Since international travel wasn’t an option for us this year, I had to find a domestic alternative. I’ve been to California 5 times before this, so I knew it was worth taking my husband. COVID did give us one luxury - working remotely! We took advantage of that and worked a few eastern time hours early in the morning then took the rest of the day off exploring.
The weather is pretty much pleasant all year round in California, but you may want to choose a specific season based on your interests and weather tolerances. Summer is obviously perfect for swimming, but expect a ton of crowds. The beginning of spring (early March) is beautifully sunny but you'll still need a light coat in some places. California is a very big state that runs down a huge part of the western coast, so make sure you check weather averages for your destination.
We visited San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco . Check out my blog posts on each city for recommendations on things to do and places to eat.
San Diego is known for its year-long mild weather, beaches, and Mexican influence. This makes it the perfect place to visit during COVID since you want to avoid indoor venues and spend all or most of your time enjoying the outdoors. I’ve been to San Diego multiple times before our October 2020 trip, so I’ll also be including recommendations that are relevant to non-COVID times where things should be open. Check out my blog post on San Diego for recommendations on how to spend your time and where to eat some delicious food.
There is SO much to do in Los Angeles, you can probably stay for two weeks and never get bored. COVID times are a bit different though since so many places are closed, so a little less than a week is sufficient. The best thing about this city in my opinion is the food and the laid back vibe. Check out my long list of recommendations of what to do and what to eat while in LA.
San Francisco is a 5 - 7 hour drive from LA depending on which scenic route you choose. The food scene is absolutely amazing and you get a great mix of sceneries while in this city. The city is also home to the largest Chinatown in the country. San Jose and Palo Alto are just a short drive away, so there is plenty to see and do. Check out my list of recommendations for things to see and places to eat.
Pros of traveling to California during COVID
(as of October 2020)
Very reasonable traffic. LA traffic was always a nightmare during past trips, so this was definitely a big bonus. We rarely hit traffic and got to enjoy plenty of rides in our convertible (more on that below).
Convenient street parking. We always found convenient street parking within 0-5 minutes. This usually took us at least 10 minutes in busy areas on previous trips unless we got lucky or were willing to pay extra for parking and/or valet.
Affordable car rental. We rented a convertible for two weeks so that we can enjoy certain areas that had a lot of foot traffic without leaving the comfort and safety of our car. This was a GREAT choice since places like the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Rodeo Drive had a good amount of people walking the sidewalks.
Affordable flights. We found round trip direct flight tickets for about ~$300.These direct tickets would have been at least ~$650-$700 pre-covid. We could have gotten even cheaper tickets if we chose flights with layovers, but we didn’t want to be at more risk waiting around in airports.
Restaurants & outdoor seating. A ton of sit-down restaurants are open for outdoor seating. If you are like me, I always opt for outdoor seating but often would have to wait double the amount of time for that. Luckily, restaurants have adapted to larger outdoor seating areas making wait times a lot shorter. There are also less people dining out, so we rarely had to wait for a table. Finding reservations when needed was also a lot easier than expected. Another positive was how much more convenient and efficient restaurant service is. Most places we went to had contactless menus using a QR code. You can also use the same system to pay for your meal so that you don’t need to hand over your credit card or sign a receipt.
Relatively empty beaches. We went to plenty of beaches in Los Angeles and San Diego and we never felt like there were too many people. We felt very comfortable with plenty of social distancing space between us and others.
Cons of traveling to California during Covid
(as of October 2020)
Airport COVID Risk. The one area I felt I had the least control over was my risk while traveling. We flew on United and the flights were PACKED. Luckily there were three of us, so we sat in one row together. However, almost everyone did not adhere to social distancing, especially when boarding and disembarking the plane. United staff did not enforce proper mask wearing. Many people had their noses sticking out before, during, and after the flight.
Closed museums, exhibits, amusement parks, and indoor attractions. This was probably the biggest con on our trip. Unlike the DC area, pretty much all museums, galleries, theaters, and indoor attractions were closed. Disney Land, Universal Studios, and countless tours were closed as well. This limits your potential activity list dramatically, especially in cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco. But don’t worry, there are plenty of fun outdoor activities and places to explore.
Closed restaurants or takeout only. While tons of restaurants have adapted with larger outdoor seating areas, there are still a good amount that only offer takeout or are closed. This shouldn’t keep you from visiting, but definitely make sure you check each restaurant’s website for current operating hours.
Limited opportunities for exploring shops and boutiques. We found ourselves skipping many neighborhoods that would typically be great for exploring on foot and visiting boutiques and unique shops. These areas felt pretty dead because most shops were closed or had little to no visitors.
Dead night life. Similar to the bullet above, we felt the same way about deserted areas in the evenings. Many areas downtown felt dead by 7pm because shops were closed and barely anyone was out. There is basically no night life and some places like the Hollywood Walk of Fame felt unsafe by 8pm because of how deserted it was.
Closed restrooms. Driving between cities was a challenge because it was so difficult finding restrooms. Rest stops are closed and all coffee shops we tried stopping at like Starbucks and Peet's coffees closed their restrooms for safety reasons. Unless you are willing to go to a sit-down restaurant each time you want a bathroom break, you’ll have to get creative to find a clean bathroom. We ended up stopping at public libraries which were a great clean and safe option for us.