For some Southern Californians, the wanderlust is real.
We may be perfectly happy where we’re hunkered down but wanderers of all walks of life have recently found that, at least for the time being, they can’t even be tourists in their own towns.
Fortunately, until we can hit the road again — and get our kicks at the beach, on a mountain, or in the desert — there are some ways to live vicariously and experience those destinations remotely.
We can also indulge our passions for history, architecture, arts and crafts, and even science with unprecedented access to top experts from some of the most respected institutions out there.
It’s a great time to learn a new skill, plan a future adventure or let your curiosity be piqued — all from the comfort of your own home. Because now, you can try a little taste of almost anything that interests you, without putting a single mile on your car or using even a drop of gas.
If you’ve got a connected device and a connection, the world — and particularly Southern California — is your oyster. Here are some of the best options for remote exploration and adventure, right at your fingertips.
1. For Weekend Roadtrippers
If the winter ski season or the warming spring weather would’ve taken you to the Eastern Sierra, you can look west from Bishop, California toward Mt. Humphreys, Basin Mountain and Mt. Tom via webcam, which is refreshed every 30 seconds from sunrise to sunset. Views of Mono Lake and Mill Creek are available on the Mono Lake Committee website, and views of the top of June Mountain can be seen from the June Mountain Ski Area Chalet. Likewise, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area’s summit cam helps you (remotely) enjoy views of Mt Ritter, Banner Peak and the Minarets from over 11,000 feet of elevation. Finally, air quality cameras courtesy of the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District let you spy on many key areas of interest across Owens Lake, as well as the rest of the Owens Valley and Mono Lake. And Yosemite Conservancy hosts live webcams with views of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, El Capitan and more.
One tourist town in SoCal that you can visit virtually is the “Danish Capital of America,” Solvang. Solvang Trolley is hosting live virtual tours on its Facebook page, taking viewers past Old Mission Santa Inés, windmills, bakeries and other local mom-and-pops. This Denmark-themed destination is widely considered a “fairytale town” and if you’ve never been before, catching a glimpse of its unique Nordic style (including some replicas of Copenhagen landmarks) is the perfect excuse to plan a future trip.
If you’re more the rugged type who leans toward more undeveloped explorations, Channel Islands National Park offers vicarious getaways with its webcam broadcasts from Anacapa Island, Mount Diablo on Santa Cruz Island, and more. And if you’re more of a desert rat, the Google virtual tour of Joshua Tree National Park offers your choice of nine starting points and is a perfect companion to the park’s online video tour of Keys Ranch and its YouTube channel.
2. For History Buffs
The Autry in L.A.’s Griffith Park is bringing stories of the American West to you via Autry Online. All-ages digital tours, a weekly video series and other online exclusives are being offered via the Autry’s Distance Learning program. You can also find live Q&As on the museum’s Instagram profile. Meanwhile, Culver City’s The Wende Museum has launched #WENDEONLINE with digital access to its collections and virtual, interactive programs including panel discussions and a weekly lunchtime discussion series, Cold War Spaces (via Zoom, free with RSVP to receive the login link). If you missed the museum’s most recent exhibition, "The Medea Insurrection: Radical Women Artists Behind the Iron Curtain," you can view recorded tours of it on Vimeo.
Heritage Square Museum in Northeast Los Angeles may not be able to host its regular tours or let visitors participate in the 2020 edition of Museums of the Arroyo Day, but its social media team has really ramped up its efforts to bring Instagram and Facebook posts about Victorian history and #caturday updates of the comings and goings of their local tom, Belle Boy. Not to be missed!
Old Mission Santa Barbara has posted a number of virtual resources on its website including a weekly video series in conjunction with Santa Bárbara Mission Archive-Library that’s also posted on the mission’s social media channels, like Facebook. It’s a unique way to get a behind-the-scenes look at its collections and brush up on your California Missions history from wherever you are.
3. For Architecture Aficionados
This year is big for the Los Angeles Conservancy, whose Curating the City: The '70s Turn 50 citywide celebration now lives primarily on the organization’s microsite while in-person walking tours, lectures and other festivities are on hold. But even virtually, there are plenty of opportunities to learn how the decade’s political, economic, and social turmoil influenced L.A.'s built environment. Perhaps more importantly, it addresses why we should save places built in the 1970s, as they start turning 50 — an important benchmark in preservation. Explore ’70s-era L.A. via its architecture on the Conservancy’s interactive map, and dive in even more deeply with its immersive 360˚ tour.
About four years ago, photographer Craig Sauer partnered up with the L.A.-based crime and literary-focused tour company Esotouric to give you the chance to virtually explore difficult-to-access architectural gems like Downtown L.A.’s King Edward Hotel and Dutch Chocolate Shop (which is covered in Batchelder tile), the creepy Sowden House (or “Black Dahlia House”) in Los Feliz, and more in 3D. And now is the perfect time to start poking around all the hidden corners and haunted basements of these historic properties. Sauer’s own portfolio also includes walk-throughs of such Long Beach landmarks as the Queen Anne-style Bembridge House and the 175-year-old adobe home at Rancho Los Cerritos — all using 3D cameras and software created by tech company Matterport.
Other virtual tours available online include a five-video series of the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall (presented by LA Phil), an interactive video-based tour of Louis Kahn’s modernist Salk Institute in La Jolla, William Pereira’s Geisel Library and the rest of the U.C. San Diego campus, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House in L.A.’s Barnsdall Art Park, and Santa Monica Conservancy’s 1897 Shotgun House (featuring a 3D scan and an online guided tour).
4. For Craft-Lovers and Crafters of All Ages
In the early 20th century, Southern California was at the center of the American Arts and Crafts Movement and since that time, it has also become a hub of folk-art activity and other self-taught artistry. Now isn’t the time for that to stop — but for it to flourish! If you’re looking for some inspiration, the Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation for Arts and Crafts in Rancho Cucamonga is hosting free artist talks via Zoom (register in advance on the foundation’s Facebook page) while its gardens and galleries are closed and historic home and woodworking workshop tours have been suspended. Plus, the Maloof’s current artist-in-residence, master craftsman Larry White, is hosting his own behind-the-scenes series, called “Deep House,” on his YouTube channel.
If you’ve ever considered throwing clay, you can order five pounds of it from Still Life Ceramics studio at ROW DTLA and, once it arrives, follow a live or pre-recorded online class to create your pottery masterpiece and send it back for firing and glazing for pickup at a later date. Some of the studio’s online classes even let you rent an actual pottery wheel over the course of the two-week class! If printed matter is more your thing, Self Help Graphics and Art in the L.A. community of Boyle Heights is hosting virtual workshops and online art parties live on Facebook and YouTube. And Craft Contemporary on Miracle Mile in Los Angeles has created its Craft at Home program with digital craft tutorials, virtual artist studio visits and artist talks from the archives. It also hosts a Bring Your Own Craft sessions where ideas and ongoing projects are shared by the community over Zoom on select Thursdays.
“Art Projects for All Ages” is what The Bowers Museum in Santa Ana has come up with for its Bowers at Home digital offering. Its virtual education includes how-to’s on flower pounding, foil repoussé and a make-your-own thaumatrope activity (a 19th-centry optical toy). Likewise, LAM+LAB at Laguna Art Museum in Laguna Beach guides visitors through the processes of mask-making, cartography, still life and more. And on Mondays, you can tune into printable offline activities for the entire family, including folding origami from the Japanese American National Museum in L.A.’s Little Tokyo.
5. For Budding Scientists and the Science-Obsessed
If you haven’t got the time to scour the internet for at-home learning resources (and who does?), City of STEM can be your one-stop-shop for many valuable STEM resources available from Southern California science-oriented institutions. Considered he most ambitious STEM initiative in Greater Los Angeles, it pools together offerings from its 100+ partner organizations and curates them in an easy-to-digest online calendar and database of activities and videos sorted by ability level and category.
One of City of STEM’s highlighted programs is NASA’s “STEM @ Home,” which provides online resources for students and educators (and home-schooling parents, too). These engagement activities help kids and adults work together to bring the universe into their homes. It’s a great companion to JPL’s NASA at Home, which includes DIY projects, tutorials and an all-new video series called “Learning Space” — all sorted by grade level, ranging from K-12.
For further exploration of the cosmos, you can watch the video archives of public lectures (including the series “All Space Considered”) and celestial events on Griffith Observatory's YouTube channel. There’s also a lot to watch and learn at FleetTV, the dedicated online channel of Fleet Science Center in San Diego’s Balboa Park.
And while you’re at home, you can discover the secrets of robotics, engineering, 3D modeling and more, courtesy of MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation in Santa Barbara which now offers these programs on its website in lieu of in-person experiences. L.A.’s Two Bit Circus Foundation is also live streaming STEAM-oriented “Creative Play” projects on its Twitch channel, where you can currently watch archived videos on Newton’s Law, music remixing, and more.
Top Image: Mono Lake | Sandi Hemmerlein