A Quiet Place: How to Find Peace and Silence in Western Cities
If your ears need a break from constant noise, head to these serenely quiet spots
One of the major advantages of living in the West is that it’s quiet by comparison with the East. We’re lucky to enjoy lower noise pollution levels, especially in the Rockies and farther from the California coast. East of the Californian coastal cities, past the mountains, background noise hovers low, between 21 and 26 decibels.
Still, in our cities, we often struggle to find peace and quiet. For those who work on the Las Vegas Strip or in Hollywood, afternoons may be filled with the background noise of honking cars and street vendors instead of calm and focus. And loud urban noise has an effect on our health, resulting in hearing loss, stress and lack of sleep; heart disease, high blood pressure, and low birth weight; and physical, emotional, and cognitive problems. Seeking out quiet and protecting others’ quiet is the goal of new anti-noise activists.
Finding that precious quiet in the city can mean going deep into a garden, or finding yourself at the top of a hill by a church. Wherever you head for quiet, the trip will improve your health. So instead of putting your noise-canceling earbuds in, escape to our favorite urban nooks and hideaways for maximum aural isolation.
Tattered Cover Bookstore, Denver, CO
This peaceful indie bookstore is the perfect place to dip into during a lunch break or fika. With its convenient location across from Union Station, it’s also a comforting place to escape if you have an hour or so between trains. Quietly browse the selection in the cookbook section, where you can envision your next perfect tartiflette or trifle, or imagine you’re a baroness on a moor in the fiction section. Pick a friendly cover and settle into one of the store’s many comfy couches or armchairs for a quiet hour. With many departments, it’s easy to escape to another section if you’re disturbed, but most areas keep the noise to a low hum.
The Two Labyrinths at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, CA
The iconic Nob Hill Episcopal cathedral is home to two labyrinths, one indoors and one outdoors. Both are spots ideally crafted for finding yourself a bit of calm, but the inner space provides more sonic isolation. As you wander along the lines and choose your path, you’ll hear only your and others’ footsteps—unless you’re joining in on a weekly yoga class or evening Eucharist. Grace holds monthly candlelight labyrinth walks from 6 to 8pm every second Friday, featuring live music and an introduction on how to walk the labyrinth by Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress. If you’d rather walk the labyrinth in solitude, come on a weekday morning, riding the cable car up Powell Street and breathing in the crisp Nob Hill air.
Descanso Gardens, La Cañada Flintridge, CA
Camellia lovers can marvel at their favorite flower in relative silence at this 150-acre botanical garden just 20 minutes from Downtown Los Angeles. The varied topography at this hilly former estate, purchased by Los Angeles County from Los Angeles Daily News owner E. Manchester Boddy, allows you to own your own little piece of paradise. To find your peace and quiet, head to the most unpopulated areas. Stroll amongst ancient ferns and oaks, then hike up the hill to see the stately, snow-covered San Gabriel mountains. Pause in silence at the amphitheater to imagine the weddings and celebrations past. Grab a book and sit inside the Lakeside Lookout‘s open-air house, or park yourself in the Adirondack chairs facing the serenely green lake and close your eyes for a moment. The plentiful thrushes, orioles, and meadowlarks will score a beautifully tranquil soundtrack for your afternoon—ignore your phone in favor of checking off this birdwatching list.
The Sun Terrace at One Kearny, San Francisco, CA
If you need a hushed escape in the Financial District near Union Square, take the elevator to the eleventh floor of One Kearny to find a small sun terrace of about 2,500 square feet with a stunning view of Market Street and the buildings beyond. This privately-owned public open space is at the intersection of Kearny, Geary, and Market, and the lofty distance from the street insulates you quite a bit from the hub of noise. Walk between the shrubs to the edge and admire the view on a clear day or the mist on a rainy one. Bask in the sun on a bench as you admire the blue skies and puffy white clouds, enjoy a cup of coffee or bring your lunch. Though a few selfie-snapping visitors may appear, they’ll fade away as quickly as those floating clouds.
Boise River Greenbelt, Boise, ID
If you’re lucky enough to work near the Greenbelt, it’s your perfect pre-work, post-work, lunch break spot to unwind amongst maple trees and the soothing sounds of the Boise River. Though joggers and cyclists use the 46-mile, mostly-flat path, you’ll find a lot of quiet to yourself as you stroll its length. Mostly paved except for a 1.5-mile section from Barber Park downstream, this pleasant trail offers views of geese, birds, and ducks, as well as access to a dozen parks it connects to, so your options for perambulating quietly are endless. Easily access the Rose Garden, the Boise Art Museum, or the Boise Zoo from the Greenbelt, or if you want the rushing sound of water to mute most other sounds, get on a kayak and paddle away from it all.
Japanese Friendship Garden, San Diego, CA
This serene garden, a symbol of the sister city bond between Yokohama and San Jose, is the perfect place to contemplate koi over a quiet cup of Sencha. Though the garden etiquette specifically requests quiet voices and no shouting, come early still to find peace in the 12 acres of meticulously-maintained bamboo and black pine groves. Skip the crowds of the Cherry Blossom Festival and come on a weekday morning to lie underneath a lusciously-blooming pink canopy, reading a book or writing in your journal. Stone lanterns and bronze statues dot the lush landscape, and numerous benches and sitting locations allow for pauses to take in the natural beauty.
Ethel M Chocolates Cactus Garden, Henderson, NV
If you’re searching for peace of mind, why not find it with a few truffles? Nevada’s largest botanical cactus garden is in a surprising spot—a large chocolate store just outside Las Vegas—and it’s a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the Strip, taking a walk through the cacti to clear your mind. Ethel M Chocolates based its landscaping on English gardens, and during the holidays, its more than 300 species of drought-tolerant cacti, succulents, desert trees, and shrubs light up with holiday decorations. Let your mind go quiet as you amble amongst the twinkly lights strung around the prickly pears, Eve’s needles, and golden barrels, or come during a weekday for maximum quiet.
Central Library at the Los Angeles Public Library, Los Angeles, CA
You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the calm of the second floor of this main library downtown, where a museum-like hush falls over viewers as they stand in awe of the murals by Dean Cornwell. Take a gander around the library to find your perfect spot. Ride the escalator up and admire the colorful floral and bird sculptures in the atrium. Stop into the Getty Gallery or the First Floor Galleries to view interesting exhibits on writers and artists. Hunt for ghosts of Ghostbusters past, if you dare. All areas except the children’s areas should be fairly quiet, but if you’re really looking to find your own space, head down one, two, three and even four levels subterranean, where you’ll find scholars quietly researching in the history and genealogy section.
Hoyt Arboretum, Portland, OR
Head west of the city to tranquil urban hikes in Washington Park and Hoyt Arboretum. This 189-acre park shelters thousands of native, global, and endangered trees. You’ll find yourself standing tall and silent amongst sequoias, redwoods, grand firs, hemlocks, and cedars. Tromp happily along any of the 12 miles of hiking trails or take the easy 1.3-mile Hoyt trail. The main sounds you’ll hear will be birdsong showering you from the big-leaf maples. Though you’re only four miles from downtown Portland, acoustically you’ll feel like you’re a million miles away.