Sometimes you find yourself with the day off, but no partners-in-crime available. Other times, you just really want to spend the afternoon on your lonesome. Whatever the reason for ditching the plus-one, here are eight things to do in San Francisco that are either best enjoyed alone, optimized for the individual visitor or at least won’t make you feel at all awkward for being by yourself.
See a Movie
The daytime solo cliché! But done right, it can be a total treat day or night, and you get to watch exactly what you want with no compromise. Forget going to a downtown multiplex (the preserve of rowdy groups of teens, you’re guaranteed to feel awkward solo) and go somewhere you’ll instead feel like a sophisticated cinephile actively opting to appreciate the art form without someone chattering in your ear. The historic Castro Theatre, Embarcadero Center Cinema, the Roxie (Mission)and CineArts Empire (West Portal) are all smaller, friendly establishments that show a great mix of movies at all times of day.
Be a solo pro: Make sure to time your arrival as the trailers are starting. Arriving too early and waiting alone in a still-silent theater with the lights up is a total buzz-kill for the solo movie-goer.
Eat at the Bar
A.K.A: the lone diner’s pro move. In the wrong establishment, “table for one” can just feel like no fun at all, but eating up at the bar is an awesome way to get the restaurant experience and the food you want in a much more relaxed way. Some of notables in the “friendly restaurants with great bar seating” field in the Mission District alone include Tartine Manufactory, Cha Cha Cha, Velvet Cantina and Beretta.
Be a solo pro: sit a couple of stools from the end of the bar. This is the perfect location for not suddenly becoming mobbed by a rabble of people trying to get a drink, but not so out-of-the-way that you get forgotten by the bartender — or can’t join in a fun conversation.
Take a Hike
Getting in touch with nature without having to talk to someone while you hike is a treat — but oftentimes it doesn’t feel right or safe to get too remote when you’re by yourself. The perfect solo hike is somewhere that feels tranquil enough but keeps you in easy reach of civilization, and ensures you’ll come across other hikers. In the city, the Lands End trail offers incredible sweeping views over to the Marin Headlands, and is popular enough that you’ll always see runners and dog walkers. Away from the coast, the cool shady climb to the top of Mt. Sutro feels like the middle of nowhere, even though you’re right in the middle of Cole Valley. Further south, Glen Park Canyon’s steep, remote-seeming trails are tucked away behind a busy shopping center, and the recreation area it opens out into is nearly always full of kids and families.
Be a solo pro: if you can, borrow a dog. It makes any hike even more fun, and their owners will love you for it.
Have a Classy Drink
If you’re even slightly in the wrong mood for it, drinking solo can feel depressing, but you know what’s never depressing? Feeling fancy. With that in mind, take yourself to a barstool that makes you feel fancy and enjoy the classiest cocktail or glass of wine you can comfortably afford. Hotel bars are great for this because they’re full of solo travelers passing through anyway. Downtown, I’d recommend stopping into the Clift Hotel’s iconic Redwood Room, the Pied Piper at the Palace Hotel or Americano at Hotel Vitale. Nearby, other notably solo-friendly locations include Amber India’s bar and Press Club.
Be a solo pro: download the app for Kindle (or your e-reader of choice) on your mobile phone, and read your book that way. It’s relaxing, doesn’t scream “I’m alone” and is also good for gently dissuading unwelcome attention from folks who presume that, just because you’re solo, you want to talk with them.
Be a Tourist
If a Bay Area resident takes the cable car but nobody sees them, does it really happen? Solo explorers can indulge in the cheesiest, goofiest SF tourist experiences without self-consciousness, because the only other people around are out-of-towners who are assuming you’re one of them. Take either the Powell-Hyde or Powell-Mason cable car from Powell Street and ride it all through Nob Hill to Fisherman’s Wharf. Here you can waltz through the human maze of Pier 39, look at the sea-lions, go walk around U.S.S. Pampanito and generally pretend you’ve just arrived from the Midwest. Such a crowded area that is hellish to navigate as part of a group suddenly becomes a breeze when all you have to worry about is yourself.
Be a solo pro: the lines for the cable car at the Powell/Market turnaround are huge, so hop on a couple of stops up Powell St instead, ideally just past Union Square.
Discover the Staircases
Or “Be A Tourist: Part Two.” Sure, discovering San Francisco’s multitude of secretive staircases with a partner is fun, but doing it solo will make you feel like a bold explorer, or Alice in Wonderland. There are so many to choose from, but one of the most magical are the Filbert Steps. Not only do they boast a lovely view of the bay and lead to beautiful, newly-reopened Coit Tower and North Beach beyond, but you’ll probably also see those famous parrots of Telegraph Hill up there too. Another favorite is the Saturn Street Steps and the Vulcan Steps right next to them, offering a fun route between the Castro and the Haight.
Be a solo pro: whatever you do, don’t follow the advice of every guide book out there and go to the Seward Street staircase mini-park. The slides there are fun, but you’ll feel like an idiot lining up with a load of kids to ride down them on a piece of cardboard. Some things you do need a partner in crime for.
Rent a Bike
Cycling solo when you’re in no particular rush is one of life’s great pleasures. Since you’re only paying for one, treat yourself to a classier rental bike from somewhere that’s a convenient starting point for an awesome couple of hours exploring. City Ride rentals in Hayes Valley is a particularly great jump-off to reach Golden Gate Park via The Wiggle. You can then coast all the way along Martin Luther King Dr. to the ocean, where you can stop at the Beach Chalet Brewery and Restaurant for a well-deserved drink or snack outside on their lawn. You get 20% off rentals by booking online in advance, too.
Be a solo pro: make sure that wherever you choose to rent provides you with a cyclist’s map showing the steepest routes. Otherwise, your carefree “free-spirit” ride will turn into a hell of lactic acid and red-faced dismounting, and you’ll think people passing by are feeling sorry for you.
Go to a Museum
It’s obvious, but museums and galleries are basically what being blissfully alone were made for. The newly-reopened behemoth SFMOMA is San Francisco's big art attraction, and rightly so -- but the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park also has a fantastic diverse permanent collection, an eclectic selection of exhibits that include photography and fashion and an observation tower with incredible views of the park and surrounding neighborhoods. Its more traditional sister museum, the Legion of Honor, feels like far more of a hidden gem for a solo art-lover, tucked away up in foggy Lincoln Park. No need to choose though; admission to one also gets you free entry into the other that day. There’s also the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Asian Art Museum, the Fraenkel Gallery of photography...whatever you’re into, it’s here.
Be a solo pro: beyond art, it may be full of families, but the California Academy of Sciences is an unexpectedly great place to experience solo — especially its rainforest dome, trippy planetarium and soothing aquarium.
What are your favorite things to do solo? Leave them in the comments!