30 Great Inspiring Inner-City Parks

By Albert Fontenot
Posted November, 2014

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“The fundamental idea behind the parks is native. It is, in brief, that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us. The parks stand as the outward symbol of the great human principle.”
~Franklin D Roosevelt

In the increasingly-urban landscape of America, it is apparent that city parks play a critically-important role in the mental and physical health of people across the country. Our city parks are where we gather and play, they are where we revitalize and refresh both our bodies and our psyches, and they are where we celebrate all the wonderful things that make us uniquely American.

These are some of the best parks in the country. You can go to any of them for inspiration, for wonder, for singular beauty, and to escape the stress and strife of a hustle and bustle life. Get out and about, get active, and discover these urban oases that have been designed just for you.

#30 – South Mountain Park

Phoenix, Arizona

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City Park Acreage and Percentage of Total City Area – 49,254 acres (15%)
What’s So Special?
At 16,283 acres, South Mountain Park is the largest urban park in the United States, and one of the largest in the world. The topography of the area makes it ideal for hiking, cycling, and horseback riding, with more than 58 miles of trails.
That Little Bit Extra:
Located in the Park is the so-called “Mystery Castle”, a 1930s-era mansion built from in an eclectic range of materials – rail tracks from a mine, telephone poles, automobile parts, adobe, and stone. Interesting features include a dungeon, a cantina, and a chapel. It is designated as a “Phoenix Point of Pride”.

#29 – Kapiolani Park

Honolulu, Hawaii

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City Park Acreage and Percentage of Total City Area – 12,006 acres (33%)
What’s So Special?
Kapiʻolani Regional Park is both the oldest and the largest public park in the state of Hawaii, originally established in 1877. Before it was a park, it was unusable land that was alternately swampy and arid. The Park contains tennis and basketball courts, baseball, lacrosse, rugby, and soccer fields, as well as the Honolulu Zoo and the famous Waikiki Shell concert venue.
That Little Bit Extra:
Kapiʻolani Regional Park also hosts the Honolulu Cricket Club, the oldest sporting club in the Pacific, and the only cricket club in all of the Hawaiian Islands.

#28 – Belle Isle Park

Detroit, Michigan

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City Park Acreage and Percentage of Total City Area – 5921 acres (6.7%)
What’s So Special?
Belle Isle is the largest city-owned island park in the US, measuring a total of 982 acres. On the island can be found the Belle Isle Nature Zoo, the Belle Isle Conservatory, the Belle Isle Aquarium, the James Scott Memorial fountain, a golf course, and even a Coast Guard station. There is also a half-mile-long beach.
That Little Bit Extra:
Numerous auto races are held here, including IndyCar, Grand-Am Rolex series, and Pirelli World Challenge races.

#27 – Forest Park

St. Louis, Missouri

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City Park Acreage and Percentage of Total City Area – 3684 acres (9.4%)
What’s So Special?
Since 1876, the 1371-acre Forest Park has served as the “Heart of St. Louis”, and has hosted a number of important events, including the 1904 Summer Olympics games. Other attractions include – the St. Louis Zoo, the St. Louis Art Museum, the St. Louis Science Center, and the Missouri History Museum.
That Little Bit Extra:
Over the last decade, Forest Park has undergone a $100 million restoration.

#26 – Rockefeller Park

Cleveland, Ohio

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City Park Acreage and Percentage of Total City Area – 3068 acres (6.5%)
What’s So Special?
Rockefeller Park encompasses 130 acres, and is the largest park completely within city limits. The park has two features that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places – its historic stone bridges, and its Cultural Gardens.
That Little Bit Extra:
There are 31 different gardens, and each one commemorates a different ethnic group that has made contributions to the heritage of the United States.

#25 – Druid Hill Park

Baltimore, Maryland

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City Park Acreage and Percentage of Total City Area – 4905 acres (9.6%)
What’s So Special?
Established in 1860, the 745-acre Druid Hill Park is one of the oldest landscaped public parks in the country. Among the Park’s attractions are the Maryland Zoo, the Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory and Botanical Gardens of Baltimore, and the Baltimore Model Safety City, a miniaturized version of downtown where children can learn to be safe pedestrians.
That Little Bit Extra:
The majority of the Park was originally part of the estate of Dr. George Buchanan, one of the founders of Baltimore in 1729.

#24 – El Dorado Park

Long Beach, California

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City Park Acreage and Percentage of Total City Area – 3121 acres (10%)
What’s So Special?
At 763 acres, El Dorado Park is both the largest and the most-visited park in the city of Long Beach. The Park has an impressive number of amenities, including a skate park, and outdoor archery range, soccer and softball fields, volleyball and basketball courts that are even lit up at night, and 18-hole golf course, a roller hockey court, a tennis center, designated areas for remote control airplanes and sailboats, and a disc golf course. In addition, there are three fishing lakes and a fishing pond.
That Little Bit Extra:
El Dorado Park was the site for the archery competitions of the 1984 Olympics.

#23 – Garden of Gods

Colorado Springs, Colorado

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City Park Acreage and Percentage of Total City Area – 11,157 acres (9.5%)
What’s So Special?
Garden of Gods takes up 1319 acres, and attracts over 2 million visitors a year. It is a preferred destination for hikers, rock climbers, mountain bikers and horseback riders. It offers more than 15 miles of trails, including a mile-and-a-half trail that is accessible by wheelchair.
That Little Bit Extra:
There is evidence that Garden of the Gods was used as a campsite by Native American peoples as early as 250 BC.

#22 – Lake Park

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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City Park Acreage and Percentage of Total City Area – 6280 acres (10.6%)
What’s So Special?
The park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the same man who envisioned Central Park, with a preference for natural landscaping, rather than formal, and an incorporation of the natural land features. The overall effect is one of placidity, relaxation, and restoration. Besides the usual waterfront amenities, two features that stand out are and 18-hole golf course and the North Point Lighthouse.
That Little Bit Extra:
Lake Park is the site of the sole remaining Indian mound in Milwaukee.

#21 – Pullen Park

Raleigh, North Carolina

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City Park Acreage and Percentage of Total City Area – 12,879 acres (14.1%)
What’s So Special?
Established in 1887, Pullen Park is the oldest and the most-visited park in the city of Raleigh. This picturesque Park contains two ballfields, tennis courts, paddle boats, and a plethora of playground equipment. Other amenities include an aquatic center with an Olympic-size swimming pool, an art center that hosts a summer camp for kids, a one-third size miniature train offering rides, and an antique carousel featuring 52 hand-carved animals.
That Little Bit Extra:
The carousel is over 100 years old, and is one of only 14 still in operation in the world.

#20 – Fairmount Park

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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City Park Acreage and Percentage of Total City Area – 11,211 acres (13.5%)
What’s So Special?
Taken as a whole, the Fairmount Park system of Philadelphia is the largest landscaped urban Park in the entire world, covering more than 9200 acres. Nearly half of that is taken up by Fairmount Park proper, which contains over 4000 acres all by itself. Among its many amenities and properties is Bartram’s Garden, which is the country’s oldest existent botanical garden.
That Little Bit Extra:
Fairmount Park is the site of the Philadelphia Zoo, the first zoo established in the US.

#19 – Alum Park

San Jose, California

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City Park Acreage and Percentage of Total City Area – 16,463 acres (14.7%)
What’s So Special?
Alum Park encompasses 718 acres, making it the largest part in San Jose. Originally founded in 1872, it is also the first municipal Park in the state of California. It offers a host of outdoor facilities such as playgrounds, picnic areas, tips for sand volleyball, and a number of trails for hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians.
That Little Bit Extra:
In a lucky happenstance, a 2007 earthquake caused a stream that was previously dry to begin flowing again.

#18 – City Park

New Orleans, Louisiana

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City Park Acreage and Percentage of Total City Area – 28,436 acres (26.4%)
What’s So Special?
At 1300 acres, city Park is the sixth-largest public urban Park in the United States of America, approximately 50% larger than Central Park. It is also the seventh-most-visited park in the country. It is an extremely popular destination with dozens of amenities and attractions, including an amusement park with a miniature train, a small roller coaster, a century-old carved wooden carousel, and 15 other rides. There is also a children’s playground that adheres to a fairytale theme, the New Orleans Botanical Garden, the New Orleans Museum of Art, and a sculpture garden.
That Little Bit Extra:
The largest collection of mature live oak trees can be found here, with some of the specimens over 600 years old.

#17 – Swope Park

Kansas City, Missouri

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City Park Acreage and Percentage of Total City Area – 17,525 acres (9%)
What’s So Special?
Taking up over 1800 acres, Swope Park is the largest park in Kansas City, and is currently the 29th-largest park in the United States. It has a number of amenities, including a public golf course, a swimming pool, a course for Frisbee golf, soccer fields, and baseball diamonds. It is also the site of the Kansas City Zoological Park and the Starlight Theater, and outdoor theater that is capable of seating over 8000 patrons.
That Little Bit Extra:
One of the Grandmasters of science fiction, Robert A. Heinlein, grew up in Kansas City, and Swope Park is mentioned several times in his works.

#16 – Lincoln Park

Chicago, Illinois

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City Park Acreage and Percentage of Total City Area – 12,485 acres (9.1%)’s
What’s So Special?
Lincoln Park is the largest park in Chicago, taking up over 1200 acres. It has amenities and attractions for nearly every interest – a driving range, a full golf course, and outdoor archery field, 163 volleyball courts, three dozen tennis courts, a half-dozen basketball courts, and baseball, softball, and soccer fields.
Also, Lincoln Park contains a zoo, a conservatory, a history museum, a theater, gardens, and public beaches.
That Little Bit Extra:
Lincoln Park attracts over 20 million visitors per year, making it the second-most visited park in the United States.

#15 –Balloon Fiesta Park

Albuquerque, New Mexico

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City Park Acreage and Percentage of Total City Area – 27,373 acres (23.6%)
What’s So Special?
This smallish park (350 acres) is the most-visited park in Albuquerque, primarily because of the International Balloon Fiesta, a nine-day event that can attract up to 100,000 visitors a day. This fiesta is the largest hot air balloon event in the world.
The park has 23 different fields, and the rest of the year is used for sports, walking and running, picnics, model aircraft flying, bicycling, car shows, and concerts.
That Little Bit Extra:
The fiesta takes place every October since 1972, and there are usually approximately 700 participants.

#14 – Seward Park

Seattle, Washington

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City Park Acreage and Percentage of Total City Area – 5546 acres (10.5%)
What’s So Special?
Established in 1911, this 300-acre park offers visitors five separate experiences: Andrews’ Bay is an excellent lakeshore beach, and on the other side is a playground and tennis court area, while the “upper lots” has an immense picnic area and perhaps the finest outdoor amphitheater in the city. The fourth experience is the “old growth forest” with 250-year-old trees that predate the city itself. Finally, the perimeter of the park, which is paved, is a preferred destination for walkers, runners, bikers, and skaters.
That Little Bit Extra:
In 1930, the Japanese city of Yokohama gave Seattle a stone lantern as a gift of friendship because of Seattle’s assistance after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, and that lantern is displayed at the entrance to the park.

#13 – Joaquin Miller Park

Oakland, California

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City Park Acreage and Percentage of Total City Area – 6063 acres (18.3%)
What’s So Special?
Joaquin Miller Park encompasses 500 acres, and is the largest park in Oakland. It is a wonderful destination for picnics, and is popular with hikers, bikers, and equestrians. One of the amenities is a 2000-seek outdoor amphitheater. The location also offers an incredible panoramic view of the Bay.
That Little Bit Extra:
Many of the park’s trees were originally planted by Joaquin Miller, the Californian writer and poet for whom the park is named.

#12 – The Aurora Reservoir

Aurora, Colorado

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City Park Acreage and Percentage of Total City Area – 10,276 acres (10.4%)
What’s so Special?
At almost 1900 acres, including 800 acres of water surface, the Aurora Reservoir is the largest park/open space site in the city. Because of the many possible outdoor activities, it is also Aurora’s most-visited park. In 2012, it was named “the Best Park for Fishing”.
Amenities and activities include fishing, SCUBA diving, wildlife viewing, archery, and over 8 miles of paths for walking and jogging. Visitors can bring their own non-motorized boat or rent one at the reservoir. Through late September, there is a seasonal beach that is popular for swimmers and sunbathers. Anglers with disabilities are invited to use the new handicapped-accessible fishing pier.
There are also shelters and gazebos that can be reserved for special occasions such as birthday parties or corporate events.
That Little Bit Extra:
Because the Aurora Reservoir also serves as a source of drinking water for the city, one of the educational aspects of the park is the AWQUA Lounge – named for the acronym “Aurora Water Quality Understanding & Appreciation”. Visitors can learn about the fascinating path that water takes from a natural source to the faucet.

#11 – Gene Leahy Mall

Omaha, Nebraska

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City Park Acreage and Percentage of Total City Area – 10,391 acres (13.3%)
What’s So Special?
This minuscule park (9.6 acres) is recognized as the driving force behind an urban revitalization of downtown Omaha. Among its amenities are a huge lagoon, waterfalls, a horseshoe pit, slides, and an outdoor amphitheater that serves as a concert venue. The park attracts thousands of visitors during the holiday season, when the entire is lit up with thousands of Christmas lights.
That Little Bit Extra:
The park is named for a former mayor of Omaha who was well-known for dressing in a clown costume to entertain sick or hospitalized children.

#10 – Mount Trashmore Park

Virginia Beach, Virginia

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City Park Acreage and Percentage of Total City Area –24,916 acres (15.6%)
What’s So Special?
Mount Trashmore Park is an excellent example of reusing a landfill. Originally opening in 1974, the park converted an abandoned landfill. Now the location encompasses 165 acres, and has hills that are more than 60 feet tall and over 800 feet long.
Amenities include picnic areas, playgrounds, basketball and volleyball courts, and two lakes for fishing. It is the most popular park in Virginia Beach, attracting over 1 million visitors a year.
That Little Bit Extra:
One of the more popular features at the park is a 24,000 square foot skate park where such skating luminaries as Tony Hawk have practiced and competed.

#9 – Balboa Park

San Diego, California

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City Park Acreage and Percentage of Total City Area – 48,468 acres (23.5%)
What’s So Special?
Originally established in 1868, the 1200-acre Balboa Park was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1977. The Park is a primary recreational destination for the city, with a legion of amenities and attractions, including: the San Diego Zoo, the Starlight Bowl, and a large number of gardens and museums. Over 12 million people a year visit Balboa Park, making it the third-most-visited park in the United States.
That Little Bit Extra:
For two days every July, Balboa Park hosts the San Diego pride Festival. In 2011, more than 150,000 people attended.

#8 – William Land Park

Sacramento, California

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City Park Acreage and Percentage of Total City Area – 5080 acres (8.2%)
What’s So Special?
William Land Park is the most-visited park in Sacramento, and is home to several attractions, including the Sacramento Zoo, the William Land Golf Course, Fairytale Town, where the playground equipment has been designed with inspiration from children’s nursery rhymes and fairytales. For very young children, the park also offers Funderland, offering carnival-styled rides.
That Little Bit Extra:
In Sacramento, approximately 75% of the population lives within a 10-minute walk of a public city park.

#7 – City Park

Denver, Colorado

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City Park Acreage and Percentage of Total City Area – 6100 acres (8.2%)
What’s So Special?
At 315 acres, City Park is the largest and most-visited park in Denver. Attractions include the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the Denver Zoo, a boathouse, and two lakes. The main fountain was recently renovated and now contains a series of LED lights that cycle through different programs every hour.
That Little Bit Extra:
The Denver Zoo began in 1896 with the donation of a single black bear named Billy Bryan.

#6 – Meridian Hill Park

Washington, DC

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City Park Acreage and Percentage of Total City Area – 8513 acres (21.9%)
What’s So Special?
This small, 12-acre park was originally designed and constructed between 1912 and 1940. The central Cascading Waterfall, originally built in 1936, is the largest such structure on the continent. The overall design of the park was inspired by formal Italian gardens – complete with a large number of sculptures – which were in the past reserved only for the aristocracy. The specific vision of Meridian Hill Park was to make an area that was accessible to all people, as is only befitting for a democracy.
That Little Bit Extra:
On the land that was to become Meridian Hill Park, President Thomas Jefferson directed that a geographical marker be placed precisely north of the White House, and this marker was used in the establishment of a longitudinal meridian for both the city and the country.

#5 – Golden Gate Park

San Francisco, California

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City Park Acreage and Percentage of Total City Area – 5685 acres (19%)
What’s So Special?
Golden Gate Park takes up over 1000 acres, making it 20% larger than Central Park. Annually, it attracts over 13 million visitors, making it the most-visited park in San Francisco and the fifth most-visited park in the United States. There are a large number of attractions and features, including the Music Concourse area, the De Young Museum, the Conservatory of Flowers, the National AIDS Memorial Grove, the California Academy of Sciences, and the Japanese Tea Garden, which is the oldest public Japanese garden in the United States. The Academy of Sciences, has been called the “world’s greenest museum”.
That Little Bit Extra:
Every year since 1924, Kezar Stadium has hosted the city’s high school football championship, called the Turkey Bowl.

#4 – Washington Park

Portland, Oregon

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City Park Acreage and Percentage of Total City Area – 14,204 acres (17.4%)
What’s So Special?
Originally designed in the late 1800’s, Washington Park takes up more than 400 acres of steep hillside, ranging in elevation from 200 feet to 870 feet. Some of the features and attractions include the Oregon Zoo, the Oregon Holocaust Museum, the World Forestry Discovery Museum, the Washington Park amphitheater, and the International Rose Test Garden.
That Little Bit Extra:
The International Rose Test Garden is the oldest official public rose test garden in the country that has been in continuous operation. It showcases more than 500 varieties of roses represented by over 7000 plants. It includes a specially-designed large children’s playground.

#3 – Boston Common & Public Garden

Boston, Massachusetts

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City Park Acreage and Percentage of Total City Area – 4916 acres (16.9%)
What’s So Special?
Boston Common is the most-visited park in the city, and, established in 1634, it is the oldest city park in the entire United States. It is a smallish park, containing only 50 acres, but within can be found a number of important memorials and burial sites, including the Boston Massacre Memorial, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial, and the Central Burying Ground.
That Little Bit Extra:
Boston Common is the site of the city’s Official Christmas tree, which since 1971, has been a gift from Nova Scotia in appreciation for the efforts of the Red Cross following the Halifax explosion of 1917.

#2 – Como Park Zoo and Conservatory

Minneapolis, Minnesota

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City Park Acreage and Percentage of Total City Area – 5055 acres (14.9%)
What’s So Special?
The Como Park Zoo and Conservatory takes up 384 acres and attracts nearly 2 million visitors a year. This free park includes a pool, a golf course, a carousel, and amusement park, a conservatory, and a zoo. There are also approximately 2.5 miles of trails, a fishing pier and paddleboat rentals, and both an 18 hole golf course and a mini golf course. There are a number of significant statues and sculptures located throughout the park, and two of the park’s bridges have been added to the National Register of Historic Places.
That Little Bit Extra:
According to the Trust for Public Land, the city of Minneapolis has the #1 park system in the US for the second straight year. Generally, Minneapolis is considered to have the best-designed, best-maintained, and best-financed park system in the country, with the most parkland per resident for a city of its size, approximately 770 square feet per person.

# 1 – Central Park

New York City, New York

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City Park Acreage and Percentage of Total City Area – 38,606 acres (20.5%)
What’s So Special?
Considered the most famous public park in the world, Central Park was created in 1857 and currently takes up 843 acres. It is the most-visited park in the United States and attracts 37.5 million visitors a year. Coincidentally, it has an annual budget of $37.5 million.
Because this is New York City, if it can be found anywhere, it can be found here. Some of the many, many activities that can be done at the park include bird-watching, boating, carriage rides, and pedicabs.
Public sports include swimming, ice skating, rock climbing, volleyball, tennis, lawn bowling, and croquet. There are also a number of baseball fields. Every year, Central Park serves as the finish line for the New York City Marathon.Central Park Zoo has an indoor rain forest, a penguin house, a polar bear pool, and even a leaf-cutter ant colony.Central Park Carousel has 58 hand-carved horses and is one of the largest merry-go-round’s in the country. The carousel is over 100 years old and was originally installed at Coney Island.
That Little Bit Extra:
In 1997, Garth Brooks gave a free concert at Central Park, attended by a world-record crowd of 980,000 people.

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