A Day in Overton Park
I have purposely lived within a mile of Overton Park for most of my adult life. In college, I was a frequent visitor to the (then car-free) Greensward, where it was common for folks to let their pups run free, chase balls, and take dips in Rainbow Lake. After getting married to a wilderness man, I added regular hiking in the Old Forest trails. After kids, we added in an hour on the playground.
Back in the day, Overton Park was considered a little sketchy. These days, thanks in part to the efforts of Citizens to Preserve Overton Park (CPOP), the Overton Park Conservancy (OPC), and the Levitt Shell, Overton Park is beloved by many. In fact, there’s so much to do now, you’d be hard-pressed to do it all in a single day. Here I share some suggestions on how to enjoy the park from dusk til dawn without breaking the bank.
Go for a run or a walk. I love starting the day — like before the sun comes up — in the park. My running group, the Running Republic, meets at the Abe Goodman Golf House on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6 am for an easy, four-mile run. There are plenty of other people running, walking, strolling with their pups, or otherwise getting in a workout. However, the park is still fairly empty and it’s lovely to experience it this way.
Have breakfast or lunch at Café Brooks by Paradox inside the Brooks Museum. The Café is in the former gift shop spot, and you don’t have to pay admission to dine there. They have a brightly lit, colorful space that opens up to the lobby. I like dining in, but you could also grab something to go and picnic in the Shell. The menu changes often, but they have an extensive selection of coffee, pastries, soups, sandwiches, and salads. On my most recent visit, I tried the Melon Salad (mixed greens, compressed melon, baked brie, and a broken vinaigrette) as well as the Sushi Bowl (sushi rice, avocado, nori, raw tuna, cucumber, peanuts and pickled melon). But I was also very, very jealous of my companion’s Grown Up Grilled Cheese featuring Benton’s bacon, roasted tomatoes, aged cheddar, pimento cheese, and caramelized onions.
The Brooks Museum is well worth the $7 admission fee, though you can it enjoy for free (or by donation) on Wednesdays. Or, do it right and just buy a membership. The Brooks Outside program is also something you can enjoy without spending a penny. Remember the giant red ball? The inflatable bunnies? How about that awesome tape art? Stop by to see if they’ve got anything cooking. While you’re at it, pop into the College of Art to see the student art on display.
Enjoy a beer on the Golf House patio. Café Brooks has local beer on tap, but my favorite place to have a beer in the park is at the Golf House. They have a great selection of canned beers (local and regional included), and they are only $2.50 each — no matter the flavor. Plus, the Golf House has an amazing patio. It’s the perfect place to sit and people watch. It’s also another option for dining al fresco, as long as you bring your own food.
Pro tip: the Golf House has the cleanest, nicest public restrooms in the park.
Ride a Bike
I definitely recommend not driving to the park — the less cars there, the better. If you don’t have a bike, don’t worry, the Golf House has a fleet of grown up trikes that are only $5 an hour to rent and just happen to be perfect for exploring the Old Forest roads (which are closed to traffic). This is an especially shady spot to escape the summer heat. Hop on and go get your photo taken at each one of the gates that have been installed by local artists Tyler French, Yvonne Bobo, and Ben Butler.
Hike the Trails
If you really want relief from the summer sun, hit the trails. The best thing about the Old Forest is that it’s usually several degrees cooler than the outside world. Download (or use your phone to look at) the Old Forest map on OPC’s website http://trails.overtonpark.org). A map is also posted over by the red playground on the East Parkway side, if you just want to snap a picture of it. Don’t worry if you get turned around, it’s pretty hard to get lost forever on the trails, even if you really want to.
Pro tip: OPC’s website also has field guides to plants and birds if that’s your thing.
Enjoy the Greensward
Don’t let the overflow Zoo parking deter you from taking up your fair share of this lovely open greenspace. (Do let it piss you off though!) Take a blanket and just enjoy the day, kick a soccer ball, throw a Frisbee, eat a pop from the MemPops truck — you get the idea. Stay as long as you like, and maybe even watch the sun set.
Spend the Night & Step Up
Okay, not the whole night, but chances are there’s something special going on in the evening. Check the Levitt Shell’s page for information on their free summer and fall concert series. (Shows are typically Thursday through Sunday.) On Wednesdays, you can sometimes find live music at the Golf House. The Brooks Museum also has excellent evening programming, typically on Wednesdays. The Overton Park Farmer’s Market takes place Thursdays from 3–7 pm under the East Parkway pavilion. The College of Art sometimes hosts art openings on Fridays and there are special markets throughout the year.
Being active involves more than just enjoying. Invite a friend (especially one who has never seen what Overton Park has to offer). Make a donation to CPOP. Become an OPC member. Volunteer.
See what I mean about fitting it all in? Once you’ve experienced all (or some!) of what the park has to offer, make plans to go back.