Best & Worst Cities for Recreation

Adam McCann, Financial Writer
Jul 2, 2019

Staying active isn’t just good for your health. It’s also good for your wallet. One of the best ways to maintain an active lifestyle is to choose a city that encourages and facilitates recreation. The best cities have a wide range of leisure activities, both indoor and outdoor. Those activities require varying levels of exercise and contribute to a city’s overall well-being and economy.

Consider neighborhood parks, which are instrumental to building a sense of community, boosting property values, improving public health and reducing pollution. In Washington, for instance, close proximity to a park increases a home’s value by 5 percent while the same types of spaces in Sacramento, Calif., result in nearly $20 million in health care savings. “A regular vigorous run can cut medical costs by an average of $250 a year” per individual, according to The Trust for Public Land. Recognizing these benefits, 100 major U.S. cities together invested more than $8 billion in parks and recreation in 2018.

But some cities offer more and cheaper options than others. To determine the places where recreation is a high priority, WalletHub compared the 100 largest U.S. cities across 48 key metrics that speak to the benefits of recreational activities. In each city, we examined basic living costs, the quality of parks, the accessibility of entertainment and recreational facilities and the weather. Read on for our findings, expert commentary and a full description of our methodology.

Main Findings

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Best Cities for Recreation

Overall Rank
(1=Best)

City

Total Score

‘Entertainment & Recreational Facilities’ Rank

‘Costs’ Rank

‘Quality of Parks’ Rank

‘Weather’ Rank

1 San Diego, CA 58.27 4 70 11 34
2 Las Vegas, NV 58.14 10 38 21 18
3 Orlando, FL 58.13 2 50 54 28
4 Honolulu, HI 56.71 3 85 4 43
5 Tampa, FL 53.73 14 36 74 13
6 Atlanta, GA 52.90 13 64 37 41
7 Cincinnati, OH 52.20 18 9 19 58
8 Scottsdale, AZ 51.96 29 52 24 3
9 Portland, OR 51.31 9 53 25 78
10 Los Angeles, CA 50.93 11 92 55 7
11 San Francisco, CA 50.25 1 99 6 49
12 Denver, CO 49.37 16 60 13 64
13 St. Louis, MO 49.16 19 4 16 94
14 New Orleans, LA 49.14 20 66 8 53
15 Minneapolis, MN 48.96 22 40 2 77
16 Chicago, IL 48.74 5 94 5 92
17 Seattle, WA 48.54 8 89 9 70
18 Sacramento, CA 48.49 25 72 42 9
19 Boise, ID 48.42 42 6 57 26
20 Tucson, AZ 47.46 34 27 82 16
21 El Paso, TX 47.24 87 1 28 25
22 Philadelphia, PA 47.08 17 81 34 52
23 Lincoln, NE 46.95 50 33 18 46
24 New York, NY 46.84 6 100 1 55
25 Henderson, NV 46.68 83 2 69 4
26 Albuquerque, NM 46.63 57 51 12 37
27 St. Petersburg, FL 46.53 37 41 39 40
28 Austin, TX 46.36 15 57 48 81
29 Phoenix, AZ 46.08 53 37 63 17
30 Reno, NV 45.91 47 17 81 27
31 Washington, DC 45.72 7 93 15 93
32 Long Beach, CA 45.04 51 77 43 12
33 Miami, FL 44.89 12 84 65 68
34 Omaha, NE 44.88 39 7 29 75
35 Colorado Springs, CO 44.87 56 12 51 42
36 Birmingham, AL 44.68 58 5 99 59
37 Pittsburgh, PA 44.43 23 42 47 84
38 Chesapeake, VA 44.24 86 26 7 47
39 Jacksonville, FL 44.23 40 25 30 67
40 Virginia Beach, VA 44.16 30 18 27 90
41 Columbus, OH 43.92 45 8 64 61
42 Irvine, CA 43.73 33 96 20 21
43 Cleveland, OH 43.71 26 23 45 83
44 Anaheim, CA 43.62 54 71 95 6
45 Glendale, AZ 43.46 52 80 62 11
46 Oklahoma City, OK 43.40 66 15 76 35
47 San Antonio, TX 43.31 28 10 70 74
48 Madison, WI 43.07 48 48 10 73
49 Kansas City, MO 43.07 67 24 49 44
50 St. Paul, MN 43.00 35 49 22 69
51 Chandler, AZ 42.82 79 63 66 14
52 Plano, TX 42.74 64 31 61 45
53 Fort Worth, TX 42.65 63 58 56 32
54 Dallas, TX 42.57 31 34 50 72
55 Houston, TX 42.42 24 67 33 86
56 North Las Vegas, NV 42.37 91 73 32 5
57 Milwaukee, WI 42.00 36 32 35 95
58 Baton Rouge, LA 41.98 43 30 80 54
59 Tulsa, OK 41.91 59 44 78 30
60 Corpus Christi, TX 41.58 60 20 38 66
61 Greensboro, NC 41.39 69 11 44 57
62 Bakersfield, CA 41.26 95 39 94 2
63 Mesa, AZ 41.20 73 65 71 20
64 Raleigh, NC 41.09 46 14 83 79
65 Norfolk, VA 40.90 55 69 17 62
66 Nashville, TN 40.89 27 54 59 88
67 Buffalo, NY 40.51 32 56 36 100
68 Stockton, CA 40.47 97 76 46 10
69 Gilbert, AZ 40.38 80 16 98 14
70 Winston-Salem, NC 40.35 76 47 73 39
71 San Bernardino, CA 40.23 99 79 99 8
72 Lubbock, TX 39.70 82 28 67 48
73 Boston, MA 39.68 21 98 3 98
74 San Jose, CA 39.58 71 86 40 23
75 Arlington, TX 39.46 68 68 87 36
76 Baltimore, MD 39.11 41 78 23 89
77 Riverside, CA 39.07 77 83 92 1
78 Detroit, MI 38.65 78 62 31 60
79 Fresno, CA 38.49 90 59 90 19
80 Indianapolis, IN 38.30 38 19 93 99
81 Santa Ana, CA 38.20 72 87 77 21
82 Laredo, TX 38.16 98 21 91 31
83 Wichita, KS 37.98 81 3 75 85
84 Louisville, KY 37.87 44 45 79 91
85 Lexington-Fayette, KY 37.75 74 22 88 62
86 Toledo, OH 37.60 88 55 58 50
87 Newark, NJ 36.95 89 29 41 97
88 Charlotte, NC 36.94 49 61 97 71
89 Aurora, CO 36.49 84 46 52 65
90 Garland, TX 36.43 96 74 84 33
91 Fremont, CA 36.13 92 97 26 24
92 Durham, NC 35.86 65 43 89 79
93 Memphis, TN 35.16 70 35 96 87
94 Hialeah, FL 35.10 85 88 72 38
95 Anchorage, AK 34.83 62 91 14 82
96 Chula Vista, CA 34.69 100 82 85 29
97 Fort Wayne, IN 34.46 75 13 86 96
98 Oakland, CA 33.95 61 95 68 51
99 Irving, TX 33.39 94 75 60 76
100 Jersey City, NJ 31.91 93 90 53 55

Ask the Experts

Public facilities are known to enhance public health, a city’s economy and the beauty of a community — but only when planned and managed carefully. We therefore turned to a panel of experts for advice on improving municipal parks and recreation options. Click on the experts’ profiles below to read their bios and responses to the following key questions:

  1. What are some cost-effective ways for local authorities to improve parks and recreation facilities?
  2. What is the biggest mistake local authorities make in building and maintaining parks and recreation facilities?
  3. Should local authorities prioritize funding recreational activities for certain groups (e.g., the elderly or children)?
  4. Do you believe that there is a direct link between the size of a park and the benefits it provides to the local community? How should local authorities consider balancing quality and quantity?
  5. When evaluating the best cities for recreation, what are the top five indicators?
  6. Do you think cities should consider raising new taxes or increasing debt levels in order to invest in parks and recreation?




Methodology

To determine the best and worst cities for recreation, WalletHub compared a sample of the 100 most populated U.S. cities across four key dimensions: 1) Entertainment & Recreational Facilities, 2) Costs, 3) Quality of Parks and 4) Weather. Our sample considers only the city proper in each case and excludes cities in the surrounding metro area.

We evaluated the four dimensions using 48 relevant metrics, which are listed below with their corresponding weights. Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 representing the highest level of recreation-friendliness. For metrics marked with an asterisk (*), the square root of the population was used to calculate the population size in order to avoid overcompensating for minor differences across cities.

Finally, we determined each city’s weighted average across all metrics to calculate its overall score and used the resulting scores to rank-order our sample.

Entertainment & Recreational Facilities – Total Points: 40

  • Number of Attractions: Double Weight (~2.62 Points)
  • Music Venues per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.31 Points)
  • Coffee & Tea Shops per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.31 Points)
  • Public Beaches per Capita*: Half Weight (~0.66 Points)
  • Tennis Courts per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.31 Points)
  • Public Golf Courses per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.31 Points)
  • Public Swimming Pools per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.31 Points)
  • Baseball & Softball Diamonds per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.31 Points)
  • Basketball Hoops per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.31 Points)
  • Bike Rental Facilities per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.31 Points)
  • Fishing Spots per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.31 Points)
  • Hiking Trails per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.31 Points)
  • Running Trails per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.31 Points)
  • Walking Trails per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.31 Points)
  • Amusement Parks per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.31 Points)
  • Presence on TripAdvisor’s “Top 25 Amusement Parks” List: Full Weight (~1.31 Points)
  • Water Parks per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.31 Points)
  • Boat Tours & Water Sports per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.31 Points)
  • Food & Wine Tours per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.31 Points)
  • Zoos & Aquariums per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.31 Points)
  • Motion Picture Theaters and Drive-Ins per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.31 Points)
  • Bowling Centers per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.31 Points)
  • Pool Halls per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.31 Points)
  • Restaurants per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.31 Points)
  • Food Festivals per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.31 Points)
  • Ice Cream & Frozen Yogurt Shops per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.31 Points)
  • Sports Fan-Friendliness: Full Weight (~1.31 Points)
    Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s “Best Sports Cities” ranking. Sports include football, basketball, baseball, hockey and soccer.
  • Intramural Leagues per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.31 Points)
  • Sport Venues per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.31 Points)
  • Recreational Centers per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.31 Points)

Costs – Total Points: 30

  • Spending on Parks and Recreation per Capita: Half Weight (~1.30 Points)
  • Average Fitness Club Fee: Full Weight (~2.61 Points)
  • Average Cost of Tennis-Court Rent: Full Weight (~2.61 Points)
    Note: This metric considers cost of rent for one hour during the weekend.
  • Movie Costs: Full Weight (~2.61 Points)
  • Bowling Costs: Full Weight (~2.61 Points)
  • Grooming Costs: Full Weight (~2.61 Points)
  • Average Price per Massage Treatment: Full Weight (~2.61 Points)
    Note: Massage treatment refers to both deep tissue and Swedish massage.
  • Average Alcoholic Beverage Price: Full Weight (~2.61 Points)
    Note: “Alcoholic Beverage” refers to both beer and wine. “Beer” refers to a six-pack of 12-ounce Heineken containers, excluding any deposit. “Wine” refers to a 1.5-liter bottle of Chablis, Chenin Blanc or any white table wine.
  • Average Food Price: Full Weight (~2.61 Points)
    Note: “Food” refers to both hamburger and pizza. “Hamburger” refers to a ¼-pound patty with cheese, pickle, onion, mustard, and catsup. “Pizza” refers to a 11″-12″ thin crust cheese pizza.
  • Prevalence of Affordable 4.5+ Star Restaurants: Full Weight (~2.61 Points)
  • Restaurant Meal Costs: Double Weight (~5.22 Points)

Quality of Parks – Total Points: 20

  • Share of Population with Walkable Park Access: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
  • Share of Designed Parkland Areas: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
  • Presence on TripAdvisor’s “Top 25 Parks” List: Half Weight (~1.82 Points)
  • Park Playgrounds per Capita*: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
  • Parkland as Share of City Area: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)
  • Acres of Parkland per 1,000 Residents: Full Weight (~3.64 Points)

Weather – Total Points: 10


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Sources: Data used to create this ranking were collected from the U.S. Census Bureau, Council for Community and Economic Research, The Trust for Public Land, Public Courses, Yelp.com, TripAdvisor, Numbeo.com, Under Armour, IMLeagues, 2Book and WalletHub research.

Image: matthew25 / Shutterstock.com

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