June 26, 2012
Uwishunu’s Brand New Guide To Picnicking In Philadelphia: Best Picnic Spots, Where To Pick Up Picnic-Appropriate Food And Drink, And Picnic-Friendly Festivals And Events
One quintessential summer activity that’s easy to pursue in Philadelphia is picnicking.
The city is filled with lush gardens, shade-filled parks and other swatches of green space; there are plenty of prime picnic-supply resources from Di Bruno Bros. to Green Aisle Grocery; and this summer’s programming, including everything from under-the-stars movie screenings to concerts on Independence Mall, calls for a lot of picnics.
With all the magical options, the makings of a great picnic really lie in where, rather than what, you’re eating. But rest assured there are grab-and-go sources aplenty for both gourmet and casual bites and beverages in Philadelphia. So we’ve included location-tied suggestions for those, too.
Plus, National Picnic Month (July) is quickly approaching.
Below, we’ve revisited last summer’s handy guide to picnicking in Philadelphia to present you with a new, freshly updated Guide to Picnicking in Philadelphia.
• Movie Nights on the Schuylkill Banks: Every other Thursday at 8:30 p.m. from June 14-August 23. If you come early, snacks are actually free courtesy Dranoff Properties’ Locust on the Park and Left Bank, but feel free to bring your own blanket and food.
• The Awesome Fest Film Series at Race Street Pier: Saturdays in June. Free. Race Street Pier welcomes free weekly viewings of independent films from major festivals like Sundance and SXSW throughout the summer season on Awesome Fest’s brand new state-of-the-art, 30-foot outdoor airscreen appropriately named “The Awesome Screen.” The lineup is curated by their new program director Eric Bresler, also the founder of Cinedelphia, the city’s online film and festival guide.
• Friday Night Lights – Fireworks At Penn’s Landing: Fridays, July 27 – August 31. If you don’t mind dim lighting with your dinner (and what romantic does?), enjoy an alfresco meal with a side of spectacular fireworks this summer down at Penn’s Landing.
• Screenings Under the Stars at Penn’s Landing: Thursdays, July 5-August 30. Free. Once again this summer, the RiverStage at Penn’s Landing does double duty as an outdoor movie theater, bringing popular movies to the Delaware River on Thursday nights at dusk. First up is Mission Impossible on Thursday, July 5.
• Grays Ferry Crescent Movie Night: Thursday, June 21, 8:30 p.m. Help christen the new Grays Ferry Crescent Esplanade, on the east side of the Schuylkill River by Wharton Street and Schuylkill Avenue, with an under-the-stars movie night featuring The Pursuit of Happyness with Philadelphia’s own Will Smith.
• International House: Wednesday, August 8 at 8 p.m., Wednesday, August 22 at 8 p.m. Free. International House in West Philly is hosting two free outdoor movie screenings in the courtyard: Silent Running on August 8 and Dark Star on August 22.
• The Awesome Fest Film Series at Liberty Lands Park: Every other Thursday beginning June 28. Free.Awesome Fest is all over the city this year, with another, well, awesome series planned for Liberty Lands Park in addition to Race Street Pier (see above). Picnics encouraged!
• Welcome America: Philly at the Movies: June 25-July 2, 9 p.m. Free. One of the most exciting aspects of Wawa Welcome America’s epic week-long celebration of July 4th in Philadelphia is the annual Philly at the Movies outdoor screening series returning once again this summer. First up is The Great Gatsby in Rittenhouse Square on Monday, June 25, followed by Ferris Bueller’s Day Off on Tuesday, June 26. Following tradition, Rocky will be shown on the Philadelphia Museum of Art Steps on June 27.
Below, we’ve laid out top evergreen picks for where to enjoy your picnic, in addition to a guide to the best grab-and-go food and drink sources.
• Rittenhouse Square: Despite the constant buzz of activity in warmer months, there is always ample picnic space 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 ringed by a circular walk with ample benches for seating. Large planes of grass are also prime picnic blanket real estate.
Get Food Here: 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.
Get Food Here: 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.
Get Food Here: Di Bruno Bros.: A glistening specialty food emporium providing a veritable feast for the senses, Di Bruno’s originated in the Italian Market and migrated north 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.
Get Food Here: Shake Shack: Burgers and fries and milkshakes, oh my! The brand new Shake Shack dishes up the perfect picnic fare. There’s an even a flavor of the Shake Shack Concrete (custard whipped with mixins) called Rittenhouse, chocolate with La Colombe coffee beans and truffle cookie dough.
Get Food Here: Pumpkin Market: Head South and find Pumpkin Market, which 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.
• Sister Cities Park: Center City’s newest public space is truly impressive: it’s a richly planted, well-illuminated and overall welcoming civic space for people of all ages. There’s a Milk & Honey Café boasting local eats; an active, educational play garden for kids; a boat pond; and a refreshing fountain. Case closed.
Get Food Here: Milk & Honey Cafe at Sister Cities Park: The Center City offshoot of the all-local West Philly market offers everything from bagels to popcorn to freshly made sandwiches, which you can wash down with fresh-squeezed lemonade.
• 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 just 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.
Get Food Here: Garces Trading Company: The impeccably trained, patient staff will guide you in tasting all the olive oils, cheese and macarons you wish before you put together your a la carte picnic. The cafe offers luscious cheese, bread, pastries, charcuterie, wine and more, the ideal picnic assembly ingredients.
Get Food Here: Reading Terminal Market: The city’s oldest (but recently renovated!) 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. Bonus: the Fair Food Farmstand specializes in connecting shoppers with small sustainable area farms and producers.
• Franklin Square: After you (and the kids) are tuckered out from Philly Mini Golf, a carousel ride or 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.
Get Food Here: SquareBurger: Stephen Starr upped his game this year, offering Square Burger customers new options including double burgers, crinkle cut fries, shakes and custard. There are tables and chairs dotted throughout Franklin Square just steps away from the burger stand and equally close to a refreshing fountain.
• Love Park: It’s lacking in grass, or even astroturf, but the fountain and the iconic LOVE statue make the park a great picnic option, especially for the downtown office crowd.
Get Food Here: Food Trucks: Since picnicking is already eating al fresco, why not grab your meal from a mobile food truck? Check out our roundup of the best ones in Philadelphia right now, which includes where to find them (many are in Love Park), then plot out your path from truck to pit stop.
• The Porch at 30th Street Station: This nexus between Center City and University City, adjacent to 30th Street Station, is an unlikely but strong contender for a great picnic spot in Philadelphia. There are bright-colored tables and chairs at your disposal beneath the shade of trees and plantings, and there’s a daily schedule of programming including everything from acoustic concerts to Zumba classes (so you can work off your lunch after you eat it).
Get Food Here: At The Porch, you’re a stone’s throw from some pretty awesome food trucks plus the food offerings inside the train station.
• 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.
Get Food Here: 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.
• 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.
• 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.
Get Food Here: Green Aisle Grocery: This South Philly store may be tiny, but its 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.
Get Food Here: 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.
• Race Street Pier: The gorgeously scenic 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. Take advantage while it’s sunglasses weather.
Get Food Here: Morgan’s Pier: Head next door to the newly opened Morgan’s Pier to grab to-go hot dogs (there are vegan ones, too) and cups or cones of Little Baby’s Ice Cream. And don’t try to smuggle out any booze; there’s a no-alcohol rule on Rave Street Pier.
Get Food Here: Fork:etc: Willing to go a little further? 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.
• 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.
Get Food Here: Gold Standard Café: Pastries, bagels and breakfast bowls are a.m.-appropriate at this nearby cafe, and sandwiches, burgers and salads are perfect for the p.m. Bonus: the menu features select produce from Green Meadow Farm and local gardens as well as free-range meats from Lancaster County.
• 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.
Get Food Here: Yards Brewing Company: Just south of the park is the Yards brewery complete with a Tasting Room where you can order six packs to go plus delicious grilled sandwiches.
• 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.
Get Food Here: Cosmic Café: Last summer saw the grand opening of Cosmic Café at Fairmount Park’s Lloyd Hall recreational facility, at #1 Boathouse Row. Executive Chef and owner of Cosmic Catering Peg Botto has committed to using seasonal, organic and local ingredients whenever possible for Cosmic Café. The menu (you can either dine in or take out) includes breakfast sandwiches made with farm fresh organic eggs, freshly baked muffins and gluten free baked goods, cold deli sandwiches with fresh-cut russet or sweet potato chips and a variety of daily special dishes prepared each day.
• Rodin Museum Gardens: The first phase of the Rodin Museum’s renovations, the re-landscaping of the museum’s courtyard and beautiful gardens, was unveiled last year, and the final results of the Rodin Museum’s facelift will be revealed on July 13. Even before then, you can picnic in the museum gardens, wich now enhance the entire block between 21st and 22nd Streets on the Parkway, making for prime picnic grounds. 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• Tyler Arboretum: Tyler Arboretum 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.
Sometimes you just need a cold can of craft beer or crisp bottle of wine to complete your picnic. Despite Philadelphia’s complicated liquor laws, there are a few choice places to serve your booze needs.
• Food & Friends: The beer selection at this Rittenhouse gourmet grocery and beer spot is heavily skewed towards quality American craft and good local seasonals. You can also pick up snacks like vegetables, hummus and pita to complement your refreshing pours.
• Percy Street Barbecue: Head to South Street for an awesome selection of canned beer, which you can take home in six-pack form.
• The Foodery: With two locations, Washington Square West and Northern Liberties, you have double the real estate for great imported and regional craft beers. 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.
• Garces Trading Co.: Under-appreciated fact: there’s a fabulous to-go wine bottle selection at Jose Garces’ Locust Street gourmet cafe. Even more under-appreciated fact: the prices are extremely right.