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Escapes: California beckons, but the world is sideways

Greetings, travelers and all who would like to be.

I’m Christopher Reynolds, travel writer for the L.A. Times. Here we are again, constrained by the pandemic yet surrounded by a beautiful summer day and all sorts of possibilities to be enjoyed ... at some point in the future.

We may not know when we’ll be able to do all the travel we yearn to do. But this newsletter is full of updates and insights. About Southern California day trips, for instance. And RVs. And beaches and parks.

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We’ll also look quickly at the reopening of some U.S. passport offices, why you like to swim, where to watch whales and where you might need to flee bees.

Southern California by day trip

Drone shot of Windansea Beach in La Jolla on August 19, 2019.
Windansea Beach in La Jolla in August 2019.
(K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune)

We’ve pulled together a list of eight pleasant day-trip destinations from San Diego to Santa Barbara counties, ready for that date when readers feel comfortable making the drive.

Among the destinations: La Jolla, Laguna Beach, the Palos Verdes Peninsula, L.A. County’s South Bay, Malibu, Santa Barbara and, even though it’s about a thousand degrees now, the Coachella Valley.

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How far are you willing to go from home on a day trip? Are you taking trips already or waiting until the pandemic numbers start dropping? When will it be the right time for a nonessential overnight stay?

Many hoteliers, some having just reopened, say the time is now. But state officials, now applying brakes to the reopening, are still urging Californians to avoid nonessential travel. Deciding when to go is no easy thing.

In fact, within two hours of posting these day-trip ideas, we heard from several residents of Ojai who didn’t want any more out-of-towners visiting, even for a few hours, because it could increase health risks, crowd trails, increase litter, promote graffiti and generally make things worse.

That’s something to remember: Even if you feel comfortable, and you’re wearing a mask and keeping distance, that’s no guarantee that those around you feel just as comfortable.

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And if you’re not wearing a mask or keeping distance ... please enjoy your residence and backyard.

The RV life

Daniel Miller and his wife Jessica, left, at Wheeler Gorge Campground in the Los Padres National Forest.
Daniel Miller and his wife, Jessica, prepare dinner while RVing at Wheeler Gorge Campground in the Los Padres National Forest.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Like a lot of people, Times staff writer Daniel Miller and his family were looking at an empty space where their 2020 vacation plans used to be. So they tried an RV trip in Ventura County. Success.

Feeling similar stirrings? Contributor Rosemary McClure has put together a list of seven RV parks good for beginners. And she also has a list of tips for first-timers.

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Open and closed: Beaches, trails and parks

Bathers and onlookers arrive at Malibu's Paradise Cove with masks on Monday.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

We keep revising this list and then the world revises itself. And then we revise the list again. For now, most Southern California beaches and parks are open, though some high-traffic trails have been shut down. And campsites are tough to come by.

Though 85 California state parks have reopened at least some of their campsites, most have been booked many weeks ahead. The same goes for the limited number of campsites available in this state’s nine national parks.

By the way, about the photos above and below: My family and I went out to Paradise Cove in Malibu on Monday morning for a dose of beach. We paid $8 to park, took a long walk on the pebbly sand and had lunch on the Paradise Cove Cafe patio (where a waitress in a face mask and shield instructed us to keep our masks on until our food arrived).

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In the long tradition of restaurants with great locations, the food was nothing special. But the portions were enormous. Afterward, we walked the beach some more, and two of us jumped in the ocean for a bit. Just about everyone was masked to the max, and it was a fine day.

Beachgoers stroll in masks at Paradise Cove in Malibu on Monday.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

In Las Vegas, ups and downs

What’s open and closed this week in Las Vegas? The answers keep changing. Fortunately, contributor Jay Jones is keeping us up to date. To prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Jones reports, Nevada’s governor last week closed bars, breweries and other places without food service in selected areas, including Las Vegas, at least until July 24.

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Still, more resorts plan to open. Vdara opens Thursday.

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Passport progress

The U.S. State Department has slowly reopened 16 passport agencies and centers to handle the backlog of 1.5 million passport applications, contributor Terry Gardner reports.

With the COVID-19 pandemic grinding on, the agency issued 236,000 passports in the first week of July, up from 154,000 the week of June 11 and 187,000 the week of June 18, according to the agency’s website.

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Watching whales? Doable

Humpback whales, shown breaching, range from 25 to 40 tons.
Humpback whales range from 25 to 40 tons.
(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Now this is refreshing: After so many possibilities we can’t quite touch right now, here’s a good, big, wet, present-tense prospect: a list of the best places to go whale watching in Southern California, thanks to assistant travel editor Mary Forgione.

As she points out, “Most people think seeing whales is limited to winter, when Pacific gray whales make their annual migration along the coast between Mexico and Alaska. In summer, you have a chance to see different species.”

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Her list includes Los Angeles, Ventura, Orange and San Diego counties.

Fleeing bees? Also possible. In Joshua Tree

Meanwhile, Mary and I picked up some animal news of another stripe in the desert: a rise in aggressive, thirsty bees as summer temperatures rose at Joshua Tree National Park. Rangers closed two campgrounds to put some distance between the bees and people.

What we’re reading

Bonnie Tsui, author of "Why We Swim," in an Icelandic hot pool.
(Bonnie Tsui)

There’s beach reading and then there’s beach reading. Bonnie Tsui’s “Why We Swim” is a new book that examines the historical, physical and psychological underpinnings of your backstroke, or maybe it’s a dog paddle, and the epic achievements of long-distance swimmers such as Diana Nyad and Lynne Cox (both of California). You can read the book itself; start with Martin Wolk’s fine story about it in our pages; or drop into the L.A. Times Book Club virtual meetup July 28, where Tsui will be in conversation with Times reporter James Rainey.

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End paper

Stay safe, all, and be assured that by the date of our next newsletter, we’ll have yet another whole new world to sort out.

In the meantime, please send suggestions and questions to travel@latimes.com.


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