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The Best Parks in the U.S. to Unwind

With either a book or picnic basket in hand, there's nothing quite like a trip to a park to relax and unwind. Whether you are meeting up with friends, looking for a day out with the family, or just want to spend some time alone, a public park is a worthwhile way to invest in yourself. It’s a great equalizer; you might spot some gal pals sipping rosé, some college mates kicking a soccer ball around, some old ladies having a picnic, and a dad taking his kid for a bike ride. At a park, anything goes; it’s a breath of fresh air amid the hustle and bustle of city living.

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01Fairmount Park, Pennsylvania

Home to Philadelphia Zoo, Philadelphia Art Museum, the Horticulture Centre, and the Fairmount Water Works, Fairmount Park in Philadelphia gives visitors plenty of choices. The park boasts 2,000 acres of green space, including forested hiking trails, meadows, and countless beautiful wedding venues. Fairmount Park also hosts a variety of cultural attractions, such as the annual Cherry Blossom Festival in the Shofuso Japanese Garden and the Pavilion in the Trees, which is part of Philly’s Museums Without Walls program that makes art more accessible to the public.

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02Belle Isle, Michigan

City and island in river Sean Pavone / Getty Images

Belle Isle really lives up to its name. Located in the Detroit River near the Canadian border, this island is beautiful. From the park, you’ll see fantastic views of Motor City and Windsor in Ontario. The island has been a public park for 169 years and features paved paths, canals, and mountain bike trails. Sportier park visitors can also take a dip in the swimming beach, go kayaking, or visit the yacht club in summer. Those who brave the winter weather can even hit up the local ice skating rink! There are a host of cultural events on Belle Isle as well, and the island hosts an annual Grand Prix car race and countless concerts.

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03Prospect Park, New York

New Yorkers congregate in Brooklyn's Prospect Park as the pandemic closes most indoor activities Wirestock Creators / Shutterstock.com

Most visitors are more familiar with Central Park in NYC than Prospect Park in Brooklyn, but they’re both gorgeous areas. Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaus designed the 585-acre Prospect Park, which offers a leafy respite from the busy New York streets. If you’re looking for a picnic spot, Prospect Park has them in droves! In fact, there are even designated barbeque areas if you want to grill. There is also a 3.5-mile bridle trail for horseback riding -- which is a popular activity in the park. The Park Zoo, fishing, and paddle boats help amuse kids in summer, and ice skating and sledding are popular in the winter.

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04Forest Park, Missouri

Opened in 1876, Forest Park is the heart of St. Louis for a good reason. Fun fact: The park hosted the 1904 summer Olympics. There are 1,371 acres of park to explore. Visitors can enjoy nature with both the Kennedy Forest and Kennedy Woods, which are perfect for hiking. There are lots of attractions in Forest Park, like the Saint Louis Zoo, which is free to visit and has lions, tigers, and elephants -- oh, my! There is also the Saint Louis Science Center, home of the McDonnell Planetarium, where you can attend stargazing events.

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05Balboa Park, California

Balboa Park - San Diego, California jmichaelmedia / Getty Images

Balboa Park began in 1892 when Kate Sessions (known as the Mother of Balboa Park) planted 100 trees each year in exchange for a piece of land for her nursery. Since then, the space has literally blossomed into a 1,200-acre park with tons of attractions. In fact, there are over 15 museums in the park, including the Air and Space Museum and the San Diego Natural History Museum. You can also find San Diego Zoo, and if you’re lucky, catch a glimpse of a rare Giant Panda there. Balboa Park is also perfect for a stroll; not only does it overlook the ocean, but there are also plenty of gardens and dog parks to enjoy.

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06Griffith Park, California

Griffith Observatory, Mount Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA - aerial view dszc / Getty Images

Home to the Greek Theatre, the Los Angeles Zoo, the Autry Museum of the American West, and Griffith Observatory, Griffith Park is full of history and fun. Just north of Los Feliz in Los Angeles, there are plenty of other cultural attractions in the park, too. For example, you can swing by Bronson Canyon, which has been a filming location for over 100 years. If you’re in the mood for a wander, there are several routes up to Mount Lee behind the Hollywood Sign in the park.

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07Central Park, New York

New York City skyline with Central Park Orbon Alija / Getty Images

Central Park is America’s first -- and probably its most well-known -- park. Fredrick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed the park in 1858 after they won a design competition. Later, in 1962, the park became a National Historic Landmark, and New Yorkers still flock to it today. The Park is filled with wonderful attractions -- everything from ice rinks to merry-go-rounds, lakes, and lawns. You might want to wear your workout gear as well, as New Yorkers often play tennis or volleyball at the courts there.

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08Golden Gate Park, California

Aerial Golden Gate park in San Francisco Steve Proehl / Getty Images

You’ll never be bored in Golden Gate Park. De Young Museum, the Botanical Garden, the California Academy of Science, the Botanical Garden, and the Japanese Tea Garden all call the park home. It’s also the perfect place for sports; visitors can hike, bike, play soccer, tennis, golf, and archery. There’s a great view over the skyline and Golden Gate Bridge from the top of Strawberry Hill. There are even bison here for wildlife enthusiasts!

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09Audubon Park, Louisiana

John Charles Olmstead developed Audubon Park, and it’s named after the artist John James Audubon. Since 1871, the park has delighted visitors with its scenic views near the Mississippi River and beautiful picnic locations. You can zip along in local streetcars as well as walk, run, or bike the 1.8-mile trail. Visitors can also hit up the zoo aquarium and golf course.

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10Zilker Park, Texas

Changing Colors Along Colorado River Aerial Shot Flying over Zilker Park in Austin , Texas with the trail of lights display ready for Christmas. December brings changing of seasons and the dropping of leaves in Central Texas RoschetzkyIstockPhoto / Getty Images

In the heart of downtown Austin, Zilker Park is the ultimate place to relax. Whether you are looking for a picnic spot, the perfect place to walk your pooch, or a scenic view of Austin, Zilker has everything. If you really want a treat, there is nowhere better on a sunny day than the Bartin Springs Pool, where you can sit in an inflatable flamingo and let your worries drift away.

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