Updated November 30, 2013

Study: Best Outdoor Cities

Top 10 cities for outdoor enthusiasts

Love spending time in nature but don't want to break the bank paying for outdoor activities? We looked at 50 cities across the nation to determine which ones offer the best environment for financially savvy outdoor types. Read on to see if your city made the list.

Study Methodology

  1. Moderate temperatures
  2. National and state park acreage
  3. Ability to live car-free

First we looked at which cities have moderate temperatures year-round, so you’re not tempted to stay cooped up inside when it gets too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter. Plus, you’ll be less likely to run up expensive utility bills because of wildly changing temps. We used data from Weatherbase to find the cities that fit our criteria.

Next, we combined the amount of total acreage for both state and national parks in each state. Whether you love to camp, hike, fish, or boat, state and national parks offer tons of outdoor activities at minimal prices. Even if you live a few hours away from the nearest park, they make an affordable vacation option for you and your family.

Finally, we used a previous CreditDonkey study to find the cities where residents can easily live car-free (those rankings were based on percentage of people using public transit for their work commutes, gas prices, and total commute time). Whether you walk to work or take public transportation, foregoing a car saves money and lets you stop and smell the roses more often.

10 Best Cities for Outdoor Enthusiasts

1. San Francisco, CA

San Francisco, California
San Francisco, California

  • Average July High Temperature : 65.8 F
  • Average January Low Temperature: 45.6 F
  • Combined National and State Park Acreage (for state): 9.6 million
  • Ability to Live Car-free Ranking: 2

San Francisco takes our top spot for outdoor-friendly cities. With mild temperatures throughout the year and many easily-accessible California parks, San Francisco really has it all for those who want to enjoy the outdoors year-round. The Golden Gate National Recreation Area is one of the most popular national parks in the country; it includes top-notch surfing beaches and Crissy Field, a restored salt marsh ecosystem. In addition, with over 200 miles of bike routes throughout the city, you won’t even need a car to get around.

2. Los Angeles and San Diego, CA

San Diego, California
San Diego, California

  • Average July High Temperature : 79 F
  • Average January Low Temperature: 48 F
  • Combined National and State Park Acreage (for state): 9.6 million
  • Ability to Live Car-free Ranking: LA: 8, SD: 18

Los Angeles and San Diego actually ranked in second and third places, respectively, but we combined them since they have near-identical climates and are only two hours apart. Beach lovers will appreciate LA’s gorgeous coast line, whether they want to swim, surf, or even bike or rollerblade on the boardwalk. Runyon Canyon Park is a local favorite, offering hike trails, yoga classes, and some of the best views in the city. Similarly, San Diego offers easy coastal living. The city is also home to Balboa Park, which boasts over 1,200 acres of attractions. The park includes gardens, museums, theaters, walking paths, a zoo, a carousel – and even a miniature railroad. With such local commitment to providing outdoor facilities, you will find no shortage of this type of entertainment in San Diego or Los Angeles.

3. San Jose, CA

San Jose, California
San Jose, California

  • Average July High Temperature : 82 F
  • Average January Low Temperature: 40 F
  • Combined National and State Park Acreage (for state): 9.6 million
  • Ability to Live Car-free Ranking: 16

From LA, we drive about five hours up the coast to reach San Jose. Typically known for its Silicon Valley tech companies, San Jose is also a great place for outdoor lovers. There are over 53 miles of trails throughout the city, in addition to several parks. Kelley Park features a children’s park and zoo, the Japanese Friendship Garden, and History Park. If you have a green thumb, also be sure to check out the city’s Municipal Rose Garden, which has over 4,000 rose bushes. Summer never smelled so good.

4. Seattle, WA

Seattle, Washington
Seattle, Washington

  • Average July High Temperature : 74 F
  • Average January Low Temperature: 36 F
  • Combined National and State Park Acreage (for state): 2.1 million
  • Ability to Live Car-free Ranking: 7

Let’s leave California and head north to Seattle. While stereotypes often reference the city’s gloomy weather, Seattle actually ranks low among U.S. cities for average rainfall in summer months. Centrally located in between Puget Sound’s shorelines and the Cascade and Olympic Mountains, outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy plenty of opportunities year-round, such as kayaking, skiing, and snowboarding. And with plenty of public transportation available, you won’t need to rely on a car to get around.

5. Miami, FL

Miami, Florida
Miami, Florida

  • Average July High Temperature : 89 F
  • Average January Low Temperature: 60 F
  • Combined National and State Park Acreage (for state): 3.3 million
  • Ability to Live Car-free Ranking: 15

If you hate cold winters, then Miami is the place for you. With an average low of 60 degrees in January, winter months will hardly cramp your outdoor style. In addition, both Miami and the entire state of Florida offer a host of parks and other outdoor attractions for you to enjoy year-round. Explore the coral reefs of Biscayne Bay or browse the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. Of course, Miami’s beaches also provide countless opportunities to work on your tan and play in the water to your heart’s content.

6. New York, NY

New York, New York
New York, New York

  • Average July High Temperature : 85 F
  • Average January Low Temperature: 26 F
  • Combined National and State Park Acreage (for state): 1.4 million
  • Ability to Live Car-free Ranking: 1

It’s no surprise that New York made our top 10. As the easiest city to live without a car and relatively mild summers for in the Northeast, it never falls short of outdoor entertainment. Iconic Central Park offers paths for joggers, bicyclists, and horse riders, two rinks for ice skaters, a zoo, a swimming pool, and more. There are even free Shakespeare in the Park performances every summer. But New York also has a number of state and national parks residing in the city, including the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve, and the Riverbank State Park, overlooking the Hudson River. The Big Apple may seem like just a concrete jungle at first glance, but it is actually a city teeming with nature, trails, and opportunities to truly enjoy the great outdoors.

7. Boston, MA

Boston, Massachusetts
Boston, Massachusetts

  • Average July High Temperature : 81.6 F
  • Average January Low Temperature: 22.2 F
  • Combined National and State Park Acreage (for state): 407,962
  • Ability to Live Car-free Ranking: 5

Though Boston does have the coldest winters among our top 10, this city still offers plenty to do outside year-round. On the Charles River, the Esplanade is a state park made up of paths, ballparks, and community boating. For a bit more adventure, hop on the ferry at Boston Harbor, and explore Georges Island, home to Civil War-era Fort Warren – just be sure to watch out for ghosts. Frog Park provides outdoor ice skating in the winter months, and just a short distance from the city, you can ski or snowboard at Blue Hills Ski Area.

8. Sacramento, CA

Sacramento, California
Sacramento, California

  • Average July High Temperature : 93 F
  • Average January Low Temperature: 38 F
  • Combined National and State Park Acreage (for state): 9.6 million
  • Ability to Live Car-free Ranking: 21

We are back in California, this time heading to the capital city of Sacramento. While the city is not on the coast, it does have many fun outdoor options. Head to the American River Parkway and ride your bike or a horse throughout 5,000 acres of nature. Discovery Park is also a local favorite, featuring boat launches, trails, an archery range, and more – all at the intersection of the American and Sacramento Rivers. And with fairly mild winters, the city is a great place to pursue your outdoor hobbies, even in January.

9. Portland, OR

Portland, Oregon
Portland, Oregon

  • Average July High Temperature : 80 F
  • Average January Low Temperature: 34 F
  • Combined National and State Park Acreage (for state): 302,095
  • Ability to Live Car-free Ranking: 10

The city’s slogan “Keep Portland Weird” certainly alludes to some unique features in the area. Mount Tabor Park is home to an extinct volcano, one of just a handful throughout the country. Located in a median strip, Mill Ends Park is the world’s smallest park, it’s only 452 square feet – the size of a small studio apartment. Portland is also continually ranked one of the greenest U.S. cities. So, if you love the outdoors and are environmentally-conscious, this city is a great place for you.

10. Orlando, FL

Orlando, Florida
Orlando, Florida

  • Average July High Temperature : 92 F
  • Average January Low Temperature: 50.1 F
  • Combined National and State Park Acreage (for state): 3.3 million
  • Ability to Live Car-free Ranking: 36

Our final city for outdoor enthusiasts is also a summer lover’s dream. With winter temperatures in the 50s, you’ll be able to enjoy Orlando’s many outdoor attractions throughout the year. Perhaps the most famous, the Walt Disney World Resort lets your inner child run wild among roller coasters and Disney characters alike. Golfing is also a popular outdoor sport in the area, and the Arnold Palmer Invitational is hosted each year at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge. So grab your cleats and your Mickey shirt for year-round fun in the sun in Orlando.

Of course there are many fun, affordable outdoor options in any city, but the ones ranked above let you maximize your time outside all year. Beach lovers may prefer hot summer temperatures to work on their tan, and snow sport enthusiasts might want more extreme winter temperatures. The above-listed cities give you a middle ground between the two.

Lauren Ward is a research analyst at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and reviews website. Write to Lauren Ward at lauren@creditdonkey.com

Note: This website is made possible through financial relationships with some of the products and services mentioned on this site. We may receive compensation if you shop through links in our content. You do not have to use our links, but you help support CreditDonkey if you do.

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