Best & Worst Cities for Recreation (2023)

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.

Neighborhood parks are one of the most beneficial types of recreation a city can offer. Research has found that having a park within 500 to 600 feet of your property can have significant impact on its value. In addition, parks help people stay fit, saving them as much as $1,500 in healthcare costs per year, and they reduce the overall costs of air pollution by $3.8 billion per year. It’s also important for cities to offer recreation opportunities that don’t require good weather, though, so things like movie theaters, music venues and coffee shops also contribute to each city’s recreation-friendliness.

Some cities offer cheaper and more numerous options than others. To determine the places where recreation is a high priority, WalletHub compared the 100 largest U.S. cities across 47 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.

Table of Contents

Main FindingsAsk the ExpertsMethodology

Main Findings

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Best Cities for Recreation

Overall Rank


Total Score

Entertainment & Recreational Facilities


Quality of Parks


1Las Vegas, NV64.232582218
2Orlando, FL61.641526028
3Cincinnati, OH59.171215258
4Tampa, FL58.337457713
5Scottsdale, AZ55.483525333
6San Diego, CA55.484882834
7Albuquerque, NM55.174081137
8Atlanta, GA55.019723241
9Honolulu, HI53.706931043
10New Orleans, LA52.891866753
11San Francisco, CA52.85399549
12Tucson, AZ52.4627337016
13St. Louis, MO51.7122121394
14Phoenix, AZ51.6230328117
15Sacramento, CA51.542975249
16Los Angeles, CA51.341196637
17Denver, CO51.3314681864
18St. Petersburg, FL51.1631215140
19Chandler, AZ50.858215514
20El Paso, TX50.676943125
21Chicago, IL50.601085892
22Glendale, AZ50.497628211
23Tulsa, OK49.515975930
23Boise, ID49.5153107126
25Minneapolis, MN49.472357677
26Reno, NV48.8444208827
27Henderson, NV48.827417834
28New York, NY48.228100155
29Kansas City, MO48.2063272744
30Portland, OR48.2016763478
31Austin, TX48.0317477381
32Jacksonville, FL47.9934303767
33Milwaukee, WI47.8532241995
34San Antonio, TX47.5624344874
35Philadelphia, PA47.5120774452
36Miami, FL47.425915668
37Pittsburgh, PA47.3619594384
38Houston, TX47.1926462586
39Columbus, OH47.1647283661
40Lincoln, NE46.9164352146
41Mesa, AZ46.6075168020
42Oklahoma City, OK46.516299035
43Birmingham, AL46.4452269959
44Madison, WI46.323864373
45Bakersfield, CA46.089113932
46Stockton, CA45.6789535310
47Baton Rouge, LA45.6343396954
48Plano, TX45.5061563845
49Irvine, CA45.4151901221
50Gilbert, AZ45.369539714
51Fort Worth, TX45.3365406532
52Norfolk, VA45.1350502362
53Toledo, OH44.9877114750
54Washington, DC44.9515941593
55Anaheim, CA44.764982896
56Seattle, WA44.7513982670
57Cleveland, OH44.6536375883
58Omaha, NE44.5741542975
59Virginia Beach, VA44.5642492090
60Long Beach, CA44.1546925012
61San Bernardino, CA44.109667998
62Colorado Springs, CO44.0856635242
63Chesapeake, VA43.9094431447
64Arlington, TX43.8866429136
65Dallas, TX43.8333654972
66San Jose, CA43.5860804123
67St. Paul, MN43.2439703069
68Louisville, KY43.0225617291
69Lubbock, TX42.9888187948
70Nashville, TN42.7337447888
71Fresno, CA42.4384626819
72Detroit, MI42.3971551760
73Buffalo, NY42.30286940100
74Charlotte, NC42.1158484271
75Winston-Salem, NC42.0392317439
76Boston, MA41.862197998
77Riverside, CA41.847274961
78Raleigh, NC41.7355298679
79Corpus Christi, TX41.6767385766
80Lexington-Fayette, KY41.6080197662
81Santa Ana, CA41.4281796421
82Laredo, TX40.87100238731
83Anchorage, AK40.675486482
84North Las Vegas, NV40.459884465
85Wichita, KS40.258368485
86Baltimore, MD40.1945783589
87Greensboro, NC40.1787366757
88Indianapolis, IN39.8648229599
89Hialeah, FL39.4573837538
90Fremont, CA39.4397891624
91Memphis, TN39.1868416687
92Aurora, CO38.2385606265
93Durham, NC38.067959879
94Garland, TX37.6290719433
95Oakland, CA37.6157953951
96Irving, TX37.3493516176
97Newark, NJ36.8170734597
98Jersey City, NJ36.4078875455
99Chula Vista, CA36.0699818529
100Fort Wayne, IN35.4286149296

Note: With the exception of “Total Score,” all of the columns in the table above depict the relative rank of that city, where a rank of 1 represents the best conditions for that metric category.

Best & Worst Cities for Recreation (1)

Bowling Costs


  • 1. Nashville, TN
  • 2. Durham, NC
  • 3. Tucson, AZ
  • 4. Oklahoma City, OK
  • 5. Toledo, OH

Best & Worst Cities for Recreation (2)


  • T-94. Anaheim, CA
  • T-94. San Bernardino, CA
  • T-94. Long Beach, CA
  • T-94. Santa Ana, CA
  • T-94. Irvine, CA
  • 100. St. Paul, MN

Best City vs. Worst City: 7x Difference

Nashville, TN vs. St. Paul, MN

Best & Worst Cities for Recreation (3)

Movie Costs

Best & Worst Cities for Recreation (4)


  • 96. New York, NY
  • 97. Fremont, CA
  • 98. San Francisco, CA
  • T-99. Los Angeles, CA
  • T-99. Long Beach, CA

Best City vs. Worst City: 2x Difference

Corpus Christi, TX vs. Long Beach, CA

Best & Worst Cities for Recreation (5)

Avg. Food Price


  • 1. Bakersfield, CA
  • 2. Durham, NC
  • 3. Lubbock, TX
  • 4. Jacksonville, FL
  • 5. Boise, ID

Best & Worst Cities for Recreation (6)


  • 96. Stockton, CA
  • 97. Honolulu, HI
  • 98. New York, NY
  • 99. Seattle, WA
  • 100. Sacramento, CA

Best & Worst Cities for Recreation (7)

Tennis Courts per Capita


  • T-1. Norfolk, VA
  • T-1. Omaha, NE
  • 3. Atlanta, GA
  • 4. New York, NY
  • 5. Dallas, TX

Best & Worst Cities for Recreation (8)


  • 94. Los Angeles, CA
  • 95. Houston, TX
  • 96. Seattle, WA
  • 97. Portland, OR
  • 98. Bakersfield, CA

Best City vs. Worst City: 24x Difference

Norfolk, VA vs. Bakersfield, CA

Best & Worst Cities for Recreation (9)

Coffee Shops per Capita


  • T-1. Orlando, FL
  • T-1. Pittsburgh, PA
  • T-1. Honolulu, HI
  • 4. Cincinnati, OH
  • 5. Tampa, FL

Best & Worst Cities for Recreation (10)


  • 96. Hialeah, FL
  • 97. Henderson, NV
  • 98. Corpus Christi, TX
  • 99. New York, NY
  • 100. Laredo, TX

Best City vs. Worst City: 8x Difference

Orlando, FL vs. Laredo, TX

Best & Worst Cities for Recreation (11)

Music Venues per Capita


  • T-1. Las Vegas, NV
  • T-1. Nashville, TN
  • T-1. Austin, TX
  • T-1. New Orleans, LA
  • T-1. San Francisco, CA

Best & Worst Cities for Recreation (12)


  • 95. Stockton, CA
  • 96. Corpus Christi, TX
  • 97. Aurora, CO
  • 98. San Bernardino, CA
  • 99. Garland, TX

Best City vs. Worst City: 62x Difference

Las Vegas, NV vs. Garland, TX

Best & Worst Cities for Recreation (13)

% of Parkland


  • T-1. Anchorage, AK
  • T-1. Fremont, CA
  • T-1. Irvine, CA
  • 4. Albuquerque, NM
  • 5. Chesapeake, VA

Best & Worst Cities for Recreation (14)


  • 94. Mesa, AZ
  • 95. Baton Rouge, LA
  • 96. Lubbock, TX
  • 97. Lexington-Fayette, KY
  • 98. Hialeah, FL

Best City vs. Worst City: 40x Difference

Anchorage, AK vs. Hialeah, FL

Show More

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. When evaluating the best cities for recreation, what are the top five indicators?
  5. Do you think cities should consider raising new taxes or increasing debt levels in order to invest in parks and recreation?

Ask the Experts

Randall S. Rosenberger
Ph.D. – Associate Dean – Student Success and Special Projects – Oregon State University, College of Forestry
Read More

Jamie Rae Walker
Associate Professor and Extension Specialist Urban and Municipal Parks, Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences – Texas A&M University
Read More

Katrina Black Reed
Ph.D. – Assistant Professor, Recreation, Parks and Tourism Management – Penn State Abington
Read More

Kenneth A. Cohen
Ph.D. – Associate Professor, Recreation, Parks and Leisure Studies – SUNY Cortland
Read More

Andrew Burnstine
Ph.D. – Associate Professor, College of Business and Management – Lynn University
Read More


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 47 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 (~2.71 Points)
  • Music Venues per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.36 Points)
  • Coffee & Tea Shops per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.36 Points)
  • Public Beaches per Capita*: Half Weight (~0.68 Points)
  • Tennis Courts per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.36 Points)
  • Public & Municipal Golf Courses per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.36 Points)
  • Public Swimming Pools per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.36 Points)
  • Baseball & Softball Diamonds per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.36 Points)
  • Basketball Hoops per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.36 Points)
  • Bike Rental Facilities per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.36 Points)
  • Fishing Spots per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.36 Points)
  • Bike Score: Full Weight (~1.36 Points)
  • Walk Score: Full Weight (~1.36 Points)
  • Hiking Trails per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.36 Points)
  • Amusement Parks per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.36 Points)
  • Presence on TripAdvisor’s “Top 25 Amusement Parks” List: Full Weight (~1.36 Points)
  • Water Parks per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.36 Points)
  • Boat Tours & Water Sports per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.36 Points)
  • Food & Wine Tours per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.36 Points)
  • Zoos & Aquariums per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.36 Points)
  • Motion Picture Theaters and Drive-Ins per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.36 Points)
  • Bowling Centers per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.36 Points)
  • Pool Halls per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.36 Points)
  • Restaurants per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.36 Points)
  • Food Festivals per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.36 Points)
  • Ice Cream & Frozen Yogurt Shops per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.36 Points)
  • Sports Fan-Friendliness: Full Weight (~1.36 Points)
    Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s “Best Sports Cities” ranking. Sports include football, basketball, baseball, hockey and soccer.
  • Sport Venues per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.36 Points)
  • Recreational Centers per Capita*: Full Weight (~1.36 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 ketchup. “Pizza” refers to an 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

  • Ideal Weather (~10.00 Points)
    Note: This metric is based on WalletHub’s “” ranking.

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,, TripAdvisor,, Areavibes, 2Book, Walk Score, GolfLink and WalletHub research.

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