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10 pedestrian-friendly U.S. destinations worth exploring

See the sights without paying for gas or a rental car.
TODAY Illustration / Courtesy Vivian Le / Courtesy Francesca Cocchi / Courtesy Emma Stessman / Courtesy Shannon Garlin
/ Source: TODAY

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Now, more than ever, vehicle-free family vacations are in vogue. Seeing a new place sans car not only makes financial sense, it's also better for the environment. The tricky part, however, is knowing where to go. Some cities have better public transportation networks — including free shuttles — and others are more pedestrian-friendly.

Whether you're looking for a budget-friendly beach vacation or places to take the kids before they're grown, here is a short list of destinations where you not only don't need a car, but you won't want one either.

Best U.S. destinations to visit that don't require a car

San Diego, California

Why you should go: Since San Diego's airport is located just three miles from downtown, it's an easy 10-minute Uber or "Airport Flyer" ride to most hotels and restaurants. Once in the heart of downtown, the city's neighborhoods are laid out in an easy-to-navigate grid of numbered and lettered streets. They're very walkable, but you can also take the FRED (aka Free Ride Everywhere Downtown) shuttle. If you're venturing beyond downtown, hop on one the city buses or trolleys servicing attractions like the award-winning San Diego Zoo and San Diego Air & Space Museum. Care to visit Coronado and Ocean Avenue? Take one of the many ferries that cross San Diego Bay.

Where to stay: It's hard to beat the location of the Hilton San Diego Bayfront (rates from $415), which has water views and is within walking distance of The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park. If you're on a tighter budget and want to be treated to "the world's nicest pillow," book a room at Days Inn by Wyndham San Diego Circle.

Denver, Colorado

Why you should go: Thanks to Denver's A Line, downtown is just a 30-minute train ride from Denver International Airport. Getting around downtown Denver is even easier. Simply hop on the free 16th Street Mall Ride or grab a Lime scooter. (In the next four years, as many as 675 parking stations will be installed in the city.) You can also rent bikes of every kind from Christy Sports and explore via metro Denver's 850 miles of paved urban bike trails. Feel like staying on foot? Book a Denver Food Tour or a Twilight Ghost Tour of Capitol Hill.

Where to stay: Kimpton Hotel Born (rates from $300) offers complimentary use of its fleet of bikes. If you want to be closer to the colorful RiNo District (pro tip: take the Denver Graffiti Tour), crash at the new and uber hip Catbird Hotel.

Big Sky, Montana

Why you should go: After flying into Bozeman, book a scenic bus ride on Karst Stage to Montana's premier ski resort town. That said, the aptly-named Big Sky is beautiful year-round. If you're staying at Big Sky Resort, one of the largest ski resorts in the world, take advantage of the free shuttle that goes into the town center. In addition to skiing and snowboarding, try a ziplining tour over the Gallatin River or a guided backcountry safari of nearby Yellowstone National Park. There are also miles of hiking and mountain biking trails running through the surrounding Spanish Peaks.

Where to stay: The Wilson Hotel (rates from $400) is conveniently located in the heart of downtown Big Sky, plus it allows pets. If you want to stay slope-side, get a room at The Lodge at Big Sky.

Lexington, Kentucky

Why you should go: Home to 400+ horse farms and 14 of the state's largest bourbon distilleries, there's plenty to see and do in this oft-overlooked Southern city. Take an Uber or Lyft from Bluegrass Airport, and once you're downtown, plan on walking everywhere or renting an e-bike. This fall, the city will debut a $35.5 million walking trail connecting downtown Lexington with the Distillery District. To visit one of the region's horse farms, book a half-day bus tour.

Where to stay: The eclectic 21c Museum Hotel is half boutique hotel, half contemporary art museum. It's also just steps away from the city's best restaurants. If a high-rise is more your style, the Hilton Lexington Downtown (rates from $150) is a great option and just steps away from the Mary Todd Lincoln House.

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Why you should go: Pigeon Forge is home to the country's third-largest rural transit system, and the trolleys run 362 days per year with day passes costing just $3. Although Pigeon Forge is a small town (pop. 6,100), every year it welcomes 10 million visitors who come for attractions like the Titanic Museum, Pigeon Forge Snow (an amusement park with snow year-round) and the Rocky Top Mountain Coaster. One of the reasons Pigeon Forge is so popular? It's less than a day's drive for two-thirds of the country's population living east of the Mississippi.

Where to stay: The highly-rated Arbors At Island Landing Hotel & Suites (rates from $145) has the most to offer families in terms of activities (think bonfires, fishing, horseshoes, etc.). Meanwhile, the Music Road Resort Hotel boasts two on-site waterparks.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Why you should go: Sunny Fort Lauderdale has more than 150 miles of navigable waterways, so it often makes the most sense to get around by boat. The city's Water Trolley, which services the New River, is free and operates daily. Visitors can also buy a day or evening pass for the Water Taxi, which has 11 stops and allows you to hop on and hop off at your convenience. If you want a boat ride with narration (so you know whose yachts and mansions you're sailing by), ride the Jungle Queen Riverboat. Another great way to get to know the city is by Segway tour.

Where to stay: Located on Las Olas Blvd, Hyatt Centric Las Olas is within walking distance of restaurants, nightlife and museums including the Museum of Discovery and Science. The hotel also has a Tesla house car that will take you anywhere within two miles of the hotel.

Williamsburg, Virginia

Why you should go: Thanks to Amtrak, it's easy to reach downtown Williamsburg if you live anywhere along the Northeast Corridor. Colonial Williamsburg, the area's number one attraction, is located just a mile from the train station. If you have any interest in paranormal activity or local history, book a bestselling ghost tour where your guide walks you by some of Williamsburg's most haunted sites. Another must for history buffs is Jamestown Settlement, just a 15-minute ride via Uber from downtown. More of an adrenaline junkie? Busch Gardens is also just a 15-minute Uber ride away.

Where to stay: Woodlands Hotel & Suites is just steps away from Colonial Williamsburg's Visitor Center. If you want resort amenities, including access to a championship golf course and bike rentals, stay at Kingsmill Resort (rates from $279).

Grand Rapids, Michigan

Why you should go: According to WalkScore.com, Grand Rapids is an impressive 92 out of 100. Downtown, visitors can choose from a dozen hotels, all within walking distance of six museums, 35 live music venues and more than 130 restaurants. (There's even a climate-controlled indoor skywalk system, making it manageable in the winter.) Must-see sites for families include the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, John Ball Zoo and the Grand Rapid's Children's Museum. Download the GR Walks app for free-self-guided walking tours, and when you're tired of walking, don't worry. The Downtown Area Shuttle and the driverless May Mobility Shuttle are both free.

Where to stay: The pet-friendly Morton Hotel is right downtown and just steps away from the Grand Rapids Art Museum. Across the river, the Holiday Inn (rates from $180) is a more affordable option and is close to the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum and the Grand Rapids Public Museum.

Greenville, South Carolina

Why you should go: Downtown Greenville, home to one of the country's most idyllic and pedestrian-friendly main streets, is just a 15-minute Uber ride or private transfer from Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport. The majority of hotels, museums, galleries, restaurants and shops are all concentrated within a few city blocks of downtown. Don't feel like walking? Hop on the free trollies servicing downtown, rent a bike (the Swamp Rabbit Trail is 13.5 miles long) or sign up for a Segway tour. Whatever you do, don't miss the waterfalls at Falls Park on the Reedy.

Where to stay: The charming Swamp Rabbit Inn has bike rentals on-site. If you want amenities like a bar, free breakfast and a fitness center, stay in the heart of downtown at the Hampton Suites (rates from $135).

New York, New York

Why you should go: The Big Apple boasts the largest public transportation system in the country. Not a fan of the subway? Taxis and pedicabs are everywhere, especially around Central Park and Times Square. There are also plenty of hop-on, hop-off bus tours, and stations where you can rent bikes and scooters. If you want to check out New York's largest Chinatown in Queens or observe the playful otters at the New York Aquarium in Brooklyn, simply take the scenic East River Ferry. Some of the best views of Manhattan's iconic skyline are from the river.

Where to stay: The new Motto by Hilton is conveniently located in Chelsea's Arts District (home to 300 art galleries) and within walking distance of The High Line, Chelsea Market and Chelsea Piers Sports and Entertainment Complex. Hyatt Union Square (rates from $202) meanwhile, has complimentary bikes and is close to miles of bike paths.