Help me plan my next solo vacation!
October 7, 2016 3:14 AM   Subscribe

I just got back from a five day trip to Washington DC and I had such a good time there! Please help me decide where to go on my next solo vacation!

I decided to take myself on a non-business trip and chose Washington DC as my vacation spot--and I loved it! I'm ready to start planning another solo trip--probably for next fall--and would like some suggestions.
Here's what I loved about my trip to DC:

• Very walkable and good public transportation--I will most likely fly to wherever I go and am not interested in renting a car.
• Historical! I learned a lot and had fun going to the National Archives, American History Museum, the new African American Museum of History and Culture, Ford's Theatre, etc. I did a mix of guided tours and self-guided tours and enjoyed both.
• I felt very safe being there by myself as a 50-ish female traveling alone.
• Lots of choices for things to do, but I was able to have downtime when I wanted it--I generally went back to my hotel and read or watched tv at the end of each day and found that I needed that time to recharge for the next day.
• I stayed at a boutique hotel rather than a chain and really liked the uniqueness of it. I would prefer to stay in a hotel rather than an Airbnb.
• Temps were upper 70s--I don't do well in super hot weather.
• I actually really enjoyed doing all the pre-planning and I liked having a rough plan for each day-- but also liked the freedom to change plans if I wanted to spend more or less time somewhere.

What I'm NOT looking for:
• High adventure, super outdoorsy trips--no mountain climbing or whitewater rafting, please!
• Group package trips--I don't want to be tied to someone else's daily schedule.

So where should I go next? I'm into history, books, writing, people-watching, and I love learning about new things. A bonus would be a place with interesting book stores or some sort of bookish connection. I'm mainly interested in US destinations. Any ideas???
posted by bookmammal to Travel & Transportation around United States (27 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I just went to Boston, didn't need a car once. The Mary Baker Eddy museum may tick your bookish connection. There's also the Freedom Trail, colleges galore, Museum of Science, Gardner Museum (which I couldn't get time to see), duck tour is also highly recommended.
posted by kellyblah at 3:20 AM on October 7, 2016 [6 favorites]

New York seems an obvious answer if you've not been already. I think it meets all your criteria.
posted by crocomancer at 3:36 AM on October 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

Also Philadelphia.
posted by ejs at 4:04 AM on October 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

San Francisco. If you get the walking guide to the Barbary Coast walking trail you can get a very good overview of the city that takes you through a lot of historic spots, great places to people-watch, popular and little-known sites, and City Lights Bookstore.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:44 AM on October 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Chicago! Checks all your likes from your DC trip plus good food, the Architecture tour by boat through the river is lots of fun, many hotels to choose from (I got my MIL a great deal on a boutique hotel on Hotwire a year ago)... I've been out and about by myself in Chicago a few times when I visited my best friend. I would go do the tourist thing by myself during the day while she worked. Always felt safe.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 4:50 AM on October 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

I can personally recommend the Kimpton in Old City for price, proximity to historical sites and transit, and cleanliness.
posted by lovelygirl at 5:46 AM on October 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm seconding Boston -- clean, safe, historical, and easy to get around -- but don't go in the winter. It gets too cold.
posted by Guinevere at 5:49 AM on October 7, 2016

The obvious big cities with public transit are the obvious answers for a reason; also the larger cities in Canada (depending on why you wanted US destinations they might also work for you) are also generally walkable with public transit and safe.
posted by jeather at 5:52 AM on October 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seconding crocomancers New York suggestion. It is as exciting as any city in the world. Museums are world class. There are easily more book-related things than any other city in North America (remember the entire American book publishing industry is located there and the Strand is the best book store I've ever been in). The subway is easy to navigate (the whole thing basically goes uptown or downtown). If you don't get too far afield the city is completely safe for a 50-something women.

Finally you said that you're considering next fall. The city is beautiful in October.
posted by codex99 at 6:02 AM on October 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

I love New York but I think it's a little overwhelming for a short visit, much moreso than DC, where most of the main tourist attractions are concentrated together. New York isn't really a city you go to see specific tourist attractions, in my mind. I would suggest Boston or maybe Philadelphia, as well--both historical cities with a lot of culture and with a clear number of must-see historical sites that are close to each other. Boston will be beautiful in the fall.
posted by armadillo1224 at 6:52 AM on October 7, 2016

Montreal or Quebec City.

Oh wait, you said US destinations. Boston, definitely.
posted by Liesl at 6:56 AM on October 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Come to Savannah, very walkable downtown historic district, city bus into town from the airport, several art and history museums, lots of great bed and breakfasts, boutique hotels.
posted by mareli at 6:56 AM on October 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Boston is the most walkable, browseable city I have ever visited. Filled with books and art and history and people-watching and as wander-y a pace as you want to take.
posted by headnsouth at 6:59 AM on October 7, 2016

Of the places I've been Boston is the best I think for your standards. I don't find SF nearly as good for public transit and agree with others that NY can be overwhelming.

If you have the time, energy and money for it, suspect you'd really enjoy some European destinations at some point in the future. History, public transit, safety--many cities there will meet all your criteria.
posted by mark k at 7:30 AM on October 7, 2016

Boston, Boston, and Boston.

If you've not explored outside of the US too much, consider Iceland. Reykjavik is delightful to explore on foot, especially if you've spent the year reading up on Norse myths.
posted by enfa at 7:32 AM on October 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

San Diego, Seattle, Chicago
posted by soelo at 7:50 AM on October 7, 2016

Montreal sounds like it would be perfect. And the weather is perfect this time of year. Very comfortable. And the canadian dollar is generally worth significantly less than the american dollar, so your money will go farther.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 7:51 AM on October 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Chicago! I just got back from my first visit! Flat (hey, I'm from seattle, hilly city and cranky transportation), beautiful museums, excellent transportation, excellent food, lots of public art, architecture, libraries and safe. Friendly people too.
posted by tipsyBumblebee at 8:03 AM on October 7, 2016

San Francisco COULD fit your criteria if you plan pretty carefully. There is a cluster of interesting stuff in the northeast corner of the city, including Chinatown, Embarcadero (and its associated ferry outings across the bay), North Beach etc that could fill a week and be pleasantly walkable (but there are steep hills in that part of town.) If you do that, memail me and I'll send you the name of a great walking tour guide for that area; he has lots of fun itineraries.

New York City is obvious. Public transportation is second to none and the attractions are world class. You could just stay in the area around Central Park and fill a week with museums and lovely walks.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:23 AM on October 7, 2016

Charleston, SC. I did this recently and it was so much fun. MeMail me if you decide to go and I'll be happy to give recommendations!
posted by capricorn at 8:25 AM on October 7, 2016

Outside the US (not too far though) but I spent a lovely five days travelling solo in Vancouver this summer. Very walkable city, good transit, lots of interesting things to do and as a 30-something woman I felt very safe.
posted by daisysteiner at 8:26 AM on October 7, 2016

Seattle meets all of your criteria (well, as long as you come between May-October, but 70 degree weather would be difficult to find in Boston during the winter, too!). There are many great boutique hotels in the downtown core, which also puts you in walking distance to lots of museums, the waterfront, restaurants, etc. There is also a lot of interesting history specific to how Seattle was originally settled and developed in the aftermath of a large fire, etc. The Museum of History and Industry, the Wing Luke Museum, the Frye Are Museum, and the Burke Museum of Natural History are all highly recommended.

You could also easily take a ferry as a walk-on passenger to one of the nearby islands (Bainbridge is most easily navigable if you don't have a car).

Safety and natural beauty are also checked off.
posted by DuckGirl at 8:36 AM on October 7, 2016

Must agree with everyone who says Boston is the clear winner here. The areas of greatest historical interest are so compact you can walk most of them in a single day. And it is so beautiful in fall.

As bookstores go--and I know this is a shocking statement, but I think it's true--Boston/Cambridge is now superior to NYC. Go to Harvard Square and within about a ten-minute's-walk radius, you have Harvard Bookstore, which has a great remainders/used section in addition to its ambitious new-book offerings, the Grolier poetry-only bookstore, Raven, which appears to buy every pristine review copy of a scholarly book that passes through Massachusetts, and Schoenhof's, with its massive foreign-language selection. (And the big Harvard coop/B&N, for your more standard selection.)
posted by praemunire at 9:33 AM on October 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I agree with Boston. A couple bonus trips needing no transportation are a ferry ride to Provincetown and the Boston Harbor Islands.
posted by ReluctantViking at 10:30 AM on October 7, 2016

You said "mostly US destinations", so I thought I'd slip in one tiny little non-US destination that fits the bill: London. History? Tons of it, in big handsfuls (see British Museum). Books and literature? I was there last month and just browsing a map found out that there's not only a Charles Dickens museum, there's a Samuel Johnson museum, the venerable British Library etc, Shakespeare Globe theatre....
posted by storybored at 8:33 PM on October 7, 2016

Seconding Vancouver and Seattle. Both towns have sketchy parts but you can find more online about where not to go or when not to go in those areas. Both have great public transportation. I've stayed in Vancouver and used public transport to go kayaking, ride the ferries to out-islands, etc.

Seattle also has great public transport and staying in the University district is a good option to not staying in and paying for downtown. There is an express bus from the University District to downtown that takes less than 10 minutes.
posted by ITravelMontana at 12:55 AM on October 8, 2016

Given that walkable is a key for you, plus public transportation, I'd concentrate on these cities:

Philadelphia, Boston, NYC, Chicago, Vancouver, San Francisco.

The last three are less walkable than the first three on that list. If you like history, Boston and Philly are good bets, but Chicago is a fantastic city with great architecture and history as well. I also think Chicago is more affordable and a bit cleaner than cities like Boston and NYC. There's so much to do in Chicago. Vancouver and SF are great if you want a little bit of nature involved too. Vancouver feels a lot like an American city, but you do get the curiosities of Canadian culture too, which is fun.

I almost included Seattle, but I'd say it's slightly less walkable than the others. Also, maybe it's just me, but it hasn't impressed me anytime I've gone. There is also no (competent) hop-on hop-off tour bus company, which I use in every city I visit. But you could do a west coast swing that involves Seattle and Vancouver by taking the Amtrak train from one to the other.
posted by AppleTurnover at 12:59 AM on October 8, 2016

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