No haunted houses, no problem. Visit these spooky California destinations instead

Yosemite Falls seen without people due to the park closure on April 11, 2020.
Yosemite National Park will reopen Nov. 1 to drive-up traffic, ending the day-use reservation system.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

By Rachel Schnalzer
Design and illustrations by Jade Cuevas

Good morning, travelers!

We’re one week closer to Halloween, whatever that means in the coronavirus era. Trick-or-treat plans are dicey this year, and forget about a visit to your favorite haunted house or theme-park fright night. But here’s positive news for anyone in need of a ghostly thrill: California is home to many allegedly haunted locations.

In this edition of Escapes, you’ll find places you can visit to make up for the lack of Halloween scares this year. Even if you are skeptical about spooky stories, come along for the ride. These destinations are in some of California’s most beautiful places, so they’re well worth a visit, whether you see a specter or not.

🌊 Point Sur Lighthouse

Big Sur is a terrible place to have a car accident, and it was a nasty spot for shipwrecks back in the day. Point Sur lighthouse, which overlooks the Pacific, is said to be haunted by the ghosts of those who lost their lives in the nearby waters, as well as the family members of lighthouse keepers who once called it home.

Fans of the supernatural — as well as your average West Coast road tripper going to or from Monterey — may be happy to hear that Point Sur State Historic Park is reopening for tours beginning Saturday. At this time, visitors are not allowed to enter the lighthouse during the tour, but the sweeping Central Coast views are more than enough to make the park worth a stop.


The Point Sur lighthouse
Point Sur State Historic Park is reopening for tours beginning Saturday.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

🦁 Old L.A. Zoo

The Old Zoo at Griffith Park can be a strange place to visit — even without ghosts — and the ruins now are covered with graffiti. Hikers and picnickers walk past cramped enclosures that used to house lions, tigers, ostriches and more. Some say spectral animal noises can still be heard at night, though it’s possible the noises are from real-life fauna that call Griffith Park home rather than the ghosts of zoo animals past. I’ll let you decide.

If you’re not much for spooky hikes around abandoned zoos, there are plenty of other areas to explore in Griffith Park. Just take a spin through James Bartlett and Mary Forgione’s comprehensive guide to the park.

Scenes from the old L.A. Zoo in Griffith Park.
The old zoo in Griffith Park, which opened in 1912 and closed in the 1960s, still features some cages and is a popular site for filming.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

🤠 Bodie

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include at least one California ghost town in this extra-eerie edition of Escapes.

Access to Bodie State Historic Park in Bridgeport is limited because of the pandemic — all historic buildings are closed — but the ghost town is worth visiting if you have extra time on a trip to Mammoth or Yosemite. Guests can enjoy a self-guided tour of the town center and explore what was once a booming gold-mining community of almost 10,000 people.

Bodie also is home to a famous “curse” that afflicts anyone who steals so much as a nail from the dusty ground. Don’t be too scared, though: KQED reported in 2018 that, contrary to many travelers’ beliefs, rumors of the curse were started by the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Still, you should treat artifacts in Bodie with respect and leave them be.

Gold-miners used to call the area that is now Bodie State Historic Park home.
Gold-miners once resided in the area that is now Bodie State Historic Park. Today, visitors can walk the ghost town’s deserted streets.
(Marc Martin / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

🏞️ Big news for National Park buffs

Heads up for travelers hoping to visit Yosemite National Park this fall: As of Nov. 1, it’s “no reservation, no problem.”

Times travel writer Christopher Reynolds and assistant travel editor Mary Forgione report that Yosemite soon will reopen to drive-up traffic, ending the day-use reservation system put in place because of the pandemic. “We feel that the numbers that we’re going to see starting in November are going to be manageable,” park spokesman Scott Gediman said.

If you decide to make the trip in November, it’s important to keep an eye out for closures caused by wildfires. And bring a mask: Yosemite is no stranger to the virus, with the coronavirus appearing in the park’s sewage in July.

Paddle boarders on the Merced River in Yosemite Valley.
Paddle boarders head out on the Merced River in Yosemite Valley.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

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📰 What I’m reading

COVID international flying essentials: passport, hand sanitizer and a face mask.
One woman met traveling internationally head on, with the help of hand sanitizer, a mask and numerous negative COVID tests.
(Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

  • Kluane National Park, in Canada’s Yukon Territory, is “one of the most extreme environments on the planet,” writes Pamela Roth in the Vancouver Sun. She describes her trip to a park that’s home to the world’s largest icefield outside Antarctica and Greenland, as well as 17 of Canada’s 20 tallest peaks.
  • More than 5,000 fire lookouts were built across the country 100 years ago. Now, only 300 are in use, writes Justin Franz in Atlas Obscura. He offers an inside look at life for those who spend their days in solitude, watching for fires in remote stretches of the West.
  • Oktoberfest, “the largest beer festival in the world,” is canceled this year because of the pandemic. But disappointed travelers are finding ways to celebrate without hopping on a plane to Munich. Vanessa Wilkins, writing in Travel & Leisure, explains how she planned seven days of Oktoberfest fun from the comfort of her home.

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

What do I miss most about traveling abroad? Experiencing everyday life in an unfamiliar place. Sitting outside at a cafe, watching traffic fly by. Walking down a residential street as people return home from work.

Soundcities is a salve for anyone who misses the sensory experience of exploring a new place. Users can select from a broad range of cities and toggle on different ambient noises particular to each city, such as the sound of people walking through gardens and trains passing by a marketplace. If you’ve ever wanted to know what it sounds like to stroll by the Kowloon Park Aviary in Hong Kong or sit by a lake in the Blue Ridge Mountains, this is your chance.

Hat tip to Bloomberg, where I first read about Soundcities.

A screenshot from the Soundcities website
Soundcities can transport your ears to streets, sidewalks and landmarks around the world.
(Screenshot from Soundcities; photo illustration Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

📸 Our favorite photo

🎸 Road song

It’s a new twist on an old favorite. In May, Whitney and Waxahatchee released a cover of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Though California is a good 2,000 miles from West Virginia, this song translates well to a drive through Paso Robles wine country or the San Jacinto Mountains.

Do you have a favorite road song of the moment? Let me know and I may feature it in a future Escapes edition.

Ghost singing “Take Me Home, Country Roads”
Whitney and Waxahatchee’s cover of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” is a classic road song.
(Jaron Whelan / Unsplash; photo illustration Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)