The 5 best American cities for each type of solo traveler
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Solo travel makes for both the most challenging and the most rewarding journeys. While taking trips with friends, family or work colleagues can be deeply gratifying, traveling alone opens greater possibilities for personal transformation, cultural absorption and, above all, epic adventures. Just ask any seasoned backpacker about their most exhilarating travel tales and nine times out of 10 their best stories come from solo trips.
Solitary wayfaring encourages lingering, spontaneity and detours that often produce the most rewarding moments of the journey. For example, maybe at a brewery in Seattle, one of the cities mentioned below, the bartender tells you about her favorite island in Puget Sound. Why not go the next morning? Solo travel allows adventure to unfold organically to a degree unlikely with group travel.
The great revelation of solo travel is that you’re rarely actually alone when you set out by yourself. New friendships, both with other travelers and locals, are always right around the corner. You’ll be amazed how quickly you form an easy rapport with strangers in bars, ferries or even on the street when you’re traveling solo.
We may still have to wait awhile for full-scale international travel to return, but we can still explore our own huge, beautiful and endlessly fascinating backyard — the regions and cities of the U.S., that is. Whether you want to rage in a new city, satisfy your inner history buff or get lost in pristine nature, we have you covered with the following list: the best U.S. cities for every type of solo traveler.
Houston: The best city to party
Everything is bigger in Texas — including fun.
Houston is so geographically sprawled out that Los Angeles, New York City and Chicago combined could fit within its city limits. According to a recent report by WalletHub, Houston is also the nation’s most diverse metropolis. Although on the fringe of the South, H-Town exudes Southern hospitality: The pace of life is more relaxed than many major cities, and Houstonians tend to be welcoming, polite and eager to share the delights of their city with visitors.
Thousands of transplants from small towns in Texas, other regions of the U.S. and every corner of the globe move to Houston every week to work in one of the nation’s most booming economies. The huge numbers of recent arrivals, especially in popular neighborhoods like Midtown or Montrose, seem to make Houstonians less cliquey and more hospitable towards newcomers. For the single-and-ready-to-mingle lad or lass, Houston holds great promise with its vast bar scene and excellent weather.
Houston’s year-round warm weather and limitless space make the city ideal for pool parties and huge, outdoor patio bars. Little Woodrow’s, a bar in the post-frat Midtown neighborhood, is a classic Houston watering hole. Boasting an enormous, AstroTurf-covered patio filled with picnic tables, multiple bars, porch swings and cornhole boards, Little Woodrow’s is beloved among locals and visitors alike. Axelrad is another killer patio bar, where patrons can enjoy a hammock garden, a slew of excellent food trucks, live music and a huge assortment of some of Houston’s best craft beer.
On Saturdays and Sundays, Cle, one of Houston’s most notorious nightclubs, throws a daytime pool party from roughly 2 p.m. until sundown. Depending on the DJ and how far in advance you book, tickets cost anywhere from $20-$100. Big-name artists like Drake, Black Coffee and Tiesto frequently take the stage at Cle. Plus, its bartenders dole out strong frozen margaritas and daiquiris (about $12 a drink) from Slurpee machines. While few revelers swim in the pool during the party, swimwear is the de facto attire.
Where to stay in Houston
The Marriott Marquis is located right in downtown Houston, a few minutes’ Uber ride from the Midtown and Montrose neighborhoods, Cle and Main Street, a popular drag for bars and clubs. The rooms are comfortable, spacious and look out onto the hotel’s enormous Texas-shaped lazy river and Houston’s skyline. The pool usually grows lively after lunch and stays open until 10 p.m. Rates start at $264 per night this October, or you can use 50,000 Marriott Bonvoy points to book the Category 6 property on standard dates.
Portland, Oregon: The best city to explore nature
The spiritual homeland of hipsters, food trucks and craft brewers, Portland’s culinary delights are by themselves worth a visit to this foggy corner of the Northwest.
But even more compelling than Stump Town’s beer and artisanal doughnuts are the endless opportunities to explore Oregon’s breathtaking natural beauty. You’ll find old-growth rainforests, a surreally beautiful coast, dramatic waterfalls, canyons, mountains and more.
Cannon Beach is a small beach town about an hour and a half from Portland. Within walking distance of the town are miles of hiking trails through temperate rainforests. The trails wind through ancient, unimaginably huge trees and up mountains overlooking the cliff-rimmed Pacific Ocean. With a plethora of bars, wine shops, general stores and seafood restaurants, the town of Cannon Beach is worth exploring for a few hours, too.
Go to Cannon Beach Hardware and Public House for perfectly crispy fish and chips made with fresh halibut. You can also purchase small bundles of firewood and bottles of Oregon wine in the general stores in Cannon Beach. With a gently burning blaze on the beach, a cup of delicious pinot noir and the sunset over the ocean, your troubles will seem as far away as the far side of the Pacific.
Head an hour inland from Portland to the Columbia Gorge, a canyon that stretches over 80 miles and contains the Columbia River. The gorge — an enormous geological gash hemmed in by cliffs, forests and waterfalls — is so breathtakingly beautiful that driving faster than 20 mph seems criminal. Stop at Multnomah Falls to marvel at both the high, misty cascades and the remarkable arched bridge traversing the falls. Hiking to the top of the falls takes about an hour, but the trail is steep and can get rather crowded during popular hours, so plan accordingly.
If a good hike whets your thirst for a cold beer or three, check out Walking Man Brewing, about half an hour from Multnomah Falls. The brewery’s selection is small, but exquisite. The cherry-infused stout is a notable standout. Continue driving east through the gorge to Hood River, a funky artists colony and jumping-off point for exploring the Cascade Mountains of eastern Oregon. For the powder hounds among us, Bend, Oregon, a combination of cowboy town and artists colony, has some of the best ski slopes in the Northwest.
This makes Portland — and Oregon as a whole — the perfect place to go solo if you’re craving a little time in nature.
Where to stay in Cannon Beach, Portland and Hood River
For a classic Portland hotel right in the center of the downtown area, check out the Heathman Hotel ($150 per night). Boasting a library in their lobby so big that it requires a mobile ladder to fully appreciate, the quirky Heathman has been a celebrated place of lodging in Portland since 1927 — back when Portland was little more than a glorified logging camp.
For a romantic night in the superlatively romantic setting of Cannon Beach, head over to Cannon Beach Hotel Collection ($250 per night). With its views of Haystack Rock — an iconic rock tower that juts out of the rolling waves of the Pacific — and cozy rooms within walking distance of the beach, it’s hard to imagine a more romantic hideaway than this hotel.
Finally, Columbia Cliff Villas ($200 per night) is a fabulous option for lodging in Hood River. Grab a bottle of Willamette Valley pinot noir and soak in the views of the Columbia River and the Cascade Mountains from an Adirondack chair outside your villa.
Boston: The best city for history buffs
As the cradle of the American Revolution and home to Harvard University, Fenway Park and countless world-class museums, Bean Town promises to enthrall history buffs. Boston’s historic neighborhoods like Beacon Hill and the Back Bay showcase some of the best-preserved examples of Colonial architecture in the U.S. and are fantastic neighborhoods for eating and drinking to boot.
For those keen to learn about the Revolutionary War and Boston’s early history, The Freedom Trail, a 2 1/2-mile walking tour through Boston’s most historic neighborhoods, is a must. Winding between the Boston Common (Boston’s version of Central Park) and the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown (the setting for the movie “The Town”), the Freedom Trail showcases 16 of the most historic locations in Boston, including the Old State House and Paul Revere House.
Right across the Charles River from Boston is Cambridge, the city known as the Athens of North America for its dense concentration of universities — including Harvard, Tufts and MIT — conservatories, laboratories, museums and libraries. Spend enough time in the buzzing coffee shops or bookstores around Harvard Square or Kendall Square, and chances are you’ll eventually cross paths with world-famous intellectuals like Noam Chomsky or Paul Krugman.
Founded as a seminary for Congregationalist ministers almost a century and a half before the Declaration of Independence, the hallowed halls of Harvard University should be at the top of every history buff’s list. Take the T (Boston’s subway) or an Uber to Harvard Square and spend an hour meandering through the paths that crisscross Harvard Yard. This is the oldest section of the university and the area that houses freshmen in the college.
Equally impressive in grandeur and historical significance are the campuses of Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School. You can easily walk all three campuses in an afternoon, and Cafe Pamplona, an iconic coffee shop popular with students, is there for you if you need a pick-me-up.
Constructed in the 1630s, the North End is the oldest continuously inhabited residential neighborhood in Boston. The neighborhood has seen several demographic shifts over the centuries — once it was predominantly Irish, at another point Jewish, and, for the past century or so, overwhelmingly Italian. The North End is one of the most celebrated Little Italys in the nation, and foodies can get lost in this enclave for hours. An interesting bit of trivia about the North End is that the neighborhood is divided between Sicilians and mainland Italians, a fact overlooked by most visitors but of the utmost relevance to locals. To eat some of the best cannoli money can buy, hit up Mike’s Pastry or Modern Pastry. Both are North End institutions, but tourists tend to favor the glitzier Mike’s, while locals go for the shorter lines and fresher ingredients at Modern.
Where to stay in Boston and Cambridge
The Boston Marriott Copley Place is located in the heart of downtown Boston, within easy reach of the city’s best dining, sightseeing and shopping. The hotel is connected to Copley Place, a luxury mall that attracts heavy-hitting, Black Card-wielding shoppers from all over the world. Rates usually start around $400 per night, but you can book the Category 6 property for 50,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night on standard dates.
The Charles Hotel ($370 per night) in Cambridge is the largest and most bustling hotel in the vicinity of Harvard University. Foreign dignitaries visiting Harvard favor the Charles Hotel for its proximity to Harvard Square (within a five-minute walk) and the appropriately luxurious rooms and service.
If you want to stay right by the fabled restaurants and energetic nightlife of the North End, check out the Battery Wharf Hotel Boston Waterfront ($230 per night). Their sleek accommodations offer everything you need but nothing you don’t, and the views of the Boston Harbor (pronounce it with the accent now) are second to none.
New Orleans: The best city to listen to live music
The Big Easy owes its wildly colorful, seductive and extravagant culture to its unusual history. Before becoming part of the U.S. in 1803, New Orleans changed hands between the empires of France and Spain — the reason why Louisiana is still administered in parishes instead of counties. While part of France, New Orleans maintained close ties with French colonies in the Caribbean, and freed slaves from Haiti and other Francophone islands settled in New Orleans in large numbers.
New Orleans was also the single largest slave market in continental North America, another reason why the African influence — palpable in Nola’s religions, music and cuisine — is so strong. Over the centuries, the cultural currents of France, Spain, West Africa and many other lands melded together to create the distinctive dishes, attitude, architecture and — above all else — music for which N’awlins is famed.
New Orleans, like Rio de Janeiro or Havana, has produced a disproportionate number of musical geniuses. Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Domino, Lil Wayne … the list of Louisiana legends goes on and on. Nola is also the birthplace of several immortalized American musical styles — zydeco, bounce, ragtime — but above all else, the city’s musical legacy is rooted in blues and jazz. Without New Orleans and the musicians who exported the Crescent City’s rhythms, there would be no rock and roll or hip-hop today.
Bourbon Street, the notorious stretch of neon lights, rowdy bars and Voodoo shops, might be touristy, kitschy and in need of a deep steam-cleaning. But, the street is home to some of Nola’s most tried-and-true music venues. Head over to Preservation Hall to watch world-class live jazz in a gorgeous venue that dates to the 1700s. Cafe Beignet serves some of the city’s tastiest beignets — cinnamon-sprinkled fried dough, usually accompanied by coffee — and boasts excellent live jazz as well.
Stepping away from the crowds of Bourbon Street, Frenchmen Street, located in another section of the French Quarter, has a more laid-back local vibe. It’s home to storied live music venues like the Spotted Cat Music Club and Blue Nile, which offer admirable selections of local New Orleans beer as well. Plus, you’ll find hole-in-the-wall restaurants serving up heaping plates of gumbo or crawfish are within walking distance.
Music aficionados should by no means limit their New Orleans exposure to jazz and the blues. Make your way to Rock ‘n’ Bowl to hear the virtuosos of the bayou play zydeco, an accordion- and percussion-based musical style originating in Cajun communities in Louisiana’s swamps. In recent years, Nola has become one of the most influential cities in the hip-hop universe, with legends like Baby and Lil Wayne popularizing New Orleans rap. Bounce, a genre of hip-hop with hard-driving, gut-punching beats made for dancing, is synonymous with New Orleans. Head over to the Hangover Bar or Lyve Nite Club to cut a rug with some bounce beats.
So whether you’re there for the music, food or history, solo travelers are sure to experience a little bit of everything in New Orleans.
Where to stay in New Orleans
With its weathered white-stone facade and Corinthian columns, The International House Hotel ($120 per night), close to both the French Quarter and downtown New Orleans, oozes character and history. Like the Chateau Marmont in L.A., the International House is notorious as a home base for visiting celebrities to take full advantage of the bacchanalian delights of New Orleans.
Further, The New Orleans Marriott on Canal Street is immaculately maintained and boasts a rooftop with unrivaled views of the mighty Mississippi and New Orleans’ quirky, horseshoe-shaped skyline. The property usually has rates around $200 per night, or you can redeem 50,000 points per night on standard dates to book the Category 6 hotel.
Alternatively, solo travelers with World of Hyatt points can book a room at The Eliza Jane for 15,000 points per night or $200 per night on most dates. This hip hotel is a member of Hyatt’s Unbound Collection and boasts an excellent location.
For travelers keen to save money — or keep the party going beyond the bars — the Auberge Hostel ($50 per night) is located close to the action of Bourbon Street and tends to attract young, international backpackers.
Seattle: The best city for foodies
Seattle’s gastronomy scene is blessed with the bounties of both the Northwest’s rich farmlands and the cold waters of the northern Pacific. Facing East Asia across the ocean, the Emerald City has one of the oldest and most deeply rooted Japanese communities in the nation. Exploring Pike Place — the city’s beloved public market where fishmongers, farmers, chefs and artisan food-makers of all stripes sell their wares — is to the gourmand what visiting Disneyland is to the kindergartener.
The cold waters of the northern Pacific yield a cornucopia of fresh seafood. Seattle’s fishermen often sail as far as Alaska to replenish their stalls in Pike Place with nothing but the freshest and choicest salmon, halibut and oysters. Check out Totem Smokehouse to sample salmon jerky, fresh salmon smoked with various types of woods and dry rubs. For some decadent and scrumptious Polish pastries, check out Piroshky Piroshky. Mario Batali, the polarizing chef who has opened a slew of highly acclaimed NYC eateries, is from Seattle, and his family runs Salumi, a deli that legitimately might craft the most luxurious and decadent Italian submarine sandwiches known to mankind.
Seattle gave the world the dubious gift of Starbucks, and the original Starbucks is in Pike Place. But beyond pumpkin spice lattes, Seattle is home to one of the world’s most competitive and thriving coffee cultures — one right up there with Rome and Melbourne, Australia. In the World Barista Championship, Seattle’s coffee-makers always hold their own against the rest of the world. The options for a perfect pour-over or espresso are endless, but I particularly like Moonshot Coffee and Olympia Coffee. Olympia Coffee’s mocha, crafted with homemade chocolate ganache and rich espresso, will be forever seared in the memory of your limbic system.
Coffee is not the only grown-up beverage that Seattle does with aplomb. Washington state has an enviable craft beer culture and produces some of the best wines in the world. The Evergreen State’s terrior is ideal for both wine grapes like cabernet sauvignon, riesling and chardonnay as well as certain types of hops that make IPAs pop with big, citrusy flavors. Fremont Brewing stouts and hazy IPAs shine, and you can grab a repurposed barrel as a table on their spacious, heated patio. Optimism Brewing, a taphouse that elevates brewing to the precision of a cutting-edge chemistry lab, is right in downtown Seattle. To sample some of the most brilliant examples of Washington’s viticulture, head over to Purple Cafe and Wine Bar.
So if your solo travel plans involve eating and drinking, book your Seattle tickets now.
Where to stay in Seattle
The architecturally elegant State Hotel is comfortable, reasonably priced ($300 per night) and located within a few minutes’ walk of Pike Place. The State Hotel’s rooms are simple but impeccably furnished. Their rooftop offers nonpareil views of Puget Sound and is a perfect place to savor a glass of Seattle craft brew and watch the barges, sailboats and birds over the steel-blue waters of the North Pacific.
The Seattle Marriott Waterfront is slightly less expensive at $200 per night on most dates and, like State Hotel, offers mesmerizing views of the waterfront of one of the country’s most celebrated maritime cities. Watching the sunsets, oozing hues of orange, pink and red over Puget Sound, from either one of these excellent hotels will be a highlight of your trip. The Seattle Marriott Waterfront is a Category 7 property for 60,000 points per night on standard dates.
The U.S. is a huge country and each city has its own solo travel vibe. Whether you want to party in Houston, dine in Seattle or hike in Portland, you’ll have an incredible trip no matter where you end up. But before you book your tickets, make sure to read TPG’s full guide to safe solo travel.
Featured photo of Cannon Beach, Oregon by JDPhotoPX/Getty Images.
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