5 Great Pedestrian Malls Demonstrating Car-Free Urban Possibilities

seaport village restaurant
The Pier Cafe at San Diego’s Seaport Village

These pedestrian malls are all great places to spend time exploring great car-free retail, dining, and entertainment.  The trend of a walkable pedestrian mall cut off from car traffic gained in popularity in the 60’s and 70’s as a way to revitalize downtowns, and while the successful ones still see millions of happy visitors each year, many were closed down.  The ones in this list are examples of some of the more successful developments for ditching the car for an afternoon of walking, shopping, entertainment, and dining.

Seaport Village

San Diego, CA

Seaport Village is a waterfront destination with 54 unique stores and 17 different places to eat covering 14 acres in the year-round sunny weather of San Diego, CA.  Yearly attractions feature a Busker’s Festival, live music, and even a Surfing Santa.

Pearl Street Mall

Boulder, CO

Covering four blocks, the Pearl Street Mall is a well-known pedestrian mall in a city recognized for its bike-friendly design.  Amongst the general Pedestrian Mall list of shops, dining, and eccentric street performers, Pearl Street features a few nationally renowned restaurants.

Downtown Mall

Charlottesville, VA

One of the most successful pedestrian malls in the country with over 120 shops and 30 restaurants, the Downtown Mall is even called an Urban Park.  In addition to the shops and dining, Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall has an ice skating rink and a newly built outdoor entertainment pavilion

church street marketplace
Burlington, Vermont’s Church Street Marketplace

Church Street Marketplace

Burlington VT

Built in 1981, Burlington’s Church Street Marketplace sees 3 million people walk around through its wide, brick-lined street.  They are home to enough shopping to keep you busy for days.  Most shops are unique local stores, but there are a few national retailers like Patagonia and Banana Republic.  They have also implemented a few environmentally-friendly programs on like composting food waste from Church St eateries.

State Street

Madison, WI

Over 200 shops, 80 places to eat, museums, and the Madison Civic Center line the blocks on State Street connected to the University of Wisconsin – Madison.  State street features a world-wide selection of cuisine and, as you’d guess from WI, a great selection of taverns.  Every year on Halloween tens of thousands of people attend “Freakfest” dressed in costume to watch nationally touring musicians like OK Go and OAR.

Warren Howe is a freelance writer in San Diego, who loves car free downtown spaces. As a resident of San Diego, he gets down to Seaport Village whenever he can, and enjoys walkable spaces whenever he travels.

Image credits: Michael in San Diego, California via photo pin cc; origamidon via photo pin cc

  1. Scott Beyer

    Building a pedestrian or transit mall is not always a good idea. To work, one must already be surrounded by a critical mass of pedestrians. But if it’s used to revitalize a declining street, it will only accelerate that street’s decline by further isolating it.

    That said, the most overdue of these potential malls in America is Market Street in San Francisco. It’s the city’s most heavily trafficked one for transit, bikes and pedestrians. But it is now being congested by automobiles, which are mostly driven by people looking for parking—even though there’s none on the street. These autos should be disallowed, so that Market becomes a transit mall. To read about what the city is doing to encourage this visit:


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