Golden Gate National Recreational Area
vom U.S. National Park Service

The United States’ urban centers offer an endless array of dining, culture and shopping options. But even the most avid travelers need a quiet break from the city bustle every now and then.

Waiting just outside the central hubs of major U.S. cities is the great outdoors — it’s much closer than you think.

Combine your love of high-end shopping, find dining and world-class museums with your love of the great outdoors in Chicago, Illinois.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Close to: San Francisco, California

The Golden Gate National Recreation Area sits just across the Golden Gate Strait from downtown San Francisco.

Why should you go? San Francisco, California, may be a technology epicenter, but it also boasts 300-plus square kilometers of nearby parkland with stunning bay views. The Golden Gate National Recreation Area contains verdant woodlands; coastal marshes; and plenty of trails for hiking, road biking and mountain biking. You might even recognize the park’s gorgeous Muir Woods if you saw the recent “Planet of the Apes” films.

Traveling with a history buff? The park is full of sites ranging from military installations and California Gold Rush locales to important regions for the area’s Native American tribes and the infamous Alcatraz Island.

Where is it? If you’ve seen the Golden Gate Bridge, you’ve probably caught a glimpse of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (not to be confused with the city’s Golden Gate Park). The majority of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area sits across the Golden Gate Bridge from downtown San Francisco, with other parks — such as Angel Island State Park and Alcatraz — falling under the recreation area’s domain.

How do you get there? Because the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is close to San Francisco, you can take a bus to the park, or rent a car and access the area by one of four major highways.

Gateway National Recreation Area

Close to: New York City, New York

Jim Lukach/Flickr The Sandy Hook Lighthouse in the Sandy Hook, New Jersey, portion of Gateway National Recreation Area is the oldest working lighthouse in the United States. It was built in 1764.

Why should you go? As its name suggests, the Gateway National Recreation Area marks the point where the Hudson River meets the Atlantic Ocean. Comprising several separate recreation areas and historic sites across southern New York and the central New Jersey coast. Explore Jamaica Bay by kayak, hit the beaches by bike or spend the day fishing.

Want more than just a day’s worth of the outdoors? Each region offers camping options, which vary by time of year.

Where is it? The recreation area is split among three destinations: Staten Island, New York; Jamaica Bay, New York; and Sandy Hook, New Jersey. All three places occupy spots around the New York Bight, an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean.

How do you get there? Getting to any of the parks is a breeze: The National Park Service provides directions for visitors traveling by car or by public transportation. If you’re coming from Manhattan, you can take the No. 2 subway train to the Jamaica Bay location; to reach the Staten Island and Sandy Hook spots, you’ll need to hop a ferry from the Pier 11/Wall Street ferry terminal.

Rock Creek Park

Close to: Washington, D.C.

Dion Hinchcliffe/Flickr Rock Creek Park occupies a little over 7 square kilometers of Washington, D.C.

Why should you go? The park is perfect for relaxation and a breath of fresh air between tours of Washington, D.C.’s many museums and landmarks. It offers more than 50 kilometers of trails — including surprisingly rugged and rewarding hiking routes — and horseback riding options. If you want to stick with running while on vacation, locals have you covered. Or if you just want to unwind outside, try a picnic near the historic Peirce Mill and Barn and a walk through the nearby (and free) Smithsonian National Zoo.

Where is it? Rock Creek Park cuts through more than 800 hectares in northwestern Washington, D.C.

How do you get there? Rock Creek’s series of entry points is nearly endless. If your feet aren’t tired from walking the city’s Tidal Basin or National Mall, simply enter through downtown or Georgetown; you can also access the park from the Woodley Park metro station, on the red line.

Biscayne National Park

Close to: Miami, Florida

U.S. National Park Service Biscayne National Park's barrier reefs offer some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving in the U.S.

Why should you go? The bay and its barrier reefs make Biscayne National Park one of the nation’s premier snorkeling and diving locales.

As a national park and wildlife preserve, the bay features a stunning variety of wildlife, from endangered species of fish and unique plant life to manatees and sea turtles. Skilled divers can even explore shipwrecks.

Where is it? Off the southeast coast of Miami, Florida, Biscayne National Park’s 69,606 hectares include not only a vast stretch of Biscayne Bay, but also a series of keys and lagoons, such as Elliott Key and Sandwich Cove.

How do you get there? There is just a single overland access point at Southwest 328th Street, which conveniently leads right to the Dante Fascell Visitor Center at Convoy Point. Here, you can get introduced to the park’s four ecosystems thanks to the center’s extensive displays and a series of hands-on activities designed with kids in mind.

Want more of the great outdoors without straying too far from city life? Yosemite National Park is only a three-hour drive from San Francisco.