6 of the Best U.S. Urban Parks
1. Central Park; New York City1 of 7
One of the world's most iconic urban parks, Central Park is (as its name implies) the centerpiece of one of the most vivacious cities in the world and is the most visited urban park in the U.S.
Home to a wide range of outdoor activities, visitors can partake in horseback riding, paddle boating, ultimate Frisbee or plain-old people watching. No matter your activity of choice, a day spent wandering the trails and pathways of this 843-acre urban oasis is the perfect antidote to rat race fatigue.
Flanked on all sides by many of Manhattan's world-renowned museums, Central Park is also a pleasant thoroughfare between art viewings.
Best For: Running, cycling, horseback riding, boating, walking, volleyball, skating, softball, people watching.
Notable Spots: Wollman Rink, Tavern on the Green, Central Park Zoo, Strawberry Fields, the Great Lawn
Try This: Take a stroll or a run along the Shuman Running Track, which encircles Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir on the north end of the park. This track offers beautiful views of the Museum of Modern Art and the Great Lawn beneath the iconic Manhattan skyline.
2. Golden Gate Park; San Francisco2 of 7
Central Park's West Coast brethren, Golden Gate Park is slightly larger at 1,000 acres and stretches from the shores of Ocean Beach to the shops of the trendy Haight District.
With the Presidio located just north and Lands End situated between the two parks, San Francisco knows how to do urban escapes right. Much like Central Park, Golden Gate Park serves as the perfect backdrop for a number of can't-miss San Francisco attractions, including the California Academy of Sciences, the deYoung Museum, the Conservatory of Flowers and the San Francisco Botanical Garden.
Best For: Running, cycling, boating, walking, golfing, archery, soccer
Notable Spots: Stowe Lake, Golden Gate Park Golf Course, Kezar Stadium, Dutch Windmill, Chain of Lakes Meadow
Try This: Take your bike for a spin around the Golden Gate Park Polo Field before rolling west along John F. Kennedy Drive to the Beach Chalet restaurant for post-workout mimosas, ocean views and one of the best brunches in the city.
3. Tilden Regional Park; Berkeley, Calif.3 of 7
Located just above the University of California at Berkeley, Tilden Park is a fantastic spot for trail running, picnicking and watching young hipsters and old hippies interact. Wildcat Canyon Regional Park borders the Tilden Nature Area to the north, and Siesta Valley Recreation Area sits to the south, which combined creates over 5,000 acres of open space right smack in the middle of the Bay Area metropolis.
Best For: Trail running, hiking, mountain biking, swimming
Notable Spots: Mineral Springs Picnic Area, Tilden Park Merry Go Round, Lake Anza
Try This: In the warmer months, enjoy a dip in Lake Anza before hiking up Mineral Springs Trail for a picnic lunch at the Mineral Springs Picnic Area.
4. Echo Canyon Recreation Area (Camelback Mountain); Phoenix4 of 7
Located between Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona, Echo Canyon is mostly known for the 2,704-foot Camelback Mountain. Named for its peculiar hump-like shape, Camelback Mountain is the perfect challenging hike and its summit offers views of the entire Phoenix metroplex and beyond.
There are only three trails in all of Echo Canyon Recreation Area, and two of them (the Echo Canyon Trail and Cholla Trail) lead hikers one mile straight up the mountain. Both trails offer very steep sections, including a few pitches where handrails have been installed to assist the hundreds of visitors who make the trek every day.
Best For: Hiking
Notable Spots: The summit of Camelback Mountain, the Praying Monk climbing formation
Try This: Head up the Cholla Trail for a slightly longer trek up Camelback Mountain. If you head out one to two hours before nightfall, a picturesque desert sunset will greet you at the summit.
5. National Mall; Washington, D.C.5 of 7
There is no national park more chock-full of Americana than the National Mall.
Situated between the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol, the National Mall is Washington D.C.'s crown jewel, balancing open space with striking architecture and patriotic symbolism. Roughly two miles long and encompassing 309 acres, the National Mall is the perfect size for a lunchtime wander through American history—although to visit all the various landmarks and museums would take weeks.
Best For: Walking, running, sightseeing
Notable Spots: Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Reflecting Pool, World War II Memorial, Smithsonian Institution Building, National Museum of American History, National Museum of Natural History, National Air and Space Museum.
Try This: Start at the steps of the Capitol and run along the various pathways of the National Mall to the Lincoln Memorial before heading north for a jaunt around the Constitution Gardens Pond.
6. Zilker Metropolitan Park; Austin, Texas6 of 7
While known for its vibrant music and BBQ scene, this funky city is also home to several notable urban parks and open spaces—including the 350-acre Zilker Park.
Located at the junction of Barton Creek and the Colorado River, the park is popular for hikers, runners, cyclists and watersport enthusiasts of all types. Home to the popular Austin City Limits Music Festival, Zilker Park is a wonderful escape from the city on a hot Texas day.
Best for: Running, walking, cycling, canoeing, standup paddle boarding, swimming
Notable Spots: Barton Springs, Austin Nature and Science Center, Zilker Hillside Theater
Try This: Go for a run or a spin along the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail before cooling off at Barton Springs Pool—a three-acre man-made swimming hole in the center of Zilker Park.