It’s a slow crawl from the end of winter to the beginning of spring in New England. But then that first warm day arrives, and the air is full of frenzied energy—everyone, get outside! There’s only one thing to do: Cook some food, pack it up and go bask in the sun.
Sometimes that day comes in March, so we pack extra blankets and a Thermos of warm tea, just in case. But often it doesn’t roll around until May, when we might camp out for hours, playing catch, reading, chasing bumblebees and breathing in the blossoms on the fruit trees.
Picnic menus are not rocket science. But it helps to think about what foods travel well, taste good at room temperature, stay neat when eaten and are filling—the less stuff you have to haul around, the better—especially if your picnic is doubling as an urban excursion. In many years of living in Boston, we’ve explored our fair share of the city’s green spaces. Here are a few of our favorite urban places to break out a picnic blanket.
Castle Island is directly beneath a flight path. If you have small children, this is a good and fascinating thing. And it’s just one of the many joyful attractions at this spot on the tip of Southie. I count the unparalleled people-watching high on the list; my kids might argue for the large playground or the bayside beach, perfect for dipping their catching nets into. But then I’ll ask, what about Fort Independence? They’ll say, it’s cool, but you can’t run in there, plus it’s never open when we go. How about watching the boats come in and out of Boston Harbor? Or fishing off of the pier? No, Mom, it’s definitely rolling down the huge grassy hill at Castle Island! Oh wait: I know what we can agree on. Sullivan’s softserve, right? Yes!
Copp’s Hill Terrace/Langone Park
Once you get beyond the well-tread blocks of Salem and Hanover streets in the North End, the neighborhood reveals so many charming little secrets—plazas, gardens and pocket parks galore. On the other side of Copp’s Hill Burying Ground (a stop on the Freedom Trail), you’ll discover a charming open terrace with benches, plenty of shade and a view of the Zakim bridge. Across the street is Langone Park, with bocce courts, a playground and a walkway with benches directly on Boston Harbor. Something about it feels like you’ve stumbled on a secret.
The Public Garden
Once, at the edge of the lagoon in the Public Garden, we saw a group of people dressed all in white Victorian-era garb—boater hats for the gents; long, corseted gowns for the ladies. They were dining at a table with a flowing white cloth. Even in 2016, the scene didn’t really seem out of place. In a section of the Back Bay that was once marshland, this park has been both a botanic and sculpture garden since 1837. You’ll find the Swan Boats, the Ducklings Statue and—my sons’ favorite—an enormous sculpture of George Washington on horseback. Just elbow your way to a spot under a weeping willow, unfold your blanket and unpack your picnic to the rousing bells ringing from the nearby Arlington Street Church. Corseted gown optional.
Schoolmaster Hill, Franklin Park
This hidden bit of tranquility overlooking the Franklin Park Golf Course is one of my favorite spots in the city. Picturesque stone ruins and lovely arbors frame the area; picnic tables and benches dot a small, shaded pine grove. You’re even allowed to bring a charcoal grill; in the summer months, people do, along with sound systems and pop-up tents for big family reunions. But on a quiet spring weekend, you’ll likely have the place to yourself. Spend all afternoon here—nearby, there are paved paths for kids to ride bikes, scooters or skate-boards, and a wide-open field for playing catch or flying kites.
LEIGH BELANGER is a cookbook author, writer and editor. Her second cookbook, My Kitchen Chalkboard, about seasonal meal planning and family dinners, came out in May 2018. Leigh's personal chef and kitchen coaching service, Salt & Lemons, help families eat better at home. Find more of her work at saltandlemons.net.