Like a motivating personal trainer or a running buddy, certain cities have a way of coaxing visitors out of the comfort and leisure of their hotel rooms and getting them on the move. These 10 destinations (in no particular order) top our list of the healthiest towns for travelers.
According to poet Carl Sandburg, Chicago earned its figurative “Big Shoulders” via gritty physical and industrial jobs. No one stacks wheat around the Midwest capital anymore, but the buff deltoids remain the products of a hearty sports-loving populace.
This year, the city’s Divvy (divvybikes.com) bike sharing program will expand from 300 stations to 475, making it the largest in North America. Launched in 2013, the shared-bike service accounted for 1.5 million miles ridden rather than driven in its first four months, effectively reducing auto emissions. Among the city’s 200 miles of on-street bike lanes, one 1.2-mile downtown stretch — featuring a bicycle corridor separate from cars and controlled by bike traffic lights — was named the country’s best bike lane by the advocacy group People for Bikes.
The city’s most visible recreational lane, the Lakefront Trail, stretches 18.5 miles along Lake Michigan, drawing cyclists as well as runners, strollers, and skaters in such numbers that, in summer, bicyclists are urged to walk their bikes around the particularly congested Oak Street Beach bend. It is just one of 24 beaches in the city, fair-weather magnets for volleyballers, swimmers, and stand-up paddlers.
Tourism has a fitness face here, too, in businesses like City Running Tours (cityrunningtours.com) which offers 5K-themed runs downtown six days a week, combining sightseeing and calorie-burning. Kayak Chicago (kayakchicago.com) offers tours ranging from architectural paddles on the Chicago River to trips on Lake Michigan. Thursdays through Sundays, from late June to mid-September, Chicago SummerDance turns downtown’s Grant Park into a mass dance party, with free dance lessons followed by two hours of dancing to live music.
STAY: Fortunately for travelers, the city’s luxury hotels are engaged in a spa war of escalating amenities and unique services. The Peninsula Chicago (peninsula.com) recently brought in a massage therapist from Shanghai to train its practitioners in bamboo massage, using warmed bamboo rods as deep-tissue tools that double, per Chinese philosophy, as energizing elements. The Spa at Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago (trumphotelcollection.com/chicago) offers not just pampering but an array of group fitness classes including barre, boxing, and belly dancing. And the newest, the 22,000-square-foot Chuan Spa and Fitness Center at The Langham, Chicago (chicago.langhamhotels.com), features a pre-treatment bathing ritual in a series of hot and cold rooms, culminating in pod-like recliner chairs. In addition to massages and facials, the spa menu features Chinese medical treatments of acupuncture and more.
DINE: From Cracker Jack to molecular cocktails, Chicago has a long history of culinary invention, and not all of it will pad your waistline. Green Zebra (greenzebrachicago.com) doesn’t sacrifice haute style in championing an all-vegetable menu. In suburban Evanston, Found Kitchen and Social House (foundkitchen.com) serves sensational seasonal small plates as well as the community, by training formerly homeless workers. And back in Chicago, inventive chef Homaro Cantu aims to open Berrista Coffee this spring, creating healthy versions of things like jelly donuts by using an all-natural berry that tricks your taste buds into tasting sweet without the sugar. BY ELAINE GLUSAC