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Sometimes the best and cheapest (re: free) way to enjoy a nice day in a new city is via its public spaces. Here are some of the best city parks around these great United States.

Central Park, New York City

An aerial view of Central Park, arguably the best of the best city parks in America

Central Park | Phyllis Buchanan, Flickr CC

Of course Central Park makes our list! Not only is Manhattan’s Central Park arguably the most famous city park in America, it was also the first (1856!) designated park for public use in the country. Central Park puts all of its 843 acres to good use—inside the grounds, you’ll find a wildlife sanctuary, a picturesque reservoir, running tracks, an ice-skating rink, and the Central Park Zoo. Add pools, gardens, the enormous, neoclassical Bethesda Fountain, and the fact that you are, at all times, smack dab in the center of Manhattan, and you’ve got yourself one of the best parks in the country. Nay, the world.

Grant Park, Chicago

Buckingham fountain at Grant Park, which is one of Chicago's best city parks

Buckingham Fountain — Grant Park Chicago (IL) September 2014 | Ron Cogswell, Flickr CC

When a city sets aside 319 acres of prime waterfront real estate just to provide an amazing public place for its residents to play, you know you’re dealing with a great city. Grant Park is a stunner of a park—it overlooks Lake Michigan, houses Millennium Park in its boundaries, and is home to the massive, Instagram-worthy Buckingham Fountain. There’s also the Museum Campus, meaning you don’t have to criss-cross Chicago to take in many of its main attractions. At Grant Park, the Shedd Aquarium, the Adler Planetarium, and the Field Museum are within walking distance of each other. Go Chicago!  

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

A garden and conservatory in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park

Conservatory of Flowers Golden Gate Park | arianravan, Flickr CC

So you like nice views? Try renting a bike and spending the day at Golden Gate Park, where gorgeous vistas are so commonplace youbegin to expect them. Situated next to the famous Haight-Ashbury district and ending at the Pacific Ocean, this 1,000+ acre park is designed to impress. Cruise past the ornate glass Conservatory of Flowers, and check out the pagoda in the Japanese Tea Garden. There’s a herd of grazing buffalo, a dreamy children’s carousel, an aquarium, and a photo-worthy waterfall at Strawberry Hill. Nearly all of it is free—that’s a decent deal in one of the most expensive cities on Earth!

Patterson Park, Baltimore

Patterson Park in Baltimore

Patterson Park | JoAnna Kopp, FlickrCC

You can’t miss Patterson Park, aka “Baltimore’s Backyard”—just look for the Observatory, a giant pagoda-style building on Hampstead Hill. This famous, 1890s-era observatory has a winding staircase open to visitors looking for a workout and a view of downtown Baltimore. But there’s more than a pagoda here. Patterson Park is 137 acres of jogging paths, public tennis courts, and playgrounds. There’s also a Boat Lake, a swimming pool and a dog park, so bring Fido with you on your Baltimore trip!

Forsyth Park, Savannah

The overhanging trees of Forsyth Park, one of the most beautiful city parks in the country

Forsyth Park | Alex Cheek, Flickr CC

While you’re strolling around one of America’s most graceful cities, don’t forget to walk through Forsyth Park. This elegant little 30-acre park boasts wide brick avenues shaded by Spanish moss-draped trees, and the north entrance leads to famous Forsyth Fountain, splashing merrily away in the heat. What else can you find? How about a cafe and an innovative fragrant garden for the blind? Of course there are playing fields and sports courts, but the real joy in Forsyth Park is packing a blanket and a picnic lunch and settling down on the grass to watch the world go by.

Gas Works Park, Seattle

The skyline view at Gas Works Park in Seattle

Seattle Gas Works Park | W & J, Flickr CC

Get your camera ready—Gas Works Park has one of the best views of Seattle, period. Built around one of the last remaining (and very rusty) gasification plants in the United States, this 20-acre park has amazingly steep hills overlooking Lake Union. Perch atop one with the rest of Seattle and you’ll get a panoramic view of boats going by, the city skyline, and people strolling and biking along its trails. Can you see the Space Needle? Of course you can!

Minneapolis Chain of Lakes Regional Park, Minneapolis

Minneapolis Chain of Lakes Regional Park often sees many sailboats during summer months

Lake Calhoun, Minneapolis, MN | Joe Bielawa, Flickr CC

According to the New York Times, “If you live in Minneapolis, there’s a 95 percent chance you live within a 10-minute walk to a park.” Let’s hope it’s the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes Regional Park, which is a mouthful, but a good name for what is essentially many smaller parks, linked together by a chain of lakes that connect with each other. When the weather’s nice (go in summer!) you could walk forever on shady paths overlooking the water, stopping only for an ice cream cone or free concert at Lake Harriet. Lay out atowel on the beach at Lake Calhoun and watch the windsurfers; kayak through endless shady nooks and startle napping swans. There are gardens and trails, bird sanctuaries and dog parks…wait, should we move to Minneapolis?

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Tagged: City, Family, FREE!, New York City, Sports

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