New York's Central Park may be one of the most famous parks in the country, but that doesn't mean that it's the only great park or even that it's the best. Cities across the U.S. are investing more and more each year to build parks that offer more than just the typical benches and biking trails. The Trust for Public Land's 2010 survey discovered that the most populated cities in the country spent about $5.8 billion on parks and recreation in 2008, up by a third since 2004. This increase in spending has resulted in unique and high tech amenities across the country like the Electric Prismatic Fountain in Denver's City Park that puts on mesmerizing light shows. Parks play a big role in attracting new visitors to a city, but also captivating and satisfying current residents.
In fact, parks can often be the city's biggest tourist attractions, as is the case with San Diego's Balboa Park, home to the world famous San Diego Zoo and Tony Award winning Old Globe Theater. The park generates over $100 million in revenue for the city and continues to grow each year.
Here's a look at some of the best parks in America.
Grant Park, Chicago, Illinois
Chicago's Grant Park is not only large in physical size at 319 acres; but also in entertainment value all set against a beautiful lakefront backdrop. Millennium Park, at the northwest corner, immediately grabbed headlines when it opened in 2004. Designed by Frank Gehry, "the most important architect of our age" as labeled by Vanity Fair, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion and the stainless-steel Cloud Gate are regular tourist stops. The Cloud Gate is a reflective bean-shaped sculpture that instantly became one of the city's most popular photo spots with the entire skyline mirrored in the background. Grant Park is also home to other notable destinations including Buckingham Fountain, which is one of the largest fountains in the world, and the Art Institute of Chicago, home to one of the world's most notable collections of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art in permanent collection.
Discovery Green Park, Houston, Texas
Located right in the heart of downtown Houston, Discovery Green Park is a 12-acre paradise of green lawns, a man-made lake and 14-foot-high arcing water jets. The park has tons of options for free entertainment, including wacky competitions like dog jumping and outdoor classes like the dance fitness craze Zumba. Consult the packed entertainment calendar and numerous art installations, like the Monument Au Fantome, which is a large free-form red, white and blue sculpture. Discovery Green is also well known for its quality jogging trails and its stainless steel mist tree. 80 nozzles that form a mist cloud in the bowl create the main form, while a circular pan makes a rain curtain around the perimeter to create a tree-like form. The water is re-circulated and filtered to automatically shut off if the wind threatens to scatter the too much water.
Patterson Park, Baltimore, Maryland
Patterson Park is a biker and jogger's dream with miles of smooth pathways ripe for exploring. Other star attractions include a boat lake where people with a license are allowed to fish, a marble fountain, the General Casimir Pulaski Monument, and the Pagoda, also known as the Patterson Park Observatory, which has a great view of the city. Patterson is also well known for its events, including the Kinetic Sculpture Race in May, which has seen some of the most outrageous people-powered art installments. May is also the time to go for the annual Bike Jam, a day-long cycling festival that includes a 12-mile waterfront route. For the recreation lover, the park also has two playgrounds, a swimming pool in summer and a skating rink in winter.
Governors Island, New York, New York
If you're looking for an alternative to the typical lazing around on the lawns of Central Park, Governors Island offers an eclectic mix of art, food and events that will leave you wondering why you didn't make the journey to southern NY sooner. The 172-acre park was a former military base during the American Revolutionary War and now features a sandy beach and great entertainment. Circus lovers will delight in the flying trapeze lessons on the weekends and music enthusiasts will love all of the concerts that stop on the island, which have included top-notch acts like M.I.A. and Passion Pit for the indie fans. Half of the fun is simply getting to the park, which requires a free ferry ride from Manhattan's Battery Maritime Building or Brooklyn Bridge Park's Pier 6, offering panoramic views of the city skyline and the Statue of Liberty.
Schenley Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh's Schenley Park is a sports lover's paradise. Take your pick from 13 tennis courts, a soccer field, a running track, a high-jump area and golf courses. There is an 18-hole Frisbee golf course and a traditional 4,600-yard course with an indoor practice facility. For a special treat, visit the park during the free Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix from July 15-24. Over 200,000 visitors attend to cheer on 150 sports cars, including prewar and new model hot rods, as they navigate the 23 turns around the park's Paddock Drive. The 300-acre park also features a grand entrance, known as Schenley Plaza, which has a number of food kiosks and meeting spaces, several miles of hiking trails and a large lake in Panther Hollow. The park is also home to the Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens and Flagstaff Hill, a popular place to watch outdoor movies in the summer.
Balboa Park, San Diego, California
The 1,200-acre Balboa Park has attractions of all types from museums and recreational activities, to the world-famous San Diego Zoo. The park's landscape was designed with many mature, and sometimes rare, trees and groves creating an urban forest for San Diegoans. Balboa Park is also home to 15 major museums, where you can discover stunning art collections, watch vivid IMAX films and enjoy interactive, kid-friendly exhibitions. For theater lovers, the park is home to the Tony Award-winning Old Globe Theater, which features the oldest youth theatre program in the country and free organ concerts every Sunday. Visit during December for the two-day December Nights festival for a holiday extravaganza.