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Plane trips are out, picnics are in: 10+ places to relax during the pandemic

View of downtown Los Angeles from Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

By Rachel Schnalzer
Design and illustrations by Jade Cuevas

Good morning, travelers!

For many of us, it’s unlikely that a picnic would produce much excitement in our lives — that is, until the pandemic intensified in Southern California. Now, picnics are among the few treasured outings we can take while remaining socially distanced from one another. Last weekend, I met two friends for a picnic in the sprawling Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area and was amazed that a simple morning at the park could be such an escape.

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In this edition of the newsletter, you’ll find ideas for picnic destinations around Southern California. And if you’ve discovered a new picnic spot during the pandemic, send me an email! My inbox is always open for recommendations.

Ducks swim in a lake at Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area in Los Angeles.
(David McNew / For The Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

👒 Cottagecore-inspired picnic locations

An unkempt field of wildflowers. Frolicking baby animals. And no laptops or cellphones in sight.

Welcome to cottagecore, a pretty corner of the internet where fans of the trend immerse themselves in a rosy version of pastoral living. The aesthetic has gained steam during the pandemic, with culture writers suggesting that the nostalgia inherent in cottagecore is an antidote to our current disturbing reality. They might be on to something: I regularly look at #cottagecore on Instagram when I need a break from the headlines.

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For those who wish to engage with cottagecore offline, there is no shortage of cottagecore-inspired picnic locations in California. Besides Kenneth Hahn (mentioned above), Avila Valley Barn in San Luis Obispo County, Julian’s sweet downtown district and the golden hills of Topanga are ideal places to experience bucolic bliss.

🌳 The quietest places in Griffith Park

Worried about running into crowds as you search for a place to picnic? Griffith Park aficionado Casey Schreiner offers up six low-traffic areas in the park. And seriously, he’s the expert. Schreiner recently wrote the first detailed guidebook to Griffith Park. Next time I visit the park, I’ll choose a sycamore-shaded spot in the Bette Davis Picnic Area. Or if I enter from Los Feliz Boulevard, I’ll stroll through Fern Dell, one of the most beautiful parts of Griffith Park, according to Schreiner.

The Bette Davis Picnic Area, a shady, socially distanced retreat in Griffith Park.
(Casey Schreiner; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

🌼 A botanical garden in Corona del Mar

“If you’re looking for a good excuse to get outdoors … artist Dustin Gimbel’s sculpture show “Sculptura Botanica” at the Sherman Library & Gardens in Corona del Mar is hard to beat,” writes Times staffer Lisa Boone. Besides showcasing striking artwork, the garden is following strict COVID-19 protocols. Guests are required to wear masks, stay six feet apart and purchase tickets in advance (except for members). Gimbel would like his sculptures to help connect visitors with the natural world around them. “I hope my show inspires people to look at plants more closely the next time they are on a hike,” he says.

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A banana flower hangs in the shade garden at the Sherman Library & Gardens in Corona del Mar.
(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

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⚖️ Looking for a unique experience?


If you’re heading to Santa Barbara, you might want to swing by its iconic courthouse for a taste of potential U.S. vice presidential history. The Santa Barbara Courthouse is where Sen. Kamala Harris and her husband, Douglas Emhoff, married in 2014. Last week, Times staff writer Christopher Reynolds included the building in his piece about “The 5 places that shaped Kamala Harris.”

It’s not a bad place to explore, even online. The Santa Barbara Courthouse docents offer an exterior self-guided walking tour on their website in lieu of in-person, docent-led tours, which have been canceled.

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Kamala Harris and Doug Emhoff were married at the Santa Barbara courthouse.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

📰 What I’m reading


  • Wondering which Southern California beaches, parks and trails are open this week? Times staffers Christopher Reynolds and Mary Forgione have you covered.
  • Alcatraz Island reopened this week, with Alcatraz cruises — the main source of visitor access to the island — resuming with limited capacity. Reynolds explains what you should know before you go.
  • Sturtevant Camp in the San Gabriel Mountains is the “perfect pandemic getaway,” according to Kelcie Pegher, as long as you don’t mind a 4-mile hike. Pegher, The Times’ off-platform engagement editor, outlines the camp’s COVID-19 precautions and what you can expect when you book a cabin.
A hiker traverses Sturtevant Falls in Angeles National Forest.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

  • Point Roberts, Wash., residents keenly feel the isolation of the pandemic. Their location at the tip of the Tsawwassen Peninsula means they must cross into Canada to reach the nearest town in the mainland U.S. Jane C. Hu of High Country News spoke with residents to learn about their pandemic experience.
  • Juneteenth, a national commemoration of the ending of slavery in the U.S., took place June 19, but a regional emancipation commemoration, the Libation Ceremony, was held Aug. 8 in Knoxville, Tenn. Nicole Rasul, writing for Atlas Obscura, takes readers inside this event.
  • Daisy Okazaki, 17, of California traveled to Hiroshima, Japan, earlier this summer. In an immersive story for AFAR, she shares what she learned from “Japan’s most misunderstood city” while she lived and volunteered there for a month.
  • Wondering what a multistate road trip looks like these days? Jackie Varriano of the Seattle Times traveled from Seattle to North Dakota with her husband and toddler, taking precautions along the way. One unexpected experience: Varriano felt as though her family was being judged for wearing masks.

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


Have you dreamed of going on a safari? Although you probably can’t book a trip across the Atlantic anytime soon, you can spot lions, leopards, cheetahs and hyenas twice a day with WildEarth’s safariLIVE program. Hat tip to Phyllis Simon Foster for letting me know about this livestream.

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SafariLIVE can take you on an expedition to see these cool cats in their natural habitat.
Feel like checking out some wildlife? SafariLIVE can take you on an expedition to see these cool cats in their natural habitat.
(Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

📸 Reader photo

Reader Enrique Reveles shared photos of his recent trip up Highway 1, where he and his wife, Letty, stayed at Lucia Lodge to celebrate his 48th birthday. “We have been excitedly exploring Big Sur. ... We especially like the short drive to Carmel and Monterey!” Reveles said via email.

Highway 1 through Big Sur, in a photo taken by reader Enrique Reveles on a recent trip.
A photograph of Highway 1 through Big Sur taken by reader Enrique Reveles on a recent trip.
(Enrique Reveles)

🎸Road song


There’s no getting around it — many of us are pretty bummed by the state of the world. From the sound of his single “America,” Sufjan Stevens is too. This 12-minute-long melancholic track, released in July, is an ideal in-your-feelings track to play when you’re down and want to commiserate with someone.

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An eagle wearing headphones
In a mood? Sufjan Stevens, “America” can help you cope.
(Joshua Hoehne / Unsplash; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

Safe travels, fellow adventure seekers ✌️


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