10 American Cities To Visit Where You Can Go Car-Free

When it comes to travel, plenty of us are perfectly happy to rent a car and drive to our heart's content. However, it can also be fun to explore a new city without navigating rentals or contending with traffic and unfamiliar roads. Plenty of cities around the world are known for making it easy to get around without a car, especially when you can travel by bus, train, or shuttle in the same amount of time (or faster, depending on the time of the day).

Luckily, there are a lot of cities in the United States that offer robust public transit options and rideshare companies like Lyft and Uber. There are also places that are made to be walkable or easily accessible for people on bikes or golf carts. From islands off the coasts of the Carolinas to two of the biggest cities in the United States to a particularly quirky Northwestern city known for its tram service and bike lanes, there are plenty of options for anyone who doesn't want to travel by car while on vacation.

Here are 10 cities in the United States where you can easily go car-free while visiting. 

Bald Head Island, North Carolina, is golf cart friendly

When it comes to cities that make it easy to travel without a car, Bald Head Island, North Carolina, definitely tops many lists. Guests can access the island via a 20-minute ferry ride from Southport, North Carolina — a trip that will set the tone for your blissfully vehicle-free trip. The ferry schedule is pretty easy to follow for the majority of the year, as it leaves Southport on the half hour and Bald Head Island on the hour, beginning bright and early at 7 a.m. As noted by the Village of Bald Head Island, that schedule might adjust somewhat for the winter and summer months.

Bald Head Island is appealing for a lot of reasons, and one of those is that it's close to two popular destinations — Wilmington, North Carolina, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Once you make it to the island, it's easy to take advantage of the golf carts and trams, which are two dominant forms of travel in the area (via TimeOut). Visitors can enjoy beaches, play golf, or even tour the Old Baldy Lighthouse, which was ordered to be built by Thomas Jefferson over 200 years ago. That's if the idea of climbing 108 steps to get to the top doesn't knock you out!

Daufuskie Island, South Carolina, is small and walkable

The Carolinas have quite a few islands on their coasts, and Daufuskie Island, South Carolina, is a place you can get to when traveling by ferry. The island is further south than Bald Head Island, but it's still nestled between two popular destinations: Savannah, Georgia, and Hilton Head, South Carolina. The official Daufuskie Island ferry makes it easy to access the island and all it has to offer, though a little bit of planning will go into catching a ferry as it departs from the mainland every three hours.

Once on the island, it's easy to kick back and enjoy a car-free existence. The island itself is only five miles long but is packed with things to do, including horseback tours on the coast, hiking, and lots of fishing (via Daufuskie Island).

As noted by TimeOut, many Gullah families and their descendants have lived in the western part of Daufuskie Island since the end of the American Civil War. Sallie Ann Robinson was interviewed by O Magazine about her family (she is a sixth-generation Gullah) who moved away from the island only to return after living in Philadelphia and Savannah. As she told local news affiliate WATE, something special about the island kept drawing her home. She said, "I would say, 'Whew, why me?' And the spirit would say, 'Why not you?' The spirits guide me here."

New York City is renowned for its public transit system

New York City's subway system gets a lot of headlines that are both positive and negative (and sometimes downright fascinating, such as this piece from Indy 100 about a rat that was spotted dragging an entire crab through a subway station). But either way, there's no denying that the public transit system in New York City really works, especially when compared to other U.S. cities.

This public transit system makes New York City one of the country's easiest cities to live in without a car, as the bus and the subway can get you anywhere you want or need to go. On top of those options, the city boasts a robust system of taxis and rideshare options, and all taxi fares in New York City can be paid by cash or credit/debit card (per Finding The Universe).

If taxis or private rideshares aren't your style, the city also operates a system of nearly 6,000 buses that include local routes, which have more stops, and express routes, which are more direct. Bus stops are generally spaced every three or so blocks, making it easy to catch a bus (or run ahead to meet one as it arrives). The standard bus will set you back $2.75, and the express runs about $6.75. You can pay by cash, MetroCard, or with the OMNY app (via Finding The Universe).

Los Angeles, California, is very rideshare-friendly

Los Angeles might not exactly be known for its stellar public transit system the way New York City is, but L.A. does make it a breeze to use a wide variety of rideshare options from services such as Uber and Lyft. Both apps are used frequently in the city and are typically the go-to option for rideshare in the first place. As noted by California lawyer Steven M. Sweat, both services are typically significantly less expensive than taking a taxi anywhere in Los Angeles. 

If you're trying to plan a Los Angeles trip and wondering which app might be the least expensive, Sweat also noted that there typically aren't significant differences between the two. If finances are a concern, it's likely wiser to plan your trip around traffic patterns and opt to travel by rideshare at times when traffic isn't at its peak. This will also be helpful if you hope to avoid surge pricing, which kicks in when rideshare drivers are especially busy.

Aspen, Colorado, is walkable in the summer

Aspen, Colorado is typically thought of as a winter destination for good reason, as the city is celebrated for its skiing options and fun in the snow. But in the summer months, the city becomes a playground for those who prefer to walk places and get by without a car. As noted by Vogue, the city sees an incredible 300 days of sunshine per year, and temperatures in the summer rarely exceed the low 80s or dip below the high 70s. In other words, it might just be the perfect place to be walking around outside.

Aspen is known for its hiking trails, some of which are completely accessible without the need for any transportation. For example, the Little Nell Trail begins under the Aspen Mountain gondola, which is the ski lift used to ascend Aspen Mountain in the winter. The lift remains open year-round, and Vogue has also suggested hiking up the trail and riding back down to give yourself a break (and to celebrate your hike in the first place).

If hiking isn't your thing, that doesn't mean Aspen should be crossed off your list. There are bike-friendly paths all over the city and live musical performances throughout the year. You can also float, kayak or standup paddleboard down the Roaring Fork River on a warm, summer day (via Defiance Rafting).

Fire Island, New York, is as relaxed as it gets

Fire Island, New York, is a small island off the coast of Long Island, New York. You'll have to use a ferry to access the island, which has been used as the backdrop for numerous television and film productions. At 32 miles long and only a half-mile wide, there are no roads on Fire Island. Residents living there year-round generally use bicycles, wagons, golf carts, and their feet to get around (via Discover Long Island).

The island offers a 182-step trip up the Fire Island Lighthouse, which dates back to 1858 and offers oceanic views that you can't get anywhere else in the area. If that doesn't sound appealing, there are plenty of other things to do — including camping, fishing, canoeing, and hiking the 40-acre Sunken Forest.

The island is also known for its accessibility in other ways and is home to not one but two LGBTQ+ resorts that are known around the world – The Fire Island Pines and Cherry Grove. There are plenty of lodging options for anyone who wants to call the island home for a few days or a few months, and the island is also packed with plenty of dining and shopping options (via Discover Long Island).

Portland, Oregon, has a booming lightrail system

Portland, Oregon, has long been hailed for making it easier for residents to get everywhere they need to go without having their own car. The city's bus system typically runs well and often, and there's also a public transit light rail option that connects just about everywhere in Portland proper that you might want to go. Bike lanes also dominate the central areas of the city and extend out into the suburbs. As shared by Oregon Live, the city is also home to car-sharing services such as Car2Go and Amtrak operates trains out of the city to locations such as Seattle, Washington, and San Francisco, California.

The MAX light rail system has over 90 stations around the city, with 60 miles of light rail track to connect the city's attractions with the airport, suburbs, and more. There's at least one line running through downtown Portland every 15 minutes every single day of the week, typically beginning around 4 a.m. and finishing at midnight. 

Portland is also home to Tilikum Crossing, a cable-stayed bridge for pedestrians and bikers that is the longest in the United States, as well as the Portland Streetcar, which is a bus that loops around the city for easy access to popular areas (via Travel Portland).

San Deigo, California, offers free rides to downtown

When one is thinking of car-free cities in the United States, San Diego, California likely doesn't immediately spring to mind — but the city is working hard to change how visitors and residents alike think about it when it comes to public transit options. To that end, San Diego has established the FRED shuttle system, which is the subsidized Free Ride Everywhere Downtown program. As reported by The San Diego Union-Tribune, FRED is "the San Diego-specific offshoot of Circuit Transit, which was started as The Free Ride by co-founders James Mirras and Alex Esposito in 2011."

San Diego first kicked off its FRED program back in 2014 and began pushing the shuttle in earnest in 2016, when the shuttle company officially partnered with the city. The shuttles can hold up to six passengers at a time, which doesn't make it especially easy for large groups, but nearly one million people have enjoyed the option so far. The shuttle is available Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., on Fridays from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., and even available on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. (via Circuit).

Lexington, Kentucky, is walkable and bike-friendly

The southern United States has a few cities that are easy to get around without a car, especially if your time there is mostly spent in the city centers. For example, Lexington, Kentucky, is known for being bike-friendly and quite walkable, two goals that the Lexington Fayette Urban County Government has focused on in recent years. 

As of June 2022, the city can boast a whopping 128 miles of bicycle lanes, something that was nearly unimaginable 20 years ago. Of course, there is still more work to be done, as pointed out by the Lexington Herald-Leader. While speaking with the University of Kentucky's Nick Stamatiadis, the paper pointed out that with these improvements comes the realization that more can be done. Stamatiadis explained that while there has been a "concerted and sustained effort to improve bicycling conditions in the city over the past 20 years," some of the issues in Lexington come down to money. He added, "There is a bike plan that is being slowly implemented and, as all public works, it has limited funding and hence it cannot be quickly and fully implemented."

That doesn't mean the city has been deterred from its goals. The outlet goes on to note that Lexington is building buffered bike lanes to make some areas of the city safer for those who wish to travel by bike. The city also plans to build completely separate bike trails for the stretches of road that see the most car traffic.

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, has the country's third largest rural transit system

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, isn't known for being a beacon of public transit. Instead, most people visit the area when they want to enjoy its natural attractions, such as the abundance of hiking trails and water activities, or even the popular theme park Dollywood, established by beloved icon Dolly Parton. But in April 2022, the city celebrated the opening up of a $5.4 million mass transit facility with the goal of changing how residents and visitors see the city, especially when it comes to public transportation options (via WBIR).

It took two years to plan and build the facility, which will mostly serve as an extension to the pre-existing trolley system Piegon Forge already has. This new facility puts the city on the map as the third-largest rural transit system in the entire United States, now allowing millions more riders to enjoy Pigeon Forge each year (per WBIR). While it might not be completely possible to go entirely car-free in Pigeon Forge, the new transit system makes it significantly easier to park your car at your hotel or lodging and use the trolley to get to most attractions.