Here we present our favorite public places to linger, people watch, and take in nature’s bounty. We’ve gotten the ball rolling with our top picks—–expect sculpture parks and urban plazas—–but we want you to add to the mix with your own suggestions.
Monkey Pod trees and green lawns abound at this 26-acre public park in Honolulu. Make sure to check out the circa-1850 Kamehameha V Cottage, which is a Hawaiian-Victorian architectural amalgamation that's been situated in the park since 1960. However, you will have to admire it from afar, as the interior is restricted access only.
Resting smack dab in the middle of Denver, this park officially opened (after much governmental kerfuffle) in 1919. It was conceived by architect Edward H. Bennett, a protege of Daniel Burnham. Though often mentioned as an example of urban blight, the much-maligned park still has a lot of potential as a public gathering space and offers a Greek amphitheater for music and scores of landscaped paths for wending walks.
The park holds the Shanghai Art Museum, which is set along an old racing track, the former British Jockey Club. Now it’s People’s Park, but you can see the race track. It has an international feel, a mix of Western and Chinese influences, with both historic and new buildings and a ton of open space.
Located in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, this 35-acre park is a popular destination for all manner of outdoor activities. It features the McCarren pool, which opened during the summer of 1936 as part of the Works Progress Administration. The empty pool is currently in the process of being restored and renovated.
Martin Moeller, senior vice president and curator at the National Building Museum and a longtime Washingtonian, calls the National Mall “a great big void.” The Smithsonian museums and federal institutions that ring the central green attract all manner of tourists.
The DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park is a public museum of art established to educate as broad and diverse a public as possible about modern and contemporary American art. The Museum accomplishes this mission by focusing primarily, though not exclusively, on the art of the New England region. The DeCordova Sculpture Park encompasses 35 acres of beautiful rolling woodlands and lawns, and is the largest park of its kind in New England. The Sculpture Park is open to the public every day of the year from dawn 'til dusk, and contains approximately 75 artworks at any given time.
This 400-acre refuge from the hustle and the bustle is the brainchild of Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Mark. Among the many museums, sculptures and bike trails, there are fields and playgrounds aplenty.
Designed by Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta Vilchis in 1994, this 37,000-square-foot library is a series of bold multicolor stucco forms, and features intricate stepped ceilings, courtyards, fountains, and extensive custom casework. It has been recognized through a National AIA Honor Award, and locally as the recipient of a Grand Orchid.
Created in 1911 by local patrons Ida May Ault and her husband, Levi Addison Ault, Ault Park is Cincinnati's fourth-largest park. It includes a soccer field, several playgrounds, a huge flower garden and a central pavilion. It's located on the east side of the city, in Mt. Lookout.
Intended as a campus for Levi Strauss, Inc. workers to have lunch and relax, as well as to provide open space for the local Embarcadero community, Levi Plaza Park was dedicated on April 8, 1982. Conceived as two distinct entities, Lawrence Halprin’s design included a paved plaza enclosed by four- to ten-story buildings (by architects Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum and Gensler + Associates); and, to the east of the plaza, a pastoral park, with a series of cascading waterfalls and a meandering stream.
The crown jewel of this 11-acre public space, which is one of the largest urban sculpture gardens in the country, is the 1988 Spoonbridge and Cherry water sculpture designed by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. Other sights on the grounds include the Cowles Conservatory and a foot bridge designed by Siah Armajani that connects the garden to Loring Park. There are over forty permanent art installations, including works by Sol LeWitt, David Nash, Jene Highstein and Charles Ginnever, among others.
Installations by Louise Bourgeois and Jaume Plensa, among over twenty others, dot the landscape of this tiny 4.4-acre site, which opened in 2008 after John and Mary Pappajohn, Des Moine residents, donated the works to the Des Moines Art Center. A curvy grassy expanse created by New York–based architects Diana Agrest and Mario Gandelsonas provides a sculptural backdrop.
Open since 1989 and designed by architects Dan Kiley and Jaquelin Robertson, this 22-acre park contains over thirty sculptures by such artists as Ursula von Rydingsvard, Joel Shapiro, Alexander Calder, and Mark Di Suvero. It is free and open year-round.
This transformed nine acres, a onetime industrial wasteland, is now home to large-scale artworks, rows of deck chairs and winding pathways for joggers and dog walkers. With views of both the Olympic Mountains and Elliott Bay (not to mention Richard Serra's huge steel work, Wake) the park is a winsome and welcome retreat amid the bustle of busy downtown Seattle.
Resting atop a hill in the Gracia area of Barcelona, Antoni Gaudi's whimsical playground park was constructed from 1900-1914 and it was originally designed as a site for a aristocrat's residence. In addition to the plethora of mosaic sculptures, structures and pathways, the park is also home to the world's longest park bench.
This is a public space that's been used for over 6,000 years It's situated at the point where the Red and Assiniboine Rivers meet, and its history is one of commerce from hunting, the fur trade, the railway and immigration. Today it combines a food market, art center, concert stage, restaurants, a prairie grassland and historic structures.
Listed on The National Register of Historic Places, this plot of land has been in the public sphere since the nineteenth century. It is an interdisciplinary resource center for the University of Pennsylvania, and is recognized as the official arboretum of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Buildings that date to the 15th century dot the landscape in this medieval hamlet, which is located about 240 miles from Lisbon. The main public area, the Praça de São Tiago, is at the heart of the town.
Comprising two islands, Saint Helen's Island and the artificial island Île Notre-Dame, this park is located east of downtown Montreal along the Saint Lawrence River. It was the site of the Expo 67 World's Fair, and was named in honor of Jean Drapeau, the late mayor of Montreal. There's a plethora of attractions, from a filtered-water beach and outdoor pools to museums, flower gardens and an amusement park. Don't miss the Biosphere created by Buckminster Fuller or Man, Alexander Calder's large-scale sculpture.
Among the attractions at this 24-acre park is the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, an outdoor concert venue designed by Frank Gehry, and Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate sculpture. Since opening in 2004, the park has become a must-stop location for art, music, architecture and landscape design.
Kreielsheimer Promenade at the Seattle Center (itself worthy of mention) is the connector between the city of Seattle and the center. I may be biased, but, Dreaming in Color is a public art work of light. A metal mesh scrim arches over a waterscape by Gustafson Guthrie Nichol. Visitors are attracted to sit, walk, rest, and play in the light and water of this space.
The High Line is a great place to people watch while picnicking on food from Chelsea Market, see the river and cityscape, and sometimes even watch the art auction happening in the adjacent building. Prospect Park is the mellower version of Central Park with rolling hills and drum circles. Both are good candidates for the best public spaces in the world from the aspect of design and the function.
Created by the late computer wizard Nick DeWolf the famed dancing fountain on the Hyman Avenue mall is a popular summer playground for children and adults. He and Travis Fulton, a local sculptor, both had an idea for the components that would make up Aspen's dancing fountain. The apparatus, located across from the Wheeler Opera House, was completed in 1979. A computer and software DeWolf built from scratch sets the fountain's pattern. "It's done everything it was supposed to do," DeWolf told the Times in on the 25th anniversary of the fountain's inception, in 2004. "I've been well-rewarded by the thanks from parents and kids. "It's not a fountain, it's a symphony." (From AspenPortrait.com)
Giant's Causeway is comprised of 40,000 mostly hexagonal basalt columns, the result of a volcanic eruption and formed during the early Tertiary period some 62/65 million years ago. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986.
In existence since the Aztecs, it is the biggest park in one of the world's greatest metropolis. Contains lakes, many museums (from the world class National de Antropologia to the smaller Tamayo-oriented to contemporary art) a botanical garden, and even a castle—the only one inside a city in all of the Americas.
Dupont Circle is a traffic circle, park, neighborhood, and historic district in Northwest Washington, D.C. The traffic circle is located at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue NW, Connecticut Avenue NW, New Hampshire Avenue NW, P Street NW, and 19th Street NW.