They say you can never be lonely if you like the person you’re alone with. Take your self and add the city’s seemingly endless splendors, and being alone in San Francisco hardly seems like a bad thing.
Whether you’re coupled, single, have housemates or live by yourself, making time for a little personal R&R now and then is a must. No one will judge you for doing things alone. If anything, it tends to inspire others to do the very same.
Plus, when you’re hanging out with yourself, you don’t have to compromise—you can match your activity to your mood. Whether you’re feeling uninspired, need a new workout spot or simply want to explore, there’s something perfect for you within the city limits. Here are five of my favorite activities to do solo in San Francisco.
For Wonder: 16th Avenue Tiled Steps
Soaring up the steep hillside where Moraga meets 16th are 163 of the most beautiful steps you’ll ever see. Every step is a mosaic comprised of hundreds of tiles, which together form a colorful, whimsical mural of fish, birds and flowers that culminates in a giant crescent moon and a blazing sun.
Started by residents Jessie Audette and Alice Yee Xavierand designed by artists Aileen Barr and Colette Crutcher, the installation required the help of over 300 neighbors and was completed in August 2005. Professor Francesco Pignataro, the mayor of Caltagirone, Italy (the location of the famous Scala Steps), even attended the celebration and cut the ribbon.
Recommendation: Bring your tennis shoes and get your morning exercise jogging up and down the steps, or grab a coffee and take a leisurely climb to the top to bask in the stunning view of the sea.
Image courtesy of Peter Thoeny.
For Perspective: Legion of Honor
Just as marvelous on the inside as it is on the outside, the Legion of Honor is one of the very best ways to spend a day alone in San Francisco. Situated in Lincoln Park, just bordering Lands End, the museum offers one of the most breathtaking views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the cityscape.
The Beaux-Arts structure is actually a replica of the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur (in Paris) and was built with the French government’s approval at the end of the 1915 Panama–Pacific International Exposition. But construction was delayed due to World War I. When it finally opened to the public on Armistice Day, the Legion of Honor was dedicated to the fallen soldiers of the tragic war that had just ended.
The museum showcases over 4,000 years of artworks, from ancient civilizations to the twentieth century. The permanent collection includes the famous works of many Italian Renaissance artists, Flemish Baroque painters, French Impressionists, British Romanticists and more. Tickets are $10 for general admission and $20 for admission plus access to special exhibits.
Recommendation: Although your phone won’t get much of a signal inside the museum, there is free Wi-Fi throughout the building. When I need to “get away,” I simply pop in some earbuds and listen to the Erik Satie or Claude Debussy stations on Pandora, pull out a small notebook and roam around the museum while gazing at the amazing art.
Image courtesy of HarshLight.
For Gratitude: West Coast World War II Memorial
This awe-inspiring memorial is located in the western section of the Presidio and overlooks the picturesque Marin Headlands where they melt into the ocean. Dedicated to armed-forces members who were lost or buried at sea in US Pacific waters during the war, the memorial itself is a long, curved granite wall that lists the names of the 413 fallen soldiers.
Alongside the memorial wall are benches and a grassy hillside where visitors can relax and take in the tranquil setting. Surrounded by Monterey pine and cypress trees, the memorial site is peaceful and quiet, aside from the sound of swift sea breezes. An afternoon spent sitting in its sheer beauty is a humbling experience.
Recommendation: Bring a blanket, some provisions and a good book or sketchpad, and let your mind wander as you appreciate the magic of your surroundings.
Image courtesy of Adam S.
For Adventure: Mount Sutro Trails
Also known as the “Forest in the Clouds,” Mount Sutro is often engulfed by San Francisco’s notorious fog. Here’s the kicker—Mount Sutro is actually better when it’s misty, since it’s always shady anyway, and the thick fog adds an awesome eeriness factor. But even on sunny days, Mount Sutro’s hiking trails are almost completely shaded under a thick forest of tall trees (up to 200 feet), to the point where you cannot see the surrounding city.
In general, the narrower the trail, the more adventurous the atmosphere is. For this effect, some prefer the South Ridge Trail, although personally I prefer the mysterious feel of the North Ridge Trail. And for those of you who like a little chill factor to go with your hike, you can read up on Mount Sutro’s rather haunting past.
The trails are moderate in intensity, and most are short in length. You can see the trails themselves on Google Maps; parking directions are here.
Recommendation: If it has rained recently, wear shoes that can handle the trail mud.
Image courtesy of Sahil P.
For Inspiration: North Beach’s Literary Scene
Need some more San Francisco awesomeness? Hang out in North Beach and relive the city’s literary history. A true city landmark, City Lights Bookstore (261 Columbus Avenue) is a haven with three floors of bookshelves filled with works of poetry, fiction, history, art and everything in between. Founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and local college professor Peter D. Martin, City Lights was not only the first all-paperback bookstore in the US, but also it was the publisher of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems and a literary meeting place for legendary beatniks.
And if you walk out of the store still caught up in the beat, head across the street to the Beat Museum (540 Broadway), which has been independently owned and operated since it opened in 2003. With its vast collection of Beat memorabilia, original manuscripts and first editions, you can lose yourself in the fascinating minds of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady and others.
Then once the sun is down, walk to the northwest corner of Columbus and Broadway and stand underneath the Language of the Birds—a permanent art installation featuring 23 suspended LED-lit books that resemble startled pigeons taking flight. They’re as adorable as the Flying Toasters from the old After Dark screensaver software. (For you young Millennials out there who weren’t around for Windows 3.1, these toasters gave meaning to life before the Internet.)
Recommendation: Leave your phone at home, and be sure to bring a tote bag or a backpack in case you buy a few books (which is very likely).
Image courtesy of Julie Albin.