From our lively restaurants and bars to dozens of popular tourist attractions and scenic views, there’s no shortage of cool places to check out in San Francisco. But sometimes you need a break from the madness and when that happens the city has plenty of options to carve out some peace and solitude. Whether you prefer spending time alone in a park, museum, bookstore, or bar (“wine alone” as it’s called), there’s a place on this list for you that’s perfect for reading a book, meditating and noticing all the little amazing moments that everyone stares at their phone is totally missing.
Golden Gate Park
This five-acre garden surrounded by tall greenery on all sides is home to winding paths, tranquil koi ponds, enchanting flowers, a five-storied pagoda, a Zen garden, wooden bridges, stepping stones, bonsai trees and a house of tea, and although it’s a popular tourist attraction, if you go during “off” hours, especially weekday mornings, you can have the space almost to yourself (and, even if you’re not alone, the landscape was designed to be soothing and slow people down, so it’s always going to feel that way). If you’re an SF resident, you no longer have to pay admission starting Spring 2022, so if you get there and it’s a little too crowded for your liking, you can still take a quick stroll. and then stroll through Golden Gate Park, which is a treasure trove of places to find peace and quiet – a few obvious ones not on this list include Stow Lake, Botanical Garden, Rhododendron Dell , and, well… you get it.
Hill of Nob
You don’t have to be religious to appreciate this magnificent French Gothic cathedral known for its mosaics and murals, its reproduction of the gates of the “gates of paradise”, its stained glass windows, its two labyrinths and its impressive acoustics. Of course, if you like to have a religious or spiritual experience, the Episcopal Church organizes regular services, but they welcome all people, regardless of their religion, for yoga classes, sound baths, concerts, exhibitions of art, etc. You can also walk the inner labyrinth during cathedral opening hours and the outer labyrinth at any time, day or night.
Golden Gate Park
It’s impossible to set foot inside this 10-acre grove in eastern Golden Gate Park without thinking of all the lives affected by AIDS, and that’s the point. It is a place to “heal, hope and remember”. But it’s also one of the best spots in the park for a moment of tranquility and reflection. The bowl-shaped valley was created so people could find places to be alone or gather in groups with tons of plants and trees, stone benches and memorials everywhere. There are plenty of places to spread a blanket or sit on a bench and enjoy a picnic or a book. But when true solitude and quiet are in order, Redwood Circle, a space surrounded by redwoods, always does the trick.
Tank Hill is one of those SF spots that everyone claims is a big secret, but a quick Google search will quickly dispel that myth. Still, for some reason, that’s just not as possible with the masses as one might think, given the sweeping views of downtown SF, Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, and beyond. Tank Hill is just below Twin Peaks and is about 650ft (Twin Peaks is 922ft), so the views aren’t quite as stellar (and they’re not 360 degrees), but you also avoid the buses full of tourists, a relatively steep walk, or worse, getting robbed because you decided to drive. The park is small and there’s not much to it, but what more does it take to get a quality view of SF than a log to sit on?
The Lands End Trail is one of the best hikes in SF, which means it’s rarely very empty, but if you don’t mind a one-mile hike followed by a short but steep descent to the ocean , you’ll be treated to one of SF’s most secluded beaches: Mile Rock, a small rocky cove covered in driftwood, perfect for watching a magical California sunset.
It might be hard to imagine there being anything quiet about what might very well be the country’s most well-known bookstore, but the good news about this shop that first gained notoriety for the published by Allen Ginsberg To yellis that they have a poetry room upstairs, where bookshelves full of poetry line the wall, dim sunlight streams in through the windows, and chairs invite you to sit and read. Fancy a drink to accompany your quiet contemplation? Head next to the iconic Vesuvius and take a seat in an upstairs corner next to a window.
The Hague Valley
This intimate wine bar and art gallery (not really a hotel) is tucked away in a small lane off Gough Street and is a great spot for first dates and solo dates. Unlike so many bars in SF, you don’t go there to “see or be seen”; instead, you go there to enjoy a great glass of wine and maybe some cheese or charcuterie while snuggled up on a comfy couch in a dimly lit room with exposed brick walls and the dancing shadows of candlelight.
Golden Gate Park
Considering that the California Academy of Sciences is a beloved museum for children and adults alike, it’s hard to imagine the possibility of finding peace and quiet anywhere inside this bustling museum. But, in fact, there are several places to find solitude. 1. Inside the domed 75-foot Morrison Planetarium where the hyper-realistic virtual environments are so mesmerizing, there is silence. 2.) In the ground floor aquarium where the lights are dimmed so that the 40,000 colorful animals that live in the underwater and terrestrial habitats can take center stage. Wander among the exhibits – from the Coral Reef Tank, which is one of the deepest and largest displays of living coral in the world, to the bioluminescent “Twilight Zone”, a recreation of mesophotic reefs located between 100 and 500 feet below the surface of the ocean, on the California coast where a giant window reveals eels, anemones and a giant Pacific octopus – or simply find a seat in a dark corner in front of the jellyfish and let their slow, mesmerizing movements take you lulled into a state of total tranquillity.
Just south of central San Francisco is the city’s highest natural point, Mount Davidson (elevation 928 feet) where you’ll find over 30 acres of urban forest perfect for solo hikes (dogs are allowed in leash), wildlife viewing, bird watching (look for hawks, owls, hummingbirds, etc.), views of downtown SF and the bay, and a 103-foot concrete cross hidden by a thick grove of trees. If you really crave tranquility, the best time to hike Mount Davidson is on a foggy morning. You may have to sacrifice the panoramic views at the top, but the feeling of overwhelming calm and solitude is unparalleled.
Golden Gate Park
A ticket to go inside the de Young costs $15, but anyone can visit the 144-foot Hamon observation tower and sculpture garden for free. The latter is where you will find the most peace and quiet as it is full of alcoves, open spaces, trees, plants and, of course, art. The most stunning part of the garden is James Turrell’s ‘Three Gems’ skyspace, a tunnel that leads to a concrete dome hidden under a grassy mound with a window to the sky, LED lighting effects and a curved bench. For some reason, you can have this space to yourself for at least a little while, 9 times out of 10.
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