As crowds gather despite coronavirus rules, some parks, trails and beach parking lots are closed

A Mission Hills resident wears a mask as he rides his bike on Mission Beach Boardwalk.
A 35-year-old Mission Hills resident wears a mask as he rides his bike on Mission Beach Boardwalk in San Diego.
(Hayne Palmour IV / San Diego Union-Tribune)
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California’s sweeping stay-at-home order to slow the spread of the coronavirus resulted in a weekend like no other, with people staying indoors and, when outside, keeping at least six feet apart.

But there were exceptions — including at the state’s beloved beaches.

For the record:

3:43 p.m. March 22, 2020An earlier version of this story said Santa Monica was closing beaches. The city closed its beach parking lots to prevent crowds at beaches.

Santa Monica closed its beach parking lots because of the crowds.

“Today is not the day to go to the beach,” City Manager Rick Cole said in a statement. “We know that it’s difficult to stay at home when the weather is so nice and being close to the beach is one of the primary reasons why we love to call Santa Monica home. Yet this is a time when we must take the guidelines from our health officials to heart.”


The Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority also said Sunday that it was closing all of its parks and trails, which include the parkland owned by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. Parking lots and access roads also will be closed.

The Cleveland National Forest said that it was shutting down the Three Sisters Falls and Cedar Creek Falls trails in San Diego County after this weekend marked the highest usage numbers ever recorded at both. “Illegal parking was rampant and several people had to be airlifted out,” the national forest said on Twitter.

Complaints of noncompliance have popped up on social media and apps such as the neighborhood forum The Marin County Sheriff’s Office on Saturday tweeted out a photo of people who had congregated along the coastline and implored residents to stay home.

“We understand the communities’ frustrations with the LARGE amount of people traveling to the Coast today and NOT practicing social distancing. We are working with the Public Health Officers to address the issue. Please stay at home!” the Sheriff’s Office said.

Malibu city officials also have received reports of people flocking to beaches and hiking trails, the city said in an update posted to its website.

The city pointed out that it did not own or operate county beaches, state parks or National Park Service areas such as Solstice Canyon but said it was working with state and county officials “and urging them to address the issue of people not abiding by social distancing guidelines while using outdoor spaces and stay at home orders.”

And the city of Calabasas announced Sunday that it was closing city parks, playgrounds and all gathering spaces as a result of the stay-at-home order.


At Torrance Beach on Sunday, people were well spread out on the sand, but a narrow walking path alongside the beach was jammed by 10 a.m.

At Long Beach’s Junipero Beach, besides the occasional person in mask or gloves, all seemed like a typical spring day.

The sun shone on beachgoers, young and old. Groups of basketball players used all three hoops. There were bikers, joggers and roller skaters, men doing pull-ups on the outdoor exercise machines and women exercising on the grass. And many were ignoring calls for social distancing, which recommend that people stay at least six feet apart.

Along the shore, a family of three, wearing masks, took a walk. A lone fishermen waded knee deep in the water, with his family nearby. When he felt a tug, he called two children nearby to help pull the line. Strangers, including the family, gathered to see the spectacle up close.

On Friday, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia expressed frustration at his fellow residents for not following guidance from city and state officials.

“Seriously people, you need to practice social distancing. I am seeing tons of people out there acting like there’s no crisis,” he wrote on his personal Twitter page.

It could be that the stay-at-home order led people to visit the beach — to spend time outdoors in one of the few remaining places available.


At least for Jaushay Rockett, 36, that was the case.

“This may have sparked something,” he said. “This may have sparked people to be creative and go outside. It could be a good thing, or it could be a bad thing.”

Rockett was playing basketball outside because “everything’s been closed,” including his usual indoor gyms and courts in Signal Hill and Compton, he said. Initially, he believed the order to stay indoors would be more strict, but he saw plenty of people outdoors, seemingly living their lives as usual.

“I’m thinking it was gonna be like martial law,” he said. “Everybody is out … until they make it mandatory. They’re going to have to really lock down the city” for people to stay indoors.

Rockett is taking precautions to stay safe. He said he made sure to keep his distance from people, other than the family friends with whom he was playing ball. After each game, he wipes his hands and the ball with Lysol and goes straight to the shower.

Clifford Aquino and Ryan Castro, both 28, were also displaced from their typical gyms in Cerritos. They decided that Long Beach, where there are plenty of outdoor gyms and paths to run, would be a good replacement to get their workout in.

“This is only Day 2,” Castro said. “It sucks.”

“It does suck,” Aquino said, “but you have to find different ways to stay active.”

Aquino said he felt safe using the workout machines because he could keep his distance from people. If one area was too busy, he found another, he said, or chose another activity to do. He wipes each bar with Lysol wipes before using them.


Castro said he had been a consistent runner but stopped a while back. Now, because he has so few options, he’s getting back into it.

Both have gone hiking and tried different, also busy, beaches.

Maybe Californians just can’t help seeking out a little sunshine, Castro said.

“A little bit of sun while we have it, it’s like their last chance before the rain comes down,” he said. “Huntington Beach was worse than this.”

Rhonda Summerlin, 70, said she feared that the coronavirus situation would get worse, making a mandatory lockdown possible.

As much as she would like to stay home to protect herself, she had to go out to pick up a prescription from her pharmacy because they don’t offer delivery. “I need a pharmacy that delivers,” she said. “I can’t be coming out in this.”

The Carson resident relies on a wheelchair to get around. She has numerous ailments, including severe arthritis and a weak immune system, and it is difficult for her to move her hands and legs. Sunday morning, she picked up her prescription and two boxes of Raisin Bran cereal.

Summerlin said she’s also worried about how hospitals could be affected by a possible surge of coronavirus patients. She is sick often, needs blood transfusions and has made a handful of hospital stays in a span of months. She worries whether she’ll get the care she needs if she gets sick again.


“I worry that the hospitals, there’s not gonna be enough room,” she said.

Others don’t feel the same urgency.

Alexandra Doody, 27, visited Pedal Movement in Long Beach to get her bicycle tires inflated Sunday morning. Doody said she has mostly stayed indoors and watched Netflix, completed puzzles or done other activities with her friends indoors, but she still goes on her bike rides. Now more than ever, she said.

“Definitely more,” she said, “Because when you have nothing to do in your whole day, you have to figure out what to do with a few hours.”

She takes an eight-mile ride along the beach, coming back home via the streets in an attempt to avoid the crowds. But still, she feels safe because she is outdoors only a couple hours each day.

“The only place I feel most uncomfortable is the grocery store, really,” Doody said. “You don’t know who’s wiping down what.”

Farther south, outside the Long Beach Sagely Monastery at Ocean Boulevard and Redondo Avenue, worshipers gathered by a white statue of the Virgin Mary. The building was once a Catholic convent. For years, people from all over the region have traveled to pray to the Virgin Mary.

Sitting on a folding chair was Donald Armstrong, 72, who wore a surgical mask.

“I don’t get close to the crowd anymore because of what’s been going on,” he said. “I don’t touch the statue or stand near it.”


Armstrong was aware of the state and local orders to remain indoors and only go out for groceries and other essential needs, but he wanted to visit the statue as he always had with his late mother.

But he didn’t understand some fellow worshipers: “I see people wearing gloves and a mask, then they remove the mask to kiss the statue. That doesn’t doesn’t make sense to me. People have sneezed on that that.”

He says some people touch and kiss the statue because they believe that it protects them.

“It’s great to have a strong faith like that,” Armstrong said. “But I still believe God has given people common sense.”

Nearby, a woman dropped off a bouquet of flowers. She took hand sanitizer out of her purse. Six other people stood more than six feet apart, praying.

Not far away, along the bluffs, people lay on blankets getting a tan. They exercised. Traffic was starting to build.

At the Belmont Veterans Memorial Pier, fishermen sat with their fishing poles leaning on the railing. One man, who declined to give his name, was fishing with his son and said he was surprised to see so many people outdoors.


“It’s OK to be by themselves,” the man said, “but when you start seeing groups of people, then it becomes a problem.”

As he fished, a small child ran over and picked up his net. The man became nervous and in broken Spanish told the mother of the child that he wanted some distance.

“See, he touched that and his family may have [the coronavirus], and now I can’t touch it,” he said, grabbing a pair of gloves.

Although traffic was free-flowing in much of Southern California, there were still some backups Saturday on Pacific Coast Highway in the Santa Monica area.

The sense of fear seemed distant as the shadows lengthened over Santa Monica State Beach on Saturday afternoon. Alan Cohn, 90, and his partner, Elaine Cohen, 80, looked out over a scene of people tanning and working out. One man did yoga. A group of four played volleyball.

“Would you believe we’re in the middle of a pandemic right now?” Cohen asked.

The couple bemoaned the loss of their routine. No more improv comedy Tuesdays. Or feeding homeless residents Wednesdays. And no dancing at the Marina City Club on Fridays.


But they were cheered by the people offering to run errands for one another and the vegan restaurant owner who was waiving his delivery fees. They didn’t see themselves getting sick, either.

“Naw,” Cohn said. “I was in the Marines, fighting in North Korea.”

Minutes later, a man sat down next to the couple, asking, “You mind if I sit here and take off my shoes?”

Cohen scooted over. “Just don’t breathe on me.”

Crowds were also reported at outdoor spaces farther north, in the San Francisco Bay Area.

At Bedwell Bayfront Park in Menlo Park, the parking lot was jammed Sunday. Hundreds of people were walking, riding bikes and jogging at the city park built on top of an old landfill. Although most park users provided wide berth to passersby, the sheer number of people in the park was atypical.

A similar situation was seen at Palo Alto’s Baylands park, set within the marsh along San Francisco Bay. Parking was difficult to find as scores of people navigated the few paths available for walking.

San Diego’s beaches also saw an influx of people Saturday.

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Saturday urged residents to take the stay-at-home order seriously.

“Be a good neighbor. Be a good citizen. Those young people that are still out there on the beaches thinking this is a party time — grow up,” Newsom said during a news conference on Facebook and Twitter on Saturday afternoon. “It’s time to wake up, time to recognize it’s not just about the old folks. It’s about your impact on their lives. Don’t be selfish, recognize you have a responsibility to meet this moment.”


The governor’s stay-at-home order will remain in effect until “further notice” and could be changed as conditions warrant, according to a statement released by the governor’s office. Issued under broad powers granted to the governor under the state’s Emergency Services Act, Newsom’s executive order is enforceable by law.

Anyone who violates the order could be charged with a misdemeanor, but Newsom said he did not believe that would be necessary because social pressures to adhere to the directive had been largely successful.

Times staff writers Susanne Rust and Hailey Branson-Potts contributed to this report.