Now that the sun's finally out, it's time to take full advantage by enrolling in Jazzercise in the park... or, uh, drinking enormous, boot-shaped beers outside all Summer long. With SPF-1,000 in hand, we dusted off the lederhosen to round up the nation's top beer gardens, where the brews are always flowing and the German influences range from mere conceptual inspiration to full-on polka bands. Prost!
The Rathskeller (Indianapolis, IN)
"Rathskeller" translates to "basement beer hall", but you’ll just have to overlook that as you resist the taxidermied charm of the moose heads lining the interior walls. The real attraction here's the outdoor area, loaded with picnic tables and featuring a band shell for live music and plenty of thirsty Hoosiers. The beers are large, the people drinking them are friendly, and heat lamps stand guard to ensure the drinking continues deep into the night, even when the weather’s not ideal... weather seldom keeps a Midwesterner from a beer.
Bronwyn (Somerville, MA)
With just 30 seats, Bronwyn's beer garden might be the smallest on the list, but it's also one of the most necessary. You'll need fresh air as you shovel giant pretzels, schnitzel, and Wagyu beef sauerbraten into your face and wash it down with one of the many European drafts. By the end of your night, you'll probably be taking up two seats, inevitably denying at least one person the garden's pleasures.
Biergarten (San Francisco, CA)
Once upon a time in 2011, one of the most beloved German restaurants/bierhaus-es in SF decided to open a beer garden down the block from their spot, using nothing but shipping crates, a chain link fence, imported beer garden tables from Germany, and a very cool red cedar sliding door. And as soon as they built it, the people came. All the time. Even in the unpredictable and moody San Francisco weather. And they stood in long lines just to get one of their delicious rotating German brews, giant pretzels, and brats, and then drape themselves in the blankets provided and tell tales of the sad times everyone endured before Biergarten opened.
Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden (Queens, NY)
Established in 1910, this Astoria institution has seen more beer-soaked nights than 35 frat houses combined. The place is owned and managed by a Czech and Slovak community group, and those influences are apparent in dishes like the fried muenster and drafts like Staropramen.
Lou's Beer Garden (Miami Beach, FL)
Lou's will still hook you up with a ton of craft brews from around the world, but because this is Miami, think less rotund men in lederhosen and more ultra-tan poolside debauchery. That's right. This beer garden has a pool. And even the dogs get in on the action.
The Truck Yard (Dallas, TX)
The grand beer garden tradition gets a healthy dose of 'Murican influences at this 15,000sqft space, styled with the finest trailer-park decor touches like crappy lawn chairs, spare tires, and scrap metal art. Even better? Food trucks slinging tacos and pizza are parked there every day, so you can go ahead and have another Shiner.
Bavarian Inn Lodge (Frankenmuth, MI)
The star attraction of a town whose entire aesthetic replicates a German Village, Bavarian Inn takes its German influences very, very seriously, from the constant presence of lederhosen to the buxom servers in frilly blouses delivering gigantic platters of fried chicken. In the Summer, the outdoor action is like a never-ending Oktoberfest, where you can swill German beers to a live soundtrack of polka music, then take to the dance floor to burn it all off. Or just spill beer everywhere.
Sheffield's (Chicago, IL)
Sheffield's has evolved as an establishment over the years (the addition of a BBQ-based menu, there's the Beer School bar-within-the-bar, which has its own tap list), but the welcoming beer garden has remained its constant spiritual center (yes, even in the punishing Winter). The shade-giving cottonwood trees and vine-covered walls make it feel like you're enjoying a beer in a friend's backyard... if your friend happened to have the space to stock some 200 varieties of beer, including 40 on tap. No one has friends like that, which is why Chicago has Sheffield's.
Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens (San Diego, CA)
Most breweries slap together a tasting room and call it a day. Not so with Stone, which took the Naval Training Center in Point Loma and turned it into a lush 11,315sqft garden with bocce ball courts and 30 outdoor taps. The place also hosts chef collaboration dinners and outdoor movie screenings. And it never gets cold. If only they had a campsite, nobody would leave.
Lowry Beer Garden (Denver, CO)
Sure, this beer garden is situated on the grounds of a former Air Force Base, but that doesn't mean you won't get sweeping views of an old B-52 bomber (courtesy of the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum next door) from any of the 225 seats outside. Colorado cools off when the sun goes down, but two outdoor fire pits, 16 taps of Colorado's finest suds, and a panoply of "creatively topped" brats and burgers -- like the B-52 Bomber with double bacon, mushrooms, onions, and blue cheese -- will keep you plenty warm if the beer doesn't.
Frankford Hall (Philadelphia, PA)
Lines for this place can wrap the block, and it's easy to see why: your preferred liters of Hofbrau and baskets of bratwurst are always waiting, along with slightly non-canon picks like spiked s'mores shakes. And the garden is so good that the party keeps rocking even on cold November nights. To the guy who invented space heaters: prost.
Mecklenburg Gardens (Cincinnati, OH)
Even tougher than Angela Merkel's shoulder pads, this historic spot has survived for nearly 150 years -- and not without a fight. When Prohibition came a-knockin', Mecklenburg employed the services of a bootlegging boat to keep its customers hydrated. When it entered a '60s slump, the management turned the place around into a Mobil (now Forbes) 4-star restaurant and got the building on the National Register of Historic Places. And when debt closed its doors in 1982, it patiently waited for the current managers to come along and restore the place to its Bavarian glory. A story like that deserves a liter of Spaten. Lucky you, they're happy to accommodate.
Banger's Beer Garden (Austin, TX)
When a place boasts having more than 100 beers on tap and the "largest sausage selection in Austin", you know you're in for a good time. But when said place also has cornhole tournaments and the hilarious legend of founder Olaf Banger -- a man who makes Chuck Norris sound like Chuck Woolery -- you know that good time just got great.
Bayou Beer Garden (New Orleans, LA)
If you're a friend, you can just call it the BBG... and this spot has a lot of friends. The garden menu is more steeped in American tradition than German (think mozzarella sticks, not currywurst), but it does carry on the great tradition of drinking brews outside in a sweet space -- and the stereo pipes calypso selections all day, meaning you're guaranteed your daily dose of steel drums along with your beers.
Der Biergarten (Atlanta, GA)
This place stakes a lot of reputation on authenticity -- Der Biergarten is run by a German expat and claims to be the first restaurant in Atlanta to serve at least two true German beers on draft. (They now have more than a dozen.) But you should also be impressed by its Stein Club, which serves members any beer for $8 in a personal stein.
Garden District (Washington, DC)
Formerly known as Standard, this beer garden puts more of an emphasis on great pulled pork sandwiches than fantastic spätzel. But you can enjoy your BBQ with a Kostritzer Schwarzbier at one of the outdoor tables, appropriately shaded by Hofbrau umbrellas. So consider it German fusion.
Estabrook Beer Garden (Milwaukee, WI)
If you want to visit a quite literal beer garden, we direct you to Estabrook, a spot located in Estabrook Park along the Milwaukee River that's so legit, it's out of the public transit's reach. (The official site recommends arriving by "foot, bicycle, automobile, kayak, or canoe".) Estabrook prides itself on being a truly public beer garden, so patrons are encouraged to bring their own picnics or even steins. Just make sure you don't fill that stein up too many times, or your kayak will be confiscated.
Grünauer (Kansas City, MO)
You want cred? The owners -- the not-at-all-German-sounding Klaus Piber and the Grünauer brothers -- ran Grünauer in a trendy Viennese neighborhood before transplanting it to Kansas City. Any lingering doubts can be put to bed by the beer list, which is heavy on Austrian, German, and Czech selections, but even features Estrella Damm Daura for the gluten-free crowd.
VBGB (Charlotte, NC)
Weekly specials. Life-size chess. Excellent local beers (sorry, Deutschland). And if that somehow wasn't enough, VBGB is steps away from The Fillmore and Time Warner Cable Amphitheater, so you can pregame in the garden before that sold-out Danity Kane show.
Apex (Portland, OR)
In a city known for bikes and beers -- and strippers, but they're off duty here -- Apex stands tall, with a sea of picnic tables adjoining a huge bike-parking space and 50+ beers on a frequently rotating tap featuring beers that range from go-to PDX brewers like Hair of the Dog to Belgians, international, and national favorites. It can be a little overwhelming to keep track, so luckily Apex keeps its lists updated on its site in real time, and on a gigantic digital reader board. You can also score massive burritos at the neighboring Los Gorditos, because nothing goes better with a rare Belgian import than a carnitas burrito. Except maybe strippers. But again... off duty.
The Pharmacy (Nashville, TN)
Don't worry -- this isn't some rogue CVS employee dispensing Xanax and PBR off the side of the road. Rather, it's a beer garden that also boasts an old-school soda fountain, allowing you to hop between pilsner and egg creams all night long. But don't do that.