America's Most Popular City Parks
In New York’s Central Park, you’ll find people jogging, tossing Frisbees, relaxing under trees, and—more than in any other park in America—checking in to Foursquare.
Whether they’re bragging about where they are or seeing who else might be there, people are checking in to social sites at ever-increasing rates. A pioneer in this space, Foursquare has grown exponentially by allowing tech-savvy travelers and residents to share not only their adventures but also their expertise, by leaving insider tips every place they’ve been.
So we got in touch with our friends at Foursquare and asked them to pull some data for us: which city parks attract the most check-ins? While the company keeps the actual number of check-ins hush-hush, it was able to give us a ranked list of the most popular parks in America from August 2011 to August 2012.
And what did we find? First, that New York City parks attract a lot of avid Foursquare fans. Big Apple greenery dominates the list due to the sheer number of people who visit places that are perfect for both visitors and residents, like Central Park and the High Line.
Other iconic parks showed up, too, like San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park—often referred to as the West Coast’s Central Park. The attractions here—including waterfalls, windmills, a Conservatory of Flowers, and even a buffalo pasture—lure in thousands of check-in-happy visitors.
But not all the parks on this list were as predictable. Washington, D.C.’s Dupont Circle, for example, is a relatively tiny space, but its fountain and picnic-worthy lawn draw a lot of tech-savvy visitors.
We were also curious about another thing: who is checking in? Foursquare tells us that its top app users are 25-34, and while there’s an almost 50/50 male-to-female ratio, males are slightly more likely to check-in.
So read on to see which of the parks made the top 20 list. And wherever you are right now, be sure to hop onto Foursquare, check in, and follow Travel + Leisure to get our tips and curated lists of where to go in hot spots around the world.
No. 1 Central Park, New York City
It’s no surprise that NYC’s Central Park raked in the most check-ins. The park’s 843 acres include countless strolling paths along with lawns for sunbathing and picnicking, open-air performance venues, and lakes for rowing boats (in summer) and ice-skating (in winter). In this exceedingly diverse city, there really is something for everyone.
Don’t Miss: Cleopatra’s Needle, one of three ancient Egyptian obelisks (the other two are in London and Paris), built more than 3,000 years ago and given to NYC in 1881.
No. 2 Union Square Park, New York City
Set in the center of one of Manhattan’s major shopping neighborhoods, Union Square packs a lot of draws into its modest nine-acre space. The south-side steps are often crowded with political demonstrators, break-dancers, and skateboarders; the shaded paths are lined with benches where office workers take lunch.
Don’t Miss: The Greenmarket, held every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, where many of the city’s top restaurant chefs shop for locally grown produce.
No. 3 Bryant Park, New York City
An oasis of peace and quiet just outside of the hustle and bustle of Times Square, the nine-acre Bryant Park is a godsend for all Midtown employees seeking out a lunchtime breath of fresh air. No longer the home of the Fashion Week tents, the park still draws in crowds: for ice-skating and a holiday pop-up market in the winter, and for lounging on the soft grass in the warmer months.
Don’t Miss: Every summer, the park hosts a series of free films on a giant outdoor screen. But get there early! People stake their claims on the lawn hours before the show starts.
No. 4 High Line Park, New York City
The newest—and highest—park in NYC, built atop a long-abandoned elevated subway rail, spans 15-plus blocks (and will stretch even farther when the third and final section opens in spring of 2014). Dotted with benches for lounging, inventively planted gardens, and local artwork for admiring, the park also offers some spectacular city views—over the Hudson River, the architecture of the arty West Village and Chelsea neighborhoods, and even some residents’ windows.
Don’t Miss: The giant glass wall near West 17th Street, which makes you feel like you’re floating over the cars zipping by below.
No. 5 Madison Square Park, New York City
This 6.8-acre park, still looking fresh after a renovation in 2001, is one of the quieter of NYC’s parks (except in summer, when it often hosts outdoor music and food festivals). It’s surrounded by some notable architecture: the Flatiron Building, Met Life Tower, and Woolworth Building.
Don’t Miss: The Shake Shack, a permanent stand serving up hamburgers, hot dogs, and its signature frozen custard milkshakes. You’ll know it by the long (but quickly moving) line of people waiting to order.
No. 6 Washington Square Park, New York City
This 9.7-acre Greenwich Village hub is most notably identified by the giant stone century-old Washington Arch at its northern entry point (sort of a lower-rent Arc de Triomphe). On any given day, thousands of locals and tourists—as well as many NYU students, who consider it their backyard—can be seen gathered around the park’s central fountain.
Don’t Miss: The tables at the western edge of the park where chess hustlers challenge willing opponents to play for cash.
No. 7 Millennium Park, Chicago
Among the many attractions at the24.5-acre Millennium Park are the giant, mirrored sculpture called The Bean (where untold thousands have photographed their own reflections); the BP Pedestrian Bridge (designer Frank Gehry’s first); and the Crown Fountain, a 50-foot-tall sculpture that uses light-emitting diodes placed behind the bricks to display videos. Winter ice-skating is another draw in the cooler months.
Don’t Miss: Taking in a show at another Frank Gehry-designed feature: the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, a band shell that can seat up to 11,000 people.
No. 8 Boston Common, Boston
Boston is home to seemingly countless plugged-in college students, all eager to check in and show off their every move—and this nearly 400-year-old park is one of their favorite destinations. Draws at the 50-acre park include Frog Pond, where picnickers spread blankets alongside the water in warmer months.
Don’t Miss: The Frog Pond Carousel, a recently replaced and much-adored feature, particularly for families.
No. 9 Mission Dolores Park, San Francisco
The 13-plus acre park, built more than 100 years ago, is a sprawling green oasis in the middle of San Francisco’s arty, multicultural Mission neighborhood. Tennis courts, a soccer field, and a basketball court draw crowds all year long, as do the family-friendly playground and puppy play area.
Don’t Miss: One of the many festivals that take place at the park, from political rallies to Cinco de Mayo celebrations.
No. 10 Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia
Set in the ritzy Philly neighborhood that shares its name, this seven-acre park is a hub for block parties and festivals (as well as a handful of hotels, which bring crowds and check-ins). On any given day, you’ll spot residents hanging with their dogs, artists sketching, and musicians strumming guitars.
Don’t Miss: The Rittenhouse Square Flower Market, an annual two-day festival held each May, the oldest continuous event in the space.
No. 11 National Mall, Washington, D.C.
This 146-acre park, home to many of the city’s most important monuments, is one of the most heavily touristed sites in the country. Naturally, a good number of visitors are checking in to boast about it.
Don’t Miss: The Cherry Blossom Festival in the spring, when the park’s 3,700 cherry trees burst into vibrant bloom.
No. 12 Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.
Though it’s tiny (not much more than a few square blocks), this park in the center of D.C. pulls in tourists—partly because of its central location (it’s adjacent to the National Mall) and partly because its fountain and surrounding lawn make it an ideal spot for hosting a midday picnic. And, of course, given its setting, the park is a convenient spot for political gatherings.
Don’t Miss: Sampling local produce at the Dupont Circle Freshfarm Market, held every Sunday.
No. 13 Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY
That this 585-acre outer-borough park is the starting point for the annual Brooklyn Half Marathon is just one thing that draws folks in droves. There are also wide green lawns where local soccer teams play, myriad playgrounds and barbecue areas, and the annual Celebrate Brooklyn! Performing Arts Festival.
Don’t Miss: The park regularly hosts publicity stunts, like this one put on by local improv group Improv Everywhere.
No. 14 Piedmont Park, Atlanta
Sprawling 189 acres just northeast of Atlanta’s downtown, Piedmont draws sporty types with its miles of trails for running, biking, and strolling. Its large swimming center (an outdoor pool with several fountains) is an especially popular hub in the hot southern summers.
Don’t Miss: The 40-foot-high canopy walk in the park’s Botanical Gardens, which stretches 600 feet through the Storza Woods.
No. 15 Zilker Park, Austin, TX
This 350-acre park in Texas’s most indie-fabulous city is a veritable check-in frenzy. Why? For starters, its riverfront location provides a retreat from the punishing Texas heat. It’s also got tons of attractions, including a year-round lineup of outdoor music festivals; a sculpture garden; a miniature train for kids; soccer and volleyball fields; and sprawling Botanical Gardens.
Don’t Miss: The Barton Springs Pool, a massive (three-acre) man-made swimming pool that’s fed by natural springs.
No. 16 Battery Park, New York City
Home to a marina and waterfront promenade, the free Staten Island Ferry, and boat tours to both Liberty and Ellis islands, this 28-acre park at the southern tip of Manhattan easily made the list. The newly opened September 11 Memorial and Museum, at the site of the former World Trade Center towers, is just a short walk away.
Don’t Miss: Looking up at the still-growing Freedom Tower, the 104-story-tall skyscraper that, when it’s completed in 2013, will be the tallest in the Western Hemisphere.
No. 17 Green Lake Park, Seattle
Set around the wide, picturesque lake that shares its name, this 324-acre park is home to waterfront jogging trails, tennis courts, baseball diamonds, and areas for swimming, boating, and windsurfing on the lake.
Don’t Miss: Taking in a show at The Bathhouse Theater. Run by Seattle Public Theater, its performance lineup features both professional theater troupes and youth education programs.
No. 18 McCarren Park, Brooklyn, NY
The main draw in this 35-acre Greenpoint/Williamsburg park is the recently renovated and reopened Olympic-size swimming pool, which draws in crowds of people on sweltering summer days. The surrounding green lawns are also a hit with local baseball and soccer teams, as well as bocce players and picnickers.
Don’t Miss: The park’s series of free summer music concerts and movies.
No. 19 Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
Sprawling more than 1,000 acres between the Sunset and Richmond districts of San Francisco, this storied park has an amazingly diverse set of offerings. There are waterfalls, windmills, and tulip gardens; endless lawns and forests punctuated by paths; an antique glass Conservatory of Flowers; and even a pasture for the park’s resident herd of buffalo.
Don’t Miss: The de Young Museum, which was recently redesigned, rebuilt, and reopened in 2005. The building’s "skin" is perforated with holes of various sizes, casting an interesting pattern of sunlight on certain interior rooms.
No. 20 Tompkins Square Park, New York City
Decades ago, this 10-acre East Village park was one of Manhattan’s most notorious drug-dealer hangouts; these days, however, it’s a family-friendly oasis of playgrounds, handball courts, and elm-shaded flowerbeds.
Don’t Miss: The lineup of festivals at the park, which includes the Howl Festival (commemorating Allen Ginsberg) and the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival.