Soak in spring at these four outdoor destinations

The Alabama Hills National Scenic Area
A shadow is cast against the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area west of Lone Pine.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

By Rachel Schnalzer
Design and illustrations by Jade Cuevas

Good morning, travelers. It’s surreal to think that one year ago, we were just days away from entering lockdown. So much has changed since then, including the way we travel and experience the world around us.

For the record:

2:32 p.m. March 11, 2021In a previous version, the Alabama Hills portion of this newsletter referred to Interstate 395. U.S. 395 is a highway, not a freeway.

Since I began writing Escapes last summer, you’ve sent me your recommendations for low-risk, outdoor destinations. Nothing makes me smile more than a travel tip from a reader: Throughout the pandemic, they’ve been a constant reminder that Southern California is home to unmatched beauty and recreational opportunities.


That’s why I’m starting this newsletter edition with two reader-submitted destinations. As always, please keep them coming.

🌷 Celebrate spring at the South Coast Botanic Garden

Spring has sprung at the South Coast Botanic Garden, where a special “Bulbs in the Garden” event is planned for March 27.

Escapes reader Traude Gitter recently emailed me to let me know how much she enjoys walking around the Palos Verdes Peninsula gardens. “Right now the tulips are in full bloom,” she wrote.

Besides the garden’s spring blooms, visitors can explore the banyan grove, desert garden, an area dedicated to California’s native plants and more. It’s a relaxing destination for the family, including your dog. The gardens offer special dog-walking hours for those who don’t want to leave their four-legged pals at home.

Tickets must be purchased in advance.

Various flowers at the South Coast Botanic Garden
The South Coast Botanic Garden is hosting a special spring event on March 27.
(James Lee / Unsplash; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

⛰️ Try this hike near Santa Barbara

In February, reader Bill Felstiner reached out to recommend one of his favorite hikes in the Santa Barbara area: the trail to Cathedral Peak.

It’s a tough, roughly five-mile hike — not for beginners — but offers stunning sights along the way. “The Cathedral Peak trail has ocean views all the way [and requires] the use of hands,” Felstiner explained.

If you’re looking for an added challenge, Felstiner recommends continuing on to La Cumbre Peak.

If you love spending time in Santa Barbara but aren’t into a five-mile hike, consider a stroll around the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, relatively close to the Cathedral Peak trailhead.

The  redwoods at the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden
The oldest redwoods in the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden date to 1926.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

🏞️ It’s not too late to get a permit to hike Mt. Whitney

Speaking of hiking: You have until March 15 to enter the U.S. Forest Service’s 2021 lottery for the Mt. Whitney Trail.

Wondering if you should take the plunge and apply for a permit? Earlier this week, I wrote a story that breaks down how I prepared last summer to summit the tallest mountain in the Lower 48.

The hike is grueling, no doubt about it, but with the proper training it’s worth a shot. As I mentioned in my story, the training hikes I did in Southern California allowed me to reach the summit of Mt. Whitney and return home in one piece.

Ready to apply for a permit? Times assistant travel editor Mary Forgione explains what you should know.

A rocky path along the Mt. Whitney Trail
The Mt. Whitney Trail gets narrow and rocky on the way to the summit.
(Mary Forgione / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

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🏜️ Passing through Lone Pine? Stop by Alabama Hills

Not ready for Mt. Whitney but love spending time outside? Consider stopping at the Alabama Hills next time you’re on U.S. 395.

I spotted a photo of this romantic rock formation on Reddit a few weeks ago and was inspired to learn more about this rugged landscape west of Lone Pine. Turns out, Alabama Hills has served as a film backdrop for westerns as well as a place for hikers, bikers and horseback riders to re-create. “Iron Man” and “Gladiator” are just two of the movies shot amid the rocks.

When you visit, be careful not to drive or park on the brush surrounding the rocks. In a video published by the Bureau of Land Management, Kathy Bancroft with the Alabama Hills Stewardship Group explains, “That plant might’ve taken 150 years, and if you run over it, it’s gone.”

Charlie Heller, 7, from Simi Valley, is framed by the Mobius Arch which is part of Alabama Hills National Scenic Area.
A visitor is framed by the Mobius Arch, part of Alabama Hills National Scenic Area west of Lone Pine.
(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

📰 What I’m reading

  • Women in the travel industry are bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s economic hardships, Jessica Puckett reports in Condé Nast Traveler.
  • Could GoFundMe campaigns save our cultural collections? Las Vegas’ Pinball Hall of Fame is banking on it, Kate Silver writes in the Washington Post.
  • Meet Shasta, a young golden retriever training to become Mt. Bachelor ski area’s next avalanche rescue dog. Kyle Spurr in the Bend Bulletin explains how Shasta has become a regular on the Oregon mountain.
  • San Francisco has a hidden castle with underground caverns and — maybe — ghosts, Katie Dowd reports in SFGATE.
  • Is this Egyptian site the world’s oldest pet cemetery? Gemma Tarlach writing in Atlas Obscura explains humans’ history of ceremonially burying animals.
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park is an undiscovered hiker’s dream, Emily Pennington writes in Outside Online. Read about her visit to “one of California’s best-kept secrets.”
Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of California's best-kept secrets.
(Prisma by Dukas/Universal Images Group via Getty; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

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

Though a trip to Ireland to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day is ill-advised because of the pandemic, viewers around the world will be able to tune into virtual programming on St. Patrick’s Festival TV, where more than 100 events will be broadcast March 12-17.

Some standout virtual events: a five part miniseries about the history of Irish food, yoga at the National Gallery and this poetry reading.

Pick from a variety of virtual events to celebrate St. Patrick's Day this year.
(Harris Vo / Unsplash; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times )

📸 Photo of the week

The view from the Sky Road on Ireland's Connemara Peninsula.
(Catharine Hamm / Los Angeles Times)

🎸 Road song

I’ll leave you with a song from one of my favorite singer-songwriters, “Winning Streak” by Glen Hansard. As Hansard wishes listeners in the track, “May good fortune wait on every bend.”

Until next week! 🍀

Listen to Glen Hansard's “Winning Streak” this week to help manifest some good luck.
Listen to Glen Hansard’s “Winning Streak” this week to help manifest some good luck.
(Jason Leung / Unsplash; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)