America's Fittest Cities
For many locals and travelers alike, the path to good health and happiness is often found in a park, on a mountainside, or along a river that makes way for pedestrians and bikers. This year, Travel + Leisure's America's Favorite Cities Survey asked the public to rate which U.S. cities have the most active/athletic residents—and the least. And the results are mixed, both predictable and startling.
Now in its fifth year, the survey spans 30 U.S. cities and delivers up-to-date opinions from the American public on such categories as local attractions and family getaways, even holiday travel and the intelligence quotients of residents. Not surprisingly, the number of natural features, the quality of the cities' green spaces, walkability, and more were all factors in deciding which U.S. cities are in top form.
According to the President's Council on Fitness and Sports, "adults 18 and older need 30 minutes of physical activity on five or more days a week to be healthy; children and teens need 60 minutes of activity a day for their health."
These goals are easier to reach in some cities than in others. Progressive, bike-friendly Portland, OR—a city that ranked near the top of this year's fitness list—has no shortage of scenic spots to get the blood pumping. Plus, the local culture practically demands you get moving-and break a sweat.
"Since moving to Portland 10 years ago, my attitude about fitness has changed," says well-toned 39-year-old Portlander Lia Mills. "Instead of being a chore or ‘something to get out of the way,' it's become a way of life for my family and me. And because the city makes exercise so easy and accessible (everyone is doing it!), it's difficult not to get [and stay] in shape."
Sunny San Diego—a West Coast city that consistently cracks the top of the list—has its fair share of active locals, who take advantage of the city's perfect temps and many green spaces, such as Balboa Park. Honolulu, too, benefits from near-perfect weather and a gorgeous seaside location-assets that surely contribute to the Hawaiian city's high ranking in this year's survey.
While buff bods abound in some towns, big waistlines and laissez-faire workout attitudes are the norm in others. Atlanta may have hosted the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, but it appears the Georgia city still falls in the bottom third for athletics. St. Louis, too, needs to renew its gym membership.
And while survey takers were not kind this year to New Orleans—a town where all-you-can-eat crawfish boils are considered a sport—there are still a surprising number of ways to exercise and enjoy the Louisiana city.
"Not everyone in food-obsessed New Orleans falls victim to a ‘po'boy belly,'" says Kettye Voltz, creative director of the popular local dance company Tsunami. "There are plenty of options for working off a night of overindulgence, like the brand-new 4.7-mile hybrid path that runs along the bayou."
No matter whether you're a type A endorphin addict or an exercise-phobe, there's a U.S. city to fit your lifestyle. Read on for the 2009 America's Favorite Cities Survey results.
With 300 sunny days a year, America’s largest city park system, and a setting at the foot of the Rockies, it’s no wonder Denver repeated its 2008 win as America’s fittest city.
Fit In: Swing your golf clubs at City Park’s public course or jog some of the 850 miles of urban trails.
#2 Portland, OR
It seems that almost everyone bikes everywhere in Portland, despite the rain. And the number of health nuts may be growing: Stumptown moved up from the #3 spot it held in 2008.
Fit In: Rent a bike and take to the trails of Forest Park—one of the largest city parks in the country—for spectacular volcanic mountain views. Or, do some laps around the city’s Esplanade Walkway, which spans both sides of the Willamette River.
Austin’s collective creative energy may be strong enough to burn calories all on its own. Hopefully its slip from the #2 spot last year is only temporary.
Fit In: Take a dragon boat out on Lady Bird Lake, a Colorado River reservoir. Or, if weather permits, go for a dip in nearby Barton Springs.
#4 San Diego
Warmth, sunshine, beaches, ocean: why on earth would locals stay inside? It’s no shock that San Diego always cracks the top five in this category.
Fit In: Take a stroll around Balboa Park—named a National Historic Landmark in 1977—and visit the award-winning (and massive) San Diego Zoo to ogle giant pandas.
Yes, Seattle’s the top-ranked city for coffee bars in our survey, but surely it takes more than caffeine to inspire getting outdoors under a gray sky. Ah yes, the scenery.
Fit In: Scale the 65-foot climbing wall at REI’s flagship store (222 Yale Ave. N.). In good weather, soak up the scenery with a stroll around Snow Lake or the Olympic Sculpture Park, featuring works by Claes Oldenburg and Richard Serra.
#6 Minneapolis/St. Paul
Winter temperatures may be frightful, but locals know the value of staying fit in any conditions—after all, according to our survey, the city is home to America’s smartest people.
Fit In: Rent a bike for a spin around beautiful Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun.
America’s best-looking people live in Miami, say our survey respondents, but apparently locals didn’t necessarily achieve that ranking by being fit. Still, Miami always cracks the top 10 cities in this category.
Fit In: Canoe at the 1,000-acre Oleta River State Recreation Area (3400 NE 163rd St.), a bit of the Everglades—complete with mangroves and sea grapes—overlooking Biscayne Bay, and just 20 minutes from downtown.
#8 San Francisco
Strolling the city’s seven hills while feasting on omnipresent organic meals would keep anyone fit. Yet the city slips from the #6 spot it held for the past two years.
Fit In: Hike around those hills—Telegraph or Russian—for an alternative to popular Golden Gate Park. Not enough adventure? Explore Lands End, one of the city’s last true wilderness areas.
Hawaiians love Spam, yet apparently this paradisiacal setting inspires the locals to get outside and work off the super-fatty not-quite-meat.
Fit In: Stroll among the ferns and orchids at the formal gardens (Honolulu’s oldest) at the gracious Walker Estate in the upper Nu’uanu Valley of Honolulu. Or, climb the Aloha Tower, the city’s famous lighthouse on the waterfront.
#10 Los Angeles
Yes, Angelenos drive everywhere, but the city consistently ranks as one of the top 10 fittest. Is it possible they just look healthy?
Fit In: Head to Runyon Canyon for a moderate hike with vistas that overlook the Hollywood sign to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the southwest. You may have to push past paparazzi at the entrance on Fuller Avenue; celebrities flock to the trails on weekdays.
#11 Santa Fe
Frito pie may be the local snack of choice, but Santa Feans still like to soak up the great piñon-filled outdoors.
Fit In: Rent a mountain bike and hit the Dale Ball Trails, a network of some 30 miles of pathways located just two miles from Santa Fe Plaza.
The cities slipped two notches from their lofty #10 spot in 2008, but resort desert living still does the residents of Phoenix/Scottsdale good.
Fit In: Feel like a cowboy/girl and go horseback riding through the foothills of South Mountain Park, the largest municipal park in the world. Its 40 miles of trails span some 18,500 miles.
South Carolina may be a southern home-cooking hot spot, but that doesn’t stop Charlestonians from working their grits off. In fact, they’re moving in the right direction, up from #14 in 2008.
Fit In: Tour the city’s historic district by bike, then head to Kiawah Island’s pristine beach for a barefoot, muscle-toning walk through the sand.
College-filled Beantown is no stranger to sports, but no amount of team spirit will help that the historic New England city fell one point on the fit scale this year.
Fit In: Strap on skates and hit the ice at Frog Pond for some seasonal fun. In nice weather, get your heart rate up along the Paul Dudley White Charles River Bike Path, a popular jogging route.
Sure, there are plenty of reasons to get outside in this Sun Belt city—it has more than 330 parks—but even semi-fit Houstonians must take advantage of their surroundings part of the time.
Fit In: Explore sprawling Hermann Park, in the heart of the Museum District, by foot. There’s an outdoor theater, zoo, and reflecting pool.
No matter how many hills (Constitution, College, Federal) Rhode Island’s “metropolis” boasts, this city at the head of Narragansett Bay couldn’t crack the top half of the cities in this category.
Get Fit: Stroll Waterplace Park, a riverwalk teeming with local artists and performers.
Nashvillians took home the trophy as America’s Friendliest City in our survey, and they have access to more than 10,000 acres of parkland. However, it seems some folks in the country music capital are moping around at home with achy breaky hearts.
Get Fit: Walk along one of the city’s 99 progressive “greenways,” or pedestrian trails that connect neighborhoods and communities.
Can we blame the Windy City’s weather—rain, sleet, and snow—for preventing Chicagoans from getting out year-round to exercise along the shores of Lake Michigan?
Get Fit: Join in the on-foot festivities of the 2nd Fridays Gallery Walk for free open houses at the Gallery District’s hottest arts venues.
The city’s de facto mascot—Mickey Mouse—may have a paunch, but the family vacation mecca holds steady at #19 for the second year in a row.
Get Fit: Run, jog, or walk among different Disney Resorts’ jogging trails.
#20 Kansas City, MO
Sure, Kansas Citians like their rodeo, but it seems they prefer their steaks. Still, this was the city’s first year in America’s Favorite Cities; perhaps locals will firm up a bit before the 2010 survey.
Get Fit: Do a lap or two around Jacob L. Loose Park, near the Plaza.
#21 Washington, D.C.
Maybe residents of the nation’s capital are too busy lobbying political powerbrokers, but Washingtonians have slipped five spots in this year’s survey.
Get Fit: Walk the Mall and hit all the city’s must-see sites: the WWII Memorial; Jefferson Memorial; Lincoln Memorial; Vietnam Memorial; and the Washington Monument. Pop into the Smithsonian for bathroom breaks (and in warm weather, free air-conditioning).
Locals in this top business and transport hub didn’t live up to their New Year’s resolutions; the Georgia city holds the same rank for the second year in a row.
Get Fit: Horseback ride (Georgia International Horse Park) or mountain bike (1996 Centennial Olympic Pkwy.) the site of the 1996 Olympic Games.
#23 San Antonio
Residents of this sprawling Texas town may remember the Alamo, but they seem to have forgotten where they placed their gym cards.
#24 Dallas/Fort Worth
Big hats and big wallets don’t necessarily mean big muscles in Dallas.
Get Fit: Take matters into your own hands at the Cooper Wellness Program, which offers weight counseling, aerobics classes, outdoor recreation, and day-spa services at its Dallas-based research headquarters.
This Lake Erie city’s new rep as a hot midwestern culinary destination might be to blame, but there’s room for improvement when it comes to Clevelanders’ less-than-active lifestyles.
Get Fit: Swim, golf, fish, even toboggan in the city’s “emerald necklace” of Metroparks—16 nature parks with more than 21,000 combined acres.
#26 St. Louis
Locals in St. Louis may not be stylish or in tip-top shape, but the Missouri city did rank high for affordability in this year’s survey.
Get Fit: Explore the 79 acres of the Missouri Botanical Garden, whose greenhouses and conservatories are ideal spots for a mid-workout break.
#27 New York
Even though the majority of New Yorkers don’t own cars and they walk everywhere, Gothamites still have a rep for being out of shape.
Get Fit: Head to the city’s newest and coolest park—the 1.5-mile High Line built along an elevated train line—for a stoplight-free walk. Too much? Rest at the over-traffic seating at the 26th street window.
Philadelphians might love their cheesesteaks a little too much—in addition to being voted as having the least attractive residents, Philly also ranks as one of the least active cities in the country.
Get Fit: Climb around Nature’s Castles, three overgrown treehouses in the city’s often flower-filled Longwood Gardens, or hoof it around its historic streets and corners.
#29 Las Vegas
Unfortunately for locals, cruising The Strip doesn’t count as exercise; this year the city comes in second-to-last for fitness.
Get Fit: Stroll the Las Vegas Springs Preserve, a $250-million green project with hiking trails and an amphitheater for concerts just a few miles from downtown.
#30 New Orleans
New Orleanians’ fun, “laissez les bons temps roulez” attitude may have caught up with them—all those fried po’boy sandwiches, potent hurricane cocktails, and laid-back music clubs are severe workout distractions. Really, who can blame them for being last on the list?
Get Fit: Go for a jog along the shores of Lake Pontchartrain, or try a walking tour of the antebellum homes in the city’s scenic Garden District.