South Shore Natural Area Credit: Chicago Park District

In a city full of distractions, we often find ourselves wanting to feel alone and surrounded by nothing but quiet. If you can’t quite afford to get to Bora Bora, here are some calmer-than-most spots closer afield where a person can think and just get a minute.

Get a room at the library

Savvy readers like you have probably already heard of the virtues of the Winter Garden at the Harold Washington branch of the Chicago Public Library, but did you know that you can also book your own private study room? You need to schedule in advance, but thankfully you can do so in person at the reference desk on the fifth, sixth, or seventh floors. You might be able to walk in and book a room immediately if there aren’t a lot of previously scheduled appointments that day. I was able to do this during the December holiday season one year and spent my two hours addressing my New Year’s cards and reading Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, which helped me navigate the turbulent waters of family parties. There are study rooms available in some of the branches as well.

South Shore Natural Area

While the South Shore Cultural Center is a must-see historical building and frequent pick of fabulous-on-a-budget brides, it’s also an active community center offering top-notch programming for the neighborhood and beyond. One of the highlights of this public resource is the six-acre Natural Area, a preserve within South Shore Park filled with wetlands, woodlands, prairie, amazing birds, and ample quiet spots. It’s a microcosm of Illinois habitats in the middle of our city, and one of the few places you might be able to walk unaccompanied by others. The sanctuary starts at 71st Street, and you can get away from the rest of us every day from 6 AM till 11 PM.

I like people, but I love when they shut up

If you can deal with being around others, but just want everyone to tone it down for a few minutes, there are a surprising number of Chicago spots where citizens seem to coexist in relative silence. During sunny weekday afternoons, take a break downtown at the South Garden outside of the Art Institute of Chicago. When you hit it after the lunch rush (I’ve had good luck around 3 PM) you’ll still be in the midst of a crowd, but the great majority of your fellow garden lovers will usually be wearing headphones and/or quietly contemplating their lives. You’ll get to sit near a Lorado Taft sculpture and catch a bit of shade.   v