I just returned from a wonderful, sunny weekend in Florence, Italy, and contrary to my usual feelings of joy to be returning "home" to Munich after a trip, this time I wasn't so excited about coming back. It's cold and rainy here, and it feels a bit like a retreat into winter. Much as I love winter, it is long since time for the winter weather to be gone. All I want is sunshine and for beer garden season to really, truly, finally, be here.
If you are thinking about visiting Munich, Beer Garden Season (i.e. summer) is the best time of year to come. Munich comes alive in the summer, as the sun-worshipping locals flock to the many beer gardens scattered throughout the city. The Season begins as soon as it is warm enough to sit outside, usually in April, sometimes as early as March, and lasts until September/October. Unofficially, Frühlingsfest is the season-opener and Oktoberfest is the closer. There are no real rules though, because if it's warm enough to be outside, then Münchners are going to be in the Beer Garden. Full stop.
As a tourist, Munich's beer gardens are definitely the best places to meet locals. They are social places. It is perfectly acceptable, and usually necessary given the crowds, to share a table with a group of strangers. But don't worry, you won't be strangers for long, because it's also normal practice to engage in friendly conversation with your tablemates.
One of my favorite weekend activities in Munich is "beer and bicycle" day. This is Munich's version of a pub crawl, with a lazier daytime angle to it. I meet up with a group of friends and we spend the day cycling along the Isar River bike paths, stopping off at different beer gardens, taking a nap on the riverbank, and maybe even going for a swim if it's hot enough to compel jumping into the ice-cold water. As day shifts to night, the entire city takes on the feel of a giant campground, the air is filled with the smoke of a hundred barbecues, the music of guitars and laughter mingle in the distance across the river, bugs hum excitedly around lamp posts, and the gravel crackles beneath my bicycle tires as I cycle home. I always feel overwhelmed by a delicious contentment, thinking, "there is no place in the world I would rather be right now..."
Unfortunately, when the weather is not cooperating, a "beer and bicycle" day seems like a distant dream. But instead of feeling forlorn that the sunshine seems to have forsaken us, I am instead going to take a "if you build it, they will come" approach, and embark upon writing a whole series of beer garden-themed posts. Just think of me as your own personal Munich beer garden guru.