A few years ago, I was at a coffee shop in Silver Lake where two friends were reuniting. One had moved to the Bay Area recently and was back in L.A. for a visit; the other apparently still lived here. Bay Area friend was updating L.A. friend on his new life — the loved ones he saw multiple times thanks to short BART rides, the walks he took through his neighborhood, the baristas he’d grown friendly with. He missed L.A., he said, and he loved it here, but, “the loneliness was a killer.” I will never forget the way he said that last part.
At the time I was at that coffee shop alone, with my hoodie and sunglasses on. This was one of the many activities I did by myself then, one of the endless hours I spent inadvertently eavesdropping on strangers at coffee shops. I had recently graduated from college and was trying hard to adjust to a new job. My friends were scattered all over — from opposite ends of L.A. to San Diego to the Bay. I wasn’t dating anyone. I didn’t have a pet. I spent my free time wandering the city in an existential haze, a young adulthood melancholy. The thought that, in a city of approximately 3.9 million people, there was still no one to go thrift with me on a Sunday, join me on a long drive or just sit with me on my couch had begun to gnaw at me and color my aura. I was so lonely that it physically hurt sometimes.
I would come to realize that although I didn’t feel connected to anyone else in physical proximity to me, I always had me. And I always had L.A. The entire time, there it was, holding me. Over the next year, we’d dance until early morning. Eat. Have picnics at the park and people watch. All the while I became more conscious of its presence and, in turn, of my own. I soon turned it into a running joke, how gloriously lonely I was. I began hashtagging my Instagram stories #lonelyinla. My best friend would call me from San Francisco and I’d yelp, “I’m in my lonely era!” as I recounted yet another weekend of me straight kicking it with the city. I gave into it, because what other choice did I have? Little did I know how much joy was to be found.
You often hear that L.A. is a lonely city. Some people think this is a transplant-only phenomenon, but there’s no denying that the city’s sheer size, its busy nature, its car culture are all conducive to loneliness. Of course, the city is deeply connected in many ways. There are thriving communities to be found, and it’s not all soulless sprawl. Angelenos who spend the majority of their time alone can attest to the bittersweet benefits of rolling solo: While the city can trigger loneliness, it also feels special to experience alone.
Tell me that when you’re walking through downtown at dusk on a Friday and have to dodge a crew of rowdy kids whizzing past on their skateboards — or when you’re at Echo Park Lake on a Sunday (before the forced removal of the homeless encampment and installation of a fence) and see a quinceañera court posing for photos with the skyline in the background — that you don’t feel a pang of loneliness and a rush of gratitude at the same time.
A friend recently told me: “Loneliness is nothing to be cured.” Nowhere is that truer than in Los Angeles. So I created this list of places and activities to do by yourself — to feel more like yourself. These are not things intended to help you escape your loneliness but instead to embrace it, get comfortable in it and hopefully see that, at least in this town, it’s nothing to fear.
Peace Awareness Labyrinth and Gardens
For many, the Peace Awareness Labyrinth & Gardens has a certain mystique. The verdant, serene oasis is behind a Beaux-Arts mansion in historic West Adams that is headquarters for the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness, a private seminary, and the site’s rich history can transport you. Guests can sign up for $5 tours three times a week to connect with their inner selves. “We open up our doors to offer peace,” says Kim Watkinson, the visitor programs manager. An ideal way to do so is by walking its labyrinth, a large geometric design on the ground made of travertine marble and modeled after the one at Chartres Cathedral in France that’s used as a meditation to “assist the consciousness,” the organization says. peacelabyrinth.org
When I had a Saturday off in my peak lonely era, one of my favorite things to do was spend hours and hours at Wi Spa. The Korean spa is co-ed, open 24 hours and includes amenities such as salt, clay and ice saunas, the jade room, and a bulgama. (A body scrub and massage are both perfect to splurge on if you’re feeling extra.) I love to bring a book and post up. Basic entrance fee is $30, with a $15 overnight fee. Guests are required to wear masks unless they’re in the showers, tubs, saunas or eating in the restaurant. 2700 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. wispausa.com
Tap into your creative side
The first time I ventured to the Underground Museum I was alone, and I remember it being transformational. I spent hours there, absorbing whatever exhibition was up at the time, perusing its bookstore and catching some sun in its garden. I don’t know if the experience would have been as special if I had had company. L.A. has so many small museums, galleries and creative spaces to experience on your own. Try the Underground Museum, which reopens Jan. 12 after its COVID hiatus; Paulina Lara’s new-ish LaPau Gallery, open Thursday through Saturday from noon to 5 p.m.; Reparations Club, a concept bookshop open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m., and so many others. theunderground.museum; lapaugallery.com; rep.club
Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine
Take a trip to the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine — it’s all in the name really. Founded in 1950 by the man who brought yoga to the West and wrote “Autobiography of a Yogi,” Paramahansa Yogananda, the 10-acre campus is a verdant hidden gem in the Pacific Palisades. Spend a day resting in the meditation gardens by the lake, listening to the waterfalls or marveling at the temples. Some of Mohandas Gandhi’s ashes even lie here. Make a free reservation at lakeshrine.org.
Get a tarot reading
There are a few things that happen when you start to accept and embrace alone time — namely, getting curious about yourself and your path. Tarot readings are believed to be one way to gain insight into your past, present or future, and L.A. has no shortage of spiritual practitioners. Book a clairvoyant reading with House of Intuition’s healer, Ryan Trinh, who uses tarot, I Ching and bone reading in his sessions, according to HOI’s website. houseofintuitionla.com.
Take a free yoga class
Grab a yoga mat or towel and solo flow. FreeFlow LA offers free Black-led classes for people of color in Ladera Park every day at 10 a.m. WalkGood LA’s donation-based BreatheGood classes are a favorite among Angelenos and will return on a weekly basis to Kenneth Hahn park this February. Keep up with them on Instagram: @freeflowla, @walkgoodla.
Vista Hermosa Park
Vista Hermosa Park is special. In a lot of ways, the place still feels like a secret: there’s ample shade; you never have to fight for a tree; there’s a single bench that faces the downtown skyline. I’ve come here alone so many times, watched pickup soccer games get intense, caught the distinct fragrance of weed smoke fill in the air from teens sparking up after school. Weekends are when you’ll find groups of friends gathering on picnic blankets and drinking rosé and beer on the low — exactly what you should be doing, just alone. Open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. 100 N. Toluca St., Los Angeles.
Park Row Drive Bridge
The first thing I recommend to anyone feeling lonely is to go somewhere that makes you feel small and insignificant. So often we think the world revolves around us and what we perceive to be our problems. That may be true in our microreality, but it helps to be reminded that we’re a part of something bigger — an ecosystem all working together to make L.A. what it is. The bridge at Park Row Drive brings that perspective into focus. Directly above the 110, with an unobstructed view of the downtown skyline from the north, this is a place where you can stand and watch a chorus of white and red lights going and coming in opposite directions. Taking it all in will change you. Type in Park Row Drive into your navigation system to get there.
Ride public transportation
There’s something about taking public transit that provokes introspection. Riding public transit is a reminder that: Yes, I am here in this place with all these other people, and for better or worse we‘re connected — even if it’s by the Blue Line. See for yourself: Hop on a bus or Metro and go. At the risk of you rolling your eyes at me (and me rolling them at myself): It’s about the journey, not the destination. But if the destination is important to you, go to a neighborhood you’ve never been before and take a long walk once you get there. Without the distraction of company, you’re bound to see something entirely new and hopefully beautiful. metro.net
Do something different
Take a ceramics class at Pot
Get your hands dirty at Pot, a community-centered ceramics studio that’s by and for folks of color. Founded by Mandy Kolahi with locations in Jefferson Park and Echo Park, Pot offers a variety of classes for all levels, including 21-and-up classes like the Sexpot Workshop and Pipe Party (which is BYOB). It also offers classes in Spanish. Taking home your creation will serve as a reminder that you can make something beautiful out of your time alone. Pot Echo Park: 933 Echo Park Ave., Los Angeles. Pot Gardens: 3228 W. Jefferson Blvd., Los Angeles. potstudiola.com
Get a piercing at an L.A. studio
Doing something spontaneous — like getting a new piercing — is the perfect way to commemorate the era of you. Book an appointment at J. Colby Smith’s 108 L.A. in Echo Park or Brian Keith Thompson’s Body Electric Tattoo in Hollywood, two renowned studios known for their stylish work and comfortable environment. 108studio.us bodyelectrictattoo.com
Join an L.A. run club
The entire point of embracing loneliness is to get out of your comfort zone, so why not drop in on a local run club? Keep It Run Hundred gathers at Sip & Sonder in Inglewood every Thursday at 7 p.m. for its three-mile run, and Koreatown Run Club has multiple runs a week in Koreatown, no signups necessary. Check their Instagram accounts for the latest: @keepitrun100, @koreatownrunclub.
Eat, drink, dance alone
Order a drink and sandwich to stay at ilcaffè, the Swedish coffee shop at the base of the 13-story Art Deco Eastern Columbia Building on Broadway. Pretend you’re in Europe, or the mysterious main character in a moody dramedy, and sit there for a while while you watch the cars and bikes zoom by, all along eyeing the droves of stylish people pouring out of their lofts for their own afternoon pick-me-up. 855 S. Broadway, Los Angeles. ilcaffe.la
Grand Central Market
For me, one of the best parts about spending time alone is feeling anonymous among tons of people — being able to blend into the background, being able to watch and to listen. Grand Central Market is one of the perfect places to do just that — and get a freshly made pupusa with a fried egg on top while you’re at it. Open from 8 to 9 p.m. daily. grandcentralmarket.com
When I tell people that I go out alone sometimes, the most common response I get is “I could never do that!” Why, though? Obviously, there are precautions that need to be taken, but other than that it’s probably one of the best ways to go out: You can leave the house when you want, go wherever you want, dance as much or as little as you want and — this is the biggie — leave when you want. There are endless places in the city to go dancing alone, depending on your musical preferences, but some of my faves are Club Bahia in Echo Park and La Cita downtown — both are reliable spots with a lot of history and character to groove to Latin music, among other genres.
Joy on York
It’s time for lonely people to reclaim the narrative that noodles are a depression meal. Yes, they’re the perfect lonely meal, but in the best way possible. Go to Joy, the buzzy fast-casual Taiwanese spot on York in Highland Park — and also one of The Times’ 101 best restaurants — and order a bowl of the Dan Dan noodles to stay. Thank me later. joyonyork.com
Catch a flick
This one is a classic. Going to the movies by yourself is A) deeply relaxing and B) empowering since it’s an activity we’ve been conditioned to think is something you must do with others. Take it a step further and seek out one of L.A.'s smaller, classic old theaters — like Highland Theatres, which has been a Highland Park fixture since 1925 and where tickets for adults are still $10. Sitting in a comfortable chair in a dark air-conditioned room while you watch something funny or emotional or delightful on the big screen? Sounds like the perfect solo date to me. 5604 N. Figueroa St., Los Angeles. highlandtheatres.com
Window shop (or, shop-shop)
Hit up Savers in Lomita
One of my favorite things to do alone is lose myself in a sea of used stuff. Thrifting is a meditative practice. A close friend put me on to the Lomita location of the Savers chain years ago; it’s huge, filled with gems and easily a two-hour solo activity if you’re dedicated to leaving with that perfect item. May the thrift gods be with you! Open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day. 24911 Western Ave., Lomita
Head to the swap meet
Again, and I cannot stress this enough, treasure hunting is an activity best done alone. Take a lonely trip to one of L.A.'s very good swap meets, including the Roadium Open Air Market (2500 W. Redondo Beach Blvd., Torrance), open every day from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Santa Fe Springs Swap Meet (13963 Alondra Blvd., Santa Fe Springs), open Tuesday through Friday at varying hours. roadium.com sfsswapmeet.com
Buy something shiny at Maya
Maybe it’s just me, but my lonely era was also my “treat yourself” era. Funny how those things overlap, isn’t it? Maya remains one of my favorite places to do just that. The jewelry store has been around for nearly 50 years and has some of the coolest silver jewelry in town, sourced from around the globe. Prices and styles — for rings, bracelets, pendants, necklaces and more — range, and items are suitable for a variety of tastes. This store has a huge, layered selection. So it’s a good thing that no one will be there to rush you. 7360 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. mayahollywood.com
Silverlake Flea is good people-watching, period. Go peep the latest cool trends and maybe score a rare T-shirt or pair of Y2K jeans for yourself. Open every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 1925 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. silverlakeshop.com
What are your favorite things to do while lonely in L.A.? We want to hear from you! Send us a quick line and photo of your favorite spot or activity, and we may use it in an upcoming L.A. Times piece.
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