Green Acres

A-tisket, a-tasket, where to take your basket? Try these 15 picnic spots, in the city and beyond.

At Maudslay State Park in Newburyport, Kendra Stanton hangs from a tree. At Maudslay State Park in Newburyport, Kendra Stanton hangs from a tree. (Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)
By Luke O'Neil
Globe Correspondent / May 8, 2010

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Tomorrow, if the weather’s good, thousands of people will stream into Arnold Arboretum for Lilac Sunday, the one day of the year picnickers are officially welcome in the lush, Jamaica Plain reserve. It’ll be gorgeous, fragrant, and dazzlingly green. Question is, where do you picnic the rest of the season? We’ve come up with 15 locations, a summer’s worth of options, most of which we bet you haven’t tried. Now, where’s that basket?

THE BRADLEY ESTATE, 2468B Washington St., Canton. 781-255-1996. This historic mansion is primarily used for private functions, but the 90 acres of rolling hills and manicured grounds are well-suited for an impromptu picnic, too. “We have a lot of weddings, but people are welcome to come and walk and throw a blanket down anywhere,’’ says the Trustees of Reservations’ Dennis Camp. The estate also has livestock, pastures, even brochures for “quests,’’ educational walks around the property.

PUOPOLO PARK AND LANGONE PARK, 543 Commercial St., Boston. If you’re spending the day in the North End, it’s hard not to think about Italian food. So grab some bread, cheese, and meats from one of the neighborhood shops and carry them over to one of these two adjacent parks. There are plenty of recreational activities here for kids and a variety of sports fields, including three bocci courts. Too athletic for you? Take a seat on a bench, enjoy views of the Bunker Hill Monument, and nosh.

SMOLAK FARMS, 315 South Bradford St., North Andover, 978-682-6332. This 300-year-old farm is a painted picture of lush fields and bountiful orchards. “It is as quintessential New England as you’ll find anywhere,’’ says owner Michael Smolak. “Twenty-five acres of apples are blooming right now — it’s just as beautiful as it gets.’’ Also in bloom now: strawberries. Don’t miss the farm stand (with bakery) and the ice cream counter. Parking is free.

COREY HILL OUTLOOK, 171 Summit Ave., Brookline. They don’t call the street that bisects this park Summit for nothing. It’s so steep in certain spots that signs read: “use hill at own risk.’’ You’ll be glad you came, though. On a clear day the views are spectacular. A popular spot for dog walkers on the expansive sloping lawn, there’s also a playground, picnic tables, and an old sun dial. When it’s not too busy, either side of the park can be a relaxing place for a nap, too. Go for it. You’ll need the energy to get back down.

SPECTACLE ISLAND, Boston Harbor Islands. www. You’ll need to take a ferry to get here, unless you’ve got your own boat. It’s worth the short trip. Long sandy beaches with supervised swimming (there are not many places you can — or want to do that — in the harbor) and guided tours of the island’s ecosystem provide nice diversions. Or hike up to the top of one of the two summits and drink in the ocean air and awe-inspiring views. Ferries leave from Long Wharf in Boston. Round-trip tickets $14 for adults, $8 kids 3-11, under 3 free.

DUXBURY BEACH, Gurnet Road, Duxbury. Widely regarded as one of the best beaches on the South Shore, if not all of Massachusetts, this barrier beach is covered by miles of swooping sand dunes and rocky shore. During low tide the sand seems to spread out in all directions. On hot summer days, the public section of the beach can get crowded, (parking is $15) but walk farther along toward Saquish and you’ll find all the space you need to spread out a blanket and picnic. Don’t forget sunblock.

LEWIS WHARF, Commercial Street, Boston. Lewis Wharf was integral to Boston’s maritime development. It’s still a good place to watch the boats coming and going, or to avail yourself of the binoculars set up along the water. Even better is the tucked-away herb garden. You’ll have to go looking for the gravel path that leads here, as its almost completely enclosed by greenery. “It’s where I hang out myself,’’ says Vivien Li, of the Boston Harbor Association. “I don’t want to give away my little secret.’’ Too late now.

MAUDSLAY STATE PARK, Curzon Mill Road, Newburyport. 978-465-7223. The lavish rhododendrons and gardens dating back to when this was a family estate in the 19th century make this an idyllic spot for lunching al fresco. The picturesque arching stone bridge over the Merrimack River is a good spot for contemplation, or you might seek out a quiet spot along the rolling river bank. The white pine trees provide a towering canopy and serve as nesting areas for a population of bald eagles. During the summer, the park hosts open-air theater events, too. Parking is $2.

HALIBUT POINT STATE PARK, Gott Avenue, Rockport. 978-546-2997. Tide pools, seabirds, and wildflowers make up part of the scenery at this state park, but the real attraction is the sloping granite ledges from which you can see all the way to Maine and New Hampshire. “It’s a rocky outcropping on the ocean,’’ says Wendy Fox of Department of Conservation and Recreation. “It’s stunning. You can get up high and have beautiful views.’’ A longtime quarry in the 1800s, the area is primarily used for sightseeing and by picnickers who want to get close to nature.

MINUTE MAN NATIONAL PARK, 174 Liberty St., Concord. “It’s very atmospheric here,’’ said Lou Sideris, chief of planning and communication for this thousand-acre park. “Of course this is where the first day of the American Revolution was. A lot of the historic landscape has been restored.’’ It’s a perfect place for small groups to picnic, and there are trails for hiking. Keep in mind, however, there are no trash cans, so anything carried in must be carried out. Parking is free.

MILLENNIUM PARK, Charles Park Road/Gardner Street, West Roxbury. From the top of the hill in the center of this 100-acre park you can get some beautiful panoramas. But there’s plenty to see right in front of you as well. A series of fields are busy with kids’ soccer games, there’s a canoe launch on the Charles River, as well as bike and running trails, ample kite-flying room, plenty of open space for dogs and kids. You’d never know that years ago this bucolic idyll used to be a landfill. Maybe you didn’t want to.

CITY SQUARE PARK, Charlestown. Located at what has long been a focal point of Charlestown history, this one-acre park in the center of town offers a slice of the pastoral amid the urban. While there are certainly plenty of dining options in Charlestown, you can’t beat this free oasis. Bring a lunch and take in more than 70 varieties of trees, flowers, and bushes, as well as the ornate statues and fountain. Oh yeah, the views of the Zakim Bridge aren’t bad either. Parking, however, is tough.

BELL ISLE MARSH RESERVATION, Bennington Street, East Boston. 617-727-5350. For picnickers interested in getting a taste of what the areas surrounding Boston were like before development, this ecological wonder is like a natural time capsule. Minus the planes landing, of course. The fertile marsh is home to a variety of plant and sea life and is a prime spot for bird watching. Open from 9 a.m. to dusk, landscaped parks with hiking paths and seating areas provide a respite for hungry picnickers. An observation tower offers views of the marsh and the city.

HALE RESERVATION, 80 Carby St., Westwood. 781-326-1770. While it’s mostly known as a summer day-camp area, with 21 miles of hiking trails and four ponds (no swimming), there’s plenty of space for a picnic here. “It’s unique in that there are 1,200 acres of woods that are 15 minutes from Boston,’’ says Steve Larsen, director of programs on the property. “That’s the neat thing about Boston, you have all these natural areas that are so close to the city. It’s just tremendous.’’ Free.

BRADLEY PALMER STATE PARK, Asbury Street, Topsfield. 978-887-5931. Whether you want to hike, run, walk the dog, or just spread out on one of the 700-plus acres of rolling meadow on this former estate, you’ve got options. On hot summer days the wading pool and picnic area get busy (parking is $5 per car). Consider grilling here, or, if you want to get away from the crowds, grab a map from the park headquarters and find a secluded spot along the Ipswich River. Just watch out for the wild turkeys.