2021’s Best & Worst Cities for Recreation – WalletHub Study

With July being National Parks and Recreation Month and 7 out of 10 Americans now leaving their homes on an average day thanks to the COVID-19 vaccine, the personal-finance website WalletHub today released its report on 2021’s Best & Worst Cities for Recreation, as well as accompanying videos and expert commentary.

To highlight the benefits of recreational activities for consumers and economies across the country, WalletHub compared the 100 largest U.S. cities across 48 key indicators of recreation-friendliness. For each city, we examined the accessibility of entertainment and recreational facilities, the quality of parks and the weather.

Best Cities for Recreation Worst Cities for Recreation
1. Orlando, FL 91. Fremont, CA
2. Las Vegas, NV 92. Hialeah, FL
3. San Diego, CA 93. Newark, NJ
4. Cincinnati, OH 94. Jersey City, NJ
5. Tampa, FL 95. Irving, TX
6. Honolulu, HI 96. Fort Wayne, IN
7. Atlanta, GA 97. Chula Vista, CA
8. Albuquerque, NM 98. Garland, TX
9. St. Louis, MO 99. Durham, NC
10. New Orleans, LA 100. Oakland, CA

Best vs. Worst

  • San Francisco and Boston have the highest share of the population with walkable park access, 100 percent, which is 3.1 times higher than in Indianapolis, the city with the lowest at 32 percent.
  • New York has the most playgrounds per square root of the population, 0.664460, which is 13.4 times more than in Hialeah, Florida, the city with the fewest at 0.049557.
  • San Francisco has the highest spending on parks per capita, $350, which is 18.4 times higher than in Stockton, California, the city with the lowest at $19.
  • San Francisco has the most bike rental facilities per square root of the population, 0.051315, which is 42.3 times more than in El Paso, Texas, the city with the fewest at 0.001213.

To view the full report and your city’s rank, please visit:

More from WalletHub

Expert Commentary

What are some cost-effective ways for local authorities to improve parks and recreation facilities?

“Public parks can partner with school systems, universities, and recreation businesses (bowling alleys, theaters, skating rinks, etc.) to share facilities. In some parts of the U.S., particularly the upper Midwest, local recreation departments make use of public school ballfields, when not in use by a school, as part of their athletics programs. Recreation businesses often offer lower rates to park-operated after-school programs and summer day camps.”
Wayne Williams, Ph.D. – Emeritus Professor, Appalachian State University

“Taking advantage of local skills and engaging community members with park projects as volunteers happens in many communities. In addition, many cities and towns across the U.S. have “Friends” groups (e.g., “Friends of Nature Park”) that work to a fundraiser and match local volunteer skills with park maintenance and development needs. Developing relationships with local businesses to sponsor recreation centers, ball fields, and sports teams are also common practices to expand funding sources for local parks and recreation facilities and programs.”
Debra Jordan – Professor, East Carolina University

When evaluating the best cities for recreation, what are the top five indicators?

“In no particular order (I think this varies by users) I think accessibility from a few perspectives. One is ensuring all potential users can get to and from the parks and recreation facilities. Another is ensuring parks and recreation facilities provide activities for all potential user groups. A third is ensuring all parks and recreation facilities are accessible to all potential users from an economic or fee perspective. If the specific examples of accessibility count as three of the five, the last two would be quantity and quality. A city/community needs to have sufficient quantity parks and recreation facilities to provide a quality experience for all community members, as well as visitors.”
Jason Draper, Ph.D., CHE – Associate Professor, University of Houston

“Physical (walkable) locations of parks to the people; equitable distribution of resources; staffing who look like the community members in terms of demographics and life experiences; master plans that are living documents; knowledgeable and committed local officials.”
Debra Jordan – Professor, East Carolina University

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Parks and Recreation agencies?

“During the spring, summer, and fall of 2020, ‘Agencies’, such as the National Parks Service and the Parks Division of State DNR’s were frequently overwhelmed by the demand for access by potential users. There were even incidents of demand being so excessive that the park or that particular site was closed because the agency did not have the personnel necessary to effectively regulate appropriate usage. This demand will not lessen as the various states and this country move towards resuming ‘normal’ social behaviors.”
Sally Childs – Emeritus Professor, Lake Superior State University

“During the pandemic, many people seemed to develop a somewhat renewed interest in outdoor spaces for activities such as walking, running, biking, exercising, and getting out of the house to enjoy the outdoors. So, one potential impact is a renewed interest in parks and recreation opportunities. The pandemic also created an increased awareness and need for new protocols for many service industries, including parks and recreation services. But as we learned more about the pandemic outdoor activities were proven to be relatively safe and encouraged.”
Jason Draper, Ph.D., CHE – Associate Professor, University of Houston