a group of palm trees with the sun in the background

As a native New Yorker now living in London, I yearn for Los Angeles this time of year. There’s something about palm trees in winter which can’t be replicated, and crashing ocean waves next to them are just the icing on the organic California farm to table cake.

Travel may not be the same as it was just under a year ago, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be every bit as wonderful, in a different way.

In need of sun, relaxation and some California cooking, I I booked a hotel in Santa Monica which seemed to be taking covid-19 seriously, and set off West. What I found was an LA different from my times here as a former resident and frequent visitor, but still absolutely worth the trip.

a group of palm trees against a blue sky

Arrival Into Los Angeles

Los Angeles was hard at work toward relieving airport traffic congestion pre-covid-19, and that’s continued. If you’re requesting a rideshare on arrival, you’ll need to pay for ‘black car’ level of service from Uber or Lyft to get picked up outside the terminal.

If you opt for a more economical rideshare option, you’ll first end up on a shared bus to the LAXit parking lot, where your rideshare ride will await. My ‘black car” ride was about $20 more, but easily worth it to me during these times to avoid more time in shared spaces after a long flight.

Obviously, for those arriving via car, it’s a far less complicated affair, but this was as easy as ever from the air, minus the added expense.

a room with chairs and tables

Hotels: Open, And Stuff?

Checking into my hotel, the Viceroy Santa Monica, I was impressed by the covid-19 protocols. Signs were in place requiring masks outside the property, as were distance reminders. At check in, screens were in place between front desk agents and guests and things were mostly contactless.

Elevators in the hotel have signs which request people to wait for the next elevator if someone else is already on. It wouldn’t seem possible if the hotel was at full capacity, but during these hard times for hotels, it’s been all too easy to hit a solo elevator ride.

So is the pool open? Yeah, it is! Guests are asked to wear masks when making their way to the pool, or walking around the area, but are allowed to remove masks once seated.

a patio with chairs and tables and a wall with trees

Food and drinks are outdoor only from Friday to Sunday, a setback of low booking figures from covid-19 and served poolside in plastic cups or eco pack boxes. Other days of the week guests are invited to get food from outside and enjoy it in the stunning new outdoor social space near the pool.

It may feel a bit bougie with plastic and throwaway cutlery, but a margarita by a pool is exactly what I was in search of, and I’m not one for formality anyway.

a woman wearing sunglasses with palm trees reflected in them

Masks in Public In Los Angeles

California is one of the few places in the US where winter travel might actually remain fun and feel remotely normal. Outdoor seating at restaurants is plentiful, and unlike cities and states further North, the weather doesn’t compromise the experience. In some ways, it makes it even more enjoyable.

Mask use in the LA area is extremely impressive, with what I’d estimate to be at least 50% of people on the street wearing masks outdoors. Even circa 10-20% of runners seem to wear them. Once seated outdoors at the many open restaurants, people are fine to remove theirs.

Mask or no mask, people are being polite to each other by giving a wide berth where possible on streets. Between the Vitamin D intake, ocean breeze and the courtesy of locals and visitors it feels as safe as can be.

Stores And Shopping Open?

To the best of my knowledge, there’s no indoor dining in Los Angeles right now, and given the spikes I’ve seen back in London after reopening indoor pubs and dining, that may not be a bad thing. Talk of limited indoor reopening is afoot though.

As to shopping, many boutiques, necessity stores, clothing stores and other ways to spend money are open though, provided you wear a mask, don’t touch and keep at least 6 feet of distance between guests.

a man standing on a beach with palm trees and a sunset

How About Those LA Beaches?

Beaches in LA are open, and that’s welcome news for outdoor, socially distanced fun. Even on peak weekends, people generally maintain social distancing and all the same beach volleyball enjoyment and surfing is in tact.

For fitness people, an even greater number of classes are being conducted outdoors, which means you can get your socially distanced sweat on near the beach with some bumping music. It’s all very LA, in a very LA way.

LA Vacation: Worth The Trip Right Now?

Notably absent from my interests is anything involving theme parks, Universal, Disney or large groups. If those are your reasons for visiting LA, or at least your kids reasons, it’s probably not the best time. If, however, a little bit of sun and seclusion on a nice pool lounger with some world class farm to table cuisine is what’s in order, there’s really hardly ever been a better time.

Hotels are desperate for guests, which means lower rates, better perks and less competition to actually secure a coveted sun lounger in the perfect position. All the best restaurants are still doing curbside pickup, takeout or delivery, and we’ve been crushing Jon & Vinny’s, Night + Market and other favorites on a daily basis.

LA sunsets remain untouchable, and not even covid-19 has changed that. It’ll be harder to leave than to convince me to come back. In January, I plan to do just that. A great city is and always will be great. Different, yes, new, yes – but always great – yes.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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