By Carol Cain, on September 24, 2013

Dining al fresco in New York City

Dining al fresco in New York City is a favorite pastime. What makes it so much fun is the people watching and the views, which if dining on one of the city’s many high-rises, can offer quite a spectacular view.

When choosing where to dine al fresco it’s important to consider all the various elements involved, since when it comes to options, you have plenty. Are you looking for an early afternoon brunch experience with friends or a romantic date night scene? Are you hoping for a sunset view or just looking to take in the city’s energy without the limitations of four walls?

Whatever the vibe, there is a perfect outdoor dining spot for you. Here are some of my favorites in New York City.

Park Views

Bryant Park Grill, in the gorgeous Bryant Park, offers two outdoor dining options. One is their outdoor patio, which places you at the same level as the park grounds and is a great place to take in the lush park views and city lights while sipping on a glass of wine and enjoying their delicious food. The rooftop garden offers the same at a grander scale with a little bit more privacy away from the passing crowds. The outdoor seating is seasonal and offered at a first-come, first-serve basis.


Central Park rowboats

The Boathouse in Central Park

is a popular destination that will require a reservation in advance, but offers such iconic views that it is a must – at least once – when visiting New York City. Make a day out of it by renting a rowboat or bike and taking in all that this beloved destination has to offer. Whether weekend brunch or a date night dinner, this is just one of those places that makes you fall in love with New York.

Skyline Views

230 Fifth, otherwise known as The Rooftop Garden, has some of the best views of the city and offers both cooling and heating options to make the space comfortable no matter what the weather. Though the space is mostly known as having a great bar scene, it opens its doors to families for brunch hosted on Saturdays and Sundays. The brunch is pretty basic, but the views are anything but. On summer days they open up the grill station so that guests can enjoy some warm season flavors while enraptured in the breathtaking views.

Birreria is Eataly’s rooftop restaurant and brewery. On a clear New York City night the views of the skyline go well with a nice cold drink and a beer-braised pork shoulder. If it’s raining or cold, you can still enjoy the sights under the glass-enclosed roof they reserve just for such occasions.

River Views

The terrace at the Boat Basin, nestled in Riverside Park, has some of the best views along the Hudson River. The basin itself is very popular with the after-work drinking crowd and the menu is nothing more than a few grilled items. However, if you get there a bit earlier, especially on a weekday, the vibe is family-friendly so that you can snag a nice table right along the river. Hang out long enough and you may get to enjoy a spectacular sunset.


Viewfinder Tip: Brunch in NYC is a sport, or as I call it, my religion. Most places don’t take reservations, so be ready to wait in line. Avoid going with too large of a group.


If taking the sunset views from land is not enough, then why not from a docked boat? The Frying Pan may be a little rough around the edges, with its exposed engine and rustic exterior, but few things are more fun than touring the 1900s caboose on this once sunken boat that has been revitalized into one of the most popular offshore dining spots in town. Great for drinks and grilled food, seating is at a first-come, first-serve basis.

Year-Round Views

Petrie Court in the Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of my favorite places to stop into when escaping the harsh New York City weather, be it cold or hot. The views of Central Park in any season are so lovely from here, and it’s a fun way to introduce the little ones to afternoon tea or enjoy a glass of wine and a light meal with friends. The museum itself is to die for, but this dining spot serves to further complement that experience.

The rooftop at the Gramercy Park Hotel is one of the most beautiful event spaces and restaurants I know. The décor of their year-round greenhouse and tropical garden is breathtaking and though they are open for lunch and dinner, brunch is my favorite time to visit. The retractable roof keeps you cozy year-round so that you never have to miss all the wonderful that the city has to offer from above.

Of course, there are countless other locations where you can enjoy dining al fresco. At the very least, the things to look out for when choosing your outdoor dining spot is an eatery that offers delicious food, even yummier drinks, and the perfect spot for people watching, the best NYC view of all.

What’s your ideal al fresco dining experience?