Wanted: Walkable Cities

I’ve been thinking a lot about walkable cities lately. I prefer to experience a city slowly, at street level, instead flying by it in a car, en route to the next thing on the list. The older I get, the more I’m okay with not hitting every single “must-see” destination. I’d rather take my time and get to know the soul of a place by experiencing it on a more human scale.

Wandering helps me discover new places, look a little closer at my surroundings and connect with people — all good things for a traveler and a writer. Plus, I really like food, so walking is a good way to burn a few calories and get some mood boosting sunshine. I always try to stay in (or at least near) a neighborhood where I can park my car and explore on foot.

I wrote about downtown Fargo for a new feature called Green Travel Guides: Fargo, North Dakota this week. It reminded me how lucky I am to have this pretty, historic, pedestrian-friendly neighborhood right in my own backyard.

This relatively small geographic area is home to 79 retail stores (!) and 68 bars (!!!), plus concert venues, art galleries, parks and bike trails. It’s literally my job to know as much as possible about it, and I still stumble upon something new every time I go.

It’s my favorite neighborhood in my city and in North Dakota in general, although I’m happy to report that plenty of neighborhoods are giving it some competition. I drank local beer and took photos of street art in downtown Bismarck this weekend and showed Minot to my friends Liz and Naomi. They’d never been to the city before and downtown Minot, with its indie bookstore, restaurants, art galleries and shops was a nice introduction.

Downtown Sioux Falls, South Dakota is walkable. So are the Exchange District and Osborne Village in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I rarely drive when I stay in downtown Winnipeg, since the bus is convenient and I can walk to almost everything I want to see.

Access to public transportation is an added bonus for me, but a necessity for travelers who can’t physically walk like I’m able to. When you primarily drive at home, it’s easy to forget about the bus or train system when you travel. It can really be liberating to forget about parking. And I know lots of people who get really stressed out about driving in cities, so public transportation is both eco-friendly and less stressful. (If you’ve never used public transportation before and you’re nervous about it, get in touch with me. I get emails about it a lot, so you’re not alone.)

Bismarck’s Art Alley is a work in progress. It’s different every time I see it.

I’ve like exploring The Greenway that connects downtown Grand Forks, North Dakota with its sister city of East Grand Forks, Minnesota. I love finding public art in St. Paul and interesting neighborhoods and parks in Minneapolis. All of these cities do a great job of integrating green spaces into an urban environment.

When I travel outside the Midwest and the prairie provinces of Canada, I’ll pay a little extra to stay right off the sand in Venice Beach, California. (We avoided traffic and literally walked to Santa Monica. It was fabulous.) A quiet moment in one of my favorite neighborhoods in Paris inspired me to start this blog.

I remember all kinds of fun, touristy, bucket list kind of activities from these cites. But when I close my eyes and conjure up my vacations, it’s the unplanned moments — a walk on the beach, buying prints from street artists and a fresh fruit kiosk in California and park bench sitting, window shopping and strolling along the Seine in Paris — that have the most emotional resonance.

The walking/bike path to Santa Monica and the beach were literally on the other side of this patio. You don’t get much closer than that.

Now you know the kind of travel experiences I like and the neighborhoods I gravitate toward. So where should I go next? I want to explore more walkable neighborhoods this year and I’d love to hear about your favorites.

And I encourage you to go out and explore your own city, state or province. If running this website has taught me anything, it’s that we often overlook great places in our own neighborhoods. You don’t have to go far to discover something interesting. And when you do, I hope you tell us all about it.

So tell me about your favorite walkable, both close to home and further away!
What do you love about downtown Fargo?
Which attractions did I miss in the story I linked to?
Which neighborhoods are you dying to explore?
What would you like to see me write more about?

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