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The Most Natural Spaces in America's Busiest Places:
A Guide to the Top Natural Areas in the Largest Metro Areas


If you read Are You Getting Enough Fresh Air? Important Insights You Need to Know, also in this week's issue, you know that getting outside for some fresh air is one of the best things you can do for your mind and body. Do it in an area that's also close to nature, and the benefits are even better.

Fortunately, even if you live in one of the busiest, most urban metropolitan areas in the United States, you can find your own slice of natural paradise.

Biscayne National Park, Miami

If you love the water, Miami's Biscayne National Park is for you; 95 percent of it is underwater, ready to be explored by scuba or snorkeling excursion!

1. New York, NY

New York City boasts being America's "greenest city" because it's nearly 27 percent parks and open space (for a total of 52,938 acres). The most famous park, Central Park in Manhattan, is not even the largest, although it does have a zoo, carousel, skating rink, theater, lake, pond, reservoir, castle, gardens, fountains, and more.

Another top-notch green space in New York City is the New York Botanical Garden, located in the Bronx, which even offers guided bird walks.

2. Los Angeles, CA

To experience a bit of nature, LA-style, check out Descanso Gardens, a 160-acre botanic garden in La Canada, which has the largest camellia collection in North America. It also features an International Rosarium, Japanese garden, native plant area, outdoor theater, bird station, art exhibits and seasonal horticultural displays.

If outdoor art is more your speed, visit The 21st Century Plaza Sculpture Garden, located in the Warner Center district. It features sculptures by world class artists, and the collection is rotated regularly so there's always something new to see.

3. Chicago, IL

Chicago sits on 26 miles of lakefront, but the natural areas extend far beyond the beach. The city has 7,300 acres of citywide parkland, 552 parks, 2 world-class conservatories, 16 historic lagoons, and 10 bird and wildlife gardens.

One of the newest additions, Millennium Park, sits atop a sub-level parking garage and train yard. This 24.5-acre "green roof" features Lurie Garden, which has 200-plus varieties of plants, mostly native to North America.

Or, visit the Chicago Botanic Garden, which is located approximately 20 miles north of Chicago. Its 385 acres feature 26 spectacular gardens. Either put on your walking shoes and explore, or take one of their 35-minute guided tram tours.

4. Dallas, TX

There are 406 parks located throughout the Dallas area. Among them is the Cedar Ridge Preserve (formerly the Dallas Nature Center), which contains 640 acres of preserved wilderness, including native-plant nurseries and seven miles of hiking trails.

There's also the Dallas Arboretum; 66 acres of perennial fragrant gardens, towering trees, and lush lawns.

5. Philadelphia, PA

Philadelphia is known as the Garden Capital of the United States, and actually has some of the most historic gardens in the country.

Among them is Bartram's Garden, the oldest living botanic garden in America. It has 45 acres of quiet fields and 18th-century farm buildings.

For families, visit the Camden Children's Garden, a four-acre interactive garden with themes including a Dinosaur Garden, Storybook Gardens, Tree House and Picnic Garden.

6. Houston, TX

Houston, The Bayou City, will impress you with its natural splendor. Take a stroll through woodlands and the region's largest collection of native and cultivated plants at the 250-acre Mercer Arboretum & Botanic Gardens. Or, visit the Armand Bayou Nature Center. This 2,500-acre gem near the Gulf Coast safeguards wetlands, prairie, forest and marsh habitats and exhibits snakes, spiders, hawks and bison.

Constitution Gardens, Washington DC

Next time you're in the nation's capital, Constitution Gardens deserves a stop.

7. Miami, FL

There's much more to Miami than the beach and nightlife. If you love the water, Biscayne National Park -- America's first "underwater park" -- is a must-see. A full 95 percent of this park is underwater, waiting to be explored by scuba or snorkel. You can also take a canoe, kayak or three-hour glass-bottom boat tour to see dolphins, tropical fish and sea turtles near the park's extensive coral reefs.

If you'd rather stay on land, peruse the Sense of Wonder Nature Center, a 15-acre wildlife sanctuary full of migrating birds and other wildlife.

8. Washington, DC

The nation's capital boasts 230,000 acres of parkland within the metro area. A must-see is Constitution Gardens -- 45 acres of landscaped grounds, including an island and a lake. The gardens contain approximately 5,000 oak, maple, dogwood, elm and crabapple trees, and holds the Signers of the Declaration of Independence Memorial.

Also noteworthy is Tudor Place Garden, which is owned by Martha Custis Peter, granddaughter of George and Martha Washington. The gardens' five acres contains specimen trees planted in the early 19th century, formal gardens, expanses of green lawns, parterres and woodland.

Boston Common and the Public Garden

Boston Common and the Public Garden are the oldest park and botanical garden in the United States.

9. Atlanta, GA

For a taste of nature while visiting Atlanta, check out Stone Mountain Park -- Georgia 's #1 visited attraction. The park contains over 3,200 acres of natural beauty and includes lodging, camping, entertainment, themed attractions and the Lasershow Spectacular. Aside from seeing the world's largest piece of exposed granite, visitors to Stone Mountain Park can take a scenic railroad trip around the mountain, enjoy a paddlewheel riverboat around the lake, or even tackle the 400' tubing hill during the winter.

For a more traditional park experience, Atlanta's 180-acre Piedmont Park features woods, sports fields, Lake Clara Meer, picnic spots, walking and skating paths and annual events.

10. Boston, MA

There are more than 2,200 acres of parkland throughout Boston. Make sure you visit the Boston Harbor Islands, the country's newest National Park. It features 34 islands where you can enjoy swimming, boating, island tours, hiking, fishing and bird watching.

There's also Boston Common (1634) and the Public Garden (1837), the oldest public park and botanical garden in the country. It features rich and unusual plants, a lagoon, monuments, fountains, and Swan Boats.

Recommended Reading

The 5 Great National Parks Almost No One Knows About

Six Inexpensive U.S. Vacation Destinations Everyone Should Consider


GuestLife Houston

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