The country’s most populous state has reopened more slowly than most, but travel is finally making a comeback in California. Like many Californians stuck in my house for nearly three straight months, my family is ready to go somewhere. Safely, of course.
But with each California county following its own timeline for reopening, it’s really confusing to know where we can even travel within our own state. As I’ve evaluated my own vacation options, I decided it might be helpful to share the results of all that research with you. A lot of counties are entering Phase 3 as of today, which has changed the travel landscape in the state quite a bit.
So, if you are looking to get out and about in the Golden State this summer, here is the latest on what areas are open for travel. I’m going to do my best to keep this updated as things evolve in the coming weeks, so bookmark this and check back. And please do share any tips or news as you learn them about destinations as things change. I know I can’t possibly cover it all alone!
Note also that many places in our state require face coverings (yes, even outdoors) as they open up. So pack a few masks accordingly and read all of the restrictions and details before you travel anywhere. (See my other tips for traveling safely and responsibly as America reopens.)
What’s Open in California for Travel Now
Napa & Sonoma Wine Country
Northern California’s wine country opened more fully earlier this month with the reopening of wineries and tasting rooms. (Fun fact: my husband played a small part in making that happen!).
Many of the activities travelers might be interested in on a Napa or Sonoma trip can be done quite safely in a distanced manner – outdoor wine tasting, hiking, biking, and more. Many restaurants are open as well, with reduced capacity and a lot of additional health and safety protocols in place.
If you plan to head to Napa or Sonoma, it’s essential to make reservations in advance due to limited capacity right now. With so few places open for travel yet in California, demand is high.
Santa Cruz & Monterey Counties
Santa Cruz County and Monterey County are officially reopening to tourists today, Friday, June 12. Both counties are full of outdoor attractions perfect to ease cautiously back into travel. Plus, the regions are easy weekend getaways or even day trips from much of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Of course, some of the most well-known attractions in these areas can’t open quite yet in this phase. The famed Monterey Bay Aquarium remains closed (but has awesome webcams of its jellyfish, penguins, and other sea creatures available on its Facebook page daily). Similarly, the theme park at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has not yet announced a reopening date.
What can you do instead these regions?
- Take a scenic drive through Big Sur
- Dine outside at a restaurant in quaint Carmel-by-the-Sea
- Kayak on the Monterey Bay
- Hike in Henry Cowell Redwoods or other Santa Cruz County state parks (most are open).
Be sure to check out my guide to Monterey with kids as even more options continue to return.
Yosemite National Park
The reopening my family has been eyeing the most in recent weeks is Yosemite National Park. We have a special trip booked for mid-July there that we had to reschedule two summers ago when wildfires hit the parks. And thankfully the park has made its reopening official now!
The park reopened to day trippers with a limited capacity reservation system on Thursday, June 11. Guests with reservations at any of the in-park overnight accommodations are automatically admitted without reservations. To be sure, amenities and services will be somewhat limited. But if all you want to do is go for a hike in the most glorious outdoor scenery this country has to offer, it’s now a possibility.
The Lake Tahoe area has been one of the most vocal in discouraging tourism the past few months, even going so far as to assess fines for violations of short term rental restrictions. Towns on the Nevada side of the lake opened over a week ago. And on Friday, June 12 the message shifted quickly on the California side as well as the area reopened to tourism.
Restaurants are open with capacity restrictions and lots of outdoor dining. Short term rentals are permitted again in both north and south lake on the California side. The Tahoe area also has so many outdoor recreation options that offer safer travel activities for visitors. The challenge in heading to Tahoe this summer though may be that so may other travelers will be headed there too. The summer crowds can be even more crushing than the winter ski crowds at times. So plan your vacation accordingly and be prepared to adjust if some trails or beaches you plan to visit are too crowded.
One of my favorite Northern California getaways is Mendocino County. With gorgeous coastal views and majestic redwoods, it is an ideal outdoor getaway in the current times.
Like Lake Tahoe, however, Mendocino was closed to non-essential travel until Friday, June 13. Although it’s now open, be aware that many parts of the county are remote and hard to access with limited medical services, so it’s vital for travelers to be extra responsible when visiting the area. Be sure not to miss my complete guide to Mendocino County with kids to kick off your trip planning.
A Lot of Very Northern California
While the San Francisco Bay Area is often referred to as “Northern” California, it’s not really in the north. The real northern areas of the state are much closer to Oregon than San Francisco: Trinity, Shasta, Siskiyou, Lassen, Humboldt, Modoc, and Del Norte.
These areas are much more remote with lots of outdoor activities and sparse populations. And as you can imagine, those areas have mostly been spared in the last few months and have been able to reopen more quickly. Not everything is open in the area, and some cities and attractions are still discouraging visitors (Humboldt County and Redwood National and State Park, most notably). So do your research carefully. But many of the outdoor activities are, and those are probably what most travelers are looking for this summer.
What are some of the highlights in this part of Northern California that might interest travelers? The following attractions are open in some form right now:
- Picnic by a volcano in Lassen Volcanic National Park
- Explore underground lava caves in Lava Beds National Monument (see more about this area on our family’s Volcano Road Trip from a few years ago.)
- Get out on a kayak or boat rental on Shasta Lake
- Explore Lake Shasta Caverns
- Stroll across the famous Sundial Bridge in Redding
What California Destinations are Opening Soon
Southern California Theme Parks
Theme parks have already started opening in Florida – Universal Orlando opened June 5 and Walt Disney World announced a July 11 re-opening. Naturally, all eyes have been on California to see if its theme parks follow suit soon. Sea World in San Diego and Legoland California in Carlsbad have been petitioning local leaders and aiming for a July 1 reopening, but no official date has been set. Universal Hollywood’s CityWalk – although not its theme parks – reopened June 10.
But the crown jewel of all California theme parks is, of course, Disneyland in Anaheim. And less than 48 hours ago, Disneyland finally announced a date for its reopening: July 17, 2020. Parks will be capacity restricted and reservations will be required, but the Happiest Place on Earth is coming back soon. Expect other theme parks to start announcing dates soon.
San Diego County
San Diego County relies much more heavily on tourism than the rest of the state and has been lobbying the governor hard for a faster reopening timeline. For now, the county is a bit of a patchwork when it comes to tourism, but it certainly is on the cusp of a quick shift. A few hotels are now able to welcome out of town guests, but many don’t have pools or services open.
The biggest opening that is coming soon to the area is the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park on June 20, 2020. With much of both attractions outdoors, these are relatively safe attractions for families to visit. Watch for dates for Sea World and Legoland as well, which should be coming soon.
Be sure to keep an eye on La Jolla Mom and Mom Rewritten for all the news and planning advice for the region. Both sites are written by family travel writers and experts who reside in San Diego County. La Jolla Mom’s list of the best San Diego resorts has some of the most updated information about which luxury hotels have opened and with what restrictions.
Destinations Still Closed in California
San Francisco & the Bay Area
As someone who lives in the Bay Area, I can say with some certainty that we are not really open for tourism. The Bay Area has been moving much more slowly through the phases of opening than any other part of the state, with each county now doing things slightly differently after moving as a bloc at first. Restaurants did just open in the city of San Francisco for outdoor dining today, but the top tourist draws are likely to remain shuttered for awhile.
So if you are looking for a San Francisco getaway, put those hopes and plans on pause for now. Even many of the areas popular outdoor attractions that might seem enticing and safe, such as Muir Woods National Monument, remain closed.
Are you planning a getaway in California this summer? Do you know of places that are open I haven’t covered? Share your thoughts and tips in the comments!