Zen Zones: Places for Angelenos to relax under the sun

The coronavirus pandemic may have forced residents to stay home, but Los Angeles is an outdoor city — there are plenty of activities people can do to relieve the tensions brought on by the pandemic.

From hikes with scenic viewpoints to botanical gardens flourishing with wildlife, we will update this list weekly with pandemic-safe list of places Angelenos can take advantage of to get away from the stresses of life and find their zen while staying safe.

Descanso Gardens

Descanso Gardens, the 150-acre botanical garden located in La Cañada Flintridge, is a hidden gem in Los Angeles. With an array of seasonal plants such as lilacs, maple trees, cherry trees and irises, the botanical collection and seasonal horticultural display is an urban retreat.

Visitors take photos of the tulips at the Descanso Garden in La Cañada Flintridge, Calif. on Monday, April. 5, 2021. The tulips, located along the Promenade near the entrance of the garden, typically bloom in early-mid or late spring. (Samantha Bravo)

The Descanso Gardens is nationally accredited by the American Alliance of Museums as a “museum of living collections.” With its trails, remote areas and secret paths, Descanso Gardens offers visitors a peaceful nature experience. The garden is also a biodiversity hotspot, attracting butterflies, poppies and even bears.

The Rose Garden is also a popular area sitting at five acres. The Japanese Garden was the busiest in terms of visitors this season due to the blooming of “Akebono” and “Beni Hoshi” trees. 

Visitors can enjoy an outdoor picnic in designated areas or a quick snack at The Kitchen. Face coverings are required; however, visitors were seen taking off their masks for photos and to smell the plants. 

The garden also offers five heritage oaks that range from 300 to 500 years old, California native plants and one of the largest collections of camellias in the western hemisphere.

Memberships and donations support their mission to cultivate an understanding of the natural world through inspiration, education and example. Members can visit the garden whenever they choose. Non-members must reserve and purchase a ticket in advance, but keep in mind, the location doesn’t accept cash payments.


The Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens

by Kaitlyn Lavo

In a time when travel seems to have become a distant memory, people crave it now more than ever. The Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens, which reopened to the public on Dec. 9, 2020, offers its guests a taste of world travel. A visit gives guests a journey from Greece to Japan and around the world with one plant and water feature at a time.

Due to limited capacity at the Huntington Library, guests are required to reserve their spots ahead of time and to have their temperatures taken upon arrival.

Signs and floor markings indicate the flow of foot traffic to allow for guests to remain six feet apart from other visitors. The indoor exhibits are currently closed to the public and staff members are stationed throughout the facility to remind guests to keep their masks on. Hand sanitizing stations have become an important new feature in the botanic scenery.

Safety allows for an extra relaxing experience to visitors at the Huntington. Sitting under the Pavilion of the Three Friends in the Chinese Garden with her friend Vivian Sarno and daughter -in-law Calli Vloedel, Joan Slipp from Orange County said, “We needed a break. We got a membership a year ago …This has been the only place to go where we feel safe.” The three frequently visit the gardens as a relaxing activity to enjoy together.

Calli Vloedel, left, Vivian Sarno, center, and Joan Slipp from Orange County, Calif. came to enjoy the day together. They conveniently took a rest in the “Pavilion of Three Friends.” (Kaitlyn Lavo)

Along with the botanical garden’s reopening, the 1919 Café and the gift shop are open as well. After spending the day in the gardens, guests can swing by the café for grab-and-go items to enjoy on their way home. Fresh air, unique foliage, and stunning art and architecture from around the world can all be found at the Huntington, where there’s something for everyone.

Malibu Pier and Surfrider Beach

by Sam Bravo

The Malibu Pier is a Southern California landmark that is equipped with dining options and located next to Surfrider Beach, a popular surf attraction.

Surfrider Beach, known for its three-point break, is the ideal area for surfers to enjoy the waves, learn about  California surf culture and take in the peaceful atmosphere.

Heal The Bay, a non-profit organization that produces an annual report based on levels of bacterial pollution in the ocean, created a simple and comprehensive tool that provides surfers the latest information on the water quality prior to visiting. Surfrider Beach received an A+ as of Feb. 25, 2021.

While some restaurants are closed due to the COVID-19 restrictions, visitors can enjoy a meal at the Malibu Farm Restaurant, which offers outdoor dining or a to-go option.

Visitors can also enjoy the scenic view of the ocean while dining at other restaurants nearby such as Nobu, Paradise Cove Cafe, Moonshadows and Duke’s Malibu.

The private and peaceful pier is an ideal location for fishing and bird watching enthusiasts.

Visitors Alex Coletta and Luke Hawksworth from New York wanted to stop by the Malibu Pier to admire the view and dine at the Malibu Farm Pier Cafe.

“It’s more relaxing out here and you have a better view of the beach,” Hawksworth said, comparing the Malibu Pier to the Santa Monica Pier. “It’s more peaceful out here.”

Parking is available alongside Pacific Coast Highway or in the parking lot. Rates vary from $10 to $20 depending on the season.

Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park

by Kaitlyn Lavo

As people take in the smoothly sculpted landscape that makes up Vasquez Rocks, their eyes light up their masked faces.

For Los Angeles residents looking to escape from their daily quarantine routines, they might choose to flock to a local hotspot for people of all ages – Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park.

Children run wild as they experience the park, which might seem like a completely different planet to them. As they pretend to be space creatures, the children chase their friends and siblings around small caves found in the mountains of rocks. Meanwhile, the parents supervise and take in the fresh air. Others choose to get their blood pumping as they scale the side of these massive rock formations.

This famous location can be recognized in various movies, television shows and music videos, such as “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” (1997), “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006), “Planet of the Apes” (2001), “Holes” (2003) and many more.

This historic Hollywood filming location has been used to transport audiences to new worlds, just as it does for those coming to visit for the day. The wide trails and vast space allow for a perfect place for people to enjoy and explore while maintaining social distance.

Vanessa Camones, a mother of two, said her children enjoy playing in the area because it is outdoors and safe.
“It’s such a great activity for kids,” Camones said. “It’s a great way to get their energy out.”

Vasquez Rocks may offer families who have been staying home the outdoor trip they’ve been craving.  While it may be difficult to find places that feel safe to travel to during these uncertain times, Vasquez Rocks Natural Area has taken many precautions to help its visitors feel at ease and safe while experiencing the trails.

The nature center is currently closed to the public. Masks are required when on the property and signs are placed at the trail’s entrance to remind guests to maintain social distancing and keep their masks over their noses. The benches and tables where people once gathered for school field trips and animal meet-and-greets are now lined with caution tape to keep groups from gathering.

Although visitors may not get the full experience, visitors continued to enjoy their time in the park.

Reseda Park

by Nadine Cortez, Sonia Gurrola

Serenity and sunlight filled the Reseda Park, where the wildlife do as they please and entertain the locals that come around. It has a dirt path around the pond where people can walk to see the turtles, birds and fish. With the quiet environment, the park is one of the many perfect places in the San Fernando Valley to unwind during these stressful times. There were people walking their dogs, showing their kids around, taking photos, etc.

The charm of this park can be attributed to the enjoyment of the people that visited, such as Adamy Palacios and her two-year-old niece, Lia Romo. The local wildlife piqued Romo’s curiosity and she was not hesitant to interact with them at all. Palacios and Romo played with the birds along the pond pathway and they both were grinning from ear-to-ear from excitement. They are frequent visitors of the park because they live close by and they both benefit from being outdoors.

“We try to come once or twice a week depending on our schedules,” Palacios said. “This way, we can both get sunlight and she’s able to walk around instead of watching ‘Moana’ all day.”

Kids like Romo are able to see local wildlife up close by visiting the pond and observing from a safe distance. The birds found here vary in colors and sizes and the behaviors they exhibit can put a smile on anyone’s face.

As the day went on, more people came by for an afternoon visit to the park. Following the social distancing guidelines, most were present was wearing masks and staying apart to ensure safety.

There is so much of the park to be explored, but the Reseda Park is a prime spot to have a relaxing fun time.