Urban Without Limits: Finding Adventure in America’s Big Cities
How to see your stomping grounds as a concrete jungle.
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Urban life is a thrill, but it can lose its luster when you're stuck in the same old routine. This month, we remake the metropolis in our own active image, celebrating the new, the cool, and the classic, with an emphasis on nonstop adventure, sports, and style. Join the revolution: Outside is going to change the way you look at, and play in, America's great cities.
Cut loose on the town, work up a sweat, or pamper yourself into oblivion. Whatever your chosen thrill, you're bound to find it amid the bright lights and cool vibe of a city. The trick is knowing where to look. to get you started, we've rounded up 100 routine-busting adventures in eight of America's thriving urban centers, from meditating in San Fran to fly-fishing in Manhattan. But don't stop there. Use the following leads to scout new experiences wherever you are: at home, away for the weekend, or on a business trip in the U.S. or overseas.
Plug into the local media. Comb alternative weeklies for details on festivals and concerts; pick up regional sports publications for the latest on athletic clubs and events like kickball tourneys and 10K's. You'll also find information on sports-and-fitness activities in more than 10,000 American cities at Active.com.
Reconsider the classics. Don't write off the tourist hot spots—find a way to experience them on your own terms. Skip the long lines and crowded ferry; instead, see the Statue of Liberty by kayak. Or pass up the Impressionist galleries at the Art Institute of Chicago and ask a museum curator to show you her favorite unsung wing in the museum.
Check out the best gear shops. They're clearinghouses for dedicated neighborhood athletes and are usually staffed with experts who are more than happy to provide inside info about the best their city has to offer.
Connect with the locals. Quiz a hip barista about where to find the best live music; ask your spinning instructor to dish on one of his favorite fresh-air rides.
Get out of your room. Work-related travel doesn't have to mean you're a prisoner of the convention center. Skip the hotel gym and run through the most scenic section of town. Ask the concierge for trail maps or other nearby workout options.
Got exotic. Ethnic enclaves in cosmopolitan cities can be a trip—and you won't have to leave town. Forget the hotel's Thai restaurant: Find Little Bangkok and see what panang curry really tastes like.
Keep your eyes open. Start seeing your city as the action-packed playground it is, and you'll be amazed at the adventures you can find.
—Lisa Anne Auerbach
New York City
1. Raise a paddle to Lady Liberty, on Liberty Island, then cruise the coast of the financial district. Volunteers at the Downtown Boathouse will provide free kayaks and a guided tour of the choppy waters of the Hudson River and New York Harbor.
2. Rise, shine, and sweat at a 5:30 a.m. Stacy's Boot Camp fitness class in Central Park. You'll do pull-ups on tree branches and leap over rocks and logs to build core strength, endurance, and flexibility.
3. Soar above the Empire State Building for a bird's-eye view of Midtown and the George Washington Bridge on a 12-minute skyline tour with Liberty Helicopters.
4. Get a grip on the 15- to 20-foot Manhattan schist boulders scattered throughout Central Park. Start at Chess Rock, near Wollman Rink, before heading west to tackle Rat Rock, just below the ball fields at the Columbus Circle entrance.
5. Tee off in all five boroughs. Start at the driving range at Manhattan's sporting supercenter, Chelsea Piers, and then hit the 18-hole public courses in Brooklyn (Dyker Beach Golf Course), Staten Island (La Tourette), Queens (Clearview), and the Bronx (Van Cortlandt).
6. Spiff up with the “full service”—a scalp massage, hot towel, haircut, manicure, and shoe shine—at John Allan's, a men's grooming club with a pool table and beer on tap.
7. Sauté gambas al ajillo (shrimp in garlic sauce) and other Spanish tapas with chef Michael Schwartz, formerly of Le Cirque. The Institute for Culinary Education offers hundreds of one- and two-day classes, many taught by the city's most respected chefs.
8. Ace like Andy at the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, Queens, where 33 hardcourts are available for public play all year, except for a month around the U.S. Open tournament in September.
9. Make tracks to the waves and join the Big Apple's diehard pack of year-round surfers in the Rockaways. In 60 minutes, the A train from Manhattan deposits you two blocks from the Atlantic swells that break on the south shore of Queens.
10. Shoot and score at Chelsea Piers' Sky Rink, where hourlong hockey games are open to walk-in players weekdays at noon and Saturday nights at 11:30.
11. Play kickball—yes, that old schoolyard staple is back in vogue. Join bankers, artists, and the occasional nine-year-old ringer for pickup games Sundays from 6 to 10 p.m. at McCarren Park, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
12. Wet a line on the Hudson River under the Verazzano Narrows Bridge—one of the best spots in the country to land 30- to 40-pound striped bass. Urban Angler can supply guides and gear.
13. Work your abs and your ego with the hardbodies at the new David Barton Gym in Chelsea, where DJs spin tunes, the floors are faux leather, and you can watch a fiber-optic light show in the steam bath.
14. Gear up at Paragon Sports, the four-level superstore that's been outfitting New York's adventure set—from mountaineers to darts aficionados—since 1908.
15. Splurge at the sleek, nautical-themed Maritime Hotel (doubles, $265 and up). On the edge of Manhattan's meatpacking district, it's a perfect base for hitting ultrahip hangouts like Spice Market and Lotus.
16. Scope egrets and herons in Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve, 260 acres of wetlands and woodland on Staten Island. Take the ferry from Manhattan—it's free.
17. Scare yourself silly on Coney Island's Cyclone, a 2,600-foot-long wood-and-steel roller coaster that's been terrifying New Yorkers since 1927. Sure, other rides are higher and faster, but only the rickety Cyclone makes you think your life is actually in danger.
18. Swing high over Tribeca during a two-hour lesson at Trapeze School New York, on the banks of the Hudson River. Strap into a harness and swoop 25 feet above the (netted) ground on your first try.
19. Find true solitude—no car alarms, we promise—at the Conservatory Garden, a six-acre oasis hidden in Central Park (enter at Fifth Avenue and 105th Street) that's filled with fruit trees, manicured hedges, fountains, and an explosion of chrysanthemums in autumn.
20. Eat meat with the city's media moguls and financiers—as well as regular folks who can score a reservation—at the Peter Luger Steak House, which has been serving carnivores since 1887 from its roost under the Williamsburg Bridge in Brooklyn. Cash only—but you can use a card for online orders. —Josh Dean
21. Check in and check out one of the most talked-about new buildings in town, the Sofitel Chicago Water Tower hotel (doubles from $179). This angular, 32-story glass edifice slices the skyline above the Magnificent Mile of shopping and the nightlife of Rush and Division streets. Drag yourself from the lush modernity of your room to Le Passage, on Rush, for a bass-thumping club scene.
22. Day-sail Lake Michigan in a J/22 racer or a Catalina 39. The Chicago Sailing Club, at the north end of Belmont Harbor, will refresh your jib-and-jibe skills before you shove off; four nights a week, walk-ins can crew for free.
23. Scuba the Caissons and explore relics from the Great Chicago Fire. The city dumped much of what remained after the 1871 disaster—from milk bottles to Civil War daggers—at this 39-foot-deep Lake Michigan dive site, five and a half miles offshore.
24. Dice it up at the Chopping Block, a Lincoln Park cooking school whose popular “Eat 'n Run with Fleet Feet” classes teach athletes to prepare healthy training meals. Sign up for the Knife Skills class and learn to cut veggies in half the usual time—without slicing your digits.
25. Float like a cork in ten inches of saline solution in your own eight-by-four-foot capsule—devoid of light and sound—at the SpaceTime Tanks flotation center. Sensory deprivation never felt so decadent.
26. Blow off steam at North Avenue Beach—Chicago's liveliest stretch of Lake Michigan shoreline, with 50 volleyball courts, an inline hockey rink, an outdoor Crunch gym, and a beach-house cantina with live music on weekends.
27. Wine and dine at the trés chic Avec, featuring tapas, rustic Mediterranean dishes cooked in a wood-burning oven, and cozy communal seating, along with more than 100 red and white wines from Italy, France, Spain, and Portugal. With its cedar ceilings and walls, Avec resembles the inside of a sauna and—appropriately—is always filled with hotties.
28. Freestyle at the original Uptown Poetry Slam, held every Sunday evening at the Green Mill Tavern. Once frequented by high-profile Windy City mobsters, the Green Mill is now one of Chicago's premier jazz clubs. Sip Scotch on the rocks and be prepared for a rowdy verse-off that would make even Allen Ginsberg blush. —Michael Austin
29. Cruise the coast on the paved, 22-mile South Bay Bicycle Trail, which hugs the Pacific from Will Rogers State Beach to Palos Verdes. Rent wheels at Blazing Saddles, in Santa Monica.
30. Pray for swells with Orthodox rabbi Nachum Shifren, who converts landlubbers to surfers while preaching the awesome power of nature during his nondenominational rip-curl lessons on Venice Beach.
31. Dominate the ring (and sculpt your delts) at the L.A. Boxing Club, a serious downtown gym and temple of testosterone, where local champions like “Chicanito” Hernandez and Laila Ali (Muhammad Ali's daughter) trade jabs alongside beginners who come for the killer workout.
32. Saddle up an Appaloosa and ride overland through the Hollywood Hills. The pine-studded landscape may look familiar: It's served as a location in hundreds of movies, from Rebel Without a Cause to Terminator 3.
33. Say nama-stay! in Crunch Fitness's alfresco dog-and-master yoga class (free), in Runyon Canyon on alternating Saturday mornings. No pet? Try a dodgeball or circus-sports workout at Crunch's indoor gym on Sunset.
34. See for miles and miles—or at least to Burbank—from the summit of 1,625-foot Mount Hollywood, a 3.5-mile round-trip hike that starts near the Bird Sanctuary at Griffith Park.
35. Soak it off at Beverly Hot Springs, a luxurious Asian bathhouse built around the only natural hot springs inside L.A.'s city limits. Afterwards, stretch out for a stress-melting Japanese shiatsu massage.
36. Satisfy your need for speed at the only indoor velodrome in North America. The 250-meter track inside the ADT Event Center—at the Home Depot Center in Carson—offers track-riding instruction, bike rental, and daily open training sessions.
37. Dine with the yoga set at Real Food Daily, a gourmet hot spot in West Hollywood that serves healthy vegan cuisine even a meat lover can crave. Try a tasty tempeh Reuben and a thick slice of the chocolate cake du jour.
38. Perfect your spike—and your tan—on one of 190 oceanside courts at beach volleyball's epicenter, Manhattan Beach. Get your game in show-off form with lessons from the local parks-and-rec.
39. Go for par at the Los Verdes Golf Course, in Rancho Palos Verdes, an 18-hole public layout with rolling greens overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Catalina Island. (Reservations recommended.)
40. Get your climbing fix at Rockreation, in West L.A. The city's largest climbing gym (10,000 square feet of vertical terrain) is open late: You can practice in the evenings so you're ready for weekend bouldering in Malibu Creek State Park.
41. Stay up all night at the downtown Standard, a midcentury-modern hotel with stylish rooms, a retro-glam rooftop bar that's mobbed on weekends, and a 24-hour diner where waitresses in microminis serve killer fish-and-chips. (Doubles, from $240.)
42. Sprint the steep, three-quarter-mile road to the Getty Museum, head for the coffee cart (order an iced cortado—it's not on the menu), and wander through the lush, three-acre Central Garden, designed by artist Robert Irwin.
43. Live to ride curvy, scenic Mulholland Highway through the Santa Monica Mountains to the Rock Store, a quintessential hillside biker bar where you might catch Jay Leno rubbing elbows with burly dudes on big, bad hogs. Eagle Rider rents Harleys for $130 a day.
44. Covet beautifully crafted artisan bikes and load up on European nutrition supplements at Triathlete Zombies. The well-stocked, well-staffed retail mecca for runners, bikers, and swimmers has locations in Santa Monica and Manhattan Beach.
45. Cannonball into one of two Olympic-size outdoor pools at Pasadena's Rose Bowl Aquatics Center—a perfect cooldown after running the 3.1-mile loop around the nearby Rose Bowl stadium.
46. Swill PBR downtown at the Golden Gopher. The smartly renovated 1905 bar—adorned (don't ask us why) with gold-plated gopher lamps—is among the newest additions to the L.A. club scene and draws a mix of hipsters, neighborhood regulars, and suits.
47. Screen and be seen at Hollywood's funkiest movie theater: the Cinerama Dome at ArcLight Cinemas. Housed in a geodesic dome, it features a state-of-the-art sound system, a curved, 86-foot-wide screen, reserved seats for 800-plus, and a gourmet snack bar serving fresh caramel popcorn.
48. Hit a bull's-eye in Pasadena's Lower Arroyo Seco Park, where the Roving Archers club offers free archery lessons every Saturday morning at nine o'clock sharp. —Lisa Anne Auerbach
49. Playboat 14.5 miles of the Platte River's Class III water, man-made drops, and play holes. Run seven drops in 100 feet at Confluence Park, downtown, or surf the wave at Trestle's, where you can see the Coors Field scoreboard.
50. Protein-load at the Tom Tom Room, the LoDo neighborhood's freshest place to refuel on robata, sashimi, and cucumber-wrapped sushi rolls. The Tom Tom's Web site lists detailed nutritional info for every dish, so you'll know exactly what it'll take to work off the chocolate shabu-shabu.
51. Disappear into green at the Denver Botanic Gardens, with more than 17,000 plant species and a packed calendar of events: a wine festival, the autumn Chili Harvest, and summertime tai chi lessons.
52. Paraglide off the 7,512-foot summit of Lookout Mountain, in nearby Golden. Tandem flights cost $150.
53. Pump yourself up at Morrison's Hogback, the year-round hub for Denver bouldering, where sandstone routes draw some of the area's top rock stars. Afterwards, head a mile down the road for tailgating and outdoor concerts at Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
54. Recharge downtown at the swanky Hotel Teatro, were you can enjoy guided runs on the Cherry Creek Trail, yoga on demand, aromatherapy, and Scotch-and-a-Soak turndown service. Bring your dog— the bellman will walk him. (Doubles, from $205.)
55. Drop in to the free Denver Skate Park, home to six bowls and a street course tricked out with washboards, miniramps, stairs, ledges, pipes, rails, and banks—ideal for perfecting your ollies and rock-to-fakies.
56. Get walked all over in an hourlong session of Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy, Denver's trademark treatment. A masseuse balances on two parallel bars suspended from the ceiling, using her feet to distribute gravity-enhanced pressure to your weary bod. —Jenn Weede
57. Buzz the Golden Gate on a 30-minute tandem ultralight flight above the Bay through Mission Soaring Center.
58. Hop a ferry from Pier 41 to Angel Island State Park, where a two-mile scramble on the Sunset Trail delivers you to the top of Mount Livermore for glorious 360-degree views.
59. Forage locally at the Bay Area's best farmers market—every Tuesday, Thursday, and weekend morning at Ferry Plaza—and drool over stalls of fab organic eats: Dirty Girl heirloom tomatoes and Cowgirl Creamery's Point Reyes Original Blue cheese.
60. Ride at the shrine of mountain biking, Marin County's Mount Tamalpais, on a 50-plus-mile linkup of trails, including Railroad Grade and Tenderfoot.
61. Follow your path through the terrazzo-tiled labyrinth outside Grace Cathedral, on Nob Hill. An ancient symbol of life's journey, the labyrinth has only one route to its center (representing your deepest self) and back out.
62. Channel your inner gardener at the Edible Schoolyard, in Berkeley—a one-acre organic garden founded by Bay Area foodie queen Alice Waters and designed to demonstrate sustainable agriculture. to sample the goodness, reserve a table at Waters's legendary Chez Panisse.
63. Ride giants at Fort Point, a ledgy surf break on the edge of the Golden Gate. Beginners are better off on the gentle right and left beach break a few miles south at Pacifica. The Nor Cal Surf Shop rents boards and wetsuits.
64. Luxuriate at The Clift, where the lavender-and-ivory-hued rooms—and a lobby sheathed in velvet and ostrich-print leather—will soothe you silly. Belly up to the Redwood Room's enormous bar, rumored to be carved from a single tree. (Doubles from $220.)
65. Self-medicate at the Great China Herb Co., where the antique cabinets overflow with dried scallops, tree roots, and numerous varieties of ginseng. An on-site doctor of Chinese medicine can make recommendations.
66. Go free at the north end of Baker Beach, a nudist retreat and skinny-dipping enclave in the Presidio. Beware the chilly water and swift currents.
68. Stage your own multisport epic in Golden Gate Park: fly-fishing in the casting ponds across from the Buffalo Paddock; lawn bowling; and bike polo with a group of former bicycle messengers in Speedway Meadow.
69. Get lean at the hottest workout in town, an hourlong Bar Method class that combines yoga stretches with modern-dance exercises to increase flexibility, stamina, and strength.
70. Zen out at Green Gulch Farm, a Buddhist retreat in Marin where the traditional Japanese teahouse, gardens, and guest quarters exude mindful simplicity. Visit on a Sunday for lunch, tea, and instruction in zazen (traditional sitting meditation).
71. Jam like a local on weekend afternoons at the Ramp, where salsa and reggae bands like Ritmo y Armonia play to dancing throngs on the outdoor patio. For more music listings, check SF Station and Flavor Pill.
73. Trek the Sun Trail, which winds a mile along a grassy ridgeline to the Tourist Club, a Bavarian-style lodge overlooking Muir Woods, in Marin. Relax on the deck with a Spaten on tap.
74. Run at sunset along the four-mile cliffside trail to Land's End, a sea-pounded promontory that gets our vote for the most pristine spot in the city. Stop to watch the brown pelicans nosediving into the surf.
75. Pay homage to San Francisco's world-class cuisine at the city's hallowed trio: Try Meyer Ranch shaking beef and pea shoots at the Slanted Door; grilled Monterey calamari with white beans at Delfina; and briny oysters or roast chicken at Zuni Café.
76. Launch the offshore gusts. Neophyte kiteboarders will be happiest off of Coyote Point, Alameda, and Larkspur; gale-pounded Crissy Field is for experts only. —Amy Marr
77. Huck frisbees with the 2,300-member Washington Area Frisbee Club from March through November at daily pickup games around the region (cooldowns usually involve a happy hour). For more laid-back disc tossing, head toward the Washington Monument, on the National Mall.
78. Chat up politicos at the Hawk 'n' Dove, an old-school Capitol Hill pub where congressional staffers gather for free happy-hour appetizers, Hawk Amber Ale, and gossip.
79. Geg buzzed—by a 737—at Gravelly Point, a grassy park where planes swoop just 100 feet overhead on their approach to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Bike three miles to Gravelly from downtown on the Mount Vernon Trail, then continue 15 miles south past Old Town Alexandria and tour George Washington's 18th-century estate.
80. Peel out into surging Class V rapids at the Potomac's Great Falls, just 14 miles from downtown on the Virginia-Maryland state line. Or practice your roll in the flatwater near Old Angler's Inn, in Potomac, Maryland. Rent a kayak at Potomac Paddlesports Center.
81. Hold a Warrior Pose by candlelight during a tranquil Friday-night yoga session on the dock of Key Bridge Boathouse, on the Potomac in Georgetown.
82. Canter on horseback through Rock Creek Park, a 1,755-acre swath of streams and trails that meander through the middle of D.C. The guides at Rock Creek Horse Center can lead you on a one-hour trail ride through the woodsy solitude.
83. Fill up on culture at the Corcoran Museum of Art's Sunday Morning Gospel Brunch. You'll marvel over Andy Warhol's Mao, sip mimosas, and chow on French toast—all while the impassioned wails of a local choir boom through galleries filled with 19th-century American works.
84. Find inner peace at the Zen-themed Topaz Hotel, in Dupont Circle, where staff clad in bright tunics promise positive karma—along with an impressive menu of all-natural energy drinks. Book a “Yoga” room, equipped with mats, blocks, and an exercise nook, or an “Energy” room, which comes with an elliptical trainer. (Doubles, from $129.) —Michael Behar
85. Caffeinate yourself at Lighthouse Roasters, in northwest Seattle's Fremont neighborhood, home to the richest, freshest coffee in town. Order a “drip” (Seattlespeak for a straight cup of joe) of the silky Roaster's Choice and you won't want to leave town without a pound of beans.
86. Wake up and ride through the lush Washington Park Arboretum on one of the free road or mountain bikes provided for guests at the Watertown, a Scandinavian-design hotel in the University District. In-room computers with high-speed Internet service, relaxation CDs, and aromatherapy diffusers are available upon request. (Doubles, from $139.)
87. Pig out on authentic Vietnamese cuisine in the International District. At Seattle Deli, try the banh mi thit nuong, a crusty baguette piled with roasted pork, pickled daikon radish, cilantro, hot peppers, cucumbers, and spiced mayonnaise, all for an absurd $2.
88. Kayak Portage Bay on Lake Union, launching from the Agua Verde Café and Paddle Club. Return to sip a margarita lima and nosh yam tacos or mango quesadillas at the restaurant/outfitter's waterside Mexican cantina. (Rentals available.)
89. Geg fit and funky with Turbokick, an hourlong cardio workout that combines kickboxing and tai chi with a hip-hop soundtrack. The upscale gym Zum offers a long list of fun, challenging classes and lots of personal coaching by fitness pros like owner Peter Shmock, an Olympic shotputter and former director of conditioning for the Seattle Mariners.
90. Rope up and climb the 65-foot freestanding wall, test mountain bikes and hiking boots on outdoor trails, and fondle high-tech goodies for hours at REI's 100,000-square-foot flagship store, just north of downtown in the South Lake Union area.
91. Don your party clothes and saunter over to the Triple Door, a nightclub that radiates urban cool with plush half-moon-shaped booths, colorful cocktails (like the ginger martini), and a changing menu of live jazz, blues, and Latin percussion.
92. Stalk cutthroat trout in the Cedar River, 12 miles south of downtown. Load up on stone-fly nymphs and caddis patterns at Patrick's Fly Shop. —Christopher Solomon
93. Ditch the hotel treadmill and sprint through Boston's Esplanade, a greenway flanking the Charles River. The 17 miles of paved and dirt paths offer awesome views of the city skyline and draw runners, cyclists, and inline skaters from dawn to sunset.
94. Sleep chic at the Nine Zero, a stylin' hotel in the downtown Ladder District where urban-contemporary decor—lots of glass, nickel, and polished wood—meets the traditional New England comfort of goose-down comforters. (Doubles, from $279.)
95. Paddle the Charles alongside rowers from the Harvard crew team. Stroke downstream by the brownstones of Beacon Hill or upstream toward Cambridge and the quieter backwaters beyond. Charles River Canoe & Kayak rents canoes and offers three-hour evening kayak tours.
96. Glide across the Frog Pond, a 16,000-square-foot ice rink in Boston Common that's groomed for skating (and lit up at night) from mid-November through mid-March.
97. Go head to head with procrastinating college kids and Cambridge locals at an afternoon pickup basketball game on the courts at Corporal Burns Playground (Memorial Drive at Flagg Street). Not humbled yet? Swing by Harvard Square for a game of speed chess with the pencil-gnawing MIT brains who gather on the patio outside Au Bon Pain.
98. Slurp local Duxbury oysters or try spicy halibut tacos with papaya salsa at Great Bay. The chic, colorful restaurant in Kenmore Square's Hotel Commonwealth serves some of the freshest, most innovative seafood dishes in town—and addictive watermelon mojitos.
99. Cool off at South Boston's Carson Beach, a hidden sweep of sand with volleyball and groomed bocce courts that's easy to reach on the Red Line subway. (Exit at the JFK/UMass stop.) Kiteboarders ride the gentle waves in nearby Pleasure Bay.
100. Transcend under a majestic cork tree at Arnold Arboretum. The lush, 265-acre preserve is maintained by Harvard University and hosts more than 4,500 species of trees, shrubs, and flowers from around the world. —Jake Halpern