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55 Best Virtual Adventures You Can Take to Explore SoCal Right Now

If you’re a travel enthusiast like I am — constantly searching for new places to explore and adventures to conquer — then being told to “stay home” might not feel like a vacation.

Fortunately, there are several places in SoCal that miss having visitors just as much as you miss visiting them — and have therefore stepped up to the challenge to bring the experiences they have to offer home to you.

Here are some of the best ways to experience SoCal virtually, from the comfort of your own home — no matter where your interests lie.

Maybe you’ll be able to keep tabs on one of your favorite places — or maybe you’ll discover someplace new that you can personally visit in the future.

Stay safe, but stay curious.

1. For Animal Lovers and Birders

Some of us are lucky enough to have “fur babies” at home to keep us company — but those domestic pets don’t exactly replace the drama and intrigue of wild and exotic animals that you can normally visit at a zoo, sanctuary, wildlife preserve or ranch. That’s why there’s never been a better time to observe via webcam — which allows you to be a “fly on the wall” (so to speak) and witness, for example, the soap opera between bald eagles Jackie (female) and Shadow (male), who’ve become local celebrities over the past few years in Big Bear Lake (where they nest in a 120-foot-tall Jeffrey Pine tree) and to viewers all over the world who watch them lay/hatch eggs every winter. For those interested in learning more about these majestic birds, chat hours are 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. daily — but you can also read engaging and descriptive updates on the Friends of Big Bear Valley and Big Bear Eagle Nest Cam Facebook page.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park | Sandi Hemmerlein
San Diego Zoo Safari Park | Sandi Hemmerlein
San Diego Zoo | Sandi Hemmerlein
San Diego Zoo | Sandi Hemmerlein

Live cams are still running from San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park — including new live webcams featuring baboons and apes and standby favorites featuring penguins, koalas and giraffes. You can also join Oasis Camel Dairy’s Facebook Live on Fridays at 1 p.m. to get to know its new baby camel and get a glimpse of the dairy operations — and what that means when the milk comes from camels, not cows! Also, since its monthly Open Farm Days in East San Diego County are currently suspended, the dairy is offering live online presentations via its “Zoom Our Zoo” program, available by appointment.

The Birch Aquarium at Scripps in San Diego is now offering online-based “moments of zen” and a “Kelp Cam,” also viewable via its Facebook page. Meanwhile, the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach has launched its “Aquarium Live” online academy, featuring curriculum for school-aged children and an archive of past lectures and other videos. You can also check in on the aquarium’s animals via its live webcams placed inside some of its exhibits — including penguins (above and below water), sea jellies and the Shark Lagoon.

2. For Museum Hoppers

There’s no better time than now to cross some SoCal museums off your list — or get reacquainted with ones you haven’t visited in a while. In fact, in addition to its daily educational live streams, this is the first time that the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles has offered digital tours of The Vault — usually a pretty hot ticket in town (and where photography is normally restricted). But for a limited time, FREE hour-long online tours will give you virtual access to racecars, movie cars, and other significant pieces of automotive history (sometimes whose historical value is predicated on who once owned the car). Likewise, the Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard — which normally opens to the public only on select Saturdays and by reservation only — is giving would-be visitors a look at its current car display on Instagram Live.

Petersen Automotive Museum | Courtesy of the Petersen Automotive Museum
Petersen Automotive Museum | Courtesy of the Petersen Automotive Museum
Petersen Automotive Museum | Courtesy of the Petersen Automotive Museum
Petersen Automotive Museum | Courtesy of the Petersen Automotive Museum

The Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County has provided an opportunity to stay in touch with the NHM, the Page Museum at La Brea Tar Pits and the William S. Hart Museum in Newhall from the safety of your own home via its NHMLAC Connects program. This includes online highlights from the “Becoming Los Angeles” exhibition as well as fieldwork experiences and discoveries shared by NHMLAC scientists. And you can also visit some of NHMLA’s Exposition Park neighbors without leaving your couch — including the California African American Museum via its YouTube channel and public programs on Zoom.

Representing San Diego, Balboa Park TV offers a one-stop shop to access the various online video channels hosted by the museums in the country’s largest urban cultural park. Over at San Diego Harbor, the U.S.S. Midway Museum hosts a 360-degree virtual tour on its website.

3. For Outdoor Enthusiasts

Learn more about the history and significance of Descanso Gardens on "Lost LA"

It’s a tough time of year to feel like you’re stuck indoors — with spring busting out all over the trails and parks that are no longer accessible. Fortunately, you can live vicariously through the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve’s PoppyCam Live Stream — which rotates between various angles of the state park and the surrounding hillsides — and console yourself that at least it’s not a “superbloom” year. If it’s Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and Borrego Springs that you’re missing, look for updates via Facebook Live on the park’s official page as well as the content on the special webpage “Borrego Outside, For People Inside,” curated by Anza-Borrego Natural History Association.

Garden lovers can take a virtual tour of Descanso Gardens in La Cañada Flintridge via its “Descanso at Home” program, which brings the garden to you and provides resources for discovering the flora and fauna of your neighborhood. Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers & Native Plants is debuting a live internet show called “Poppy Hour,” which takes place Fridays starting April 10 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. The live series will feature California native plant gardens and the people and ideas behind them via Zoom and on its YouTube channel. And over the next few weeks on Facebook, The Flower Fields in Carlsbad will provide a virtual walk-through of its 50 acres of ranunculus flowers with owner Paul Ecke, as well as behind-the-scenes with and weekly updates from other staff members.

Finally, with all the rain we’ve been getting this spring, you may be dreaming of the white stuff that’s been falling in some of the most popular mountain and ski resort towns that are popular with SoCal residents. Well, even though you can’t visit Mammoth Lakes right now, it’s available for virtual exploration thanks to 360-degree videos on the official website for the area. The Mammoth Mountain website also offers six different live cams (including the village, main lodge and summit). And you can likewise spy on Mountain High Resort in Wrightwood and Big Bear Mountain Resort via their respective webcams.

4. For Concert Audiences

There may be nothing like hearing music performed live in person — but the next best thing is to be able to see and listen to it on-demand, at home, in your jammies, with your beverage of choice. Spend a lazy Sunday sleeping in and then checking out the Spreckels Organ Society’s online concert webcasts, live from the organ pavilion in Balboa Park at 2 p.m. (with free online access on its website available for up to 24 hours afterward). Or on Fridays, tune in to the “Director Selects” series hosted by The Soraya at CSUN. And every Sunday a new “Music Morning” is streamed live from Santa Monica’s The Broad Stage at Home, it's then available on its Facebook page whenever you'd like to tune in.

Broad Musem | Sandi Hemmerlein
Broad Musem | Sandi Hemmerlein
An infinity room at the Broad by Yayoi Kusama | Sandi Hemmerlein
An infinity room at the Broad by Yayoi Kusama | Sandi Hemmerlein

We’ve got so many live performances at our fingertips — including those from the KCRW archives, like Ladysmith Black Mambazo live from Royce Hall (recorded without an audience on March 16, 2020). There’s also the Grammy Museum’s “Museum at Home.” The museum’s doors may be closed, but its mission of music education is still very much open and active. Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra is making its broadcasts and on-demand library free to access via its LACO AT HOME website.

LA Opera is also opening up its vaults and providing online content as part of its #LAOAtHOME campaign, which also includes “Living Room Recitals” and other visual content that will change the way you see — and hear — opera. And Los Angeles Philharmonic’s star music and artistic director, Gustavo Dudamel, is broadcasting live from home daily Tuesday through Friday at 6 p.m. in English and Sundays at 6 p.m. in Spanish on Classical KUSC 91.5 FM and on its website. The Spanish-language broadcasts of “At Home With Gustavo” will be the first of its kind to air on KUSC in over 40 years.

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5. For Fun-Seeking Families

Through the end of May, Barnsdall Art Park Foundation and the Junior Arts Center will be hosting Barnsdall Art Sundays — free family art workshops every Sunday (10 a.m.—noon) via Zoom. A sign-in link to the class is available on Barnsdall Arts’ Instagram account. (And for moms and dads who probably couldn’t drag the kids for an in-person tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House in Barnsdall Art Park anyway, there’s a virtual tour you can take online.) For more kid-friendly crafts, The Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton is hosting a socially distant drive-thru art kit kiosk weekly on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. as part of its #MUCKatHOME campaign.

Hollyhock House | Sandi Hemmerlein
Hollyhock House | Sandi Hemmerlein
Hollyhock House | Sandi Hemmerlein
Hollyhock House | Sandi Hemmerlein

Every weekday at 10 a.m., a new family activity (using household supplies) debuts as part of California Science Center’s “Stuck at Home Science” — everything from “straw rockets,” a “pancake lab,” “ice cream science” and a “pom-pom launcher.” And every Wednesday and Saturday morning at 11:30 a.m., you can find a new installment of Bob Baker Marionette Theatre’s “At Home Happiness” series on Instagram TV, plus puppet-making tutorials on YouTube and family-friendly activities on the puppet theater company’s website.

If you missed out on a spring break trip to a theme park like Legoland, the Carlsbad attraction has launched #LLCBuildingChallenge — a weekly how-to video with one of its resident Master Builders. Budding architects can learn how to build various items, submit their own creations and make suggestions for upcoming videos. There are also weekly trivia challenges, word searches, silly stories and more activities that help bring LEGOLAND home for the little ones. You can also try fun recipes from Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park with the whole family — whether or not you’ve got any boysenberries on hand.

6. For Art Aficionados

Both of the campuses of The Getty are currently closed to visitors, but the institute recently published a blog post illustrating how to explore its current exhibitions digitally and research its archives from home. It also posted a challenge on social media to recreate a work of art from its collections with items you might find around the house — and the responses have been hilarious. You can also experience Virtual MOCA with a different themed program for every day of the week; Hammer Museum’s expanded digital archives including UCLA-affiliated artists, female Latin American artists, and African-American artists in LA from 1960-1980; and The Broad’s “Infinite Drone” series on YouTube, which allows you to experience Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Room “The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away” in a whole new way.

Hauser & Wirth in Downtown L.A.'s Arts District has launched several online exhibitions and “viewing rooms” on its website, and the nearby Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles is getting art lovers through its temporary closure with Virtual ICA LA, an online 3D showcase/self-guided interactive VR tour. You can also connect to the Oceanside Museum of Art anytime via its “Museum from Home” #VirtualOMA portal, which features virtual events as well as exhibition tours, podcasts, crafts, and more.

View the Santa Barbara Museum of Art’s collection at home on its website’s e-museum, or search through its online video library of musical performances, lectures, “Art Making at Home,” and exhibition extras that include time-lapse installation videos and panel discussions with Museum curators and artists. And all of the above is in addition to the Google-hosted online exhibits of The J. Paul Getty Museum and The Museum of African American Art, as well as the digital collections of street art in collaboration with The Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles and Random Acts Projects

Getty Villa | Sandi Hemmerlein
Getty Villa | Sandi Hemmerlein
Getty Villa | Sandi Hemmerlein
Getty Villa | Sandi Hemmerlein

Top Image: Getty Villa | Sandi Hemmerlein

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