April 1, 2012 at 12:18 PM ET
By Bari Nan Cohen
Even though putting one foot in front of the other is the easiest form of exercise there is, it's still hard to find the motivation to bypass the car and head out on foot in your everyday life. But with a couple of tools—including a visit to Walkscore.com, which grades cities and neighborhoods on the ease of finding entertainment or provisions on foot, and Prevention.com's at-a-glance guide to the attractions that you'd never notice on a drive—you can get (ahem) one step closer to a more exciting pedestrian lifestyle. The closer a city on this list scores to 100, the better the walkability.
Whether you're in the market for a new 'hood or planning a trip, you can take advantage of these 25 cities where pedestrians give wheels a run for their money. Read on to learn what makes these metro areas walker-friendly.
1. Cambridge, MA
Walk Score: 88.8
You never know what you'll find in this bustling college burg—and that's exactly the message of the city's Golden Shoes event, which is held each May. Stroll the streets in search of gold-painted shoes hidden in places where people like to walk. Plus, the Harvard hometown is so dense with history that exploring it on foot is the best way to take in the period architecture, and maybe soak up some extra IQ points by osmosis. Visit Bostoncitywalks.com to learn more about a guided tour of Harvard Square and other key Cambridge sites.
2. New York, NY
Walk Score: 85.3
New Yorkers have long used their own two feet to book it around town. But recent pedestrian-friendly enhancements all over the city have considerably upped how pleasant that experience can be. Two favorites: The High Line—which transformed 1.45 miles of long-neglected elevated freight train tracks into a birds-eye-view promenade above the shore of the Hudson River—and a more walkable Times Square.
3. Jersey City, NJ
Walk Score: 85.2
Just over the Hudson River in New Jersey is this charming walkers' hot spot, which is among the top-ranked "Best Fitness Walking Cities," according to the American Podiatric Medicine Association. Hop between neighborhood farmer's markets in its historic neighborhoods or earn your walking bona fides trekking Liberty State Walking Trail, which spans the width of the state to the Delaware Water Gap—a whopping 130 miles!
4. San Francisco, CA
Walk Score: 84.9
Hilly reputation notwithstanding, the city has serious walking cred in neighborhoods like Chinatown and the Financial District. San Francisco has also just launched a city-sponsored program called WalkFirst, which works to improve pedestrian safety and walking conditions with sidewalk buffers, revamped intersections, and better lighting in key pedestrian areas citywide. Walk San Francisco (walksf.org), an advocacy group that promotes pedestrian activity and safety, offers group walks as well.
5. Berkeley, CA
Walk Score: 81.6
Head here if you want a better shot at a walk-to-work setup. Nearly 15% of Berkeley commuters walk to and from their jobs. You can also take part in "Everyone Walks in Berkeley," a city program urging residents to walk—to school, work, or just up and down the stairs—the first Wednesday of every month.
6. Boston, MA
Walk Score: 79.2
While the Freedom Trail has long been a way to stay fit while learning about the birth of our nation, Boston has seriously stepped up its efforts to create a citywide walker's paradise. To wit, WalkBoston—an initiative to make the city safer, easier to navigate on foot, greener, and more community-based, which they do by encouraging businesses and individuals to create a pro-walking atmosphere. They also offer awards to businesses that create inviting parks and seating areas, or individuals who advocate for increased pedestrian safety measures. WalkBoston's initiatives create a sort of universal access—with more than just a nod to citywide mobility for individuals of all incomes and abilities.
7. Paterson, NJ
Walk Score: 75
Not far from New York City, Paterson boasts a dense infrastructure that makes it easy to complete errands on foot. Plus, the city offers a mix of historic walking tours, as well as access to the nature trails that highlight important periods in New Jersey's industrial history—converting former industry-based spaces into outdoor "living room"-style park settings in Great Falls State Park—making it a bonus for recreational walkers.
8. Chicago, IL
Walk Score: 74.3
Anyone who's visited or lived in the Windy City knows it's a walker's dream. Look around just about any central neighborhood and you'll see people getting around town the old-fashioned way—including many pedi-commuters. The city also offers plenty of free and low-cost recreational programs to choose from in the Chicago Park District. Just visiting? Check out the Chicago Greeter program: You'll meet a Chamber of Commerce sponsored local for a free guided tour of a neighborhood.
9. Philadelphia, PA
Walk Score: 74.1
Philly is so committed to keeping pedestrians safe that its Center City district boasts the largest comprehensive pedestrian sign system in North America. And, the city of Brotherly Love is committed to creating more walking destinations for all ages. This spring, Sister Cities Park in Center City opens, with attractions like a family-friendly café, children's discovery garden and play area, and a fountain commemorating Philadelphia's global sister cities—adding to the city's already 10,000 acre park system.
10. Newark, NJ
Walk Score: 74
Mayor Cory Booker seems to have doubled down on pedestrian safety initiatives, making the tightly packed metropolitan zone more accessible for walkers. There's a strong focus on sustainability, with a Greening Newark program that includes free guided bird walks twice a month—so you can get a firsthand look at why Mother Earth is worth preserving.