The United States is home to some truly stunning urban parks. Here are some of our coast-to-coast favorites.
Audubon Park (New Orleans)
Formerly used as a colonial plantation and a staging area for Civil War troops (both Union and Confederate), this 340-acre park was commissioned in 1871 and named after one of the Big Easy’s most notable residents. Most of the original structures are no longer standing, but visitors will find a golf course, zoo, and plenty of picnic space. And fittingly, Audubon Park is considered one of the best birding spots in New Orleans; the large on-site rookery is a major gathering spot for egrets, cranes, ibises, and other waterfowl.
Central Park (New York City)
You can’t make a list of U.S. city parks without this Manhattan landmark, which attracts roughly 35 million visitors every year (more than any other city park in the country). Completed in 1873, the 778-acre plot has it all: a full zoo, skating rink, carousel, sculpture gardens, and roughly six miles of paved roads and walking paths. During the summer months, Central Park also hosts open-air theatrical productions, concerts, and other forms of live entertainment. No trip to the Big Apple is complete without a visit to this time-honored landmark.
Discovery Green (Houston)
The newest establishment on our list, Discovery Green first opened in 2008 and has since attracted roughly half a million visitors every year. On-site attractions include oak-lined Brown Tree Promenade, Hagstette Putting Green, Gateway Fountain, Maconda’s Grove (complete with Bocce courts), and two lush botanical gardens. The 11.78-acre spread has hosted several notable events, including the NCAA Final Four Tournament in 2011, Starbucks Global Conference in 2012, and the NBA All-Star Game in 2013.
Gasworks Park (Seattle)
From 1906 to 1956, this 9-acre spread on the northern shore of Lake Union was home to the Seattle Gas Light Company’s gasification plant. When the City of Seattle purchased the property in 1962 to erect a city park, officials decided to leave the facility intact. Today, visitors can explore the abandoned structures that once powered the Emerald City, climb the man-made earth mound to check out a sundial constructed by two local artists, or scope out the ‘play barn’ that houses the plant’s original pumps and compressors.
Golden Gate Park (San Francisco)
To say the attractions at this park are unconventional is an understatement; in addition to walking trails, bike paths, grassy knolls, and other routine features, Golden Gate Park is also home to a bison paddock, polo fields, historic windmills, the world-famous AIDS Memorial Grove, and the Janis Joplin Tree (which is typically surrounded by a thick, green haze). There is also plenty of beachfront property for sunbathing and body-surfing; cross the bridge if you prefer to relax in the sand without clothing.
Millennium Park (Chicago)
Located on the shores of Lake Michigan in the heart of Chicago’s Loop Community, this 24.5-acre segment of Grant Park opened in 2004. Millennium Park is home to notable landmarks like the Crown Fountain, Cloud Gate, Lurie Garden (the world’s largest green roof), and the Jay Pritzker Pavilion (which was designed by legendary architect Frank Gehry). It’s also home to the Grant Park Music Festival, which is recognized as the only free classical concert series that is held out-of-doors.
Papago Park (Phoenix/Tempe)
This desert park comprises nearly 1,500 acres, and includes a botanical garden, the Phoenix Zoo, and an extensive network of walking trails and bike paths. However, the most notable feature is the tomb of Arizona’s first governor, George W.P. Hunt, which is recognized by the National Register of Historic Places. If you feel like lounging around and escaping the sun, check out Hole-in-the-Rock, a red sandstone formation with sheltered openings caused by millions of years of erosion.
Patterson Park (Baltimore)
Once a prominent battlefield during the War of 1812, Patterson Park today features (among other attractions) a pagoda-style observatory, monument to Revolutionary War hero Casimir Pulaski, and stunning views of the Baltimore skyline. For more recent history, check out the playgrounds, picnic areas, and swimming pools that were segregated until 1956. The on-site lake is also a great place to catch a glimpse of mallard ducks, bullfrogs, and other aquatic wildlife.