Forget the car—these pedestrian-friendly urban areas are worth exploring on foot.
What makes an urban area one of the best walking cities in America? Some of the essential elements include vibrant neighborhoods, parks and green spaces, and local organizations or government entities working to create a pedestrian-friendly climate. Nice weather, flat terrain, and interesting landmarks and attractions don’t hurt either!
Grab a shoulder bag, handbag or backpack and hit the pavement in these great American walking cities:
New York City, NY
NYC has one of the highest concentrations of parks in America, with green spaces representing nearly 14% of the total land area. The parks, like Central Park and the popular High Line elevated walkway, are a nice bonus, but New York’s iconic neighborhoods are the real reason to experience the city on foot. In just over an hour’s time, an ambitious pedestrian can start in Times Square and pass through Chelsea, SoHo, Greenwich Village, Little Italy and Chinatown. Best time to visit: As the famous song says, “there's nothing like autumn in New York”.
Who needs a car when you can see a huge part of the Windy City by using the Lakefront Trail, an 18-mile (29-kilometer) walking and biking path along Lake Michigan? The trail begins in Hyde Park and heads north past popular attractions like Museum Campus, Navy Pier, the Lincoln Park Zoo, and Montrose Beach, while passing through lively communities like Lakeview, Streeterville, and Edgewater. Best time to visit: anytime other than during Chicago's cold, snowy, windy winter.
Seattle dubs itself “America’s Most Walkable City,” which could very well be true. Its Department of Transportation operates a Pedestrian Program designed to improve the safety and convenience of getting around by foot. Measures taken in that regard include traffic-slowing roundabouts and speed humps, new sidewalks and foot-activated crosswalk signals that light up when a pedestrian crosses the street. Best time to visit: There's a much lower chance of rain during the summer and temperatures hover around a comfortable 75 degrees.
Among smaller cities, Richmond, Virginia earns one of the highest grades on walkscore.com, which ranks the walkability of cities based on ease of pedestrian access to amenities and services. Visitors to Virginia’s capital city can find a number of walking tours that focus on history, nature, and neighborhoods. Stroll through Carytown and Shockoe Bottom, districts that are known for their shopping and entertainment options. Best time to visit: spring or fall.
San Francisco, CA
Of all the best walking cities in America, San Francisco is the most physically demanding, thanks to its hilly terrain, but it does create some killer views of the Pacific Ocean, the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and the San Francisco Bay. Popular neighborhoods like Chinatown, the Castro, Haight-Ashbury, and the Mission District are walkable areas with plenty of dining and nightlife, appealing architecture, and opportunities for cultural exploration. Best time to visit: fall, for moderate temperatures and the least amount of wind.
Few cities have the history that Boston does, and much of it can be seen on foot via the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile (4-kilometer) route covering spots like the Boston Massacre site, the Paul Revere House, the Bunker Hill monument, and the home of the USS Constitution, which played a major role in the War of 1812. Of course, there’s much more to see in Boston besides history, and much of it is possible thanks to the non-profit WalkBoston, which since 1990 has worked to improve walking conditions across the city via initiatives and legislation. Best time to visit: Boston summers are beautiful and pedestrian-friendly, since you can walk around without a jacket.
So what are you waiting for? Grab your sneakers and book a trip to one of the six best walking cities in America!
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Scott Shetler is a freelance journalist and frequent traveler who enjoys national parks, urban nightlife and everything in between. He blogs about his adventures at http://quirkytravelguy.com.