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What tourists need to know about visiting L.A. during the pandemic

A man sits on a hammock under the orange overcast sky in L.A.'s Venice neighborhood on Sept. 10. (Etienne Laurent/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

As the United States scrambled in the face of the new coronavirus outbreak, Los Angeles was one of the first cities to impose a severe lockdown. Movies stopped filming. Traffic disappeared. Beaches emptied. Six months later, L.A. residents are back on Interstate 405 (or the 405, for Southern Californians), returning to hiking trails and figuring out how to live life during the new normal.

For starters, both residents and visitors are required to wear face coverings and practice physical distancing while they’re in public, whether that’s lounging on the beach, shopping in Beverly Hills or power walking to their gate at the airport.

While many elements of the city are still closed to prevent spreading the coronavirus, Javier Cabral, editor in chief of news and culture site L.A. TACO and associate producer for the “Taco Chronicles” on Netflix, doesn’t discourage people from visiting L.A. as he sees the economic impact of the pandemic.

“I’m quick to forget that because I was born and raised in LA, that it’s a place that is considered a tourist destination,” he says. “I understand that it’s a big economy booster, and I understand that a lot of businesses have been suffering because of lack of [tourism].”

Cabral feels visitors can still have an authentic L.A. experience in the current situation. “Most likely you’re gonna have tacos on the trunk of your car or the hood of your car, so that still hasn’t changed,” he says.

Here’s what else tourists can expect during a visit to L.A. during the pandemic.

What you can do

As many businesses remain closed, Hadley Meares, a journalist and tour guide, says visitors who come now are going to get about a quarter of the normal L.A. experience.

“L.A. is not considered safe enough yet to have tours,” Meares says. “It’s pretty shut down, but ... we are an outdoor city, so there’s still a lot folks can do.”

People visit Griffith Observatory in 2019. Only the outside portion has been reopened. (Lisa Corson for The Washington Post)

Meares recommends reserving a ticket to visit the Huntington botanical gardens in San Marino, going to the beach (don’t forget to pack your mask) and walking down Malibu Pier. As far as hikes go, Meares suggests hiking through Griffith Park to the observatory (to observe from outside, that is, since the inside hasn’t reopened), exploring Santa Monica Canyon and Malibu’s Solstice Canyon, and walking along the L.A. River near Frogtown.

“There’s an art installation set up in the river by Spokes Cafe right now,” Meares says. “Someone has an easel in the middle of the L.A. River and they’re painting a river scene and they just leave it when they’re not there.”

Not all hikes are pandemic-friendly. She would avoid going to Runyon Canyon Park. “I’ve heard it’s a total crazy scene right now,” she says. “It’s filled with a lot of 20-year-old actors who probably aren’t being that careful.”

Connie Wang, managing director of the historic Hotel Figueroa in downtown L.A., recommends visitors explore the Arts District, stopping at the bookstore Hennesy + Ingalls or booking a timed appointment at the gallery Hauser & Wirth. Travelers can also drive or walk around parts of the city to see its architectural highlights.

“The architecture is one of the reasons why I love downtown L.A., and a great example of that is the Bradbury building,” Wang says. “I love just walking and seeing that, and right now, with less people on the streets, it’s actually better for architecture walking tours.”

Where you can eat

Tacos were already a major draw for travelers in Los Angeles, and now they feel like a particularly good option for pandemic-friendly eating.

“Tacos have been the original takeout food,” Cabral says. “You usually eat tacos standing up in the street, not usually next to someone cramped up. You have a lot of space.”

Cabral recommends going to El Ruso during the day or Angel’s Tijuana Tacos at night. His other go-to street food recommendation is Mariscos El Faro, a truck he lovingly calls his second office.

For more taco suggestions, L.A. photographer Dylan Ho created this mini-guide for people to easily explore Mexican food spots on East Olympic Boulevard in the Boyle Heights neighborhood.

Daniel Cox enjoys his dinner at King Taco in Boyle Heights on July 20. (Philip Cheung for The Washington Post)

Akira Akuto, chef and co-founder of the popular Japanese sandwich spot Konbi, has been a fan of places that make quick pickups easy, like Wax Paper for sandwiches and Milkfarm in Eagle Rock where “they do curbside, so I can just call in all the different cheeses I need and baguettes,” he says.

Akuto also recommends that travelers visit Kismet Rotisserie, Guisados, Rustic Canyon and Found Oyster, which he says is “great New England seafood meets Paris wine bar."

Where you can stay

Meares recommends visitors look for Airbnb in neighborhoods like Echo Park, Silver Lake and Los Feliz.

“There’s a lot of cute little bungalows and little apartments that have been done really nicely,” she says. “You’ve got a lot of open space that’s pretty accessible.”

Hillside homes in the Silver Lake neighborhood. (Lisa Corson/for The Washington Post)

Checking into the city’s hotels and motels will be different. On April 7, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti issued an emergency order that mandated hotel and motel employees to wear face masks while working, among many other detailed protocols.

At the Hotel Figueroa, “we’ve socially distanced all of our furniture and made sure that whether you are at the pool or at the restaurant, that you’re always six feet away from the next party,” says Wang. The Figueroa has implemented a two-person limit for the elevators and contactless check-in, as well as given guests the opportunity to text the hotel any requests so they don’t have to ask a staff member in person.

Meares also suggests people can drive up the Pacific Coast Highway north to Ventura to rent a place by the beach.

“I tell them to go somewhere more out of the way where they could really feel like they’re breathing air,” she says. “Because it’s been rough here. Like between the pandemic and the fires and the earthquake last week, it’s been quite a time to be alive in Los Angeles.”

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