Here’s a creative new way to experience an old L.A. landmark

Hikers on a path in the Karoo Gardens section at the Ventura Botanical Garden in Ventura, Calif.
Hikers on a path at the Ventura Botanical Gardens in January.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

By Rachel Schnalzer
Design and illustrations by Jade Cuevas

Good morning, travelers. There are signs of hope in California as the number of coronavirus cases and deaths in California is shrinking and vaccines are slowly being distributed to residents.

It’s still unknown, however, when travel will return to normal. Until the state lifts its guidance that encourages people to stay within 120 miles of their residence, we should continue to stay close to home.


This week, you’ll find places to explore within L.A. County, as well as a destination less than 75 miles north of downtown L.A. As always, let me know if you’ve discovered any exciting destinations in Southern California or beyond.

🌺 These gardens are making a comeback

The Ventura Botanical Gardens were barely planted before the Thomas fire burned through them in late 2017. Now the gardens are reborn, Times staffer Jeanette Marantos writes.

Life quickly prevailed; about 60 days after the fire scorched the gardens, some plants were showing new growth. Case in point: The gardens’ rare Chilean wine palms continued to grow despite their charred trunks.

The Mediterranean-climate shrubs, trees and succulents are a treat for the eyes and nose, but even if you’re not a plant buff, the views of Anacapa and Santa Cruz islands and the Santa Monica Mountains make the gardens worth a visit.

The gardens are open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, except Mondays. Admission costs $7 but is free on Fridays.

Hikers walk past California pepper trees at the Ventura Botanical Garden.
Hikers descend a trail lined with California pepper trees at the Ventura Botanical Gardens.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

🎨 Step into a Van Gogh painting

Mark your calendars, L.A. aesthetes: An ultra-immersive Vincent Van Gogh exhibit is arriving May 27. As Times staffer Julia Barajas reports, visitors to the exhibit will see some of Van Gogh’s most famous artworks projected onto half a million cubic feet of wall and floor space.

“The sunflowers move in the wind, clouds float by, stars sparkle,” the show’s coproducer told Barajas. “You get the sense that Van Gogh’s art comes to life.”

There’s no word yet on where the exhibit will be held, but COVID-19 guidelines (such as a mask requirement and temperature checks) will be in place.


Tickets are on sale now and cost $39.99 for off-peak times, $49.99 for peak times.

Projections of artist Vincent Van Gogh in the “Immersive Van Gogh” exhibit
Escape into a Van Gogh painting this spring when the “Immersive Van Gogh” exhibit comes to Los Angeles.
(Michael Brosilow; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

🎢 Rediscover the Santa Monica Pier

Ahead of Valentine’s Day, I asked readers to send us their favorite L.A. dates. One beloved date destination that readers named over and over again? The Santa Monica Pier.

After reading people’s fond memories of the landmark, I did a little research and discovered its new “Secret Story Tour,” an interactive mobile app visitors can download to “solve location-based puzzles to unlock secrets and untold stories of the Pier.” The app is a fun way to learn about the pier’s long history, with plenty of photo opportunities built in.

The full experience takes about 45 minutes to an hour to complete; the app costs $19.99 to download. Quick tip: If you want to visit the pier in person, go on a weekday to avoid crowds. It’s open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily,

Santa Monica Pier with illustrated points of interest.
See the Santa Monica Pier from new angles with help from its new “Secret Story Tour” mobile app.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

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🌳 Visit this reader-submitted destination

As regular readers of Escapes know, I love receiving tips about your favorite destinations in Los Angeles and beyond.

A couple of weeks ago, Times reader Jared Harden emailed me about one of his favorite recreational areas: Simms Park in Bellflower. He explained that the small park includes an outdoor gym, a playground and a community center. If you’re in the neighborhood, it sounds as if it’s a nice place to recharge for a few hours.

And if you’re looking for more park recommendations, check out Times features writer Lisa Boone’s list of the 15 best places in L.A. to find some shade.

Silent video of Simms park
Times reader Jared Harden suggests taking a break at Simms Park in Bellflower.
(Jared Harden; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

📰 What I’m reading

  • Britain has started a mandatory hotel quarantine for some arrivals, Jill Lawless reports for the Associated Press.
  • Canada also will require air travelers to isolate at hotels beginning Monday, Rob Gillies writes for the Associated Press.
  • Wondering what the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will look like? Rachel Chang, writing in Condé Nast Traveler, explains how it could take place as planned.
  • Here’s why you might consider visiting a national monument instead of a national park on your next excursion, from Maggie Slepian in Backpacker.
  • Learn about soccer’s least-known birthplace in Glasgow, Scotland, courtesy of Isaac Shultz in Atlas Obscura.
  • Watch ice get removed from the Eiffel Tower with a blowtorch. Turns out, salt and metal don’t mix well, Cailey Rizzo writes in Travel + Leisure.

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

A few weeks ago, I included here Google Arts & Culture’s virtual tour of Kenai Fjords National Park. Recently, I learned that the platform also offers museum exhibits you can experience in your living room.

Among the museums featured are the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and the Museo del Oro in Bogotá, Colombia. Take a look and let me know if you have favorites among its collection of virtual experiences.

Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture building
You can tour the National Museum of African American History and Culture with Google Arts & Culture’s virtual tour.
(Getty Images; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

📸 Photo of the week

Two hikers walking on Catalina Island
Santa Catalina’s wild beauty may remind you of Baja California or other coastal gems.
(Mary Forgione / Los Angeles Times)

🎸 Road song

The moment I heard “Pink City,” the first track off Pink Sweats’ new album, I thought of weekend drives around L.A., with skyscrapers, palm trees and strip malls cloaked in morning light. I hope this weekend brings you some close-to-home adventures. Until next week!

L.A. skyline photo edited pink with lyrics from Pink Sweats' "Pink City"
Let Pink Sweats help you see L.A. in a new pink light with the song “Pink City.”
(Pedro Marroquin / Unsplash; Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)