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PATTERSON PARK, BALTIMORE

A 27-foot-long platypus and 25-foot-long caterpillar are just some of the outrageous people-powered creatures that have participated in Baltimore’s annual Kinetic Sculpture Race. The park also encourages dress-up for its Great Halloween Lantern Parade and for BARCStoberfest, with contests for best pet costume and pet trick. Dogs (and their owners) like to loll about on a gently sloping hill near the restored 1890 Pagoda.

Coolest Time to Visit: May, when you can catch both the wacky Kinetic Sculpture Race and the annual Bike Jam, a daylong cycling festival for watching races and participating in public rides, including a 12-mile waterfront route.

PIEDMONT PARK, ATLANTA
The concert lineup here has included Sir Paul McCartney, the Eagles, and the Dave Matthews Band—and those are just the rock legends. Jazz takes over for the annual May festival, and music also plays a part in the Atlanta Dogwood Festival, which celebrates its 75th anniversary in 2011 with more than 70 sets (from a Native American flute performer to a Turkish folk dance group). Groundbreaking on a 53-acre extension started in 2008 and has already produced a bocce court, an aquatic center with lap lanes, and a children’s splashing area.
Coolest Time to Visit: Memorial Day Weekend is the high point of the annual Atlanta Jazz Festival, which has seen legends like Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie perform.

SCHENLEY PARK, PITTSBURGH
There’s a sport for everyone. Choose among 13 tennis courts, a soccer field, a running track, a high-jump area, and golf courses: an 18-hole Frisbee golf course and a traditional 4,600-yard course on rolling terrain with an indoor practice facility. Of course, you can also take it slow. Stroll by rare miniature orchids and primitive tree ferns at Phipps Conservatory or plop with a blanket on Flagstaff Hill, where movies are screened on summer evenings.

Coolest Time to Visit: During the free Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix (July 15–24, 2011). Some 200,000 visitors cheer on 150 sports cars—including prewar and MG T Series vehicles—as they navigate 23 turns (not to mention hay bales) around the park’s Paddock Drive.

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