Roundup: Low-risk socially distanced outdoor day trips

It was supposed to be Rome, and it was supposed to be a no-brainer. I’d go back to what’s called “Caput Mundi,” or Capital of the World, and take my mom there for the first time. I’d show her the Vatican, feed her platefuls of cacio e pepe and hold her hand while getting lost in the streets of Rome. Perhaps we’d even take the train to Venice — who knows. What I knew for sure was that Italy would’ve been the perfect birthday gift for her milestone birthday, a way to say: Hey, mom. You took care of me as a single mom for so long, and now, 27 years later, I’m returning the favor by making your travel dreams come true.

This was all before COVID-19, of course, before everything changed in a flash. Before Italy went through its devastating tragedy, and before other parts of the world experienced the same pain, too. Our plans crumbled faster than a dry piece of cornbread, and so did everyone else’s. Italy became as far-flung of an idea as it was a place. 

My mom’s birthday rolled around on July 4, and we drove out to Orange County to see her for the first time in six months. I felt excited, especially after quarantining for so long and severely limiting our interactions with people. (Since COVID-19 started, we’ve only had one socially distanced cookout, in our respective balconies, with our neighbors. The rest of our interactions and social hours have been all virtual). When we parked at her Lake Forest apartment complex, I bolted out of the car like horses at a race and flung myself into her arms. 

I’m my mother’s only daughter, so y’know, it was up to me to make that whole week special, without putting her life at risk. No easy feat in today’s world, right? Our options were very, very limited. Sure, we bought a cake, made a special dinner at home and surprised her with balloons and birthday decor. But we were hoping to get some fresh air, too, without having to worry about crowds and cross ourselves at the sound of a sneeze. We still wanted to explore, to (safely) step outside the familiar and to experience something new. So, without further ado, here are a few low-risk outdoor locations we visited in Southern California. 

Vasquez Rocks recreational park

I’m about to write another blog post on the Vasquez Rocks, because it’s a place that’s very near (literally) and dear to me. We keep coming back to the park for various reasons — photo shoots, rigorous hikes or “just to walk around.” It’s a beautiful, otherworldly backdrop for every one of those purposes. I took my mom here because I knew she’d appreciate its strangeness. There’s a reason the Vasquez Rocks are featured in so many films, usually to convey an alien world or a foreign land. (Westworld, anyone?)

If you ever find yourself in my neck of the woods, I highly encourage you to spend some time here. Or at least pop by so that next time you recognize the jagged-looking, russet-colored formations in films, you can say, “Hey, I’ve been there!” 

The Huntington Library and Gardens

Yes, I know, I know. I talk about the Huntington Library a lot. I post about it a lot, and I probably dream about it an excessive amount, too. But damn, do I love that place. When the library announced that it would be opening its outdoor area for members (and later to the public), I couldn’t wait to jump at the opportunity to visit — and take my mom with me. 

You know that moment when you show your friends or loved ones your favorite part of a movie, and you just sit there, staring at their face, waiting to see their reaction? If you’re familiar with that odd kind of excitement, then you must know what I felt like introducing my mom to one of my favorite places in Southern California. Her reaction didn’t disappoint. She gawked, sighed, oohed and ahhed, and loved every corner of it. 

For a moment there, we forgot about whatever was happening in the outside world. (Note: the Huntington does remember, though. The folks at the library do a fantastic job at keeping hand sanitizer stations, checking temperatures upon entry, limiting the number of visitors and requiring them to wear masks.) No matter how stressful life can get, once I start roaming around the 207-acre garden, I just forget everything. If you get to visit, I hope you will too. 

Duffy boat ride in Oxnard

We knew we wanted to go on a boat ride with mom, since it’s a perfect way to socially distance while being outdoors. Before settling on a duffy boat in Oxnard, we drove up to Big Bear to explore the pontoon boats by the lake. Big Bear is absolutely stunning. The lake feels like something out of a dream. The only reason we didn’t end up going with Big Bear is because the twisty, windy road up the mountain made me extremely sick (so much so that I had to throw back two Dramamine pills and spend the rest of the trip in sleepy daze). Oxnard, on the hand, is only only a one-hour drive from our home in Santa Clarita — on straightaways. So, we packed a lunch-slash-picnic, and hit the road. 

Though the marina itself was a little too crowded for comfort, once we got on the boat and meandered into the calm water, it felt absolutely amazing. (A quick shoutout to Southern California Jet Skis for renting out exceptional clean and almost brand-new-looking duffy boats, practicing social distancing and wearing masks.) 

Though the marine layer looked threatening at first, the sun came out soon enough, and the weather turned easy — perfect for a day on the water. We explored the arterial network of the Channel Islands Harbor, discussing which one of the waterfront homes we’d want to live in (in a dream world, of course). We listened to music, munched on bags of chips, drifted past fancy “yacht people” and took long, deep whiffs of that good ol’ salty ocean air. All to say, it was a good day.

A few other low-risk outdoor suggestions (that are open as of the day this post was published):

1. Descanso Gardens

2. Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanical Garden

3. South Coast Botanic Garden

4. Paso Robles vineyards (blog post about this coming soon!)

5. Camping at Castaic Lake State Recreation Area

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