date published: May 23, 2005

Splendor in the Grass by Katie Cunningham and Marketa Hulpachova

Summer is upon us, and with it comes a whole spectrum of activities involving that which is generally off-limits during the winter months: the great outdoors. It’s time to leave the cozy confines of your favorite eatery, grab a sandwich to go and enjoy an outdoor meal in the leafy shade of one of the many oases the city has to offer. Pack a blanket and a picnic basket and be transported to a different world, if only for lunchtime.

After you and the kids have traipsed all over the North End following the Freedom Trail, little bellies are sure to start to growl. Take a breather and head over to Christopher Columbus Park on Atlantic Avenue’s Commercial Wharf. Located behind the Marriott Long Wharf, a short walk from Faneuil Hall, this park was designed in the 1970s as a tribute to Boston’s industrial past. Today it houses a newly renovated enclosed playground with a large climbing center—complete with ladders, slides and hiding nooks. This 4.5-acre facility contains lots of green space, but no picnic tables, so be sure to bring a blanket. Parents and kids alike will enjoy the stunning view of Boston Harbor and the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Garden, not to mention the ducks and geese that patrol the waterfront. Try and tell them there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

The Larz Anderson Park on Goddard Avenue in Brookline is popular with kite-flyers, who provide entertainment in the unlikely event the enclosed play area loses its novelty. The huge, 64-acre park boasts baseball and soccer fields and a covered picnic area with grilling facilities available for rent (call 617-730-2069 for information). Also located in the park is the Larz Anderson Auto Museum, the oldest collection of historic automobiles in the nation, which hosts car shows on the lawn on Sundays (refer to listing, page 45). If you don’t have a car, the #51 bus (which stops at Forest Hills station on the Orange Line and Reservoir and Cleveland Circle stations on the Green Line) drops you off at nearby Newton Street.

Perhaps the most well-known and venerable park in the U.S. outside of Central Park, Boston Common was originally public pasture land before it became the headquarters for British troops during the Revolutionary War. Now the 50-acre space is a popular gathering spot for city-dwellers, complete with all the amenities and facilities to make it just right for an outdoor feast. It can be accessed via Park Street station.

Located just outside of Harvard Square, the Cambridge Common is also one of America’s most historic sites. William Dawes, Cambridge’s version of Paul Revere, rode through the Common in May 1775 to warn the town that the British were approaching. His horse’s hoof prints are immortalized in bronze on the sidewalk. Besides the history lessons, both parks offer play areas, benches and tons of green grass in the sun and shade for stretching out and chowing down.

Take your romantic cues from Romeo and Juliet, the feathered residents of The Public Garden’s lagoon, or hop onto a pedal-powered Swan Boat and let someone else do the legwork as you soak up the scenery. Located across from Boston Common, the famed Boston Public Garden has bragging rights as the first public botanical garden in the country. What’s said to be the smallest suspension bridge in America traverses the main pond and the lush green space surrounding it provides a wonderful backdrop to a summer picnic supper.

The Esplanade is Boston’s answer to the French Riviera. Meaning “promenade” in French, this 17-mile scenic expanse along the shores of the Charles River is popular with the jogging set, but the lagoons, pathways and parks offer plenty of space to roll out a blanket and enjoy some food. Restrooms, as well as snack stands and playgrounds, are available and are frequently patronized in fair weather. Visitors can also sit on the front lawn of the Hatch Shell and catch the many music acts who perform there throughout the spring and summer. The closest T station is Charles MGH on the Red Line. A pedestrian walkway that spans over Storrow Drive will carry you to the park.

The Emerald Necklace, a series of public parks and parkways, constitutes the majority of Boston’s green space. The best spot for picnicking is the banks of Jamaica Pond (pictured top left), Boston’s first drinking water reservoir. Today, Jamaica Pond is a popular spot for sailing and rowing as well as fishing and bird watching. To get there, take the #39 bus from Copley Square to Pond Street in Jamaica Plain, then walk to the end of the street or ride the Orange Line to Green Street.

Castle Island, a 22-acre park connected to South Boston, is home to Fort Independence, erected in 1634. Despite the name, the island can be accessed by foot (take the #9 bus from Copley Square to the end of the line) and is well-equipped to handle picnicking visitors. Playgrounds, beaches, a snack bar and a fishing pier make it feel like a little city oasis for picnickers of all ages. You can even watch planes landing at Logan Airport across the harbor.

Another good island for picnics, George’s Island, contains Fort Warren, once used as a prison during the Civil War and rumored to be haunted by “The Lady in Black.” Packed with the same amenities as Castle Island, George’s Island also allows visitors to clamber on and explore its fort. It’s just a short boat trip into the harbor, which we think is half the fun! A ferry leaves from Long Wharf every 15 minutes.

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Each Friday and Saturday, a bustling street in the heart of Boston provides the perfect opportunity to purchase goodies for your picnic basket. Crowds of pedestrians jam the street’s narrow confines, many of them muttering in foreign tongues. Looming over dozens of produce-filled pushcarts, they haggle with vendors, often using universal sign language in order to purchase the biggest head of cauliflower, the freshest swordfish or the finest jar of cilantro.

The scene is reminiscent of small-town Italy, but it is, in fact, located right between Faneuil Hall and the North End, mere feet from Big Dig construction. Perched along Blackstone and Hanover Street, the Haymarket, an open-air farmer’s marketplace, is a Boston tradition that dates back to Colonial times.

It was 1734 when town officials voted to institute a central marketplace in the Haymarket area. By the 1850s, the Haymarket had established its permanent position along Blackstone Street. To this day, it surfaces in that same location every Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. until dusk, seemingly untouched by the developments of the past two centuries.

Here, you can purchase anything from figs to tilapia for prices so dirt-cheap you can leave home with nothing but your change purse. A dollar will get you five hefty ears of corn, a dozen limes, two cantaloupes, or one giant watermelon. And there is no need to worry about missing out on a bargain, since most of the vendors make it part of their job description to bellow out the deals in authoritative baritones: “Hey! Broccoli—dollar a head!” yells one. “Buck a box!” yells another.

The market also offers a wide variety of seafood, including shrimp, scallops, tuna, porgies, conches and oysters which can be bought, doused in sauce, and sampled right on the spot.

If you’re looking for a lively, affordable alternative to your local food store, Haymarket is the way to go. To get there, take the Orange or Green line to the Haymarket T stop, bear right on Blackstone Street and follow your nose—the market’s signature seaside aroma is unmistakable.

Need more ways to satisfy your picnicking needs? Here are some of our favorite picks:

Whole Foods Market, 15 Westland Ave., 617-375-1010. Check out the aisle-less, circular setup, stop by the bakery and pick up some fresh eats at the salad bar.

DeLuca’s Market, 239 Newbury St., 617-262-5990 and 11 Charles St., 617-523-4343. Centrally located DeLuca’s has a great selection of everything from veggies to sushi, all inexpensive and delicious.

Johnny’s Fresh Market, 1028 Beacon St., Brookline, 617-660-1366. This friendly neighborhood market offers fresh produce and yummy deli sandwiches for prices you won’t complain about.