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Escapes: Baja, Vegas and Plan B

Tenders wait to carry cruise passengers to shore at Cabo San Lucas in 2015.
The marina at Cabo San Lucas continues to send out sportfishing boats, with tightened restrictions. This 2015 photo shows tenders waiting to carry cruise passengers to shore. U.S.-Mexico cruises are on hold through at least Sept. 30.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Greetings, travelers and those who would like to be.

There’s plenty for us to think about right now. The potential risks and rewards of a jaunt to Baja California. The measures it might take to execute a safe, affordable drive up the California coast. Campgrounds opening, campgrounds still shut. Passports in slow motion. Drama in Las Vegas. An L.A. driving tour. Or 57 L.A. walking tours.

I’m Christopher Reynolds, travel writer for the Los Angeles Times. Let’s have a look around.

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Baja now? Or Baja no?

A water taxi approaches El Arco in Cabo San Lucas in 2015.
A water taxi approaches El Arco in Cabo San Lucas in 2015.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

A vacation in Baja? Now?

California’s governor says no, but scores of hoteliers in Los Cabos and environs are saying yes, please. And they’re staging a big reopening that’s possible in part because U.S. COVID-19 pandemic border travel policy has a loophole large enough to fly a 747 through.

If Baja is tempting you — and the desert and ocean are as seductive as ever — here’s a detailed story that I hope will help you understand what’s going on and what you want to do.

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Camping now and camping no

Bridalveil Fall looms over the Merced River in Yosemite National Park.
Bridalveil Fall looms over the Merced River in Yosemite National Park, where campsites are a rare resource this summer.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

The National Forest Service is gradually opening campgrounds around Southern California, including about 100 first-come, first-serve sites in Angeles National Forest. You’ll find details at the top of the ever-evolving list of what’s open and closed in Southern California from assistant travel editor Mary Forgione and me.

But here’s the gist: Buckhorn Campground (38 campsites); the Manzanita Loop of the Chilao Campground (41 sites); and Horse Flats Campground (26 sites) are back in action.

There’s good news for campers in Joshua Tree National Park too. After aggressive bees forced closure of two campgrounds within the park, rangers have reopened sites at Jumbo Rocks and Cottonwood. Now, the only thing visitors there have to worry about is temperatures over 100 and the usual array of summer desert hazards. If you’re heading that way, please do your hiking and climbing in early morning or around dusk, when it’s not quite so hot.

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Unfortunately, the news from Yosemite National Park isn’t so upbeat. Since the park gates swung open again June 11, rangers have been careful with campsites, keeping all of them closed except for half of the Upper Pines campground and some spots at Wawona Horse Camp. (Day trips have continued, but reservations are required and numbers are limited to avoid crowding.)

Many would-be campers harbored hopes that the park would open up more spots as the summer progressed, but officials have now instead canceled most preexisting camping reservations through Aug. 15.

Since many California schools will return to instruction (remotely) in mid- to late August, that pretty much kills the Yosemite camping option for thousands of families. (Or, to look at the situation another way, it keeps thousands of families safe from potential virus-transmission situations.)

Is it time to think about fall prospects? Here are details.

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Need a passport or renewal? Be patient

American passports.
Passport officials, hobbled by the COVID-19 pandemic, are slowly working through a backlog of applications and renewal requests.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times )

Since shutting down in March, then stirring to life again in June, the U.S. State Department’s passport specialists have been struggling to catch up with a massive backlog. It’s getting better. But many offices are still understaffed because of pandemic safety issues, and much passport work has to be done on location, not at home.

As a result, the backlog is about 1.2 million, and the agency is giving priority to those only with immediate “life-or-death” passport needs. The rest of us — whether your application is in the pipeline or you have yet to begin — will have to wait. And nobody will say how long, because of the pandemic.

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The latest in Las Vegas

In Las Vegas, our contributor Jay Jones reports that most resorts and restaurants are open for business. But bars will remain closed for at least another week.

His story details many reopenings, the evolution of the Buffet at Wynn, the first performer to return to the stage at Harrah’s, and a massive January convention that’s just been switched to digital-only because of the pandemic.

Wander Wilshire

Wilshire Boulevard runs alongside MacArthur Park.
Wilshire Boulevard runs alongside MacArthur Park.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Just look at Wilshire Boulevard. Is there a streetscape on Earth more wedded to the history and aesthetic of the automobile?

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No need to answer. Just get in the car (figuratively speaking) and let our contributor Sharon Boorstin take you through the architecture and history of some of the boulevard’s liveliest blocks (MacArthur Park to Fairfax Avenue). We have a video too.

Then get in the car (literally speaking). Drive the 4.5-mile route. And walk where you can.

I’m not going to spill all of this story’s secrets, but I will tell you that there’s an apartment building on this itinerary that Raymond Chandler put into his novel “The Lady in the Lake,” and then a screenplay. And then Fred MacMurray bought it.

There’s also a patch of sidewalk in front of a church that features a “Walk of Fame"-style star for Jesus.

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Where to find deals (and how to stay safe) on the coast

If, despite everything, you’re tempted by the idea of a road trip up the coast, our contributor Rosemary McClure has some words for you. In this story, she lists several hotels from Coronado to Sonoma County that are hoping to lure brave travelers, and she details the safety steps some travelers are taking. What would a physician and nurse take with them? This story will tell you.

But before you go anywhere, do review the latest advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on wearing masks, keeping distance and travel within the U.S. And look at the California Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 pages too: With case numbers and deaths continuing to climb, the governor and health officials are urging Californians to avoid nonessential travel for now.

What we’re reading: 570,000 steps

Mary Forgione, our assistant travel editor and the editor of our outdoorsy newsletter The Wild, loves nothing more than a good walk. The same seems to be true of Paul Haddad, author of “10,000 Steps a Day in L.A.”

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So we shouldn’t be surprised that they ended up covering some ground together — literally and figuratively. Here’s the story of how Haddad came up with the 57 local walking routes in the new edition of his book.

End paper: Plan B

Is this where you thought you’d be as July turns to August? Me neither.

In fact, for late July, my family and I had plotted a 10-day California coastal road trip to take us as far north as Sonoma County. We were going to visit a few relatives; our 16-year-old daughter was going to see four (largely empty) college campuses. Maybe a few nights of camping under tall trees.

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Instead, we never got started. The pandemic accelerated. The governor put on the brakes. We knew this was optional travel, not essential. So we postponed it and came up with a Plan B closer to home.

For so many of us, this has been the summer of Plan B. (Have you got a Plan B story to tell? A question to ask? A story to suggest? Drop us a line at travel@latimes.com.)

The good news is that if your Plan B is like ours, it will lead you to sights, sounds and ideas unlike anything in your Plan A. In our case, one sight was a strange little island off Oxnard (less than 100 miles from home), and the sound was enough shrieking seagulls to make Alfred Hitchcock smile in his grave.

Come back for next week’s newsletter and you’ll get the rest of that story. You’ll also get to meet my colleague Rachel Schnalzer, who will be taking over the newsletter while I (if the fates allow) do a little more traveling.


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