10 ways to explore the San Francisco Bay area while social distancing
San Francisco is unlike any other city in the world. There are always new places to visit with views to appreciate. Unfortunately, this area is in Phase 2B until further notice. This means that the requirement to wear a mask is in full sail and there are still some places that haven’t reopened, thus limiting options for adventure. Though you will not find yourself on the eerie Alcatraz Island, cheering at a Giants baseball game or watching the sea lions at Pier 39, there are still plenty of activities to enjoy.
Source: Milleflore Images/Shutterstock
Outside of San Francisco
1. Napa Valley and Sonoma County
If you like sipping wine with your friends, then this is the area for you. With over 850 wineries between Napa and Sonoma, you will never run out of wine to taste, restaurants to enjoy, places to stay, and shopping/museums to explore. Whether old or new, each winery will bring their own unique taste and experience. Due to COVID-19, only wineries, restaurants, and tasting rooms that are able to operate outdoors will remain open for the time being.
2. Corning, California
Though Corning is a small town of only about 7,500 people, it is the olive capital of the United States and the largest olive processing plant in the nation. The Olive Pit is still operating under COVID-19 restrictions, so the café (to-go orders only) and store are open but the option to pick-up is available as well. The Olive Pit has expanded their products beyond just olives to olive oil, craft beer, wine, nuts, flavored balsamic vinegar, mustards, and gift items. This local shop is the perfect way to introduce you and your family to the new exciting olive flavors.
3. Tiburon, California
Just across the Golden Gate Bridge north of San Francisco lies the beautiful city of Tiburon. Life there includes lovely family bike rides, landmarks, shops, wineries and restaurants and many opportunities to get out in nature. One of the hidden gems within Tiburon is Hippie Tree. All you have to do is park near 100 Gilmartin Drive and take a little hike up the fire road. Once you have reached the top, you will find a secluded area with a breathtaking view of the Golden Gate Bridge with a huge eucalyptus tree and a swing.
4. Half Moon Bay
If you’re looking for a place to go surfing, spend time on a pier, launch a boat for a morning on the water or even fish off-the-dock, Half Moon is the place for you and it’s only about 40 minutes from San Francisco. There is also endless sea food calling your name. San Mateo County is following social distancing guidelines and some places require a mask to be worn but almost everything remains open. Half Moon Bay and Pillar Point Harbor are ready to give you a day of fun.
Source: Brian Patrick Feulner/Shutterstock
5. Carmel, California
Point Lobos State Reserve has a little bit of everything for everyone. It has even been called “the greatest meeting of land and sea in the world.” There are plenty of opportunities to see wildlife such as sea lions, harbor seals, elephant seals, sea otters, orcas and in the winter, grey whales seen from the shore. Point Lobos is also very well-known for birding and hiking. It is a birders paradise and offers hikers several trails ranging from beginner to challenging. One of the most unique parts of Point Lobo is what lies under the water. The undisturbed aquatic life is one of the most varied in the world and is one of the top preferred diving and snorkeling spots. The reserve has closed and/or changed the hours of operation throughout the pandemic so make sure to check before hopping in the car.
Hidden Treasures Within the City
6. Mosaic Stairways
One of the reasons San Francisco is adored by so many is because of the culture and art scattered all through the city in the most unique ways. The staircases started as average concrete stairs but were transformed with gorgeous, colorful, and bright handmade tiles arranged in patterns that all flow together. There are three locations. One at 16th Ave, one in the Hidden Garden and the last in Lincoln Park.
Two of the most popular beaches in San Francisco are Baker beach, known for the northwestern view of the Golden Gate Bridge and Ocean Beach on the west coast, though foggy and a bit chilly, is the city’s longest and sandiest stretch of shoreline. These beaches are only open to those on foot or bike (still available for rent throughout the city and perfect for a trip across the bridge) as the parking lots are still closed due to the Coronavirus.
8. Sutro Bath Ruins
This architectural landmark in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, on the western side of San Francisco, is from 1894 when millionaire Adolph Sutro designed the largest saltwater pool that was filled by the ocean during high tide. The baths have not been in operation since before the Great Depression, but this piece of history remains and is intriguing to check out. Right near Sutro Baths is the well-known restaurant, Cliffhouse (open for takeout Thursday-Monday.)
Normally there are tons of other activities in the park to enjoy, but unfortunately, any facilities that don’t make social distancing possible remain closed until the state of California can find a way to open them safely. When they do open again, one of the main attractions are all of the historical sites. For a jump back in time there are locations like Fort Mason, a Cold War Museum called Nike Missile Site, or a lesson on homeland security in the 1930’s with a 16-inch gun at Battery Townsley. Once there is a plan in place, the park will open in phases.
This doesn’t include a long list of beaches, some campgrounds and other outdoor activities that visitors are still welcome to explore.
Source: Michael Urmann/Shutterstock
9. Haight- Ashbury
This district of San Francisco has always been a hotspot in the city, especially during the 50’s and 60’s. It is a lively and funky place with shops, restaurants, and historical sites. The most magical part of the area is that most of the people who work or live there have been able to keep the flower power and hippie vibe alive over the years. Haight-Ashbury is also known for the brightly colored Victorian style homes that survived the 1906 earthquake and fire. (For another hidden gem within the city, search for the golden fire hydrant which is said to be the only functioning hydrant during the fire!)
10. Seward Street Slides
For a quick adventure, these slides are always a blast! They were created by a 14-year-old girl in a “design the park” contest in the 1960’s. The slides are still in use today. All you have to do is bring a piece of cardboard with you to sit on!
Haley Beyer is a Budget Travel intern for Summer 2020. She is a Senior at the University of Nevada, Reno.
10 budget-friendly social distancing adventures near Dallas
1. Wild Berry Farm For those looking for a perfect summer photo setting, Wild Berry Farm in Sadler, Texas is a perfect day trip. It was Voted as one of the 30 best sunflower fields in the United States by Country living magazine. Not only can you spend the day running through a giant sunflower field, visitors are also allowed to pick them as well. Wild Berry Farm has other activities including picking, blackberry and blueberry tomatoes, melons and zinnias flowers. Visitors must bring their own jars and scissors for picking. Currently, reservations must be made in advance online and their cafe is closed. Image by Ruston Anne/Lonely Planet 2.Denton, TX Just 40-minutes north of Dallas, you'll find yourself in the city of Denton.Visitors can take a stroll through its historical downtown and take a walking tour of the street art and murals. Another site many travelers come to visit is to see the very famous Old Alton Bridge also known as Goatman's Bridge which according to local legend some believe is hunted by a figure that looks like a goat head with a man's body. The bridge has even been featured on the Tv show “Ghost Adventures”. But For those who still want to be outdoors Ray Roberts Lake State Park is perfect for hikes, swimming and camping. As of July 3, groups of more than 10 are not allowed in the park and face masks are required for indoor facilities. 3.Dinosaur Valley State Park Located near Fort Worth, Dinosaur Valley State Park stands out not just because of its name, but because of how it got it. Visitors get the opportunity to walk, hike, and camp like any other park, but they can also discover real dinosaur footprints. Dinosaur Valley also created a map people can follow to locate each of the footprints. Most of the footprints are located near the Paluxy River, where visitors can also swim and fish. There are also self-guided and guided horseback riding tours to take around the park. Dinosaur Valley is open but does require reservations to be made online or by phone.Source: Puwadol Jaturawutthichai/Shutterstock4.Cedar Valley State Park Cedar Valley State Park is the closest state park to the city. Perfect for hikes, biking and camping and for water lovers this park is also home to its own gravel beach. The 7,500-acre Joe Pool Lake makes Cedar Valley State Park a great location for swimming, boating, paddling and fishing. Visitors can also take a tour of the Penn Farm Agricultural History Center and learn about the Pen families farming history in the area. Although the park is open to the public again, online reservations are still required and there are other guidelines recommended by the state. 5.Lavender Ridge Farm Hidden in Gainesville is Lavender Ridge Farm, located just an hour outside of Dallas. The farm was originally a melon and strawberry farm but as of 2006 it now grows lavender, cut flowers and herbs in its fields. This farm allows visitors to roam its fields making it a great place to take pictures. The farm also has its own gift shop and cafe. You can find handmade lavender products from hand soaps, lotion and bath salts in their gift shop. The cafe, Cafe Lavender, includes a lavender inspired menu. The farm has been open as of May 8 and is taking precautions to clean and stay safe. Source: Alberto Loyo/Shutterstock6.Possum Kingdom Lake If you travel to Palo Pinto county, you don't want to miss a visit to Possum Kingdom Lake. This park is a perfect location for those who enjoy spending time in or around water. Possum Kingdom Lake has 300 miles of shorelines and is known for its clear blue water. And for water sport enthusiasts, visitors can go swimming, fishing, skiing, scuba diving and snorkeling. But this park is also a great location for picnics, camping and offers different campsite options and air-conditioned cabin rentals. Like other state parks in Texas, Possum Kingdom Lake is open and with some guidelines such as keeping a distance and recommended face covering and reservations must still be made online or by phone beforehand. 7.Turner Falls Park If you're driving to Davis, Oklahoma you're most likely on your way to Turner Falls Park, home to Oklahoma's tallest waterfall with a height of 77 feet. Since its reopening on May 1st, Turner Falls has limited its capacity to 2,000 people, but tickets can be bought online in advance to secure a spot. The park is also known for its hiking trails, waterslides and even cave exploring. For overnight stays visitors can camp out, bring their own RV or rent a cabin but to comply with social distancing only half their rentals will be available to reserve. Source: Christopher Winfield/Shutterstock8.Mineral Wells, TX While visiting Mineral Wells is heading downtown. Visitors can take a walking tour outside of the now closed Baker Hotel built in 1929 which was once known as one of the most glamour’s resorts of its time. And for nature lovers Mineral Wells is a great location for trails and rivers for anyone interested in hiking. Mineral Wells is following the state of Texas reopening guidelines and is advising to stay in small groups and keeping your face covered. 9.Fort Worth Botanic Garden Fort Worth, Dallas' neighbor and just west of the city. One destination you don't want to miss is visiting The Fort Worth Botanic Garden. Since being established in 1934, it is actually one of the oldest Botanic Gardens in the state of texas. It's home to a variety of different gardens from rose gardens to rain forest conservatory but its most popular section is the Japanese garden. Its 7.5 square feet japanese inspired gardens including artecute pieces,cherry blossom trees and other native plants, complete with a koi fish pond. Because of Covid-19 the garden is capped at 200 visitors a day and no picnics are allowed at this time. 10.Fossil Rim Wildlife Center At Fossil Rim Wildlife Center you can experience a real life safari right here in Glen Rose,Texas. the park is a not-for-profit captive breeding programs for indigenous and exotic endangered and threatened species. Guests can take a tour hour self guided tours around the park right in their own vehicle. Guests are required to wear a mask anytime they are not inside their vehicle. Stacey Ramirez is a Budget Travel intern for Summer 2020. She is a Senior at Texas State University.
11 places near Las Vegas to explore
Remember, rules and regulations are frequently changing as the COVID-19 restrictions change. Always do your research before visiting parks and other public use areas and familiarize yourself with CDC recommendations on safely visiting parks and recreational facilities. Valley of Fire Just an hour outside of Las Vegas, Valley of Fire is a state park that offers stunning geology, Instagram-worthy scenic drives and plenty of hiking trails. Take in views of vibrant Aztec sandstone rock formations from your car window or while hiking! According to the Nevada State Parks website, most state park campgrounds opened on May 29 with capacity restrictions and most visitor centers, museums and gift shops reopened on June 1. As of July 2020 the park is operating as normal. If you are looking to hike be sure to check their website of Facebook page for updates - some of the trails close due to the extreme heat. You can always see the beautiful scenery by driving thru the park. 2.) Red Rock Canyon Miles of beautiful hiking, horseback riding and biking trails weave through Red Rock Canyon, Nevada’s first National Conservation Area. Just under 30 minutes from Las Vegas, Red Rock Canyon is a great outdoor destination for exploration, picnics, rock climbing and nature-watching. According to the Bureau of Land Management website, Red Rock Canyon is open, but not issuing late exit or overnight permits until further notice. The park will close each day when it hits capacity and areas such as the Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center, campsites and picnic areas remain temporarily closed. Image by www.mileswillis.co.uk/Getty Images 3.) Spring Mountains National Recreation Area In just under an hour, you can drive from Las Vegas to the Spring Mountains, which emerge from the Mojave Desert with opportunities for visitors to hike, picnic and take in the views. The Spring Mountains National Recreation Area is home to lush forest, diverse wildlife and a chance to escape the heat of the desert for a while. The Mt. Charleston website posts a weekly update to advise of any closures. As of this update (July 2021) SMVG Visitor Center and Group Picnic Areas are still closed. At this time hiking trails and most recreation areas are open. 4.) Lake Mead As America’s first and largest national recreation area, Lake Mead has opportunities to recreate both on and off the water. A short 45-minute drive will get you to the lake’s beautiful blue waters and nine wilderness areas. Renting kayaks or canoes, hiking, fishing and engaging in other outdoor activities are great ways to get out of the house and spend some time in the sun. As of July 2021 To help keep visitors safe, the Lake Mead National Recreation Area is instituting seasonal closures to some areas and trails from May 15 to September 30, 2021. The temporary closures are in response to serious safety concerns related to summer heat effects to visitors. The closed areas are remote with little or no shade and the closed trails have sections of strenuous hiking with some requiring bouldering and climbing. Closures in the park effective on May 15, 2021 are:• Goldstrike Canyon• White Rock Canyon and White Rock Canyon Trail• Arizona Hot Springs and the Arizona Hot Springs Trail• Liberty Arch TrailDuring the closure, visitors can still access the hot springs near White Rock Canyon that are accessible from the Colorado River. The River Mountains Loop Trail and Historic Railroad Trail are remaining open. Lake Mead. Image by weltreisendertj/Shutterstock 5.) Mohave Preserve Sand dunes, Joshua trees, canyons and mountains make up this 1.6-million-acre preserve located about an hour outside of Las Vegas. Escape the city to take a scenic drive past lava flows and cinder cones, pose with the Joshua Trees and explore Kelso Dunes. According to the National Park Service website, as of July 2021, Hole-In-The-Wall Information Center, All Trails, Most Restrooms, All Roads, Mid Hills Campground, Hole-In-The-Wall Campground all all open, The Kelso Depot Visitor Center is currently closed due to major mechanical failure of the climate control systems. Reopening anticipated in 2022 or 2023. Limited visitor services are Available at Hole-In-The-Wall Information Center 6.) Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument Explore the beautiful desert and remains of the Ice Age at Tule Springs, located just 30 minutes from Las Vegas. Take a walk through this national monument and keep your eyes (and camera lens) peeled for 200,000-year-old fossils, endangered flowers and desert sunsets. Tule Springs National Monument remains open to visitation, according to the National Park Service website. 7.) River Mountains Loop Trail Thirty minutes outside of Las Vegas, this multi-use trail is 34 miles long and surrounds the River Mountains. The trail leads hikers, bikers and runners through the beautiful Mojave Desert and offers scenic views of the city and Lake Mead. The River Mountains Loop Trail is open for use. 8.) Zion National Park Colorful sandstone cliffs, diverse plant and animal life, and a multitude of hiking trails await you in Utah’s first national park. Take a scenic drive, hike to archaeological sites and along rivers, and soak in the park’s beauty. Zion is a two and half hour drive from Las Vegas. As of July 2021 Zion National Park is fully open and Zion Canyon and Springdale Shuttles are in Operation. Free daily shuttle service is running in Zion National Park and Springdale from March through December 2021. Face masks must be worn on all shuttle buses. Several trails are closed due to large rockfall so be sure to visit their website for updates. Zion National Park. Photo by Laura Brown 9.) Nelson, Nevada The ghost town of Nelson lies about 45 minutes from Las Vegas and is the perfect backdrop to explore your creative side. Bring a camera and some time travel enthusiasm as you explore the remains of Techatticup gold mine. Whether you’re fascinated by antique cars and mining history or just want to spice up your Instagram page, Nelson is a great way to spend a day outside the city.For mine tours face masks are mandatory if you have not been fully vaccinated as of July 2021. 10.) Desert National Wildlife Refuge A 30-minute drive from Las Vegas will get you to this 1.6-million-acre landscape that is home to over 500 plant species, 320 bird species and a wide variety of other wildlife. Bring your hiking poles to explore one of the many trails inside the refuge or grab a camera to try your hand at wildlife photography. Roads, trails and restrooms in Desert National Wildlife Refuge are all open to visitor access. The Korn Creek Visitor Center remains closed as of July 2021. 11.) Laughlin, Nevada A 90-minute drive south of Las Vegas will take you to Laughlin, Nevada, a gateway to explore the Colorado River. You can enjoy boating, water skiing, jet skiing, or swimming in the fresh water. For those that have their own boat, there are plenty of launch ramps. For those that don't, there are plenty of places to rent one. Kyla Pearce is a Budget Travel intern for summer 2020. She is a student at Arizona State University
California's 10 best hiking trails
Editor's note: Please check the latest travel restrictions due to COVID-19 or the California wildfires before planning any trip and always follow government advice. Rubicon Trail A hugely scenic trail on Lake Tahoe's western shore. It ribbons along the lakeshore for 4.5 mostly gentle miles from Vikingsholm Castle (add a mile for the downhill walk to the castle from Hwy 89) in Emerald Bay State Park, then leads past small coves perfect for taking a cooling dip, and treats you to great views along the way. Add an extra mile to loop around and visit the restored historic lighthouse, a square wood-enclosed beacon (that looks a lot like an outhouse) constructed by the Coast Guard in 1916. Poised above 6800ft, it’s the USA’s highest-elevation lighthouse. Mist Fall Hike This very enjoyable 8-mile, round-trip walk along the riverside, up a natural granite staircase and finishing at the falls, which (when the wind is right) blows refreshing water droplets at hikers on arrival, highlights the beauty of Kings Canyon. The first 2 miles are fairly exposed, so start early to avoid the midday heat on the 700ft ascent. Continuing past Mist Falls, the trail eventually connects with the John Muir/Pacific Crest Trail to form the 42-mile Rae Lakes Loop, the most popular long-distance hike in Kings Canyon National Park (a wilderness permit is required). The Coastal Trail in San Francisco is a beautiful 4-mile hike © Chris LaBasco / Getty Images / iStockphoto Coastal Trail Hit your stride on this 10.5-mile stretch, starting at Fort Funston, crossing 4 miles of sandy Ocean Beach and wrapping around the Presidio to the Golden Gate Bridge. Casual strollers can pick up the restored trail near Sutro Baths and head around the Lands End bluffs for end-of-the-world views and glimpses of shipwrecks at low tide. At Lincoln Park, duck into the Legion of Honor or descend the gloriously tiled Lincoln Park Steps (near 32nd Ave). High Sierra Trail A contender for the best trail in Sequoia National Park – it's definitely on many world's best hike lists – the High Sierra trail begins at Crescent Meadow and continues for 49 miles. From 6700ft it climbs to an altitude of 10,700ft, crossing ridges, rivers, lakes, waterfalls and offering the most jaw-dropping mountain and valley views. It also connects to junctions for the famous John Muir Trail. If you can only make one stop in Tuolumne, visit Cathedral Lake © AdonisVillanueva / Getty Images Cathedral Lakes If you can only manage one hike in Tuolumne, this should probably be it. Cathedral Lake (9588ft), the lower of the two Cathedral Lakes, sits within a mind-blowing glacial cirque, a perfect amphitheater of granite capped by the iconic spire of nearby Cathedral Peak (10,911ft). From the lake’s southwestern side, the granite drops steeply away, affording views as far as Tenaya Lake, whose blue waters shimmer in the distance. Parking for the Cathedral Lake Trailhead is along the shoulder of Tioga Rd. Due to the popularity of this hike, parking spaces fill up fast, so arrive early or take the free shuttle. Santa Monica Mountains A haven for hikers, trekkers and mountain bikers, the northwestern-most stretch of the Santa Monica Mountains is where nature gets bigger and wilder, with jaw-dropping red-rock canyons, and granite outcrops with sublime sea views. The best trails are in Pacific Palisades, Topanga and Malibu. The Backbone Trail is the longest trail in the range, linking – and accessible from – every state park. It’s 67 miles all told, running from Will Rogers to Point Mugu State Park, and can be completed in a few days. Take in all the coastal views at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve © Debbie Allen Powell / Getty Images Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve Walkers and hikers explore eight miles of hillside sandy trails in a wilderness oasis of 2000 acres. Choose from routes of varying difficulties in this well-trodden coastal state park in La Jolla. The 0.7-mile Guy Fleming Trail (currently closed due to COVID-19) has panoramic sea views and paths through wildflowers, ferns and cacti. Meanwhile, the 1.4-mile Razor Point Trail (currently closed due to COVID-19) offers a good whale-spotting lookout during winter months. Flora and fauna is abundant in this protected area. During quieter times, with fewer stomping feet, quiet walkers may spot raccoons, rabbits, bobcats, skunks and foxes among plenty of other types of wildlife. You'll have to pay for parking. Tahquitz Canyon Considered historic and sacred by the Agua Caliente people, this gorgeous canyon, located in the Greater Palm Springs, can be explored via a fairly steep and rocky 1.8-mile (round-trip) hike culminating at a 60ft waterfall. An interpretive trail guide that's available at the visitor center points out rock art, viewpoints and native plant life. The center also has natural- and cultural-history exhibits and screenings of The Legend of Tahquitz video about an evil Cahuilla shaman. Bring a picnic, water and be sure to wear sturdy footwear. If you don't want to head out on your own, join a ranger-led 2½-hour hike departing four times daily (once daily July to September) from the visitor center. Don't let the name fool you, the Boy Scout Trail is a tough 8-mile one-way route © NatalieJean / Shutterstock Boy Scout Trail For an immersion into Joshua Tree flora and topography, embark on this tough 8-mile one-way trail cutting through canyons, washes and mountains along the western edge of the Wonderland of Rocks. Most hikers prefer to launch from Park Blvd near the Quail Springs picnic area and head north to Indian Cove. Arrange for pick-up at the other end or plan on camping overnight. Part of the trail is unmarked and hard to follow. Rings Loop Trail This fun 1.5-mile trail delivers close-ups of the Swiss-cheese-like cliffs of the Hole-in-the-Wall area at the Mojave National Preserve. Starting at the south end of the parking lot, it passes petroglyphs before entering an increasingly narrow canyon that you have to scramble out of using metal rings. You'll emerge at a picnic area and follow a paved road back to the parking lot. For a shorter experience (0.5 miles), use the rings to descend straight into the canyon and climb back out the same way. This piece orginally appeared on our sister site, Lonely Planet.
Top 7 travel destinations that have had a serious glow-up
For many Americans, repurposing marvelous old buildings is always better than tearing them down. And while the term “urban renewal” comes with a little baggage, it’s hard to argue with its particular way of salvaging and adapting neglected older spaces for our modern world. City planners and architects across the country have found spectacular ways to reimagine vintage structures. You’ve seen it at New York City’s High Line, which converted a dilapidated Manhattan railroad into a lovely 1.5-mile “linear park.” And this year in Chicago, the gigantic, abandoned Old Post Office will open its repurposed 2.8 million square feet as a 21st-century office complex featuring a food hall, rooftop park, and restored Art Deco design. So for those travelers who appreciate the splendors of historic preservation and civic innovation, this shortlist of revitalized urban destinations is for you. 1. BeltLine, Atlanta One of the great Southern cities has circled back to its roots with adaptive-reuse projects across town – most notably along the BeltLine, itself a remarkable project. In 2005, Atlanta opened the first BeltLine section, a retired railway corridor–turned–multi-use trail that’s today lined with public art and parks. It drew more residents and businesses to the east side, and sparked the transformation of a massive old Sears distribution complex into Ponce City Market, now a dazzling mixed-use retail, dining, commercial, and residential center. Other industrial spaces along the trail have found new life too, like Inman Park’s Krog Street Market. More are sure to follow as new BeltLine sections open up in coming years, eventually spanning 33 miles. 2. Crescent Park, New Orleans Waterfronts across the country have been rediscovered in recent decades, thanks to city planners realizing the potential to replace retired wharves with versatile public space. In New Orleans, such creative thinking led to Crescent Park, a 1.4-mile linear park just east of the French Market. What once was a bustling industrial riverfront has since 2014 been a busy 20-acre green space with picnic areas, a dog run, and seasonal events and festivals. The Crescent City is seeing adaptive reuse elsewhere too, as seen across the Warehouse Arts District, at spots like the Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery, a modern hotel that prizes the building’s 19th-century heritage. In the Central Business District, Pythian Market is a locally curated food hall inside a restored 1908 tower with a fascinating tie to the city’s early civil-rights movement. 3. Discovery Green, Houston From parking lot to 12-acre park – that’s the story of Houston’s downtown Discovery Green. With the support of local philanthropy foundations, in 2002 the city seized the opportunity to convert concrete lots into an urban park with playgrounds, music stages, trails, gardens, bocce courts, restaurants, and other public amenities. The LEED-certified park now draws more than 1.2 million annual visitors, and has inspired revitalization projects across Midtown and East Downtown neighborhoods. 4. The Wharf, Washington, DC Washington’s Southwest neighborhood had for decades been a neglected corner of town, due partly to accessibility challenges caused by highways dividing it from major attractions. But that changed in 2017, when a $2 billion development transformed the industrial waterfront into the mixed-use District Wharf. The 10-acre neighborhood is now more easily accessible from the Metro (with a short walk or free shuttle), by car or cab, or by water taxi or private boat. These days, visitors from around the region flock to the Wharf that’s home to both restored historic structures and new “green” architecture – forming a year-round recreation, entertainment, and dining destination on the Washington Channel. 5. Crosstown Concourse, Memphis Old warehouses remain prized property for urban developers looking to adapt rather than build anew. Just head to the Crosstown Concourse in Memphis, where a humongous Sears store and distribution center, abandoned in 1983, became a thriving “vertical urban village” in 2017. The art deco complex that once served millions of mail-order customers now accommodates shoppers, diners, residents, and workers across its 1.2 million sq ft. It’s even home to a charter high school, medical clinics, a YMCA, and a contemporary arts organization with galleries and performance space. (Memphis is one of several US cities that have reused retired Sears complexes. You’ll find similar projects in Minneapolis, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Boston.) 6. Downtown Project, Las Vegas Not so much a single project as an evolving investment, Las Vegas’s Downtown Project is the city’s ongoing urban-revitalization initiative in its historic Fremont East/East Village districts. Driven (and financed) by Zappos founder Tony Hsieh, who parked the company headquarters there in 2013, the Downtown Project has poured $350 million into the neighborhood’s 61 acres. Today, Vegas visitors, workers, and residents enjoy new (and newly supported) businesses along the established street grid – from restaurants and bars, to arts spaces and boutiques, all complemented by award-winning urban design and public art. Befitting a project led by an online retail giant, the project’s Container Park houses nearly 40 businesses in repurposed shipping containers. 7. The Steel Yard, Providence The industrial character of Providence’s Valley neighborhood turned out to be a perfect setting for a vibrant urban arts studio. In 2002, the Steel Yard took over the century-old Providence Steel and Iron building just a year after it shuttered. Since then, all 12,000 sq ft have served as nonprofit workspaces for ceramics, woodwork, welding, blacksmith, and jewelry creators on the banks of the Woonasquatucket River. The Steel Yard reopened a refreshed space last year, and along the way it’s inspired other proprietors to make use of Valley’s lofty, leftover brick complexes, including the “elevated street casual” eatery Troop. Look for more action in this area over coming years, as city planners develop a linear park called Woonasquatucket River Corridor linking Downtown Providence to Valley in the coming years.