by Jodi Summers

Santa Monica keeps getting more praise and accolades. Recently, the courtyard at the Santa Monica Main Library ranked number five on a list of the 10 most peaceful public places the escape the chaos of urban life. We were honored when Menasha Ridge Press, editors of “Peaceful Places” guidebook series, were asked by USA Today to choose the top 10 places to escape the hustle and bustle of city life.

“With the central courtyard, and its sustainable landscape, visitors can be in the library and be outside at the same time,” praises Greg Mullen, who runs Santa Monica’s libraries. A “major vision for the Main Library was a strong connection to the outdoors.”

Marine life in California’s Santa Monica Bay provided the inspiration for artist Carl Cheng to design a striking laminated glass canopy for the Santa Monica Public Library, which features seven circular ‘disk’ skylights varying from 0.6 m to 1.83 m (2 ft to 6 ft) in diameter, made using DuPont™ SentryGlas® Expressions™ technology, floating over the indoor and outdoor area of the library’s cafeteria and evoking the ‘underwater forest’ ambience that Cheng wanted to create for this public space.

The entire steel and glass structure, named ‘Underwater Canopy’ by the artist and completed in 2006, measures 9.1 m (30 ft) in diameter and is 3.3 m (11 ft) above ground. It is surrounded by two dozen shaded tables set in a surreal a desert garden and river design.

Since the library opened in January 2006, it has logged nearly 7 million visits….but wait; every big city has unique places to escape hustle and bustle. They are special oases where visitors can relax; find some peace, and maybe, some restoration of a stressed soul. At USA Today’s request, editors of Menasha Ridge Press’ Peaceful Places guidebook series chose the 10 top places in six cities: Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Washington. Here is the USA Today list of the 10 top peaceful places in urban environments.

1) Abraham Lincoln Book Shop, Chicago

The shop in the River North Gallery District is said to be “a bookstore, museum and collectors’ delight” where employees are “quite knowledgeable and always seem happy to help,” author Anne Ford writes in Peaceful Places Chicago.

“Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves hold both out-of-print and new volumes about American presidential and pre-20th-century military history,” observes Ford.

2) The Winter Garden, Harold Washington Library Center, Chicago

The Winter Garden on the ninth floor of The Loop’s Harold Washington Library Center offers “complete silence” in “a very large room with a lovely marble floor,” according to Ford. “The glow of the sunlight coming through the glass dome is much appreciated in winter months.”

3) The Cloisters, New York

This paradise spot can be found at the northern tip of Manhattan on a hill overlooking the Hudson River.

“Thanks to the largesse of the Rockefellers, you can be in Medieval Europe a few subway stops north of Times Square,” says Peaceful Places New York City author Evelyn Kanter. The Rockefellers created The Cloisters, “an amalgam of cloisters and monasteries re-assembled atop the highest point on Manhattan Island, as a proper setting for the family’s world- famous 15th-century Unicorn Tapestries,” Kanter says.

The site houses other “priceless” artwork and is home to concerts and Medieval jousts.

4) James Irvine Japanese Garden, Los Angeles

This traditional garden, also known as Seiryu-en, is an exquisite place to escape from the concrete buildings and bustle that make up Little Tokyo and an easy walk from most downtown hotels,” says Peaceful Places Los Angeles author Laura Randall.

The garden is a hillside oasis of bonsai trees, bamboo, azalea bushes and a stream flowing from a waterfall.

5) Bookmark Cafe, Santa Monica Main Library

Some things just naturally go together. Take, for instance, caffeine and the written word. So the inclusion of coffee shops in libraries makes perfect sense. Located in the center courtyard of the Santa Monica library, the cafe and the patio stay relatively quiet creating a relaxing break from your work day or study session.

6) The National Building Museum, Washington

The museum of architecture, engineering and design features exhibitions, programs and festivals in a historic building with Corinthian columns and 116-feet-by-316-feet Great Hall with a central fountain. The neighborhood is an idyllic location for people-watching, lunching or enjoying the day.

7) Butterfly Habitat Garden, Washington

This habitat for 80 butterfly species and thousands of plants lining garden paths. It feels private although it’s very public.

8) Bix supper club, San Francisco

The Bix in Jackson Square feels like “a forbidden speakeasy” and is a “retro-inspired” supper club with live jazz nightly, according to Peaceful Places San Francisco author Raynell Boeck. Try the mahogany bar for an intimate nightcap.

9) Boston Athenaeum, Boston

The Boston Athenaeum offers more than 600,000 books and a collection of art, sculpture, manuscripts and maps. As it is a members-only library. Strike up a quick friendship with a member to get you to the “magnificent” fifth-floor reading room. If not you can still enjoy the historic first-floor rooms.

10) Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston

The Institute of Contemporary Art, which juts over Boston Harbor, is in a “spectacular” setting. Try a padded bench facing the water in the Founders Gallery. Peaceful Places Boston author Lynn Schweikart shares, “you can savor sky, city and seascape dappled by nature’s ever-changing hues.”

The media center offers, “where you’ll have the sensation of floating above waves, unanchored by either horizon or sky.”



Join the conversation! 1 Comment

  1. The Santa Monica Public Library had 1,373,000 visitors last year, down about 25,000 from last year.

    The drop is probably tied to the fact that the Los Angeles Library system, which has branches surrounding the city, had severely cut back hours in 2009 but restored most of them last year, Acting City Librarian Wright Rix said.

    “That just takes some of the pressure of it off of us,” he said.

    The library was recently named one of 13 Five Star libraries in the state by the Library Journal, which measures, among other factors, every library’s circulation usage, visitors, and community involvement against their annual budgets. Santa Monica has been named a Five Star library every year since the Library Journal began keeping track five years ago.

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