Big birthday: How to celebrate solo?
August 12, 2016 9:29 AM   Subscribe

A milestone birthday is coming up. Would appreciate hive mind advice on celebrating solo. Snowflakes inside.

The last 12 months have been challenging. My dad nearly died; I got a job (yay!) with a 4-hour commute (boo!); and I broke up with my partner. I'm a gregarious introvert who likes to travel, chat with strangers, and walk around fun neighbourhoods.

I am a chowhound rather than a foodie, and I do not have an unlimited budget. Things I dislike: nightlife, bars, and museums (unless they are weird). I do enjoy bookstores, swimming (badly and enthusiastically), thrift stores, and going to movies at actual movie theatres. Also, visiting cemeteries is one of my favourite (but not mandatory) tourist activities.

Fellow gregarious introverts: I don't want to feel lonely or loser-like on the upcoming big birthday. Which of the ideas below might you find most satisfying? Do you have other suggestions for someone who lives in the Bay Area? How do you celebrate milestones?

Idea 1: Spend 3 nights at a friend's cabin in Marin County. Pros: Inexpensive. Might get to spend time with the owner, who I rarely see and adore with all my heart. If I also rented a car, could go to Point Reyes, etc. Cons: I might end up alone the entire period and feel isolated, unloved, and like a total loser.

Idea 2: Spend that time in Portland, Oregon, where I have other college friends I haven't seen in many years and also go back to the wonderland that is Powell's, etc.

Idea 3: Visit LA or some part of Southern California because I barely know it. Seeing the Gamble House, for example, would be big fun for me. But I don't know anyone in the SoCal area. Also, if I go, would want to have a city area or actual neighbourhood to settle in and explore.

Suggestions and advice much appreciated!
posted by Bella Donna to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I'm pretty much the same way and I looooove Los Angeles but it can be so crowded that it's actually isolating in a way. I kind of like this quality but it sounds like Portland is more what you're looking for here. That said, LA does have some top notch weird museums such as the Museum of Failed Relationships, the Museum of Death, and the perennial favorite Museum of Jurassic Technology. Also, LA is not really about staying in one specific area, so that'd be tough. Things are just all over.
posted by feloniousmonk at 9:43 AM on August 12, 2016

Best answer: Only do idea 1 if you pre-arrange with your friend the owner that she/he will be there with you. Invite her/him to spend the milestone birthday with you.

Idea 2 actually sounds the best, because you have friends there and can organise a birthday meal with them, so you get to feel that your birthday has been celebrated as an event with friends. Again, pre-arrange this somewhat "I'm thinking of coming up to Portland for my milestone birthday, will you be around to celebrate with me? Got any restaurant recommendations?".

Idea 3 is a good thing to do sometime (I live in SoCal so I know there's tons of fun stuff to do here) but with no friends, I think you risk feeling lonely, and that's not a good risk to take for a birthday.
posted by Joh at 9:43 AM on August 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Happy birthday in advance! And sorry life has been hard recently. Here's to an awesome next decade.

I am a gregarious introvert like you. I once chose to spend a birthday alone, in fact, I visited a famous cemetery (high-five fellow cemetery fan!!) and my plan was to try and have dinner with any homeless person who would say yes (something I'd done before on non-birthday occasions). I found the alone-time more lonely than I, as someone who is particularly comfortable in their own company, had expected. Furthermore, after it unexpectedly rained, there were no homeless people in sight, so no dinner partners for me. Having wandered around trying to decide what to do for quite a while, I went home hungry, with a migraine and feeling quite sorry for myself.

With this in mind, and given that you have had a tough time lately, I would say prioritise going somewhere that you know you will have good company. Being somewhere beautiful or interesting will be nice, but being with people you love, who want to celebrate you, is a special treat, and one which I encourage you to enjoy.
posted by greenish at 9:43 AM on August 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Portland very easily ticks all of your likes. Go to Lone Fir Cemetery. Lots of cheap movie theaters, and most serve beer (Laurelhurst, Cinema 21, Avalon, McMenamins, Academy, Moreland, Cinemagic, etc.). Go out with your friends on your birthday, and tell everyone it's your birthday - live it up, and have lots of strangers wish you a happy birthday.

Have a very happy birthday!
posted by hydra77 at 9:44 AM on August 12, 2016

Of those three, I vote SoCal because it is new for you and so it will be a bit of a distraction. It sounds to me like you need distraction more than relaxation on this trip (just a guess). Santa Barbara and San Diego are also nice and are more laid back than LA but still have the beaches and weather. If you drive down to LA, Santa Barbara is a nice stop. I tend to eat cheaply when I travel alone, but I always have a fancy meal on my birthday, even if no else is with me.

Even if you do want more relaxation, you don't have to run around the city all day. Doing one thing each day is enough and then you are free to chill out back at the hotel.
posted by soelo at 9:46 AM on August 12, 2016

I'm exactly like you, a gregarious introvert, and I just did this very thing for my milestone birthday, although mine was multi-city. I was supposed to go with my husband but various things happened and so I went alone.

I went for four days to Vancouver and stayed with my BFF and her husband and son; from there I flew to Seattle and stayed in a B&B where I could chat with people if I chose but I didn't have to if I didn't want to (I mostly didn't want to); and then flew to San Francisco where I used to live so I have a bunch of friends, and set up dates with the ones I wanted to see. That worked well for me because it was a really good balance of socializing and being alone. The whole trip was great; I wasn't isolated but I didn't spend so much time with anyone that my introvert exoskelton got dented.

So I would choose option 2 for you, since it sounds like a good mix of being alone and socializing. You can make dates with people if you want, but you can make them limited so you can have your alone time, too. That's what worked for this gregarious introvert, anyway.
posted by holborne at 9:56 AM on August 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

My vote would be for #3, if you like traveling and exploring new places. I think it will be a more memorable milestone than either of the other options. I suppose I'm a gregarious introvert as well, and I really, really like traveling alone--please frame it as "adventurous independent spirit" and not lonely loser! You can do exactly the things you like, eat exactly where you want to eat, on your own schedule and you don't have to accommodate anyone else's interests! I'm not the world's tourist expert on LA but I'm pretty sure you can find excellent examples of the things you're interested in there--classic movie palaces, deathstyles of the rich and famous, flea markets, etc. etc.
posted by drlith at 11:15 AM on August 12, 2016

Seems like #2 is the people option and #3 is the so-much-space-for-activities one. Of course Portland has many interesting things to do, too, but LA is LA.
posted by rhizome at 1:02 PM on August 12, 2016

Best answer: There is nothing wrong with visiting old friends, but that is potentially past-oriented. Which one of these is, in some way, future-oriented for you?

Does any of these lay the ground work for a potential move to a new area? Does any of them have a hook that is somehow relevant to a future life that you desire to create for yourself?

When I have had a rough time, investing in building a better future has been a better experience for me than clinging to things from my past. YMMV.

If you want to go to SoCal, I would be happy to share suggestions. I really liked La Jolla. There is a neat pedestrian bridge and elevators on one end of it to take you that much closer to the beach. There is also a wicked cool pedestrian bridge in downtown San Diego that is anchored at the Embarcadero on one end. There is all kinds of fascinating architecture in the county and it has a rich history and I really loved walking around when I was down there and seeing the built environment.
posted by Michele in California at 2:50 PM on August 12, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks for all the guidance. Additional folks are more than welcome to weigh in because I do not yet know what to do. Comments thus far are helpful. More would be great as well.
posted by Bella Donna at 3:55 PM on August 12, 2016

I live in Marin County, so I'm biased. It's a great place to visit, especially with the interests you listed. However, I agree with other posters that there's a chance you'll end up isolated and lonely here and that doesn't seem like what you really want. I would be happy to show you around a bit if you come here, though random internet strangerSol Food is worth coming to Marin County on its own. You don't have to be a foodie to appreciate the best restaurant in the area, hands down.

However, Portland is one of my favourite places too! I love Kennedy School - it has a lot of your favourite things in one! Plus some of the best vintage shops, and of course, the best bookshop in the WORLD: Powells. There is also a great food truck culture there, and even if you're not super into food, the food truck scene is really fun. And frankly, Portland is a great place to go on your own. I always end up meeting cool people randomly in Portland.

Either way, happy early birthday, and best wishes for a better upcoming year.

posted by guster4lovers at 12:59 AM on August 13, 2016

Response by poster: Hey everyone, thanks so much for the lovely and useful feedback. Thanks to your advice, I'm decided to go somewhere else entirely. If possible, I am going to Ashland, Oregon, where I have never been. It is a small town, which I also enjoy. It has one or more spas. It has theatre. It has old buildings. And it has one of my former college professors and his fabulous wife and they both adore me. We were close for many years, then lost touch during my stint abroad. They laugh at my jokes, which is very important, and I love them. So I'm going to use Joh's script to see if they are available on my birthday. If so, then I will go there. If not, I will head to Portland. And eventually I will make it to LA and to Marin with your excellent suggestions in mind. Thanks so much for your support!!!
posted by Bella Donna at 12:59 PM on August 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

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