Summer weather in the Twin Cities just begs for a meal outdoors. Grab your cooler, blanket and kids and join us on a quest for the best spot for a picnic in Minneapolis among its beautiful parks and lakes.
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Picnics in Minneapolis by the lakes
Lake Harriet Park
Fewer things say “summer in Minneapolis” to us more than to spend time near, in, on or around the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes. Lake Harriet Park‘s pretty bandshell, beach and waterfront make it one of the most ideal spots for a summer picnic in Minneapolis. When arriving by car: there are inexpensive pay lots flanking the bandshell or it’s possible to find free street parking alongside the playground. All of the attractions within Lake Harriet Park are very walkable with children.
- Lake Harriet Bandshell – is the most picturesque site in town for concerts multiple days a week and family-friendly flicks on occasion. Bring your picnic dinner (there are many tables nearby, or you could eat on the benches) and enjoy the free entertainment. If the kids get restless, see below.
- Playground – there’s a nice one just steps from the Bandshell.
- Lake Harriet North Beach – has a nice stretch of sand, is free to swim at, and is guarded daily from noon-7pm. There are no picnic tables provided, but you could spread a blanket on the beach (if you don’t mind some extra sand in your sandwich).
- Como-Harriet Streetcar – Take an old fashioned summer streetcar ride along lovely Lake Harriet before or after your picnic. The route is about 15 minutes long (perfect for littles) and runs to Lakewood Cemetery and back. The streetcar depot is a short walk from the Lake Harriet Park Bandshell. Just $2.50/pp.
What’s to eat?
- Bread & Pickle – Located in a small pavilion next to the Bandshell, serves all the makings of a great picnic: sandwiches, salads, hot dogs, sides, and frozen treats. Enjoy these along the waterfront or at picnic tables closer to the nighttime entertainment.
- Try whipping up this super-simple recipe for Almond Chicken Salad to serve on sandwiches for your picnic in Minneapolis’s Lake Harriet Park. If you use a rotisserie chicken, the prep includes no cooking and can be thrown together in about 20 minutes.
Lake Nokomis Park
A warm summer evening at Lake Nokomis – can’t you just feel the sand between your toes? The beach parking lot is $0.75-$1.50/hr; there is free street parking available on Lake Nokomis Parkway, but you may walk a block or two.
- Lake Nokomis Beach – Spread out your picnic on the large and very clean sandy beach and let the lake entertain your kids for hours. The water remains shallow a decent distance out, but eventually deepens enough for older ones to swim happily. A lifeguard is on duty at Lake Nokomis Main Beach from noon-7pm daily. We’re fans enough of this spot to include it on our list of the Top 20 Twin Cities Beaches to try this summer.
- Wheel Fun Rentals – Families can rent watercraft such as paddleboats, stand-up paddleboards, kayaks and canoes. Or rent a surrey bike and pedal along the stretch of the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway that passes the park.
- Lake Nokomis playground – The new playground was completed in the summer of 2017. Among other improvements there is a new tot lot with new equipment, more seating and permanent nature play features such as a large structure made from woven willow branches, called “The Thicket”.
What’s to eat?
- Sandcastle Restaurant – If you haven’t packed your own picnic and it’s time for a lunch break, Sandcastle Restaurant at Lake Nokomis Park stocks kid-friendly favorites (hot dogs, chicken fingers) and also interesting fare for the adults.
Theodore Wirth Park
It’s only natural that, as the largest park in the Minneapolis park system, we would include a piece of it on our top picnics list. We recommend not missing a single piece of it if possible, but if you must select just one for a picnic spot at Theodore Wirth Park, choose this one.
- Wirth Lake beach – Sandy, smooth and clean, this beach is one of our favorites in Minneapolis. There’s a large playground and Park & Rec often drops by with activities for kids.
- Quaking Bog – The boardwalk loop hike through a tamarack bog gives you the feeling of being far from the urban hustle.
- Eloise Butler Wildflower & Bird Sanctuary – A lovely, peaceful respite located near the south end of the park. It hosts family wildflower walks, children’s programs and other self-guided activities during the temperate months.
What’s to eat?
- Cajun Twist – Located inside grounds at the park’s Trailhead, pick up authentic New Orleans cuisine for your picnic in Minneapolis with both an indoor and an outdoor counter service. Menu includes portable cuisine like Po’ Boys and Jambalaya egg rolls.
Picnics in Minneapolis at the parks
Father Hennepin Bluff Park
Approach Father Hennepin Bluff Park from either the west bank or the east bank of the Mississippi River and discover a spot for a picnic in Minneapolis convenient to many kid-pleasing attractions.
- Stone Arch Bridge – the pedestrian bridge spans the Mississippi and links Father Hennepin Bluff Park on the east bank to Mill Ruins Park on the west. Your kids will love crossing the bridge before or after a picnic in for a great birds-eye view of St Anthony Falls.
- Mill City Museum – Visit this once tummies are full because you’ll want to linger over the fun and highly kid-friendly exhibits here. The museum is an easy walk across the bridge from Father Hennepin Bluff Park. Even if you choose not to pay the admission fee ($6-$12/pp) you’re welcome to explore the courtyard ruins for free.
- St Anthony Falls Lock & Dam – The National Park Service opens the visitor’s center for fun family tours during the summer months. Walk over the lock, learn about the dam and the river and enjoy the view. Tours are typically held daily at 11 & 3pm but please call ahead to check.
- Minneapolis Music & Movies in the Park – Father Hennepin Bluff Park is the site of summer concerts Tuesday nights at 7pm. Movies are typically screened a few times a month, too, if you want to align your picnic to include dinner and a show.
What’s to eat?
- Mill City Farmers Market – Plan your picnic in Minneapolis for a Saturday and choose your fresh ingredients at the market. Or pick out fare from one of the many food trucks, cross the bridge and eat your meal in Father Hennepin Park. Open 8am-1pm.
- Pack your own PBJs with this homemade double roasted peanut butter recipe.
Wabun Park Picnic Area
The Wabun Picnic Area is just one of the dozens of attractions within the sprawling Minnehaha Falls Regional Park. There is so much to see here on both sides of the river that it’s a challenge to pick the best for this list. We’ve included Wabun as a top place for a family picnic in Minneapolis because of its fun features for kids. There are also large, covered pavilions if you’re in the market for a reservable picnic space. Bonus: unlike many Minneapolis parks parking lots, the Wabun Picnic Area lot is free.
- Deluxe wading pool – Got littles who aren’t quite ready for the big pool yet? The Wabun wading pool is super splashy fun with zero-depth entry and bubblers. Yet it gets deep enough that older kids won’t be totally bored. And it’s free, for which we thank the city of Minneapolis gratefully.
- Cool playground equipment – It’s terrific and inclusive and installed just in the last few years to replace the old, worn-out stuff. My youngest loves the updated tot lot with a shaded sandy play area and the swaying vintage camper trailer, a nod to the park’s roots as an auto tourist camp. The picnic tables are in large supply here, many of them covered.
- Ford Parkway Disc Golf Course – is a 9-hole course that might appeal to the teens, tweens and adults at your picnic. There’s no charge to play and it’s located within easy walking distance of the wading pool, playground and picnic pavilions. Find more Twin Cities disc golf courses.
- Lock & Dam No 1 – If you think your kids might be up to the walk (it’s also possible to drive and park closer to the visitor center), a path takes you from the Wabun Park Picnic Area down to on the Mississippi riverfront. The free Visitor Promenade is open daily during park hours and little ones might enjoy spotting watercraft moving through the locks.
What’s to eat?
- Make-your-own Jimmy John’s. Sub sandwiches have always been a Peters Family easy go-to for picnics. The problem for our growing family is that our kids no longer want to split a sub and if each family member gets a sandwich, drink and chips, we might as well just go to a sit down restaurant – with air conditioning and a waitstaff. Our solution is to go halfway. We can pack our own toppings but buy just the bread for 50¢ a loaf at our local Jimmy John’s restaurant and top it with whatever we happen to have in our kitchen. Toss in homemade lemonade or ice tea and a family-size bag of chips and the picnic is still affordable and filling.
Minnehaha Falls Regional Park
You could hardly pick a spot within the vast Minnehaha Falls Regional Park that isn’t lovely for a picnic. We chose the wide, grassy portion above the falls because of its abundance of tables and its proximity to a restaurant and family attractions.
- Minnehaha Falls – The famous, 53-foot namesake falls are the obvious draw to picnicking in this park. And they feel so accessible with staircases that get you close to the water and paths that meander along Minnehaha Creek. This one’s feet (above) got a treat on a hot summer day after a picnic in the park.
- Playground – Many of the picnic tables scattered throughout the Falls section of Minnehaha Falls Regional Park are within sight of the playground.
- Historic sites – Even when our kids are less enthusiastic, we love exposing them to local historic sites. Within easy walking distance of the picnic area at Minnehaha Falls are the John H. Stevens House, the Longfellow House, and the Princess Depot. There’s a $1 admission charge for a tour of the Stevens House; the other sites are free for all to visit and learn a little about their role in the history of the area.
What’s to eat?
- Sea Salt Eatery – Mmmm. Scallop tacos, oysters, crabcakes and po’boys can all be yours…as long as you’re willing to accept a side of patience with it. Lines can be long at this seasonal spot, particularly in the evenings when there’s live music. If you haven’t packed a picnic, this could be a delicious alternative (and there’s ice cream for the kids). Located in the pavilion above the falls and central to dozens of picnic tables and covered space. Open mid-spring through mid-fall.
Boom Island Park
We selected Boom Island Park as a ideal spot for a picnic in Minneapolis because such a large, open park means you’re not right on top of other families with the same idea. Bring those bocce and ladder ball sets – there’s plenty of lawn to set up on. Rushing quietly alongside the park is the Mississippi River. On Boom Island you can get close to it as well as a beautiful view of downtown Minneapolis. A large pay lot makes parking a breeze.
- Grassy open spaces – Perfect for playing games or throwing the frisbee around. There is some playground equipment, but it’s very sweetly out of date. Some families may appreciate that, others will wish there was more. Spread out a blanket for your picnic or set up in one of the covered pavilions complete with
- Paddle Share – There is a Mississippi River Paddle Share drop-off station located in Boom Island Park. Rent a single or two-person kayak at North Mississippi Regional Park or the Lowry Avenue Bridge and you’ve got 3 hours to paddle to the drop station on Boom Island for a picnic. The cost ranges from $20 for a single/$40 for a double kayak. Older kids may love taking to the river and exploring it by kayak.
- Biking – If biking with kids, level trails connect Boom Island Park to BF Nelson Park next door.
What’s to eat?
- Summer Avocado Salad – This easy summer salad has ingredients that can be easily altered to fit your family’s tastes for a supper picnic in Minneapolis . Don’t like kidney beans? Ditch them. Want more protein? Add some grilled chicken. You can even drop the avocado if you want (but we think it makes the meal).
North Mississippi Regional Park
On a slim slice of green and hugging the Mississppi River north of downtown, North Mississippi Regional Park offers a full afternoon of recreation – and an ideal spot for a picnic in Minneapolis. Pack swimsuits and sturdy shoes along with your picnic basket and you’ll be all set.
- Deluxe wading pool & playground – Zero-depth entry for the youngest and just enough splash to entertain the oldest.
- Carl Kroening Interpretive Center – Pop in for interpretive exhibits about the Mississippi River – and if you venture out along the trail you can get right up next to it. Nature exploration kits available for free; check them out at the front desk.
What’s to eat?
- Firebox Deli – Grab takeout from this BBQ joint before venturing into the park. Pulled pork or brisket sandwiches, fries and salad a good picnic does make.
Picnics in Minneapolis Green Spaces
We visited this oasis on a perfect summer evening and were surprised how easily we breathed in The Commons admist the downtown Minneapolis bustle.
- Splash pad – Please, show us a kid who refuses to get excited about a splash pad. This one at the Commons is by no means elaborate – really, it’s just a few fountains in the pavement – but this girl didn’t care. On a sultry summer evening, she barely noticed the picnic basket; she just wanted to get wet.
- Lawn games & more – These were a highlight when we visited this park with a teen. No charge to drop in and play ping-pong, corn hole, ladder ball and more. Younger kids will have a blast with the “big blue blocks” (what can they build?) and giant versions of classics like Connect Four. There was even a reading & art cart stocked with kids titles and drawing materials in case someone needs to take a quiet break from the picnic.
- Light rail – We rode the Green Line light rail transit system from our home in St Paul directly to The Commons to add ease and a little more adventure to our evening outing.
What’s to eat?
- Food trucks – We can’t promise that there’s always going to be pizza served that looks this tasty at the Commons, but there will be a variety of food trucks onsite if you schedule your picnic Mon-Fri between 11am-2pm. Otherwise, pack your own picnic.
Loring Park Greenway
Loring Park is a large wedge of green on the bottom lip of downtown Minneapolis threaded with paths and space to stretch out.
- Minneapolis Sculpture Garden – Just an easy walk across a pedestrian bridge transports you from the Loring Park Greenway to the sculpture garden. There are more than 40 sculptures in the park to enjoy seeking out, most iconic among them the Spoonbridge and Cherry – a favored symbol of the Twin Cities.
- Playground & pool – the wading pool is no frills, but provides a refreshing dip if you have little ones.
What’s to eat?
Go-to picnic menu – Gianna has a quick picnic menu that can be adapted to fit any dietary restrictions. She says: “If I’m in a hurry–and sometimes even when I’m not–I can throw a picnic together in less than 10 minutes. There’s really no prep work. And if you have a gluten-free or dairy-free family member or anything else that restricts your diet, you can fill in the gaps with food that works for you.” Her menu includes:
- Favorite fruit: enough for the whole family to have a serving (bunches of grapes, clementines and berries don’t require additional prep).
- Cheese: bring string cheese or a block of cheese and a knife.
- Bread: bring muffins or a sweet bread like Shelagh’s Banana Oat Bread. It serves as part of the meal and as a sweet treat.
- Drinks: I usually throw in our water bottles.
It’s not very fancy, but it’s a great go-to for those days when I can’t think and we have to eat something.
Tips for picnicking with kids in Minneapolis
Always make sure to be fully stocked with wipes. Napkins are helpful, but wipes–whether homemade, reusable or disposable–are a caretaker’s best friend at picnics.
Leave a blanket in your car during the summer for those impromptu picnics any place you stop.
In the summer months for a picnic in Minneapolis, we like to keep a 2-gallon beverage cooler in our van. If we fill it with ice from the grocery store, it will melt during the day so we have cold water any time we want it to refill our water bottles.
If family members want a little flavor or extra electrolytes, powdered Gatorade travels easily and mixes up fast.