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Love spending time with animals? These destinations are right up your alley

The view from the back of a horse, driving the cattle uphill to greener pastures for grazing at the V6 Ranch.
Cowboys and cowgirls herd cattle uphill to greener pastures as part of a cattle drive at the V6 Ranch.
(Photograph by Laura Mecoy; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

By Rachel Schnalzer
Design and illustrations by Jade Cuevas

Good morning, travelers!

For many of us, spending time with animals helps to relieve anxiety, especially during the pandemic. Over the last few months, friends have reflected on how a simple connection with an animal, be it a recently adopted dog or a deer spotted while hiking, can boost their spirits when they’re feeling down. Some good news for animal lovers: As travelers consider distanced destinations, some find animal-centric experiences to be among the safest options available.

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Here are three ways to incorporate animals into your travels during the pandemic. As always, keep an eye on local COVID-19 guidance before hitting the road — and don’t forget your mask.

🐬 Morro Bay


Looking for a place to spot marine life before summer ends? It’s hard to beat Morro Bay, less than four hours from downtown L.A.

As Times contributor Sharon Boorstin found, the Central Coast community offers kayaking, surfing and a variety of other socially distanced activities. While you’re on the water, it’s easy to spot the sea lions near town and dolphins enjoying the waves off Morro Bay State Park. And be sure to paddle through Morro Bay Harbor for a chance to see otters that call its waters home.

Morro Bay is home to a variety of adorable marine mammals — such as this otter
Morro Bay is home to a variety of adorable marine mammals — such as this otter.
(Joe Johnston / San Luis Obispo Tribune)

🤠 California dude ranch


Turns out, social distancing is easy at cowgirl camp. That’s what Times contributor Laura Mecoy discovered when she visited the V6 Ranch in Parkfield, Calif. The 20,000-acre cattle ranch in Monterey County offers travelers an opportunity to see “California as it once was with vast grasslands, majestic oaks and rolling hills.”

The ranch is operating with some modifications because of the pandemic, but its cattle roundups and Cowboy Academy programs are still offered. A major benefit of spending your day on horseback? Guaranteed social distancing from your fellow cowboys and cowgirls.

Horses and riders cool down on Durhan Lake at the V6 Ranch in Parkfield, Calif.
(V6 Ranch; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

👩‍🌾 Become a farmer


If you’re hoping to escape for a week or longer, a look at the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms website might inspire you. The organization connects volunteers (called WWOOFers) and farms in 132 countries, Times contributor Sara Cagle explains. WWOOFers work for free a few hours a day in exchange for accommodations, and they can filter their search results on the website according to animals they’re interested in working with, location and more. If you’re looking for a place to hang with alpacas without leaving the West Coast, there may be a farm for you.

Safety precautions vary according to farm, and WWOOFers should follow safety guidelines outlined by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and their local government, Cagle writes.

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An illustration of a cow wearing a facial mask on an organic farm.
Want to get away from humans? World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms can help you with that.
(Luke Stackpoole / Dan Meyers / Unsplash; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

🤮Looking for a unique experience?

A rotten-smelling corpse flower is about to bloom in the Conservatory at the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens in San Marino. When it bloomed last summer, people lined up for a chance to smell the stinky plant. “It has been described as smelling like everything from rotten eggs and overcooked Brussels sprouts to dirty gym socks,” Huntington spokesperson Lisa Blackburn told Times staff writer Lisa Boone.

The public can’t experience the bloom in person this year, but everyone can watch it livestreamed here.

The blooming corpse flower at the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens.
The blooming corpse flower at the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens can be seen (and not smelled) via livestream.
(Paul J. Richards / AFP / Getty Images; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas)

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📰 What I’m reading


  • You’ve been patient. Is it OK to finally book that vacation? Times staff writer Christopher Reynolds offers tips on how to approach short-term travel in the coming weeks.
  • Hoping to hike in San Bernardino National Forest? You’ll soon need day-use permits for trails leading to popular high-elevation peaks, writes Times staffer Mary Forgione.
  • Some positive air travel news: United Airlines is no longer charging passengers $200 to change their tickets (other than basic economy) on flights within the U.S., Forgione reports.
  • “Many people see working abroad as a privilege. For me, it’s a way of escaping deadly racism in the U.S.,” writes Imani Bashir in the Cut. She describes her experiences as a Black “digital nomad,” along with the challenges she has faced.
  • Poetry is everywhere in South Korea, from subways to mountain trails to hostels. Jimin Kang, writing for Atlas Obscura, explains how poems can be found in unexpected places across the country.
  • The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route stretches from Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada, to Antelope Wells, N.M. Cyclist Jonny Altrogge tackled this 2,700-mile ride “to challenge perceptions about outdoor recreation, and to show his students of color back in New York City that they had every right to enjoy their time in nature just as much as anyone else,” reports Brian Osgood in Outside.
Illustration of a couple gazing at a body of water
Is it OK to finally book that vacation?
(Stephanie Singleton / For The Times)

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

Dreaming of jetting off to somewhere a little cooler? A vacation to Iceland is not in the cards in the near future, but Hotel Ranga, in southern Iceland, offers a way to see the country’s natural beauty from your smartphone. Its “Waterfall Wednesday” Instagram story series provides an immersive look at some of Iceland’s waterfalls.

Hotel Ranga's Instagram stories show off Icelandic waterfalls every Wednesday.
Go chase waterfalls! Hotel Ranga’s Instagram stories show off Icelandic waterfalls every Wednesday.
(YUCAR FotoGrafik / Unsplash / screenshot from Hotel Ranga’s Instagram; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

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📸 Reader photo

Tag The Times (@latimes) in your travel photos for a chance to be featured in a future edition of Escapes.

🎸 Road song


For the last few weeks, I’ve had “Legends Never Die” by Orville Peck and Shania Twain on repeat when I hop in the car. Watch the song’s social distancing-minded video to see why it is one of my favorite sing-alongs this summer.

Illustration of a horst wearing a cowboy hat and fringed mask.
The best way to escape this week is by jamming to “Legends Never Die” by Orville Peck and Shania Twain.
(Josephine Amalie Paysen / Unsplash; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas)


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