Blast back to the 1970s with a driving tour of Los Angeles

A car driving through downtown Los Angeles at sunset.
The 1970s turned 50 in 2020. The LA Conservancy is celebrating with a self-driving tour that includes the Westin Bonaventure Hotel, left.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

By Rachel Schnalzer
Design and illustrations by Jade Cuevas

Good morning, Golden State travelers. This week’s adventures take us to some surprising locales — the first Whale Heritage Site in the country, a waterfall in Yosemite National Park and back-to-the-’70s Los Angeles.

Whether you take these trips this weekend — or save them for later — depends on where you live and your comfort level. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, you should continue to stay within 120 miles of your home until we hear otherwise from the state.


So mask up, stay away from people outside your immediate household and discover all the nearby gems California has to offer. When you discover a stunning spot in your area, let me know so we can feature it in a newsletter.

🔥 Catch sight of Yosemite’s firefall

If you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of Yosemite National Park’s famed “firefall,” be sure to book a day-use reservation — and soon, Times assistant travel editor Mary Forgione says.

The natural phenomenon, which looks like orange lava flowing down the 1,575-foot Horsetail Fall on the east side of El Capitan, lasts only a few weeks. Conditions must be just right, with water in the fall and clear skies so that the sunset is not obscured by clouds.

Advance reservations are required for day visitors in February, and they’re expected to go fast. If you missed the initial reservation release on Feb. 1, keep an eye on the park service website. Forgione explains that the remaining 20% of passes will be released day by day, 48 hours ahead of time.

Even if you score a reservation, there’s no guarantee you’ll see the firefall but there are ways to increase your chances. Forgione points to advice from photographer Aaron Meyers: “The best time to see the light glow on Horsetail Fall is 5:28 to 5:40 p.m. on Feb. 21. Times around sunset between Feb. 18 and Feb. 23 are good too.”

The natural firefall in Yosemite National Park.
The natural “firefall”occurs for just two weeks in February and is reminiscent of the firefall of embers that park employees pushed over Glacier Point to entertain guests until 1968.
(Bethany Gediman / National Park Service / Associated Press; Photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles)

🕺Step into the ‘70s on this drive

Blast 50 years into the past with this architectural driving tour of L.A. put together by Times contributor Sharon Boorstin.

Boorstin was inspired by the Los Angeles Conservancy’s tours that show off L.A.’s buildings, cultural sites and landmarks from the ‘70s. Included on her list are stunners such as the Westin Bonaventure Hotel, the Triforium , and of course, the Brady Bunch House.

To get in the spirit of the decade, throw on a leisure suit or peasant blouse — and don’t forget to crank up Fleetwood Mac as you cruise.

The Brady Bunch house in Studio City
The “Brady Bunch” house in Studio City was built in 1959, but the exterior was used in the opening and closing shots of the classic 1969-’74 sitcom.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

🐳 Visit the first Whale Heritage Site in the U.S.

In January, Dana Point joined Hervey Bay in Australia, the Bluff in South Africa and Tenerife-La Gomera Marine Area in Spain as a Whale Heritage Site, the first in the United States.

“It really is something that will solidify Dana Point as the whale watching and dolphin capital of the world,” Donna Kalez, co-president of Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching, told Forgione.

As Forgione explains in her story, visitors to Dana Point may spot gray whales on a tour as short as 2½ hours now through May. Blue, fin and minke whales began to appear in the 2000s, which means there are whales in the area all year.

Both Capt. Dave’s and Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching offer tours if you’re interested in booking a trip.

A gray whale
A gray whale breaches off Dana Point.
(Frank Brennan / Dana Wharf Whale Watching; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

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⚡ Cruise the Electric Mile

Attention festival-goers: Coachella and Stagecoach are canceled this year, but Electric Daisy Carnival is still set for May in Las Vegas. Attending any music festival, however, is risky until vaccinations are more widely distributed.

But you can experience some of the energy of EDC by taking a drive through Electric Mile, an audiovisual experience at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia. Electric Mile promises to take you through “seven worlds of light, sound and imagination” — an exciting prospect in an era of limited travel.

As Times listings coordinator Matt Cooper reports, the experience runs from 5:45-9 p.m. daily through Feb. 14. Tickets start at $69.99 per vehicle; advance purchase is required.

illustration of car with bright neon colors
Electric Mile in Santa Anita Park brings music festival vibes to your car.
(Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

📰 What I’m reading

  • Twenty-three miles of California 1 near Big Sur are closed. Repairs will take months, report Times travel writer Christopher Reynolds and staffer Erin B. Logan.
  • Real ID is back on the radar. Times contributor and former travel editor Catharine Hamm explains how to obtain or renew yours.
  • When will you feel safe to travel? Reynolds spoke with five epidemiologists who shared their hopes, fears, data and guesses.
  • Need a COVID test on the fly? Times data journalist Jennifer Lu reports that the Oakland airport is the first in the country to offer it from vending machines.
  • Their doors may be closed, but embassies continue to show people the world, Molly McCluskey writes in Smithsonian. She describes how embassies are offering poetry readings, cooking demonstrations and other virtual activities.
  • Why is brandy so popular in Wisconsin? Amiee Maxwell explains “how Wisconsin became the center of the “brandy belt in Atlas Obscura.
  • There are no Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans this year, but thousands are making “house floats,” according to an Associated Press story by Janet McConnaughey that appears in Afar.
illustration of airplane with California ID
(Ross May / Los Angeles Times; Getty Images)

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

The L.A. skyline is iconic, but if you’re feeling a little stir-crazy during the pandemic, you can feast your eyes on skylines across the world with this livestream service.

Skyline Webcams transports viewers to Bruges; Belgium; Mykonos, Greece; and other far-flung locations. Just be sure to time it right — you don’t want to tune in when everyone is asleep in Europe.

Hat-tip to this Guardian story, where I first learned about Skyline Webcams.

illustration of L.A. skyline
Get a virtual sky-high view with Skyline Webcams.
(Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

📸 Photo of the week

A bird
A bird flies over marshland near the Salton Sea.
(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

🎸 Road song

I’m a firm believer that pets make everything in life better, including travel. That’s why “Me & My Dog” by boygenius is our road song of the week.

My favorite line: “I wish I was on a spaceship, just me and my dog and an impossible view.”

Lyrics from boygenius' “Me & My Dog” paired with photo of dog in a car.
Boygenius’ “Me & My Dog” reminds us that sometimes the best travel buddies can have four paws and a tail.
(Ana do Amaral / Unsplash; typography by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times