HOUSTON – I like being alone. There’s a lot of freedom in it. There is no pressure to do anything, no pressure to talk to anyone, no obligation, no judgment, no distraction. I can process and decompress, explore new interests, try new things, or let my mind wander. It’s constructive and calming.
Of course, being alone and being alone are not the same thing. And I was very alone before. Moving to Houston was a struggle. I had graduated 18 months prior and was struggling to adjust to a new job – my second adult job – in an unfamiliar location. I had never felt more isolated. It didn’t help that Houston had more museums, more restaurants, more shopping, more music, or even that it was a city of more people. Somehow, the most populous city in the state, home to some 2.3 million people, made my feelings of loneliness worse. The pandemic has not helped matters.
After exhausting my reserves of melancholy and youthful angst, I realized that even though I didn’t feel connected to anyone here, the city itself had grown inside of me. And there was a real pleasure in exploring it solo.
Here are a few things I like to do in Houston when I’m lonely or feeling lonely that help me embrace myself and find solace in the loneliness.
Get lost in the stacks
One of my favorite things to do alone is get lost in a beautiful bookstore. There are several scattered across Houston.
Generally quirky hiking spots, they offer plenty to stimulate the mind and soothe the soul. From their piles, you can pick out-of-print books from overcrowded shelves or dig up gems from curated collections.
My favorite, Becker’s Books in Houston’s Spring Branch East area, is a 3,500 square foot wonderland of nooks, crannies, and mazes filled with tens of thousands of titles. Its narrow, winding aisles offer the most fantastical surprises – there you can unearth that luscious paperback or hardcover you didn’t even know you needed until you laid eyes on it. You might find a striking edition of an old favorite or an intriguing title from an author you don’t even know. It’s amazing fun to browse books here and easily a two-hour solo activity if you commit to finding the perfect title.
Becker’s Books is open Thursday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. 7405 Westview Drive, (713) 957-8088, Beckersbooks.com.
Get out and get moving
I spent endless hours wandering Houston on foot. There is something exhilarating about getting lost in the urban wasteland of the city. It makes me feel small, insignificant, like I’m in the presence of something bigger and more substantial than myself – because I am.
Although Houston is often criticized for its unsightly urban sprawl, some parts of it are quite lush. The city itself has over 66,000 acres of parkland and no matter where you live in Houston, there’s a walking trail nearby. Whether I’m strolling through a well-known park or exploring a new one, I try to calm my mind and gaze at the little wonders of the world around me, whether it’s sweeping scenic vistas of the city skyline or something much simpler, say a pelican fishing in a bayou or sunlight speckling a patch of wildflowers.
For a particularly tranquil experience, I suggest a visit to Houston’s Japanese Garden in Hermann Park. There, there are waterfalls, bridges, a well-stocked koi pond, and winding stone paths that wander among crape myrtles, azaleas, Japanese maples, dogwoods, and cherry trees.
The Japanese garden is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Enter near the Pioneer Memorial Obelisk in the center of Hermann Park. The nearest parking lot is located next to Sam Houston Monument Circle.
Point and shoot
I find photography deeply therapeutic and a hobby best done solo (I don’t like to test anyone’s patience, nor do I like to rush).
For me, photography is an exercise in mindfulness. It forces me to reconnect with the present moment. It emphasizes the here and now. And to capture it, I have to slow down and take stock of my surroundings, the tiniest details – colors, shapes, textures, light and shadow. I’m not good at it, but I find a lot of joy in the process.
I take particular pleasure in taking photos inside the butterfly habitat at the Cockrell Butterfly Center. There is a lot to see there. The three-story conservatory has a 50-foot waterfall, trees, tropical flowers, a pond, turtles, iguanas, and hundreds of very photogenic butterflies.
The Cockrell Butterfly Center is open daily, 5555 Hermann Park Drive, (713) 639-4629, hmns.org.
Pastry and people watching
There are plenty of places to people watch in Houston. This is mine — Croissant-Brioche.
Located in Rice Village, it’s a friendly neighborhood spot where locals linger, making quiet connections over coffee. There’s no Wi-Fi, the parking situation is less than ideal and it’s usually a bit crowded, but there’s a good selection of magazines and newspapers dotted around, the pastries are large and sweet, and the cappuccinos, served with a pinch of cinnamon and a generous cloud of milk froth, are quite spectacular. In the display cases near the counter are fruit pies, eclairs, danishes, profiteroles and mousse cakes. And in baskets behind the register, soft croissants and brioches, all homemade.
Despite the devilishly good pastries, Croissant-Brioche’s best attribute is its ambiance; there is a kind of warm and relaxed atmosphere, a certain, dare we say, je ne sais quoi.
Open daily, Croissant-Brioche is located at 2435 Rice Boulevard in Houston’s Rice Village, (713) 526-9188.
What would you add? This list is by no means exhaustive and I am grateful for the recommendations. Where do you go to experience loneliness in Houston? What do you like to do when you feel alone? Drop your ideas in the comments section below and they may be included in an update to this article.
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