Travelers can spend the night in a school bus to mark back-to-school season

Illustration of a school bus Airbnb
(Bethany Randall / Unsplash; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

By Rachel Schnalzer
Design and illustrations by Jade Cuevas

Good morning, travelers!

As the pandemic continues to impact California and beyond, antsy adventure-seekers are choosing short weekend trips in remote accommodations instead of the typical hotel vacation. In this newsletter, you’ll find several unconventional stays within the state. As always, be mindful of local COVID-19 guidance if you decide to hit the road — and remember to wear a mask.

One more thing: As I’ve mentioned in previous newsletters, I love receiving travel tips as much as I enjoy passing them on. If you have favorite destinations (or travel photos) you’d like to share, send me an email. I may include them in a future newsletter.

🚍 School bus Airbnbs

It’s a massive understatement to say that this back-to-school season is different from previous years. Travelers can mark the beginning of a strange academic year in an unusual way as well.

In January — which feels like a million years ago — my boyfriend and I stayed in a renovated school bus parked in an Austin, Texas, backyard. The bus turned out to be an ideal home base as we explored the city and nearby Hill Country.

California has a few Airbnb school buses too. If you’re interested in booking a stay, I recommend contacting the host to make sure you are comfortable with their cleaning policies.


An artfully decorated school bus in Point Arena, 1½ miles from the ocean

A renovated 1966 Greyhound bus among the Joshua trees in Yucca Valley

A pretty blue school bus delivered to your home in Chico

School buses aren't just for transportation — they can be vacation retreats.
(Chelsea Audibert / Unsplash; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

⛺ Glamping

If you need to get some fresh air but are apprehensive about committing to a full-on camping trip, “glamping” could be the way to go. Times contributor April Orcutt compiled a list of seven glamping destinations in the Golden State with COVID-19 policies in place to protect guests. Here are some of my favorites from her list:

Costanoa: Although glamping options near the beach can be expensive, Costanoa, an hour south of San Francisco, has 75 glamping tents that begin at $96 a night. (Closed for now because of nearby fire damage.)


Wildhaven Sonoma: This Healdsburg glamping destination sits beside the Russian River. Tents from $129 a night.

AutoCamp at Yosemite: If you can splurge, AutoCamp’s glamping tents are a luxe alternative to the usual Yosemite campground. Tents from $279 a night.

 The interior of a glamping tent at Costanoa, on the coast between Santa Cruz and San Francisco.
Costanoa’s glamping tents feature canvas walls and electricity.
(Costanoa Lodge and Camp; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

🌳 Griffith Park

I mentioned Griffith Park in this newsletter a few weeks ago. But truly great destinations — especially those with so much to offer — bear repeating. Angelenos who plan to stick close to home for the foreseeable future should take advantage of this gem within the city limits.

Griffith Park is a behemoth, five times bigger than New York City’s Central Park, and home to coyotes, tarantulas and the famed bachelor mountain lion P-22. That can make it a daunting place to explore. Lucky for us, Times contributor James Bartlett and assistant travel editor Mary Forgione teamed up to create a comprehensive guide to Griffith Park, complete with historical information, destinations within the park, COVID-19 safety precautions and even ghost stories.

What’s your favorite place within the park? Send me an email and I may feature it in a future newsletter.

An animated illustration of Griffith Park.
(Antoine Doré / For The Times)

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🐧 Looking for a unusual experience?

Zoos and aquariums, grappling with a loss of income from ticket sales, concessions and gift shops, have been hit particularly hard during the pandemic, explains Times reporter Hailey Branson-Potts. She notes that the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach has gotten creative in generating revenue. For example, it’s relaunched its $150-per-person penguin encounter sessions for small groups.

The penguin program allows guests to see Magellanic penguins up close and meet their caregivers at the aquarium (from a safe distance).

A penguin kisses a staffer on her nose at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Rey, a penguin, affectionately kisses a staffer outside the penguin enclosure at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

📰 What I’m reading

  • Still struggling to get your airfare refunded? Special contributor (and former Times travel editor) Catharine Hamm explains what steps you should take.
  • Was someone flying around LAX in a jet pack? It’s possible. Times reporter Samantha Masunaga breaks down what we know about the bizarre incident.
  • Does “essential travel” include trips to say goodbye to a dying family member? Writing in the Seattle Times, Natachi Onwuamaegbu explores the emotional decisions people have been forced to make during the pandemic.
  • If you find yourself in Portland, Ore., you might try these four day trips to different ecosystems, compiled by Jamie Hale in the Oregonian. He describes how travelers can see mountains, ocean, desert and lush forest, all within a three-hour drive of the city.
  • A geologist accidentally discovered the oldest fossilized footprints in the Grand Canyon in 2016. Shaena Montanari of the Arizona Republic reports on their significance and how the footprints can be spotted on Bright Angel Trail.
Photograph of an airplane at LAX, with an illustration of a figure in a jet pack.
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a ... man in a jet pack? Possibly.
(John Antczak / Associated Press; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

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

    Speaking of aquariums, the sea animals at the Monterey Bay Aquarium are doing great, despite business coming to a standstill. Branson-Potts takes readers behind the scenes at the aquarium, which has been closed to the public in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    You can step inside the aquarium with its free “MeditOcean” virtual series, which features footage of the aquarium’s jellyfish and kelp forest, among other aquatic imagery.

    Monterey Bay Aquarium's YouTube Channel offers “MeditOcean” meditations to get you through the year.
    Monterey Bay Aquarium’s YouTube Channel offers “MeditOcean”meditations to get you through the year.
    (Screenshots from Monterey Bay Aquarium’s YouTube Channel; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

    Tag me in your travel photos for a chance to be featured in a future edition of Escapes.

    🎸 Road song

    “Los Angeles / Give me a miracle, I just want out from this.”

    So begins “Los Angeles,” the first track on Haim’s album “Women in Music Pt. III.” Although many are fleeing the city for emptier pastures, this song encapsulates the desire of some to leave while acknowledging that when you’re from Los Angeles, there’s no place like home.

    Feeling some L.A. blues? Haim's “Los Angeles” could be your new anthem.
    Feeling some L.A. blues? Haim’s “Los Angeles” could be your new anthem.
    (Mary Forgione / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)