A few unusual ways to experience nature in Southern California

A woman and her daughter paint together in an art studio
Yhanni James paints with daughter Nali Brown, 3, in the art studio of Paul and Nancy Terry’s backyard garden.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)
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By Rachel Schnalzer
Design and illustrations by Jade Cuevas

Good morning, travelers. Nature has been a salve for many of us during the pandemic. Local hiking trails, beaches and gardens have always been our sanctuaries, but they’ve become more essential over the last year.

This week, you’ll find a few unusual ways to experience nature in L.A. and beyond. Have you discovered a beautiful and revitalizing place nearby during the pandemic? Let me know — I would love to include it in Escapes.

🌳 A musical app that unlocks Griffith Park

Looking for a new way to experience Griffith Park? Don’t miss this GPS-enabled app that “uses music to illuminate the natural environment.”

“Ellen Reid Soundwalk,” created by composer and sound artist Ellen Reid, plays music that has been geocoded to locations across the park. Some tracks play for 20 seconds, while others play for 20 minutes. Visitors to the park are guaranteed a different experience each time they wander the trails.

Times arts and culture writer Deborah Vankin recently spoke with Reid to learn more about the app and what Griffith Park means to her as an artist. “The discoveries and inspirations that have come from being in that amazing landscape are infinite,” Reid said.

Sound artist Ellen Reid uses her smartphone to listen to music at Griffith Park
Composer Ellen Reid created “Soundwalk,” a GPS-enabled work that uses music to illuminate the natural environment in Griffith Park.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

🌼 No poppies, no problem

If you’re hoping to revel in wild poppy fields this spring, you may be out of luck. Times assistant travel editor Mary Forgione recently reported that the poppies that often bloom in Lake Elsinore and the Antelope Valley probably will be no-shows this year.

But here’s a substitution: After taking most of the 2020 season off, the Flower Fields in Carlsbad are back. Feature writer Pam Kragen at the San Diego Union-Tribune reports that the fields are now open for a nine-week season. General manager Fred Clarke told Kragen that visitors are in for quite a show. “We had a fantastic germination this year so it’s going to be really beautiful here,” Clarke said.

Reduced capacity rules and face mask requirements are in place to enhance the Flower Fields’ safety. If you’d like to visit, you must buy advance tickets online. They cost $20 for adults, $18 for seniors and military and $10 for children ages 3 to 10.

Martin Gonzalez harvests ranunculas from the Flower Fields east of Interstate 5 in Carlsbad.
The Flower Fields in Carlsbad are open for the public to enjoy for a nine-week season.
(John Gibbins / San Diego Union-Tribune; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

🍃 Rent a garden

You’re familiar with Airbnb, Turo and Hipcamp, but have you heard of Healing Gardens, an app that allows you to rent private gardens?

Times writer Lisa Boone recently wrote about the new online marketplace that allows gardeners to list their green spaces for rent. The company was started by Abhishek Arora and Rishi Kumar, who see Healing Gardens as a way to empower hosts economically, provide access to gardens and help the environment.


“I wanted to do something that would alleviate climate change,” Arora told Boone. “The only way I knew how was to create a business that would encourage people to grow more plants and trees.”

People use Healing Gardens to host yoga classes, work, and relax with their loved ones. “We have families and children who reserve space to frolic in the garden,” said Nancy Terry, the host of Arts and Roots Garden in Inglewood, where families can enjoy a two-hour art activity for $40.

Healing Gardens has 17 gardens for rent in L.A. and the WorldBeat Cultural Center’s EthnoBotany Peace Garden in San Diego.

An illustration with scenes of people and a garden
Scenes from Paul and Nancy Terry’s Arts and Roots Garden that is available for rent.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times

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🚘 Planning a road trip in the next few months? Here’s some advice

Many of us are itching to hit the road this spring and summer. But to maximize your chances for a safe trip, you have some work to do, Times contributor and former travel editor Catharine Hamm writes.

Here are some tips from her latest On the Spot column:

  • Be sure to stock up on hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes for the trip — as well as a “restroom kit” with soap, sanitizer, paper towels and toilet seat covers.
  • Bring masks and research mask mandates for your destinations.
  • Inquire about your lodging’s cleaning protocols and make sure they match your expectations.
  • Be prepared to pay a little extra for gas. According to AAA Gas Prices, you’ll pay an average of $3.50 for a gallon of gas in California.
  • But you may save on hotels. Research and analytics firm STR found that the average daily room rate in 2020 declined 21.3% to just over $103 a night.

Hoping to fly instead of driving? Hamm also covered what you can expect from air travel this summer.

Neon "Route 66" sign with illustrated highway.
Road trip season is coming up. Times contributor and former travel editor Catharine Hamm has tips for how to safely cruise the highways.
(Ian Dooley / Unsplash; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

📰 What I’m reading

  • A section of Highway 1 near Big Sur washed out last month. But here’s some good news: Caltrans estimates the section will be open again by early summer, Times travel writer Christopher Reynolds reports.
  • Freaked out by that Boeing 777 engine failure? Times business reporter Hugo Martín explains how incidents like this happen more often than you think — and how pilots are trained to respond.
  • A writer’s visit to Iceland inspired a futurist novel of climate change and hope. Times contributor Margaret Wappler describes how “Migrations” author Charlotte McConaghy channeled her travels into a novel.
  • Love spotting monarch butterflies on your travels? Times staffer Jeannette Marantos explains how you can help the fragile insect.
  • For a volcanologist living on Mt. Etna, the latest eruption was a delight. Robin George Andrews, writing for Atlas Obscura, spoke to a scientist who calls the Italian volcano home.
  • “My Smoky, Campfire-Scented Layers Are My Favorite Backpacking Souvenirs.” Read this short-but-sweet story about the power of scent from Adam Roy in Backpacker.
A photo illustration highlights the washed-out portion of Highway 1
Crews continue to dig out debris from a washed-out section of Highway 1.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

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

Maggie Mae’s in Austin, Texas. The Green Mill in Chicago. The Horse You Came In On in Baltimore.

Many travelers love visiting iconic bars, speak-easies and saloons on their adventures. But even during the pandemic, you can experience pre-pandemic times with a website called I Miss My Bar.

Toggle the settings on the right side of the screen to adjust the sound of patrons talking, bartenders working and other familiar bits of ambience. Hat tip to Jade Cuevas, our designer, for quenching our travel bug with this recommendation.

Screenshot from
With the website I Miss My Bar, you can replicate the sounds you love and miss from your local dive.
(Screenshot from; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

📸 Photo of the week

The Milky Way is seen above Joshua Tree National Park
The Milky Way was captured with a 25-second exposure at Joshua Tree National Park on June 21, 2020.
(Raul Roa / Los Angeles Times)

🎸 Road song

Hit the pavement this weekend with the latest version of Haim’s “Gasoline,” featuring Taylor Swift.

Safe and smooth travels this weekend, everyone 🛣️

Photo of band Haim
Let Haim’s new version of “Gasoline” with Taylor Swift be your road trip companion.
(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)