HOUSTON – I like being alone. There’s great freedom in it. There’s no pressure to do anything, no pressure to talk to anyone, no obligation, no judgment, no distractions. I can process and decompress, explore new interests, try new things or let my mind wander. It’s constructive and it’s calming.
Of course, being alone and being lonely are not the same. And I’ve been plenty lonely before. Relocating to Houston was a struggle. I had graduated 18 months prior and was trying hard to adjust to a new job -- my second grown-up job -- in an unfamiliar place. I had never felt more isolated. It didn’t help me that in Houston there are more museums, more restaurants, more shops, more music, or even that it’s a city of more people. Somehow, some way, the state’s most populous city, home to some 2.3 million people, aggravated my feelings of loneliness. The pandemic didn’t help things.
After exhausting my stores of melancholy and young persons’ existential angst, I came to realize that though I didn’t feel connected to anyone here, the city itself had grown on me. And there was real joy to be had in exploring it solo.
Here are a few things I like to do in Houston when I’m alone, or feeling lonely, that help me embrace and find comfort in the solitude.
Get lost in the stacks
One of my favorite things to do alone is lose myself in a fine bookstore. There are several scattered throughout Houston.
Generally quirky, rambling places, they offer much to stimulate the mind and quiet the soul. Among their stacks, you can pluck out-of-print books from overstuffed shelves or root out gems from curated collections.
My go-to, Becker’s books in Houston’s Spring Branch East area, is a 3,500-square-foot wonderland of nooks, crannies and labyrinths stuffed with tens of thousands of titles. It’s narrow, twisting aisles yield the most fantastic surprises -- there, you can ferret out that pulpy paperback or hardcover you didn’t even know you needed until you laid your eyes on it. You might find a striking edition of an old favorite or an intriguing title by an author you don’t even know. It’s an incredible thrill to browse for books here and easily a two-hour solo activity if you’re committed to finding the perfect title.
Becker’s Books is open Thursdays to Sundays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. 7405 Westview Drive, (713) 957-8088, beckersbooks.com.
Get outdoors and get moving
I’ve spent endless hours wandering Houston on foot. There’s something exhilarating about losing myself in the urban wilderness of the city. It makes me feel small, insignificant, as if I’m in the presence of something larger and more consequential than myself -- because I am.
Though Houston is often criticized for its unsightly urban sprawl, parts of it are quite lush. The city itself boasts more than 66,000 acres of park lands and no matter where you live in Houston, there’s a walking trail nearby. Whether I’m strolling a well-known park or exploring a new one, I try and quiet my mind and watch for the small wonders in the world around me, may they be sweeping panoramic views of the city’s skyline or something much simpler, say a pelican fishing in a bayou or sunlight dappling a patch of wildflowers.
For an especially tranquil experience, I suggest a visit to Houston’s Japanese Garden in Hermann Park. There, there are trickling waterfalls, bridges, a well-stocked koi pond, and winding stone pathways that wander among crepe myrtles, azaleas, Japanese maples, dogwoods, and cherry trees.
The Japanese Garden is open daily, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Enter near the Pioneer Memorial obelisk at the center of Hermann Park. The nearest parking lot is located off 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, and I don’t like to rush either).
For me, photography is an exercise in mindfulness. It forces me to reconnect with the present moment. It’s emphasis is on the here and now. And to capture it, I have to slow down and take stock of my surroundings, the most minute details -- colors, shapes, textures, light and shadows. I’m not good at it, but I find a lot of joy in the process.
I take particular pleasure in snapping photos inside the butterfly habitat at the Cockrell Butterfly Center. There’s a lot to look at there. The three-story conservatory has a 50-foot waterfall, trees, tropical flowers, a pond, tortoises, iguanas, and hundreds of very photogenic butterflies.
The Cockrell Butterfly Center is open daily, 5555 Hermann Park Drive, (713) 639-4629, hmns.org.
Pastry up and people-watch
There are plenty of places to people-watch in Houston. This is mine -- Croissant-Brioche.
Located in Rice Village, it’s a friendly, neighborhood place where locals linger, making quiet connections over coffee. There’s no Wi-Fi, the parking situation is less than ideal, and it’s generally a bit crowded, but there’s a solid selection of magazines and newspapers strewn about, the pastries are large and sweet, and the cappuccinos, served with a pinch of cinnamon and generous cloud of foamed milk, are pretty spectacular. In the display cases near the counter are fruit tarts, éclairs, danishes, profiteroles, and mousse cakes. And in baskets behind the register are pillow-soft croissants and brioche buns, all made in house.
Devilishly good pastries notwithstanding, Croissant-Brioche’s best attribute is its ambiance; it’s got a sort of warm, easy-going atmosphere, a certain, dare we way, 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 comprehensive and I’m grateful for recommendations. Where do you go to experience solitude in Houston? What do you like to do when you’re feeling lonely? Drop your insights in the comment section below and they may be included in an update to this article.
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