What is the best spot in the world, or just in your experience, for people watching?
Here are my criteria for a good spot:
Comfortable and safe place to sit without being significantly hassled; diversity of people in all characteristics, including the obvious (age, gender, ethnicity) but also in appearance (the beautiful, the unusual, the bizarre, the eye catching, and more) and even behavior; decent air quality and a lack of revolting odors.
What are yours? What spots qualify? There are lots of places in NYC and DC that meet the first two criteria - the third is a bit harder in big cities.
Well, a park seems to tick all the boxes. I would imagine that even Central Park has significantly better air quality than the rest of the city. People are generally going to be doing their own thing and not notice you, or how long you’ve been there or what you’re doing. I suppose the downside is that you’re only going to be observing a subset of behaviours, as people are there mostly for enjoyment and recreation. Not that that’s necessarily an issue.
You could couple that with a few hours people-watching at a train station. Again, everyone is going to be preoccupied with doing what they’re doing, and unlikely to give you a second glance. Different behaviours to observe than a park too, as people are more likely to be stressed. Air quality though; maybe not so good!
They’re not casually accessible any more, but like RobDog’s train stations, airport waiting lounges where you can see the corridor.
Everyone’s in the middle of doing something so you’re getting a three-second snippet of their lives. Some are running late or otherwise hassled so there’s drama. Some are excited to be on vacation, some are flying to Detroit for the umpteenth time because Marketing can’t pull their head out of their ass, so there’s variety. Dress is also variable, from practically bathrobe and flipflops to Armani. You do get the occasional whiff of half-burned kerosene.
People watching as a way of life rather than an occasional past time can happen anywhere. I have lived in the same neighborhood for 70 years. I have watched young men and women get old and die. I have seen their ups and downs and struggles in life, divorces, career highs. I have watched young people come into their own and find themselves then struggle with their new success. People are fascinating. Most of us are always changing, some of us remain remarkably stable and the same throughout their lives.
I lived in central Florida for a short stint in the late 90s and had a Disney annual pass for a couple years. On a few occasions I went by myself to the Magic Kingdom just to sit on Main Street USA just to people watch. I was always amazed for being the supposedly “happiest place on earth” how many people were so angry looking and miserable. Crying kids. Parents yelling at crying kids. Spouses fighting. People looking stressed and edgy.
It gave me a better perspective and mindset for when I returned there a decade or so later with my wife and kid about how to relax and really enjoy the place.
I sit at my desk, and I can see the parking lot of my strip mall, with all the people going in and out of the various stores and restaurants (including mine). I can see down the road a ways in both directions, and there’s a park where people play the game of the season.
A farmer’s market, from the farmer’s side of the table.
You get not only to watch, but also to talk to people. Well, some of them, anyway. You get to say ‘good morning*’ to all of them, and some of them will join in.
*I’ve done this so often at one market that on the less common occasions when I do an afternoon one I have a tendency to say “good morning” at four in the afternoon. This may lead to other conversation, of course.
I’ll add a third vote for Venice Beach in California. Totally safe place to be. On a pleasant day, year round, the spectrum of people can’t be beat. And you can even walk along the strand to heighten the experience. Then it’s a short walk to the Great Western Steak & Hoagie Company on Lincoln for a decent (replica) Philly cheesesteak. Yum!
And if you want a beer, visit Hinano Cafe on Washington. Yowza!