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As the clear, sunny skies of summer approach, we can’t help but to feel drawn to the outdoors. Images of sipping spiked seltzers while playing cornhole or enjoying chilled red wines alongside a gorgeous picnic basket cheese spread have filled our heads — and our fridges are stocked in anticipation. However, these fantasies can come to a screeching halt if drinking in the local park is prohibited.
So, is it even legal to drink in public parks? Countries around the world, and specifically in Europe, generally have relaxed open-container laws and a culture of enjoying drinks outside. But as it goes with alcohol policies in the U.S., these rules differ state by state, and can be complicated. In some states, all public drinking is outright banned, while in others, alcoholic beverages are permitted in designated areas or under certain scenarios.
With the lack of consistency in the open-container laws between each state — and even each park — it might be best to check this list before you pack your picnic basket this summer.
In any of the following states, you can basically kiss the concept of enjoying drinks in public parks goodbye: Arizona, Arkansas, Hawaii, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia all enforce statewide bans on public alcohol consumption with no exceptions. If you live in any of these states, it’s time to make some friends with nice backyards.
While the following states don’t technically have a statewide ban on drinking in public, there are often only a few areas within each state where it is legal. Some states have implemented “entertainment districts” where open containers are allowed, while others have rules that vary park by park. Local governments can also regulate the type of container, size, and alcohol percentage of the beverages permitted in public, meaning there are a lot of intricate details to pay attention to. So proceed with caution, and study this list before cracking open a cold one in your local park.
Alaska does not have an outright statewide ban on the consumption of alcoholic beverages in public spaces, but most public parks prohibit it. According to an article published in Alaska News in 2016, there were only nine public parks in Alaska where possession and consumption of alcoholic beverages are prohibited. In some state parks, a waiver is required for alcohol to be allowed at public events.
Alabama has several designated entertainment districts where public alcohol consumption is permitted, including Birmingham, Huntsville, Mobile, Montgomery, and Tuscaloosa. There are, though, specific rules you have to adhere to within these entertainment districts. For example, in Mobile, you can’t possess more than one beverage at a time and can’t have an open container in public after midnight. People have to buy their drinks from a designated licensee, and those drinks will have to be served in paper or plastic cups with a specific logo or the business name they got the drink from. Moreover, the drinks cannot be more than 16 fluid ounces.
Public consumption is only allowed in a few locales including select beaches and parks. There are a few alcohol-friendly areas in Golden Gate Park where you can imbibe wine or beer while enjoying the view, and Sonoma Plaza Park is the perfect place to set up a picnic with some local wine.
This state wants you to embrace the low-ABV trend with its public drinking restrictions. In Colorado, drinking in public parks is permitted as long as the beverage contains 3.2 percent alcohol or less. Time to crack open that Evil Twin Brewing Bikini Beer with 2.7 percent alcohol.
Alcoholic beverages are permitted in many state parks and forests, but not on beaches or boardwalks. The state provides a detailed list of parks where alcohol is prohibited, so make sure to check before heading out with your tumbler of Sauvignon Blanc.
There is no statewide ban against public alcohol consumption in Delaware, but most parks do not permit drinking. The Delaware State Parks website provides some guidance on which parks allow alcohol, and in which areas.
Surprisingly, in the state that evokes images of beach parties packed to the brim with spring breakers, public alcohol consumption is generally not permitted. However, the Tampa Riverwalk implemented a specialty cup program, which allows patrons to take designated to-go cups from bars and restaurants located along the riverwalk.
Georgia is one of only a handful of states where there is technically no law that prohibits possession of an open container in public. However, many local governments have passed ordinances that ban public consumption of alcohol, so it is effectively illegal to drink in parks throughout the state. One exception is the historic district of downtown Savannah, which permits both possession and consumption of alcoholic beverages as long as they are in a plastic cup under 16 ounces.
Looking to enjoy beer or wine in a Boise public park? Well, you’re in luck. According to Boise City Code, beer and wine are allowed in most parks. However, no other alcoholic beverages are permitted, and groups need a permit to possess over 7 and a half gallons of beer or wine. Boise also provides a list of certain areas where public drinking is not permitted. In state parks outside of Boise, it’s best to check the rules for each one before you go.
Most areas in Illinois prohibit drinking in public, but it is actually one of the only states where there is no penalty for public intoxication for those over 21. Since Chicago does not allow anyone to bring alcohol into a public park, playground, or beach, maybe find a restaurant with some nice outdoor seating for your outdoor imbibing needs.
Indiana has no restriction against carrying open containers of alcohol in public. There might be some local changes depending on where exactly you are, but broadly, you can carry a drink in its original container in any public space. Bars might not let you leave with your drinks, though, depending on their own policies.
Iowa is historically strict with its open-container laws, and public consumption is generally not allowed. However, in 2021 the Iowa City Council passed an ordinance allowing beer, wine, and seltzers (meaning no hard alcohol) in state park shelters.
Public alcohol consumption is generally not permitted in any Kentucky parks. However, in Louisville’s “4th Street Live!” entertainment district, which consists of an open-air music venue surrounded by bars and restaurants, open containers are allowed. While you can’t bring in your own beverages, you can walk around with drinks from bars in the area as you please.
When we think of public drinking in the U.S., our minds often go to the lively streets of New Orleans. Public consumption is indeed allowed in New Orleans. There are some restrictions, like the beverages typically must be held in a plastic cup, but all rules are suspended during Mardi Gras season. Outside of New Orleans, however, public consumption of alcohol is widely illegal in Louisiana.
Bringing alcohol to public parks is illegal in Ohio. However, in 2015, the state passed a new provision legalizing the creation of Designated Outdoor Refreshment Areas (DORAs). This new law allows municipalities and townships to determine specific areas, or DORAs, where patrons over 21 can purchase beverages from approved bars or restaurants and carry them outside. The beverage must be consumed within the DORA boundaries, though.
While there is technically no statewide ban, it is illegal to drink in public parks in Maine unless you have a permit for a specific event.
Massachusetts is known for having some obscure laws regarding alcohol consumption. For example, did you know that happy hours are actually illegal in the state? Massachusetts upholds its strict tendencies with its open-container laws as well, so while there is technically no statewide ban on public drinking, it is effectively illegal. The state’s one loophole used to be on the beaches of Cape Cod, but as of 2023, drinking is prohibited there as well.
Michigan provides a list of state parks where alcohol consumption is prohibited, so check it out to avoid any mishaps.
While it is one of six states where drinking in public is technically not prohibited, most areas have rules against it. Generally, open containers are not allowed in Missouri state parks. However, in St. Louis, there is an exception that allows picnic-goers to enjoy a beverage with their food.
Essentially, there is no real law against public drinking in Mississippi. In fact, you can even drink alcohol while operating a motor vehicle, as there are no open-container laws within Mississippi state lines. With all that being said, public intoxication is illegal and it is best to check for any local restrictions when headed to a public park.
In the city of Butte, Montana, people over the age of 21 are actually allowed to consume alcohol in public. There is a catch, though. When the clock strikes 2 a.m., open containers are no longer permitted and won’t be again until 8 a.m. In terms of parks, each has a different set of rules, which are stated in the Montana state ordinance.
In 2010, the Nebraska governor lifted the ban on alcohol consumption in state parks that had been in place since 1995, but open containers still remain restricted in some select areas, including Lake McConaughy. No containers over 1 gallon are allowed, and public drinking is not permitted on state property from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Best to be safe and check which parks allow public consumption before planning your next outing. Nebraska has also designated Lincoln’s Railyard District an entertainment area where open containers are allowed.
Nevada’s reputation for public drinking precedes itself. While you are allowed to party it up on the streets of the Las Vegas Strip, Nevada’s parks aren’t always as carefree. The open-container laws differ from park to park, so make sure to check local restrictions before extending your Las Vegas antics to the great outdoors.
This is another one of those states where there is technically no statewide ban, but the areas that permit public consumption of alcohol are few and far between. Drinking on state properties, including state owned beaches, is not permitted, so unfortunately, you’ll have no luck with a beachside picnic here.
Drinking in public is largely illegal in New Jersey, but is seasonally allowed in certain beach towns. In 2022, a new state law allowed for communities to individually designate outdoor areas for consuming alcohol. So far, there are a few shore towns participating. You can now drink in public in Cape May, Atlantic City, and North Wildwood during the summer season.
Despite the allure of boozy picnics in Central Park’s Sheep’s Meadow, public consumption of alcohol is mostly illegal in the state of New York. Residents of the Big Apple got a taste for enjoying beverages on-the-go when the open-container laws were relaxed at the start of Covid-19 lockdowns, but now, the only way public consumption is allowed in NYC is during a permitted block party. Outside the city, some campgrounds in state parks allow for alcoholic beverages.
Even though there is no statewide ban, public consumption of alcohol is actually illegal in most districts of North Dakota. That said, it is one of those rare states where public intoxication is not a crime.
While possession and consumption of alcoholic beverages is generally not allowed in North Carolina’s state parks, there are some designated areas where it is permitted.
Oregon is another state where the laws vary depending on where you are. For example, visitors are allowed to drink in Hood River County Park, and in Cannon Beach, all beverages at or under 14 percent alcohol are permitted to drink along the shore. As for other parks, it varies, so the Oregon State Parks website recommends checking with your local park before bringing the booze.
Not surprisingly, in the state notorious for its difficult laws surrounding alcohol, Pennsylvania widely bans the public possession and consumption of alcohol. The one exception is Lake Erie, which does not have a local ordinance against drinking at Erie’s parks.
While Rhode Island doesn’t have a statewide ban against public alcohol consumption, it is widely illegal throughout the state without any notable loopholes.
Public alcohol consumption is generally not permitted in South Dakota, but there are a few exceptions. One being that in the city of Sioux Falls, beer, wine, and malt beverages are allowed in most areas as long as they are not in glass containers.
While Nashville is widely regarded as a bachelorette party-riddled town, Memphis is actually where it’s at if you are looking to imbibe outside. The city’s Beale Street entertainment district is actually the state’s only exception to its intense open-container laws.
While there is no overarching statewide law prohibiting public alcohol consumption, local restrictions do apply in many areas. While it is illegal to drink in Texas state parks, some cities like Fredericksburg are known for their lax open-container policies.
There is no statewide ban, but public consumption is illegal in most or all districts. However, the state park rules mention that no bulk containers of alcohol over 1 gallon are permitted, which perhaps implies you can carry anything less than a gallon?
Picnics finally get a win in Wisconsin. With a few exceptions, anyone over the age of 21 can bring alcoholic beverages to picnics or campsites in Wisconsin state parks and forests, so stock your portable coolers!
Wyoming has some pretty strict open-container laws, but some parks allow you to bring a beverage if you have a permit.
*Image sourced from New Africa – stock.adobe.com
Published: May 8, 2023