Vehicle-Free Vacations: 7 U.S. Cities Where You Don’t Need a Car
With the current average gas price at about $3.35 across the United States, according to AAA‘s Fuel Gauge Report, more travelers than ever are looking for ways to bypass those long and costly car rides. With so many American cities shifting their focus towards sustainability in recent years, it has become increasingly easy to rely on public transit, walking paths, and bikeshare programs to explore cities old and new without the help of your vehicle.
These seven cities are your best bets for a fun, safe, and exciting car-free vacation.
1. Boston, Massachusetts
One of Boston’s more famed nicknames is “the Walking City,” and it’s no secret why: Home to a diverse range of safe, historically-cherished neighborhoods, this city is one of the best to explore by foot. Boston and neighboring Cambridge rest on a scenic waterfront, and the greater metropolitan area is named one of Time’s most walkable “cities of the future.”
What the city lacks in grid-patterned ease of navigation, it makes up for with sweeping harbor views, clearly-demarcated paths, and an incredibly efficient mass transit system in place. According to the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, the city’s public transit (including bus, trolley, and subway) has a daily ridership of around 1.2 million.
2. New York City, New York
The New York subway alone has an annual ridership of 1.708 billion, according to the Metropolitan Transit Authority. With a Wall Street Journal-reported citywide population of 8.4 million people (plus about 54.3 million visitors per year, as reported by NYC Go), the city’s extensive public transit network is more than a matter of convenience — it’s a necessity.
While students, commuters, and professionals use New York City’s transit on a daily basis, the metropolitan area’s buses and subways also service the most highly-trafficked tourist destinations in all five boroughs. Walkscore ranks New York City highest overall for walkability and public transit efficiency in America. On top of its rail and bus routes, the city’s bikeshare program is an easy, active way to see New York up close.
3. Portland, Oregon
Portland is consistently named among the most bike-friendly cities in the country, having earned such honors from Bicycling, USA Today, CNN, and the Huffington Post, among others. In addition to its friendliness to pedal-pushers, the city ranks highly in transit and walkability on WalkScore, offering safe and sustainability-oriented solutions to the needs of the general public.
The city’s green spaces and bridgeways make for great walking, jogging, and cycling areas, while efficient bus, light rail, and commuter rail systems will take visitors to the best cultural hotspots, restaurants, and breweries Portland has to offer.
4. Chicago, Illinois
Walkscore notes that Chicago’s string of interconnected tourist hotspots — Festival Pier, Millennium Park, and the Magnificent Mile retail center, to name a few — make for a satisfying, convenient walk about town (just don’t forget fuel up with some deep-dish pizza).
For travelers with weary legs, Chicago’s public transit system offers a reliable and extensive network tailored to the needs of residents and visitors alike. According to the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), the Windy City operates the nation’s second largest public transit system (after New York), with approximately 1.7 million rides being given on an average weekday.
5. Washington, D.C.
Our nation’s capital is another cutting-edge destination when it comes to options for transit. The D.C. Metro system is a helpful time- and money-saving tool for travelers. Most importantly, the Metro eliminates the hassle of finding affordable parking in tourist-heavy areas — conveniently-located lots typically cost around $20 per day, according to the Washington Post. Additionally, D.C. public transit makes its way through all of the city’s most famous tourist destinations — the Washington Monument, the Smithsonian Museums, the White House, the Capitol, and Georgetown’s excellent retail and dining districts.
Cyclists can also rejoice as the Capital Bikeshare program grows in prominence: Membership has been increasing steadily over the past few months, the program reports — and is showing no signs of stopping.
6. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
With the multitude of transit options available in this city, you’ll be checking items off your travel itinerary in no time. See sights like the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Liberty Bell, and Independence Hall by using the extensive network of trains, subways, and buses that travel in and around the metropolis. In fact, according to the American Public Transportation Association, Philadelphia offers the sixth-largest light-rail network in the country.
Additionally, Walkscore grants this city a rating of “Very Walkable” — its grid-like design makes it a cinch for travelers to navigate the city’s diverse neighborhoods.
7. San Francisco, California
This city may be notoriously hilly, but San Francisco’s extensive public transportation network will give your leg muscles a much-needed break during your stay. The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system has reported record high ins ridership over recent years, most likely the result of increasing gas prices.
Additionally, Walkscore gives this city one of its highest walkability ratings: San Francisco’s mild weather, coupled with its closely-connected string of safe neighborhoods and tourist areas, makes walking one of the most convenient and wonderful ways to explore the city.