What Now in Travel?

By Spud Hilton

The majestic beauty and tranquility of Mono Lake, one of the oldest lakes in the Western Hemisphere, is a road trip away, in California’s eastern Sierra on Highway 395

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this has been the worst “staycation” ever. While the pandemic changed the where, when and how of travel in many drastic ways — some of them forever — one thing didn’t change for most of us: the desire to go. Nobody’s crystal ball is clear enough, however, to know much for certain, but two things are bankable: We will be able to travel again; and it will be in stages. What follows is a look at what travel might look like, both within the Bay Area and beyond, in the coming year.

Where you go right now is heavily dependent on state limits that vary from county to county, as well as your definitions for “long distances” and “as much as possible.”

The state of California’s COVID-19 resource page still advises residents to stay in their own community for recreation, but also states, “Even though businesses around the state are opening up, avoid travelling long distances for vacations or pleasure as much as possible.”

Seems like enough semantic wiggle room for a day trip or two, especially within the Bay Area. As of this writing, wineries in Napa and Sonoma that can meet social distancing requirements are being allowed to host outdoor tasting and dining, although it might be a while before most wineries are up to speed. If Wine Country exceeds the day trip definition of long distances, two options for scenic spots with open spaces, outdoor options and, most importantly, some really great takeout, are Tiburon and Half Moon Bay.

Tiny Tiburon, often overlooked in the shadow of showier Sausalito as just a ferry stop for Angel Island, offers the same views and a less crowded waterfront. Nearly all the eateries in town have some level of takeout, and there is patio seating at some of the town’s best, including Sam’s, Servino, Salt & Pepper and Luna Blu. There’s ample parking downtown; stop by Sam’s for takeaway (the fried chicken sandwich and Cobb salad both travel well, as does the Original Mai Tai). Dine on the patio, or make use of the benches in the water-front park or the recently added tables around Fountain Plaza. The trails above Tiburon are open, so work off some of the meal on the route to the top of Ring Mountain for one of the best accessible 360-degree views of the Bay.

Tiburon’s Elephant Rock Pier is easy to access from Shoreline Park, and offers stunning views of the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.

There is no shortage of outdoor spots in Half Moon Bay for soaking up sun with a takeout meal or picnic, and the public parking along the region’s postcard beaches is gradually being opened for use. Local icon Sam’s Chowder House is offering takeout, but also plans to open outdoor dining soon; in town, Pasta Moon offers takeout, plus seated dining for dinner. Spangler’s Market in El Granada is the spot for picnic supplies, including made-to-order sandwiches, grab-and-go foods and a variety of cheeses, meats, breads and wines.

Day trips do require a high level of respect and responsibility; wear masks and keep a safe distance from others.

If the speed with which some counties (and not others) are throwing open the doors is any indication, Northern California could be a bit of a patchwork of services. It’s relevant mostly because, with most travelers still too skittish to get on a plane, the road trip vacation that experts are saying is trending hard now should be going strong by the end of summer. The U.S. Travel Association is reporting a significant spike in interest in recreational vehicles, both renting and owning.

Because going across the state is considered more risky in the spread of COVID-19 than is going across the street, officials with the Centers for Disease Control are not encouraging road trips, although there are some simple ways to minimize the risk. The easiest, it would seem, is picking a route through some of the West’s more remote wonders.

Among them, a trip down the east side of the Sierra on Highway 395, starting from the otherworldly beauty of Mono Lake on the less traveled eastern border of Yosemite and heading south. The highway weaves through hot spring country and a half dozen ghost towns, as well as Mammoth Lakes, Lone Pine, Manzanar National Historic Site and, around Victorville, a portion of the original Route 66.

And when the national parks are fully accessible, instead of heading to Yosemite, veer to the right and wander through the wonders of Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, which offer much of the same stunning scenery but with a fraction of the visitors.

Just be aware that being able to stop for services (food, water, restrooms) is not a guarantee at the moment, and might still be an issue a couple of months down the road.

Also, state of Hawai‘i officials plan to lift the state’s two-week quarantine order on August 1, granting access for travelers who present a valid negative COVID-19 FDA-approved test from a certified laboratory issued 72 hours prior to boarding their flight. This will make the islands a welcoming option — for those willing to fly — at probably the least crowded it will ever be.

From a practical standpoint, the actual experience of flying is changing already. Fliers should be emotionally prepared to say farewell to in-flight magazines, pillows and blankets, most meals, some business- and first-class amenities and, possibly, drink service. There will be compromises and alternatives — disposable blankets and digital magazines that can be downloaded to a device, for instance, as well as modified seating plans — to make flying safer.

The bigger issue, says Chris McGinnis, is that international leisure isn’t likely to return in any significant way this year. Possibly not even by this time next year, at least not until there’s a vaccine or a therapeutic.

“There’s the U.S. government’s do-not-travel warning, and quarantines elsewhere,” says McGinnis, longtime travel expert and senior travel correspondent for “Other countries aren’t going to let us in. You might go, but you get stuck with a quarantine order. There’s too much uncertainty in international travel.”

Domestic air travel will return sooner, although until flying is safer, it seems unlikely passengers will be excited about the recirculated air of a plane, whether for five hours or just one.

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