Travel

12 Peaceful Spots to Relax and Unwind in Major U.S. Cities

When you need a moment of calm, head to one of these hidden gems.

Shutterstock | The Wave Organ
Shutterstock | The Wave Organ
Shutterstock | The Wave Organ

Cities often get maligned for being too busy, too loud, and just too much. But believe it or not, it’s totally possible to find peace and quiet in any of the country’s biggest cities – you just have to know where to look. A silent museum gallery, cozy library reading room, or urban park filled with birdsong can be just as calming as wide, open spaces – and you don’t have to set foot outside city limits to go there.

Next time you’re craving some solitude, head to one of these peaceful places in major U.S. cities. Start your solo date with a cozy lunch at home that’s both nourishing and easy to make, like one of Pacific Foods‘ new ready-to-serve hearty soups and plant-based chilis. Then, gear up for an afternoon all your own – sometimes, enjoying your own company is the best way to relax.

Photo by Ashley Nava-Monteros, courtesy of Pease Park
Photo by Ashley Nava-Monteros, courtesy of Pease Park
Photo by Ashley Nava-Monteros, courtesy of Pease Park

The Treehouse at Pease Park

Austin, Texas
Thanks to recent revitalization efforts, the southern tip of Austin’s oldest park now boasts a few state-of-the-art features – like the Treehouse. The two-story, open-air structure was designed to mimic a seedpod on the forest floor, and climbing up into it brings you to the level of the treetop canopy. You can even recline on the second-story net to lose yourself in the birdsong and wind whispering through the tree branches.

Paley Park

New York, New York
Just off Fifth Avenue, this tiny 1/10-acre “pocket park” offers an oasis of calm from the hustle and bustle of Midtown. It’s hemmed in on three sides by buildings lined with English ivy and a 20-foot waterfall that anchors the space with calming white noise.

Peace Awareness Labyrinth and Gardens

Los Angeles, California
This spiritual centre in LA’s Jefferson Park neighbourhood was designed for mindfulness. You might find a spot to sit quietly in the meditation garden with 16 water features, or walk the stone labyrinth for a moving meditation practice. Book a timed entry ticket ahead of your visit for $6.

Pacific Foods
Pacific Foods
Pacific Foods

Another way to experience some peace and quiet? Having a mindful lunch by yourself. Resist the temptation to listen to a podcast or scroll through social media while you eat, and instead, try simply focusing on your meal. Staying present not only helps you appreciate the flavours of your food more, but also gives your mind some time to just relax.

For a simple yet satisfying meal, heat up one of Pacific Foods‘ new ready-to-serve hearty soups and plant-based chilis. The recipes take cues from nature for their flavours, so whether you go for Carrot Ginger Bisque, Poblano Pepper and Corn Chowder, or Plant-Based White Bean Verde Chili, you’ll have a meal that’s both nourishing and tasty.

Photo courtesy of the Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix
Photo courtesy of the Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix
Photo courtesy of the Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix

The Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix

Phoenix, Arizona
Created through a collaboration between Phoenix and its sister city of Himeji, Japan, this serene 3.5-acre garden is an ideal place for a tranquil stroll. Admire the koi ponds and stone footbridges as you walk the winding paths, or perhaps make a reservation at the teahouse to experience a traditional tea ceremony.

The Wave Organ

San Francisco, California
Ocean waves play music on the Wave Organ, a giant acoustic sculpture on a jetty behind Marina District Lighthouse. Built from granite and marble rescued from a demolished cemetery, the Wave Organ’s PVC and concrete pipes extend into the water at varying heights. When the waves crash against them, the water creates low, gurgling notes that are unlike any music you’ve heard before. The music sounds best at high tide, so be sure to check the tide charts before you visit.

Winter Garden at Harold Washington Library Center

Chicago, Illinois
If reading is your ideal peaceful pastime, the Winter Garden on the ninth floor of the Harold Washington Library Center might be your dream relaxation spot. The building’s glass roof offers gorgeous natural light all year round – a perfect environment for getting quietly absorbed in a good book.

Dumbarton Oaks Park

Washington, D.C.
Beatrix Farrand, the country’s first professional female landscape architect, designed this 27-acre park as part of a commission for the owners of the nearby Dumbarton Oaks estate (now a history museum). Today, the National Parks Service maintains the naturalistic gardens inside Rock Creek Park, and the meadows and woodlands are a lovely place to wander.

Photo courtesy of Heidelberg Project Archives
Photo courtesy of Heidelberg Project Archives
Photo courtesy of Heidelberg Project Archives

The Heidelberg Project

Detroit, Michigan
Artists transformed this once-abandoned lot on Detroit’s East Side into the open art environment known as the Heidelberg Project. Vacant houses became polka-dotted art installations, while found objects like rusted-out cars and old street signs form the basis of other sculptures. Take a self-guided tour of the space on your own using the Heidelberg Project’s free app -it’s free to visit, but visitors are also encouraged to donate to nonprofits if they’re able.

Oakland Cemetery

Atlanta, Georgia
Although more than 70,000 people are buried in Oakland Cemetery, it’s anything but macabre. In fact, the grounds are rather peaceful: Mature 200-year-old trees tower over ornate gravestones and mausoleums, and the gardens are beautifully maintained in all four seasons.

Schlesinger Library

Boston, Massachusetts
Indulge your academic fantasies with a visit to this research library dedicated to the history of women in the United States. It’s part of Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute, but open to the public. Take in the rotating exhibitions on art and culture, or ask a research librarian to pull a book from the library’s impressive collection of culinary history texts to peruse in the reading room.

The Singing Oak

New Orleans, Louisiana
An array of wind chimes of different sizes hang from the branches of this hundred-year-old tree in City Park, creating the Singing Oak. Sit in its shade for long enough, and you’re guaranteed to hear a tinkling symphony when a breeze picks up.

George Peabody Library

Baltimore, Maryland
Built in 1878, the George Peabody Library at Johns Hopkins Mt. Vernon campus is considered one of the most beautiful in the world. The silence inside the academic institution only makes the skylight-topped reading room lined with ornamental cast-iron balconies appear more majestic.

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Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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