On a beautiful, sunny day in Southern California, an invisible but very official line marked a difference between those who ventured to the beaches along Pacific Coast Highway amid the coronavirus outbreak and those who mostly stayed home.
On the Los Angeles County side of the line, at Malibu’s Point Dume State Beach, Westward and Zuma beaches, few people on Wednesday jogged or walked along the paved paths. Despite the relative desolation, many wore masks. Just a few miles north, in Ventura County, larger numbers of people gathered at Point Mugu State Park, where they boogie-boarded, swam and surfed. Few covered their faces.
After weeks of gloomy and rainy weather, the temptation to hit Southern California beaches, despite strict guidelines meant to slow spread of the virus, must have been strong on such such a gloriously pristine day.
Most people did not take a bite of the apple. But some took a nibble.
“It’s hard to be at home with a 7-year-old child and not leave the house for weeks,” said West Hollywood resident Asia Zukowska, 34, who parked on the side of the Pacific Coast Highway outside Point Mugu State Park with her partner and son.
“We’ve been following the rules, but you have to spend some time outside too.”
Although Zukowska did not climb down 40 feet through rock and sand to access the beach from the road, about 45 visitors did, a few with dogs. Most appeared to be practicing some social distancing.
Atwater Village resident Chris Sadler enjoyed a double bonus on Wednesday. Not only did he find a relatively sparse beach at Point Mugu State Park, but the 45-year-old father of two was also thrilled to get there in only 44 minutes.
“I think we set the land-speed record,” he quipped.
Sadler picnicked with his wife and children. A day in the sun was necessary, he said.
“The kids haven’t been out in almost a month and they needed a break,” said Sadler.
Beaches just beyond the Ventura County line extending to the Sycamore Canyon Campground and nearly reaching Point Mugu Rock included access for groups of 30 to 50 people. There was even a photo shoot at one beach, with swimsuit models posing around a bright yellow McLaren race car even as cases of COVID-19 continued to rise in the county.
All this despite changes to fight the spread of COVID-19, including the closure of the state park. The county also banned gatherings of two or more people outside their homes.
Just south in L.A. County, a group of sheriff’s deputies, lifeguards and volunteers combed the beaches, evidently keeping an out eye for scofflaws.
A sheriff’s cruiser passed one entrance to Zuma Beach roughly every 20 minutes, while a volunteer sheriff was stationed at a remote access way along Westward Beach.
The surveillance kept visitors off the beach. Beyond the waves, packs of dolphins cavorted.
Malibu resident Ellen Burson, 62, was one of the few people walking along the beach.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Burson said. “I’ve been living here for five years and to see this beach closed and empty is unbelievable.”
Burson walked from the outskirts of Zuma Beach to Westward Beach with her friend, 56-year-old Westlake Village resident Jennifer Grimes.
The two passed several warnings along the beaches announcing their closing, including on 42-inch red pylons placed about 20 feet apart and on parking signs. There were also two large white banners near a Westward Beach parking lot.
“This is surreal,” Grimes said of the barren beaches. “I just didn’t expect this.”
Most visitors to the L.A. County beaches wore some sort of facial covering — a departure from the majority of people who ventured onto the Point Mugu State Park beaches.
Chris Kuan, 48, said he wasn’t afraid of contracting COVID-19 while jogging along a relatively empty stretch near Westward Beach.
Still, the 13-year Malibu resident said it was best to follow precautions.
“For me, this is great to have an empty beach and to run alone,” he said, “But we have to take care of each other and avoid doing things that could hurt other people.”