Guide to Finding America’s Urban Green Spaces

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In my early life I experienced life in two very different settings. I grew up among the remote lands of the largest park within the 48 contiguous U.S. states, the Adirondack Park of Upstate New York. After graduating college, I spent my next five years living and working in New York City, the most populous city in the United States.

I feel very fortunate to have experienced living in a rural town as well as a major city. It opened my eyes to the many different ways people live, and played a large role in making me the lover of travel that I am today.

I’ve found that access to open space is one major factor contributing to the way people live in a city versus the way people live in the country. Living in Manhattan made me realize that I had taken much of my childhood surroundings for granted and just how sacred having green space is.

For the 80% of Americans who live in urban areas, local parks are of utmost importance, and are often the only places where residents can escape the hustle and bustle of city life. What makes urban parks even more special is that they are more than just a natural area; they are expertly designed to contain a wide variety of features so park goers can get the most of the great outdoors. Here are a few of the best:

Central Park – Manhattan, New York

Central Park is more than a park; it is a world-renowned landmark. The park dates back to 1858 and was a source of inspiration for many other parks around the country. Though Central Park endured a great deal of crime and neglect in the recent past, you would never know it by visiting today. The park is now expertly managed, and according to the Trust for Public Land’s 2012 report, it is the most-visited city park in the United States!

Sheap Meadow Central Park New York
Sheep Meadow (Photo by Ralph Hockens)

The park offers visitors much more than a simple open green space. Its 843 acres include the Central Park Zoo, the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir and jogging track, the Great Lawn for concerts and performances, Sheep Meadow for sunning and picnics, two ice rinks, two theaters, a carousel, over 200 tours, and a seemingly countless number of landmarks.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir (Photo by paularps)

Balboa Park – San Diego, California

Balboa Park gained early fame as the site of both the Panama-California Exposition and the California Pacific International Exposition. Many of the buildings constructed for these events have been restored and are still in use within the park today. Among Balboa Park’s many attractions are a whopping 15 museums! Some of the highlights include the San Diego Air and Space Museum, the San Diego Model Railroad Museum, and the San Diego Automotive Museum.

Urban Green Space Spreckels Organ Pavilion
Spreckels Organ Pavilion (photo by Herb@Victoria)

Balboa Park isn’t just full of museums, though. Its 1200 acres also contain several gardens, the San Diego Zoo, the Spreckels Organ Pavilion, and ample green space for leisure and active recreation!

Golden Gate Park – San Francisco, California

When it comes to open space mixed in with city space, San Francisco has the best of it! The Trust For Public Land’s 2012 report ranked The City By the Bay number one in terms of the percent of the population with walking access to open land. The grounds of Golden Gate Park make up almost one fifth of this land!

Japanese Tea Garden
Japanese Tea Garden (Photo by Allie_Caulfield)

Some of the major attractions within the park include the De Young Museum, the California Academy of Sciences, the Japanese Tea Garden, the Conservatory of Flowers and two historic windmills.

Lincoln Park – Chicago, Illinois

It’s hard to imagine Lincoln Park as a cemetery, but back in the 1800s, that’s what much of the land was. Today, it takes full advantage of Chicago’s ideal location on Lake Michigan by offering seven beaches and an 18-mile lakefront trail! It’s a place where locals can relax and everyone can explore.

Lincoln Park Conservatory
Lincoln Park Conservatory (Photo by stephenhanafin)

Other highlights of Lincoln Park include the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool, a zoo and a conservatory – all of which are free year round!

City Park – Denver, Colorado

While City Park is the newest and smallest of the parks listed in this post, it is no less important to its city. When winter’s snow has melted and the tourist season has passed, City Park becomes Denver’s premier green space for outdoor recreation. The scenery is beautiful: park goers can simultaneously view the city skyline, the mountains, and Ferril Lake, which is nestled in the middle of the park’s 330 acres.

Ferril Lake and Boathouse
Ferril Lake and Boathouse (Photo by Michaelwm25)

City Park hosts a variety of events, including free summer jazz concerts and the Esplanade Fresh Market each Sunday from June through October. It is also the site of the Denver Zoo as well as the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

[info]Christina Loiacono is a travel enthusiast currently living in the sunny state of Florida. She loves exploring new places and contributing to the travel blog at http://www.zerve.com. You can follow Christina on Google+ too.[/info]
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