Fires and poor air quality trim our travel options. Where can we go?

The Hotel Figueroa in downtown L.A. is offering a 26% discount to guests from California.
The Hotel Figueroa in downtown L.A. is offering a 26% discount to guests from California.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

By Rachel Schnalzer
Design and illustrations by Jade Cuevas

Good morning, travelers!

When COVID-19 restrictions shut down indoor activities in Southern California, many travelers looked outdoors for adventures around the region. But now as fires and poor air quality discourage people from enjoying hiking trails and bike paths, it can be hard to find a safe escape.


A possible solution: staycations and modest adventures in the urban areas many of us call home.

🌴 San Diego

For several weeks, San Diego County has had “the highest hotel occupancy rates on the West Coast and some of the lowest COVID-19 infection and death rates in Southern California.” Times travel writer Christopher Reynolds recently explored San Diego’s relatively positive yet precarious position as a pandemic destination. From Little Italy’s main drag to museums reopening in Balboa Park, Reynolds explains what travelers can expect if they decide to visit San Diego’s beloved attractions.

But before you go, remember that California officials continue to ask that we “avoid traveling long distances for vacations or pleasure as much as possible.”

Musician Jason Brown plays on India Street in San Diego's Little Italy as masked people walk by.
Musician Jason Brown, left, plays on India Street in San Diego’s Little Italy neighborhood.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas/Los Angeles Times)

🏨 L.A. hotel staycation

Would you consider vacationing just a few miles from your home? That’s what some stir-crazy Angelenos are doing, according to Times business reporter Hugo Martín. He spoke with staycationing locals to learn why they are drawn to places such as the Hotel Erwin in Venice and the Hotel Figueroa in downtown Los Angeles during the pandemic. “It gives us a bit of sanity away from the kids and everything,” said one man who in recent months has stayed at hotels in Palm Springs, Santa Barbara, Rancho Palos Verdes and Marina del Rey.

If you could use a staycation, it’s worth checking whether hotels near you are offering reduced rates or extra perks. As Martín wrote, some discounts — which can be as much as 30% — apply only to guests who live in California or L.A. County.

The Hotel Figueroa in downtown Los Angeles
Los Angeles hotels are promoting discounts and packages to attract local visitors.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

🌱 Your home garden

If you’re sticking close to home for the time being, consider using this time to spruce up — or create — a garden.

A few tips to get you started, in light of the fires and heat impacting our area:

  • If the fires have left ash all over your garden, there’s no need to worry — just gently hose it off your plants. The ash will fall onto the soil, where it can serve as a useful nutrient, Times staff writer Jeanette Marantos explains.
  • For house plants struggling with the heat, make sure the soil is evenly moistened. A humidifier will help plants combat rapid evaporation, Times staff writer Lisa Boone says.
  • When it’s hot outside, move house plants a few extra inches from your windows and walls, if they tend to heat up. And be sure to keep plants out of the direct airflow of air-conditioning units, Boone cautions.

If you need inspiration, I recommend Boone’s profile of Ken Sparks, whose East L.A. garden is “filled with more than 50 types of fruit trees and plants.”

Plants in bell jars
Spend some time with your plants this week. They could use some TLC (and more water) too.
(Gabriella Angotti-Jones / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

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🎣 Looking for a family experience?

Where can you go ax throwing, fly fishing, roller skating, rock climbing and mountain biking all in the same day? SkyPark at Santa’s Village, near Lake Arrowhead. Times contributor Elisa Parhad recently visited the park and describes how her family of four tackled the staggering number of activities SkyPark has to offer. Some good news for anyone anxiously awaiting the holidays: As the name suggests, the park features “Christmasy kitsch” such as a “Letters to Santa” mailbox and Kris Kringle’s Coffee Shop.

A word to the wise: The El Dorado fire continues to affect the San Bernardino area so you might want to visit this destination later in the fall.

Camping at SkyPark at Santa's Village near Lake Arrowhead.
(Elisa Parhad; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

📰 What I’m reading

  • Hardcore cruise loyalists are eager to get back on the water. But experts say it might take a long time for the industry to recover, according to Times contributor Rosemary McClure. She takes a look at the future of cruises.
  • Eight women recently walked Harriet Tubman’s path to freedom from Cambridge, Md., to Kennett Square, Pa. Katherine LaGrave explains why they took this five-day, 116-mile journey in AFAR.
  • Believe it or not, storm-chasing tours are more popular than ever, writes Linda Logan in Outside. She takes readers inside her thrilling experience chasing a tornado in Oklahoma.
  • Mackinac Island, a well-known vacation destination in Michigan, is offering remote learning escapes for families. Phoebe Wall Howard describes in the Detroit Free Press how some families are using the island as an educational retreat during the pandemic.
  • You might not be the only explorer in your home. Jonathan Losos, writing in National Geographic, explains the results of a study that tracked the travels of pet cats allowed to adventure outside.
An illustration of holding hands on a road
Read about the women who decided to walk and document their journey along Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad Byway.
(Monty Lov / Unsplash; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

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

Do you miss visiting the library? Take a spin through the Richard Riordan Central Library in downtown L.A. on this virtual tour. It’s not quite the same as an in-person stroll among the stacks, but you might learn something new about the library — for example, the story behind the colorful ceiling in the library’s first-floor lobby.

Take a virtual stroll through the Richard Riordan Central Library in downtown L.A.
Take a virtual stroll through the Richard Riordan Central Library in downtown L.A.
(Screengrab from 360 Tour of Central Library; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

📸 Reader photo

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🎸 Road song

In January my partner and I visited Austin, Texas, and went on a short day trip in the Hill Country. We listened to live music in Luckenbach and tried on cowboy hats in Fredericksburg before making our way to San Antonio. The trip feels like a lifetime ago, but every time I want to feel as if I’m back in Hill Country, I play “Texas Sun” by Khruangbin and Leon Bridges. I hope you’ll find the song as transporting as I do.

Illustration for the song "Texas Sun" by Khruangbin and Leon Bridges
The song “Texas Sun” by Khruangbin and Leon Bridges can transport you to another state and a better, sunnier mood.
(Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)