Fires and poor air quality make local travel tough. Here’s where you can go

The Stargazing Tower overlooks the Chinese Garden at the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens.
The Stargazing Tower is the highest point in the Chinese Garden at the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens in San Marino.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

By Rachel Schnalzer
Design and illustrations by Jade Cuevas

Good morning, travelers! Lots of us have been avoiding the outdoors in response to the fires and poor air quality blanketing Southern California. Stir-craziness is setting in, especially as we continue social distancing and avoiding crowded indoor areas.

Fortunately, there are road trips that can take us to areas alight with autumn leaves. And some beloved attractions, such as the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, are reopening, albeit with new restrictions. Read on to find ideas about how to get back into nature as safely as possible.


🍁 Enjoy fall colors

As you scroll through Instagram, do you envy East Coast friends who post photos of the changing leaves in upstate New York, Vermont and other fall destinations?

Well, there’s no reason Californians can’t enjoy gorgeous fall foliage as well. Assistant travel editor Mary Forgione compiled a list of the best places to catch yellow, orange and red leaves in Southern California. Her list will take you to vineyards in Temecula Valley and hiking trails around Big Bear, as well as locations closer to home such as the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens in San Marino. In fact, the Huntington may be my first fall-leaf destination — the golden ginkgo trees in the garden’s Zen Court look brighter than others I’ve seen.

If you’re heading to Northern California, it’s worth paying a visit to Sacramento to enjoy some of its fall colors as well. Forgione created another list that breaks down the best places to spot leaves in our state capital.

Trees' leaves turn a vibrant yellow in late fall at Capitol Park in Sacramento.
(Steve Arita; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

🌼 Visit the Huntington’s Garden of Flowing Fragrance

Speaking of the Huntington, have you heard about its newly expanded Chinese Garden? Staff writer Jeanette Marantos recently wrote about the $25-million completion of Liu Fang Yuan — the Garden of Flowing Fragrance — which she describes as “a deep and personal dive into Chinese culture, art and history.”

To make the most of a trip to the garden, Marantos encourages visitors to bring a smartphone. The Huntington offers virtual audio guides and a GPS map that provides insight into what you’ll see, as well as translations of Chinese characters carved into many of the garden’s buildings, courtyards and large rocks.


If you would like to visit the Huntington, you must make a reservation in advance. Tickets become available every other Tuesday at noon.

The Verdant Microcosm in the Chinese Garden at the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens.
The Verdant Microcosm is designed for the study, creation and display of penjing, miniature potted landscapes similar to Japanese bonsai, at the Chinese Garden at the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

🚋 Take a ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Anyone headed to Palm Springs this weekend is in luck: The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is back in action after it closed because of the pandemic. Riders can expect extra space: Times travel writer Christopher Reynolds reports that the tram will be operating at less than 25% capacity to allow for social distancing.

He explains that riders are required to wear a mask, keep a distance from one another and submit to a temperature check before boarding the tram. Management said it has increased cleaning and taken other precautions to reduce the risk of virus transmission.

If you travel to Palm Springs, take a look at Reynolds’ recommendations for a socially distant vacation in the Coachella Valley.

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway connects the dry desert (altitude 2,643 feet) and frequently snowy upper slopes of Mt. San Jacinto (8,516 feet) in 10 minutes.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

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‍🎨 Need a dash of culture this weekend?

Miss visiting museums? Times listings coordinator Matt Cooper included the Laguna Art Museum’s exhibition “Our Ocean’s Edge” on his list of “nine Southern California shows you can see in person.” Visitors can see L.A.-based photographer Jasmine Swope’s black-and-white images of the California coast at the museum through Jan. 10.

If you visit the museum, bring your face mask and keep a distance from other guests. Reynolds also included Laguna Beach on his list of distanced trips: He recommends visiting open spaces such as Crystal Cove State Park, which includes more than 3 miles of beach, a campground and two eateries.

Black-and-white photo of Matador State Beach by Jasmine Swope.
Jasmine Swope’s “El Matador State Beach, Point Dume State Marine Conservation Area, No. 1,” 2011, palladium print.
(Craig Krull Gallery; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

📰 What I’m reading

  • It’s been seven months since most Americans have been able to travel abroad. Wonder which countries you can visit? Travel writer Christopher Reynolds and assistant travel editor Mary Forgione have you covered.
  • You won’t be visiting Disneyland anytime soon. Gov. Gavin Newsom says California theme parks must stay closed for now.
  • Are you still waiting for a cruise refund? Some help may be on the way, says Times contributor (and former travel editor) Catharine Hamm.
  • Like apples? So do black bear cubs. I wrote about the adorable “sound of contentment a group of cubs made as they chowed down on a snack.
  • By now, you probably know what hygge means. But what about friluftsliv? In National Geographic, Jen Rose Smith breaks down “the concept of friluftsliv, or open-air living,” which “encourages outdoor adventures for all ages in all weather.”
  • For gender-nonconforming travelers, airports are particularly stressful to navigate, reports Lindsey Danis in Conde Nast Traveler. “The technology and biases in airports make travel unsafe for people like me,” Danis writes.
Disneyland's gates are closed.
Disneyland has been closed since March 14 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

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

Each week, I offer a way to travel virtually from your office, couch or wherever you enjoy experiencing a new place. This week, I’m excited to share a way to travel back in time along Sunset Boulevard.

Times staff writer Deborah Vankin reports that the Getty has premiered an interactive database of more than 65,000 photographs taken by artist Ed Ruscha along Sunset between 1965 and 2007. By pulling a little yellow pickup truck across your screen, you can explore what the iconic stretch of road looked like over the span of 40-plus years.

Take a virtual drive down Sunset with the Getty's interactive database.
Take a virtual drive down Sunset with the Getty’s interactive database.
(Screengrab from

📸 Our favorite photo

🎸 Road song

“It’s a good day to be, a good day for me, a good day to see my favorite colors.”

Eric Burton of Black Pumas began writing “Colors” while watching a sunset, as reported by Nathan Leigh in Afropunk. “Eric woke up midday and started the song as the sun was going down. He was inspired by the rich multicolored hues of the sky,” producer Adrian Quesada told Leigh.

Chances are, you’ve been inspired by a sunset or two as well — and I hope you enjoy this song of the week.

Illustration of Eric Burton of Black Pumas' “Colors”
Inspired by the shades of a setting sun, Eric Burton of Black Pumas’ “Colors” will inspire you to soak in a sunset as well.
(Illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)