A desert trip in the summer heat? Here’s why that might be a good idea

This off-the-grid bubble-house offers you all the views a Joshua Tree night sky has to offer, with all the indoor comfort.
This off-the-grid bubble-house Airbnb offers you all the views a Joshua Tree night sky has to offer.
(Photo by Rachel Schnalzer / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, travelers!

I’m Rachel Schnalzer, an audience engagement editor at The Times and, as of last week, Escapes travel writer. I’m honored to bring some of my favorite destinations, advice and longer reads to your inbox.

In this edition, you’ll find a few close-to-home adventures you might want to try before summer ends — as well as places that might surprise you. If you discover a spot you’d like to share or have tips for traveling safely during this time, send me an email. I’d love for Escapes to be as much your travel newsletter as it is mine, so please let me know what you’d like to read about.

To begin, here are a few destinations that might interest travelers in these virus-dominated times.

🌠 Joshua Tree

I never imagined I’d head to Joshua Tree in the middle of August. But that was before my cousin Caroline invited me to share the Airbnb she’d rented: an off-the-grid bubble-house, ideal for watching the Perseid meteor shower cross the dark desert skies.

Noah Purifoy's free outdoor desert museum in Joshua Tree offers ample space to appreciate art at social distance.
(Carolina Miranda / Los Angeles Times; illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

I quickly learned that now may be the best time to visit Joshua Tree if you’re worried about social distancing. It seemed as if the 100-degree temperature had scared away all but a few tourists in town. I popped into Hoof & the Horn, a trendy boutique in Yucca Valley, to pick up a birthday card for a friend. I saw no one except the cashier and two customers on their way out. The same happened at the free Noah Purifoy outdoor museum, a sprawling collection of folk art that is open daily. The emptiness of the desert can sometimes feel overwhelming, but the space and silence were welcome in the midst of the pandemic.


So if you’re searching for a distanced destination, a bubble house in Joshua Tree might be the ticket. And keep your eyes on the sky tonight — you might catch the meteor shower.

🚲 The Marvin Braude Bike Trail

Want to spend some time at the beach but concerned about COVID-19? Consider waking up early and going for a ride on the Marvin Braude Bike Trail, which runs from Will Rogers State Beach to Torrance County Beach. Last week, staff writer Christopher Reynolds answered a reader’s question about official guidance on biking the path. “Go early, before it gets crowded. Keep as much distance as you can. And wear a mask,” Reynolds advised. My suggestion? Bring a beach towel in case you want to take a break and enjoy the view. The more remote stretches of Santa Monica and Will Rogers state beaches offer plenty of breathing space apart from other sun-seekers.

Joggers and cyclists on the beach bike path in Santa Monica.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times; illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

🎥 Visit a drive-in

One of the few positive effects of the coronavirus pandemic: a renewed interest in drive-ins. I recently went to my first drive-in, a double feature of “The Goonies” and “Ghostbusters” at the Mission Tiki Drive In Theatre in Montclair. It was everything you could ask for in a pandemic activity — easy, entertaining and socially distanced. If you’re looking for a quick escape, Times listings coordinator Matt Cooper has compiled a guide to classic movies showing at Los Angeles drive-ins. There is something for everyone, whether you define “classic” as “Grease,” “Fight Club” or “Get Out.”

“Knives Out" plays at Mission Tiki Drive-in Theater.
“Knives Out” plays at Mission Tiki Drive-in Theater.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times; illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

🐟 Looking for a unique experience?

For many Angelenos, fishing in the Los Angeles River is more than a quarantine hobby, write Times staffers Lila Seidman and Andrew J. Campa. They visited the river to speak with people who have found solace and community on its banks. Although the Mammoth Lakes area and other California destinations are better known for fishing, it’s hard to beat the L.A. River in terms of convenience. Bryant Recinos, 24, said his favorite fishing spot is under the California Highway 2, less than 20 minutes from his Glendale home. “It’s my new therapy,” Recinos said.


If you’re looking for a nearby destination, try scoping out locations along the 51-mile-long river. But be warned: The vast majority of people Seidman and Campa spoke with said they wouldn’t eat the fish they catch in the river.

Fishing in the Los Angeles River is an easy way to get outside and escape for an afternoon.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times; illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

📰 What I’m reading

  • Most travelers in the American Southwest have heard of Meow Wolf, an immersive art organization with a popular exhibition in Santa Fe, N.M. Early this year, Meow Wolf “was set to transform themed entertainment in Vegas and beyond,” writes Times staffer Todd Martens. But then came the pandemic. Martens explains what the future looks like for Meow Wolf.
  • Strict mask rules? Empty middle seats? Times staff writer Hugo Martín breaks down the various COVID-19 policies followed by the nation’s major airlines.
  • Speaking of airline policy, I hope you’re not counting on a meal on your next flight. Times contributor Catharine Hamm outlines food and drink options on different airlines.
  • Aug. 16 marks the 43rd anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death. From Zoom-hosted vow renewals at the Graceland Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas to a virtual Elvis Week celebration, Times staff writer Mary Forgione offers five ways Elvis can help you get through the pandemic.
  • Baja California hotels are reopening in hopes of attracting visitors. Times staff writer Christopher Reynolds outlines changes implemented at four Baja hotels that are welcoming guests. But know before you go: As of early August, Baja California Sur, which includes Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo, was classified by Mexican officials as “red” — the most serious pandemic category.
  • If you’re waiting on your passport renewal, be ready to wait a while longer. Reynolds reports that State Department workers are chipping away at a big backlog of applications.
  • L.A.-based photographer Brian Bowen Smith is known for his portraits of celebrities. But after the pandemic began, he hit the road to document American life through the window of his truck. Times intern Dessi Gomez profiles Bowen Smith and his long, strange trip.
A status of Elvis wearing a mask at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino.
(Handout; illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

🏠 Can’t adventure IRL? Here’s one way to expand your horizons

Bummed about the trip you had to cancel this summer? Miss the street you grew up on? Bored and procrastinating?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, visit Google Maps and use its “Street View” feature for a little virtual traveling. By grabbing the little man in the lower right corner of the screen and dropping him onto the map, you can explore remote stretches of road in the Amazon and coastal Antarctica, among other far-flung destinations. Since the pandemic began, I’ve visited Glacier National Park, Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula and my hometown of Center Valley, Pa., to name a few, all on Google Street View.


I’m far from the only one using this technology — Forbes reported that tour guides are using Google Street View to work virtually during the pandemic.

Travel the world via a Google Maps "Street View" tour.
(Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times )

📸 Reader photo

Times staff writer Mary Forgione happened to be hiking on San Gorgonio when the Apple fire broke out in Riverside County over a week ago. She took this harrowing photo on her way down the mountain.

Tag me (@rachelizzzie) in your travel photos for a chance to be featured in an edition of Escapes.

🎸Road song

The key to a good road trip song? It’s often an explosive chorus that compels everyone in the car to sing along. If you’re in need of a pick-me-up on your next long trip, I recommend blasting “MOOD 4 EVA” on Beyoncé’s much lauded visual album “Black Is King.” It’ll get you through even the dullest of drives.

Safe travels, fellow adventure seekers ✌️

Beyonce's “MOOD 4 EVA” is the ideal song to keep up the road trip momentum.
(Daniel von Appen / Unsplash; illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)