This year is different. Instead of planning trips to exotic destinations, we’re wondering if we should leave home at all, and if we do leave, we’re not sure where to go. Now, instead of fancy amenities, safety is the new luxury.
It’s not surprising that the number of RV rentals is through the roof. What better way to take a trip than with the people in your household bubble? Likewise, renting vans or traveling in your own vehicle enable social distancing and can transport you to wide open spaces where you are able to take deep breaths and commune — mask-free — with nature. A road trip is also a great way to connect with friends and family that you’ve only seen on Zoom calls since the middle of March, while enjoying the security of knowing that you can head home if conditions change.
In fact, this summer is the perfect time to explore our state. Air travel into California is at a historic low, which means that the places you want to visit will be less crowded than usual. The tricky bit is knowing what’s open. “Re-opening will be made with little advance notice,” a representative of California State Parks told me. “Your best bet is to be flexible and ready to go on short notice.” parks.ca.gov/parkindex
Likewise, national parks are a moving target. Death Valley is currently closed. Yosemite opened in mid-June, but advance reservations are required to enter. The trails and picnic areas of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are open, but campgrounds, lodging, and all other services are closed. Based on these fluctuations, I think travelers should be prepared to stay near one of the public parks and commute to trails and other day-use activities. Allstays is a popular app for finding RV and camping parks, as well as hotels. recreation.gov, nps.gov/findapark/index.htm, allstays.com
Another option is to look at the unique places offered by Hipcamp. These range from teepees to RV pads, and include cabins, yurts, and tents in scenic locations. hipcamp.com
Where to Go
Heading north up the coast, Santa Barbara is a good first stop with a beautiful coastline. Here you’ll find El Capitan Canyon, a great glamping option that’s just a few minutes’ walk from El Capitán State Beach. They have temporarily suspended access to their safari tents and adventure yurts, but are offering spacious cedar cabins with comfortable beds, bathrooms, and kitchenettes. elcapitancanyon.com
If you prefer more luxury, I can think of few places more wonderful than Santa Barbara’s Belmond El Encanto. This oceanview historic hotel with its lovely pool is scheduled to re-open before July 1 and all COVID-19 precautions will be in effect. This includes temperature checks upon arrival, the option of in-room dining, and socially-distanced seating throughout the property. belmond.com/el-encanto-santa-barbara
Farther north, my husband and I like the area around Avila Beach, just south of San Luis Obispo. Here, Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort is a family-friendly spot where all lodging comes with a private hot tub on a deck or patio. Perfect for your bubble, right? Their pool, spa, and yoga classes are scheduled to be available “any day now,” according to the property. sycamoresprings.com
In the same area, Dolphin Bay Resort offers water views, spacious one- and two-bedroom units with full kitchens, and a great spa. Activities nearby include golf, cycling, and walking. There are more scenic trails about 30 minutes north of Avila Beach in Montana de Oro State Park. Currently, the parking facilities are closed, but with luck, that will change by the time you get there. thedolphinbay.com
Sequoia High Sierra Camp is located in Sequoia National Forest between Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks. Here, on a remote hillside, you’ll find 36 furnished tents, a spacious open-air dining pavilion, and shared bathroom facilities. The tents, which have concrete floors and king beds with down comforters, are serviced daily.
At an elevation of more than 8,000 feet, the camp provides a panoramic view over the treetops and is a luxurious base for adventurous hiking experiences. SHSC opened in mid-June and is taking bookings through September 15. During this time, they will be limiting occupancy to provide adequate social distancing at meal times.
I can’t think of a better spot to take deep breaths and commune with nature.