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Seven energizing SoCal day trips you can take, even during coronavirus

A giraffe stands on green hillsides in its habitat at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens 
 in Palm Desert.
A giraffe stands on a green hillside in its habitat at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
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One day you will be ready to roam again — really roam across borders, oceans and continents. But for now, let’s start small.

Here, as a mostly homebound school year resumes and we enter our seventh month of pandemic-altered existence, are seven day-trip ideas within a several-hour drive of Los Angeles, some with overnight options, a few with beaches.

Just because they’re open now doesn’t mean you have to visit today. In fact, state officials still urge Californians to avoid nonessential trips. But when you’re ready, these places are too.

No matter where you go, health experts urge you to wear a mask unless you’re eating or in the water. And keep a distance from strangers.

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La Jolla

Beachgoers take to the water at La Jolla Cove on Sept. 13.
Beachgoers enjoy the water at La Jolla Cove.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

At Torrey Pines State Beach, swim, fish, walk the sand or sunbathe. The beach is 4½ miles long, between northern La Jolla and southern Del Mar, and lined by red-dirt cliffs and Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve (still closed). For a memorable overview of nearby beach, cliffs and sea, park at the Torrey Pines Gliderport, watch paragliders take off, get a sandwich at the Cliffhanger Cafe and sit at one of the outdoor picnic tables.

A paraglider takes flight at sunset over the ocean at Torrey Pines Gliderport in La Jolla.
A paraglider takes flight at sunset over the ocean at Torrey Pines Gliderport in La Jolla .
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Plenty of art and architecture await just east of the glider port on the 1,200-acre UC San Diego campus. You can take a self-guided tour among the works of art at the Stuart Collection and and check out the striking academic architecture, including the otherworldly Geisel Library (interior closed) and the crooked little house atop the engineering building.

In La Jolla, you can stroll past the shops, galleries and restaurants on Prospect Street and Girard Avenue. Or go tide-pooling or picnicking along Coast Boulevard near Children’s Pool Beach. There’s also pleasant strolling along the Coast Walk Trail near Cave Street.

Or you could kayak around La Jolla Shores or the cliffs and caves near La Jolla Cove. Co-owner Michael Luscomb said La Jolla Kayak ([858] 459-1114, lajollakayak.com) resumed rentals in late May, tours in early June. “We’re very strong on weekends,” he said.

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For coffee or a snack, head to Pannikin (outdoor seating) at 7467 Girard Avenue. For a fancy dinner, you might try George’s at the Cove, a longtime Prospect Street mainstay whose Level 2 and Ocean Terrace dining areas are open.

Info: sandiego.org

California sea lions rest on a rock at La Jolla Cove.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

After launching at La Jolla Shores, kayakers explore the cliffs and caves along the coast near Goldfish Point in La Jolla.
Kayakers explore the cliffs and caves along the coast near Goldfish Point in La Jolla.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The normally busy Geisel Library at UC San Diego is quiet.
The normally busy Geisel Library at UC San Diego is now quiet.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

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Laguna Beach

Beach-goers explore the tide flow in tide pool at the Treasure Island Beach arch rock.
Beachgoers explore the tide flow in a tidepool at the Treasure Island Beach arch rock in Laguna Beach.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Laguna Beach, with its gorgeous stretch of sand, cliffs and rockscapes, once was an artists colony. Now it’s more of a gallerists colony but undeniably pleasant to visit.

Beyond Main Beach (and its landmark blue-and-white lifeguard tower) in downtown Laguna, a path leads from Treasure Island Park (just south of the Montage Laguna Beach resort) to Treasure Island Beach (good for families, tide-pooling and snorkeling). You might not be ready to spend $1,000 for a night at the Montage, but you might consider breakfast, lunch or dinner on the patio at the resort’s Mosaic Bar & Grill. Downtown, there’s plenty of window-shopping among the galleries and shops. And there are three state parks in the area.

Crystal Cove State Park, which stretches from Laguna Beach to Newport Beach, has 3.2 miles of beach, a campground, the Beachcomber Cafe (where you’re invited to order by phone rather than touching a menu) and the Crystal Cove Shake Shack at 7703 East Coast Highway (which, believe it or not, has no website). Before visiting, check the beach website at crystalcovestatepark.org for updates.

Info: VisitLagunaBeach.com

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Beach-goers frolic in the water in front of a tower at Victoria Beach in Laguna Beach.
Beachgoers frolic in the water in front of a tower at Victoria Beach in Laguna Beach.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

A man explores the interior of a historic cottage on the beach at Crystal Cove State Beach.
A historic cottage at Crystal Cove State Beach, a popular site for the film industry since the 1920s.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Guests swim in a pool with a sunburst design at the Montage Laguna Beach.
Guests swim in the scenic pool at the Montage Laguna Beach.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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South Bay beaches

Cyclists, walkers and a skateboarder enjoy the Manhattan Beach Pier.
Cyclists, walkers and a skateboarder enjoy the Manhattan Beach Pier.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Wake up early, bring your bike or rent one and ride the Strand, a paved 22-mile beachfront route that spans Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach.

Officially, it’s the Marvin Braude Bike Trail, 14 feet wide and shared by cyclists, skaters, pedestrians and wheelchair users. It can take you far north of the South Bay, through Venice Beach and Santa Monica to Will Rogers State Beach in Pacific Palisades. The southern endpoint is Torrance County Beach. It’s always busy, so it’s best to try this early in the day, preferably a weekday.

Bike-rental options include Hermosa Cyclery ([310] 374-7816, hermosacyclery.com) in Hermosa Beach and Marina Bike Rentals ([310] 318-2453, marinabikerentals.com) in Redondo Beach.

An alternative is to pick one or two piers — Manhattan, Hermosa and Redondo each have one — and build a walk. If you’re new to the South Bay, Manhattan Beach is the priciest of these places, Hermosa is more casual and rowdy, and the Redondo Pier and King Harbor Marina are often more diverse.

Need a cool snack? The Manhattan Beach Creamery at 1120 Manhattan Beach Avenue has been a favorite for years.

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Info: DowntownManhattanBeach.com, HermosaBeach.gov, Redondo.org

Cyclists ride along the Strand, a paved 22-mile-long beachfront route.
Cyclists ride along the Strand, a beachfront route that spans Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

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Palos Verdes Peninsula

A woman photographs the Korean Friendship Bell at Angels Gate Park.
A woman photographs the Korean Friendship Bell at Angels Gate Park in San Pedro.
(Josie Norris / Los Angeles Times)

Start in Redondo Beach and follow Palos Verdes Drive as it loops around the dramatic peninsula to San Pedro. Stop at the Point Vicente Interpretive Center. Its interior was closed as of Sept. 15, but the grounds are accessible and you can walk along the bluffs. About 2½ miles east, past Terranea Resort (which reopened in June) and across the street from Wayfarers Chapel (visitor center closed), you can walk the pebbly shores and bluffs of Abalone Cove Park in Rancho Palos Verdes (parts of the beach are closed).

End in San Pedro, where you can walk to the Korean Friendship Bell in Angels Gate Park, with wraparound views on a clear day. Or walk the coastal side of the road (Point Fermin Park) to see the vintage lighthouse and rocky cliffs. Keep a lookout for brown pelicans, which often fly at eye level. There are pullouts throughout the drive where you can pause to enjoy the view.

For a bite, try Nelson’s, the scenic patio restaurant, at Terranea (walk-in customers are OK).

Info: rpvca.gov, pvestates.org, spcvb.com

Looking out to the ocean from Wayfarers Chapel in Rancho Palos Verdes.
The grounds and view from Wayfarers Chapel in Rancho Palos Verdes.
(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

The Point Vicente Lighthouse in San Pedro.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

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Malibu and Topanga

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A woman has her picture taken at Paradise Cove in Malibu.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Head up Pacific Coast Highway, enjoy some beach time, then head back through Topanga Canyon. Or vice versa. On this itinerary, you’ll see all sorts of beach scenery and canyon greenery. You might want to linger on the Malibu Pier, where the Malibu Farm restaurant and cafe serve breakfast, lunch and dinner alfresco. The restaurant takes reservations and also serves early dinner; the cafe is first come, first served. You might hike in Malibu Creek State Park (parking is limited; Rock Pool and Century Lake are closed). Or you could enjoy a lazy lunch and swim at Paradise Cove, a selfie-ready nook on the sand that humbly calls itself “the best beach in the world.”

A surfer rides a hydrofoil surfboard at Paradise Cove in Malibu.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

In Topanga Canyon, follow winding two-lane Topanga Canyon Boulevard through country scenes, passing quirky homes, businesses and landmarks with hippie overtones. About 4 miles up Old Topanga Road from the boulevard you’ll find the Los Angeles Horseback Riding ranch (losangeleshorsebackriding.com; $100 for an hour).

Info: visitcalifornia.com/experience/malibu

Seagulls perch on a pier railing at Paradise Cove in Malibu.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

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Santa Barbara and Carpinteria

A kayaker paddles by Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Start at Santa Barbara’s Stearns Wharf and get some sea breeze in your hair. Then peruse lower State Street’s shops and restaurants, especially the stretch from Haley to Sola streets, where local leaders recently banned cars to create an eight-block promenade.

The flamingo exhibit at Santa Barbara Zoo.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Old Mission Santa Barbara tours and museum are still closed, but the nearby Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. The Santa Barbara Zoo is open; advance reservations are required.

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South of town, take lovely, two-lane Foothill Road (California 192) between Santa Barbara and Carpinteria. There you can stop and meander Linden Avenue, which ends at a beach with lots of sand and gentle waves. Get breakfast or lunch on the patio at Esau’s Café (507 Linden Ave.; [805] 684-1070, esauscafe.com; call to check days and hours), where the surfer vibes are thick. Or grab a burger at the Spot (389 Linden Ave.; [805] 684-6311), which has a rustic patio and food to go.

Info: santabarbaraca.com

A Humboldt penguin goes at the Santa Barbara Zoo.
A Humboldt penguin goes for a swim at the Santa Barbara Zoo.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

The fountain in front of the Old Santa Barbara Mission dates to 1808.
The fountain in front of the Old Santa Barbara Mission dates to 1808.

(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

A flock of black skimmers flies over a pool of water in Santa Barbara.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

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Coachella Valley

A narrow sandy foot trail has lush palm trees on the left and dramatic rock formations on the right in Andreas Canyon.
The Andreas Canyon trail in Indian Canyons in Palm Springs has lush palm trees on the left and dramatic rock formations on the right.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

It will be about a thousand degrees here, which explains why you’ll find lots of room. At dawn or dusk, hike in one of the Indian Canyons — Palm Canyon is the most popular — or dawdle in the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert, with admission by timed ticket. Prowl Palm Canyon Drive, the main drag through Palm Springs, and consider a meal at festive Las Casuelas Terraza (222 S. Palm Canyon Drive; [760] 325-2794), which dates to 1958.

A visitor gets a close-up view of two giraffes at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert.
A visitor gets a close-up view of two giraffes in their habitat at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens on Sept. 15 in Palm Desert, Calif.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

To get the flavor of the valley, you might need a date shake. If so, consider Hadley Fruit Orchards in Cabazon or Shields Date Garden in Indio, which is surrounded by date palms. The Shields shop and restaurant are open (patio dining only). The bad news is that its theater, which has been screening “The Romance & Sex Life of the Date” since 1953, is now closed. The good news is that the film, all 17 minutes of it, is now viewable on the Shields website and YouTube.

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Info: visitgreaterpalmsprings.com

An endangered African wild dog emerges from its pool of water at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens.
An endangered African wild dog emerges from its pool of water at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Two brother bobcats look up from their nap together at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens.
Two brother bobcats look up from their nap together at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Split Rock provides a narrow opening for cars to drive through on the way to Palm Canyon inside the Indian Canyons.
Split Rock provides a narrow opening for cars inside the Indian Canyons in Palm Springs.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)