The Best Places to Find a Public Restroom

How many times have you been away from home and hit with the need to, uh, create brown seed? To drop the kids off at the pool? To excrete fecal matter from your rectum? (What, too vivid?)

I’ve been there. I might be walking around in a city or driving around in suburbia when suddenly, I break out in a sweat. Last night’s dinner is knock, knock, knocking on the back door. A working toilet becomes my goal in life. Nothing else matters except excavational bliss.

So I hunt. I hunt for amiable facilities. With nerve-chilling suspense and utter determination, I reach my objective and let out a wistful sigh. The deed is done. All is right with the world again.

Over the years, I’ve repeated this performance enough to discern efficient search patterns. Patterns that I’m going to share with you today, because, well, I’m just that kind of guy.

Here is a list of what I’ve found to be the best places for a public restroom, more or less in order of cleanliness. Please note that this list only pertains to the United States. If you’re reading this from another country, you should totally put together your own list and let me know in the comments.

Large Hotel Chains
Walk in like you’re a guest or conference attendee and stroll right over to a directory or building map. I don’t think hotel employees care if you’re not one of those, but it might make you feel less self-conscious. Hotel chains like Marriot, Westin, even Holiday Inn have public restrooms. Generally, only guests and employees use them, so you can except clean and well-stocked facilities.
Large Bookstore Chains
Stores like Barnes & Noble and Borders Books often have public bathrooms. The ubiquity of these stores makes them good options as well. Their bathrooms generally aren’t too heavily trafficked, clean, and well-stocked, though I’ve seen exceptions.
Department Stores
Large department stores like Macy’s, JC Penny’s, and even some Targets have public restrooms. They aren’t always the cleanest, but are usually above-average. For an added bonus, if you can find a Nordstrom’s, you’re golden. Those guys take care of their restrooms well. Their bathrooms are like royalty compared to the commonfolk bathrooms of Sears.
Colleges and Universities
I wouldn’t recommend a grade or high school at all (that’s just creepy), but sometimes a higher-education facility can offer a building with public bathrooms. It has become rarer and rarer though, as many require some form of student identification. And with good reason. If I was a student there, I’m not sure I’d want some random person laying a stink in my school’s bathrooms.
Government Buildings
Most government buildings have metal detectors that ward off easy access. They also monitor suspicious activity, like someone snooping around for a bathroom. But I’ve seen some city halls that are totally open and have relatively clean facilities. Courts are not generally clean though; I guess criminals clog toilet bowls to get back at the system. Yes, stuffing a toilet bowl is the perfect way to stick it to The Man.
Hospitals
If you happen to be near a hospital, you can consider ducking into their hallways in search of a public restroom. The quality of care can vary significantly, as well as the difficulty of finding some restrooms. Also, you can’t help but wonder if you’re going to catch something while gracing their porcelain seats.
Museums and Art Galleries
Most museums and art galleries require a fee to enter. There are a few that are entirely free though, or waive their fees on certain days. You may have to wait in line at the more popular places and their facilities are just average. But when you’re done, you can take in some culture to replace the, uh, culture you just dumped.
Bars and Restaurants
Most of these places discourage non-patrons from using their facilities. In a crowded bar or restaurant, you could conceivably duck in without drawing too much attention though. Just pretend you are a patron, if possible. Fast food restaurants tend not to care as much as sit-down restaurants.
Cafes
Same as bars and restaurants, these places discourage non-patrons. They also have just one bathroom. So unless you are in truly dire straits and don’t mind the dirty stares & impatient knocks, this can be a last resort. Otherwise, you can just buy a cup of coffee. Just don’t bring it into the bathroom with you. Gross.
Gas Stations
I consider these an utter last-resort. They are usually filthy and not well-stocked. Just looking at the toilet bowl can give you herpes. But hey, when you gotta go, you gotta go.
Parks
Another utter last-resort. Some public parks have restrooms. They are usually filthy and not well-stocked, if at all. Plus, the toilet seats are usually cold and swarming with colonies of who-knows-what that might make it burn when you pee.

P.S. And yes, there’s an app for that. There are quite a few iPhone apps that will find restrooms near you. I haven’t found any to be that helpful yet, but hopefully over time, they will improve.

Author: Mike Lee

An idealistic realist, humanistic technologist & constant student.

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