In Munich, the beer gardens and city parks are obvious hangout spots. On a sunny weekend, you can barely navigate your way through the English Garden, it is so filled with locals sunbathing, picnicking, and just - you guessed it - hanging out. Similarly, the beer gardens are humming on such days, and it may even be difficult to squeeze onto the end of a table somewhere.
One of the best things about this hangout culture is that it's cheap, and if you're not plunking down a few euros for a beer, possibly even free. You can't go wrong with planning to pass an entire afternoon in the English Garden or at one of the many beer gardens that I have reviewed in this blog. However, if you want to take hanging out to a whole other level, there's another scene in Munich that you can find and partake in, and that is that locals tend to gather in certain public spaces - not beer gardens or parks - dotted around the city. Here's a short list of places to check out (none of which are secrets if you live here!):
This is just a traffic circle with a fountain and beautiful landscaping in the middle of the Glockenbach - but it also happens to be one of Munich's busiest spots on a summer evening. People gather here, spreading blankets on the grass or sitting on the benches and rails surrounding the fountain. There are even some entrepreneuring locals who walk around selling beers or collecting your empty bottles to recycle. It's a good place to start the evening too, if you plan to later head to the bars, as this is one of Munich's best neighborhoods for going out.
This plaza (see above photo), is one of the most attractive in all of Munich. It's grandiose and has an old-world feel. People gather on the steps of the museums and bring bottles of wine. During July it's closed off on weekends for the Open-Air Kino (unfortunately not free!), but outside those times it's simply a gathering place to enjoy the good weather. On the east side of Königsplatz there are even pingpong tables and giant chessboards (the kind where old men stand around scratching their chins and moving around chess pieces that are the size of their legs) for public use.
Just up the street from Königsplatz is Munich's Pinakothek Museums - they all have wide, green lawns that are ideal for hanging out. People flock to this area after work and on weekends to lounge in the sun, or play football or badminton with friends. They're a bit more of a daytime hangout zone, as opposed to nighttime à la Gärtnerplatz, but still good for an afternoon of people-watching.
This area along the Isar river in central Munich was re-constructed and landscaped (sort of) in the last couple of years, and has become one of Munich's most happening, and central, hangout spots. Münchners flock to the river in good weather, so this is the ideal place to relax with a beer or two on a summer evening. Most people just gather on the banks of the river, but there are also cement steps on one side of the bridge that are a good place to sit and watch the world go by. A kiosk on the west side of the river conveniently sells beer by the bottle, so you never have to worry about going dry. People also use this as a launching site for their night out in nearby bars.
Those are the main hangout spots that I know, though I've also spent an evening or two sitting around doing nothing at the following places:
Haus der Kunst Steps
LMU - Professor-Huber-Platz
My knowledge of the east side of the Isar is much more sketchy... there are some beautiful squares there (e.g. Weißenburgerplatz, Pariserplatz), but I am not sure if they are hangout scenes in the same way as Gärtnerplatz or the Reichenbachbrücke, and I suspect not. Haidhausen is one of Munich's most beautiful and charming neighborhoods, but it tends to be a little quieter, and more established, than some of the "trendier" neighborhoods on the west side of the river, which are crawling with students and young professionals.
So this post may need to eventually have a follow-on as I discover some other hidden gems, but if you are visitor to town, you can not go wrong on a summer evening heading to any of the above spots. You'll get a great feel for how the locals "party" in outdoor, open spaces.