BALBOA PARK, SAN DIEGO
The sprawling 1,200-acre Balboa Park packs in more than two dozen cultural institutions, including the Tony Award–winning Old Globe theater, the San Diego Museum of Art, and the famed San Diego Zoo, one of the world’s few zoos with resident giant pandas. The park overlooks a seriously beautiful backdrop (the Pacific Ocean) and has buildings so stunning that some exteriors were filmed by Orson Welles to represent the grand fictional estate Xanadu in Citizen Kane.
Coolest Time to Visit: Spring, when the zoo animals are more active and the park’s magnificent gardens bloom.
CITY PARK, DENVER
More than 125 years ago, locals first gathered around the park’s bandstand on Ferril Lake to listen to live concerts. The City Park Jazz Summer Concert Series continues that tradition, attracting tens of thousands of concertgoers annually with 10 free jazz, blues, and salsa shows including the 18-piece Metropolitan Jazz Orchestra and local salsa band La Candela. Another updated relic: Ferril Lake’s Electric Prismatic Fountain, whose water patterns change every five minutes, was completed in 2008 to replace the 1909 original.
CITY PARK, NEW ORLEANS
One of the first things park visitors notice is that these are no ordinary trees. This is the world’s largest collection of mature live oaks—majestic, sculptural-looking marvels, the oldest of which have branches that spread out twice as wide as their height (up to 75 feet). Live bands that gather at the finish line of the annual Rock ’n’ Roll Mardi Gras Marathon course lend an only-in-New-Orleans vibe.
Coolest Time to Visit: Thursday evenings (March–October), when the Botanical Garden throws genteel parties with mint juleps and performances by ensembles like the New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra.