Love plants? Visit this over-the-top, mind-bending Montecito estate

A photo of the Parterre inside the grounds of Lotusland in Montecito.
Lotusland, in Montecito, contains numerous gardens filled with exotic plants.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

By Rachel Schnalzer
Design and illustrations by Jade Cuevas

Good morning, Golden State adventurers. I’ve been thinking a lot about 1967’s Summer of Love and its peace, love and psychedelics — plus its mythic place in the American psyche.

I wonder whether the summer of 2021 will have a similar effect on our collective consciousness. COVID-19 cases are at last decreasing in the U.S., and our favorite restaurants, bars and museums are reopening. Music festivals are happening once more. Summer travel already seems to be booming.


You’ll find lots of mind-bending, kaleidoscopic destinations in this edition of Escapes. Buckle up and enjoy the trip.

🏄‍♀️ A classic summer getaway? Steamer Lane in Santa Cruz

If you love surfing, Steamer Lane in Santa Cruz is high on your list of surf breaks. But even if you appreciate the sport from the shore, Steamer Lane is a can’t-miss.

Times travel writer Christopher Reynolds recently curated a list of the 40 best outdoor experiences in California just in time for summer travel. It’s no surprise that Steamer Lane ranks up there with the best of Golden State destinations, including Lake Tahoe and Temecula Valley by balloon (more on that next week).

“Just looking down at one of the state’s best-loved surf spots is enough to bring you closer to the cool, damp soul of Santa Cruz,” Reynolds writes, “which glistens with the tracks of innumerable banana slugs.”

To round out your surf-centric experience, take a spin through the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum, housed in a small red-brick lighthouse. It outlines more than 100 years of surfing history in Santa Cruz. The museum is open 12-5 p.m., Thursdays-Mondays.

A statue wearing a face mask and a surfer catching a wave at Steamer Lane in Santa Cruz.
Surfers Memorial, top, where someone has put a protective mask on the statue, at Steamer Lane in Santa Cruz. A surfer catches a wave at Steamer Lane, the most famous surf spot in Santa Cruz.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Elsie Ramos / Los Angeles Times)

🐧 The Monterey Bay Aquarium has reopened

The Monterey Bay Aquarium reopened last week after being closed for more than a year because of the pandemic — and some animals seem happier about it than others, Times staffer Lila Seidman reports.

Otters and penguins, in particular, appear to welcome the return of guests. They’re “really, really engaged when they see people now in the building,” Cynthia Vernon, the aquarium’s chief operating officer, told Seidman.

Some of the birds in the aviary, however, are less enthusiastic. The sandpipers, snowy plovers and oystercatchers are “used to spreading out,” Vernon explained, and “are having to get used to staying back over in their side of the space.”

As for the fish, they don’t have an opinion on the aquarium’s reopening.

Be sure to purchase tickets online ahead of time. Expect the aquarium to be emptier than you remember from your last trip — only about 175 people will be allowed in every half-hour.

The Kelp Forest tank in the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
The Kelp Forest tank at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

🌿 Welcome to Lotusland — an over-the-top homage to plants

Ever hear of Lotusland, an “oversize tribute to plant lovers” in Montecito? Me neither, but now it’s high on my list of places to visit, thanks to San Diego Union-Tribune contributor Caron Golden.

Lotusland left Carlsbad resident Sharon Corrigan awestruck when she visited with the San Diego Horticultural Society. “I was enchanted and excited by plants I knew as houseplants that were in the ground at Lotusland and towered 20 or more feet over my head,” she explained to Golden. “I grew up near Huntington Gardens and the L.A. Arboretum and, although I love them both, Lotusland is over the top.”

Lotusland’s origin story alone makes the property worth a trip. The horticultural extravaganza — with more than 20 themed gardens — was the brainchild of Madame Ganna Walska, a Polish opera singer. Golden reports that Walska, who also owned an estate near Versailles, France, was encouraged to buy the Montecito estate by her sixth husband (yes, you read that correctly).

After purchasing the property, Walska spent 40 years transforming it into the wonder it is today. “She was bound and determined to do what she wanted to do,” said Lotusland’s executive director, Rebecca Anderson.

Admission is by reservation only; adult entry costs $50. If you can’t make the trip, look through Lotusland’s website, which offers resources for home gardeners.

An orange koi in a pond with lily pads in the Cycad Garden at Lotusland.
The koi pond in the Cycad Garden at Lotusland in Montecito. The 37-acre property houses exotic plants in its numerous gardens.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

😵 “Book a stay” at the Madcap Motel

Make room, Sleep No More and Meow Wolf, there’s a new bizarro immersive experience in Los Angeles.

Welcome to the Madcap Motel, an indoor art installation in the Arts District that exudes ’60s charm. Times game critic Todd Martens recently took a stroll through the Route 66-inspired “lodging” to discover the quirks and secrets that lie within.

Among its oddities are a mirrored chamber filled with moving lamps, doors that lead nowhere, a room filled with oversize furniture and an excitable garden hedge you’re bound to encounter when you visit.

Tickets cost $40 for adults and $30 for children and are available Thursdays-Sundays through the end of June.

Paige Solomon and her reflection stand under colorful lamps.
Paige Solomon, chief executive and creative director of the Madcap Motel, an art installation in Los Angeles with a 1960s vibe.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Elsie Ramos / Los Angeles Times)

📰 What I’m reading

  • Need a list of California adventures to tackle this summer? Christopher Reynolds has you covered.
  • What places are missing from our California summer list? Let us know.
  • Ready to fly again? Airfares are rising, middle seats are full and change fees are back, says Times business reporter Hugo Martín.
  • In Mexico City, Aztec-era floating gardens offer a path to sustainable eating. Megan Zhang in Condé Nast Traveler explains how Xochimilco “has been an important food source during the pandemic.”
  • Traveling Route 66 this summer? Here’s a list of where you should eat along the way, from Sam O’Brien in Atlas Obscura.
  • California’s river otters, found in Lassen Volcanic National Park and along the Lost Coast, among other locations, are “the cutest vicious devils you’ll ever see,” Ashley Harrell reports in SFGATE.
  • Airline altercations are on the rise, so here’s a guide to best practices for bystanders, from Tanya Ward Goodman in the Washington Post.
Graphic that says "The outdoor California list"
(Ana Gomez Bernaus / For The Times)

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

Blast to the past — ancient Rome and Greece to be exact — with this virtual tour program.

Holly Monahan recently wrote about Ancient World in Travel + Leisure, where she detailed her virtual adventures in Pompeii circa 78 A.D., a year before the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.

“Rather than stumbling over gray and crumbling ruins, neatly paved travertine tiles of the Forum stretched before me,” Monahan wrote. “Just outside a bakery, I could almost smell the fresh, round loaves of bread, hand stamped with the baker’s mark.”

Ancient World also offers tours of ancient Jerusalem, Old Hobart Town in Tasmania and Stonehenge in England.

Illustration of the Colosseum in Rome
Travelers can virtually explore the streets of Rome and more with Ancient World.
(Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times )

📸 Photo of the week

Teenagers jump off a rock into the ocean at Lighthouse Point in Santa Cruz.
Teenagers jump into the surf at Lighthouse Point in Santa Cruz.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

🎸 Road song

“When you think of me, I hope you think of Joshua Tree.”

“Joshua Tree” by Rozzi is soothing, sweet and more than a little wistful — the ideal road song for anyone who can’t help but think of a specific person when they visit a specific place. Happy trails, fellow Escapists ✌️

An animation of the moon moving behind a Joshua tree at Joshua Tree National Park in California.
Need a soothing reminder of the desert this week? Listen to Rozzi’s “Joshua Tree” to lull your soul.
(Calvin B. Alagot / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)