Square West and Northern Liberties, you have double the real estate for great imported and regional craft beers. Cool bonus: you can also assemble your own six pack with beers of your choosing.
• The Bottle Shop: Head to East Passyunk for a wide variety of more than 700 American and imported craft beers. They’re available by single bottle or mix and match your own six pack for a ten percent discount. They also offer beer-pairable snacks like nuts and dried fruits, hot dogs, flavored popcorn and gourmet pretzels.
• Wine & Spirits: There are 53 stores throughout the city for picking up wine or liquor to supplement your edibles with drinks.