All college students know the three things they must do when they return to campus: wear a mask, social distance and don’t hang out in large groups. While various school administrations scrutinize the situation and decide on housing arrangements and classroom protocols, college students are left to wonder where COVID leaves the fun social aspects of college. Luckily, you can still find fun things to do in LA during a pandemic as long as you do them safely.
In a city like LA, there’s always something to do and plenty of activities that meet COVID-safety guidelines.
1. Go to the beach
While the beach on the hottest Saturday of the month might spell disaster in terms of overcrowding, going at off-peak times lets you appreciate the beautiful coastline and fresh air without the fear of catching COVID from a way-too-close stranger. “Definitely head down to the beach,” USC senior and student ambassador Catharine Malzahn said. “I’ve been to the beach quite a bit and that’s kind of a nice way to kind of get out and get fresh air. As long as you’re staying six feet apart, of course.” To avoid the crowds, take a walk on the coastline in the mornings or evenings or go swimming on weekdays when the fewest people will be out.
2. Prepare a socially distanced picnic
Everyone knows the safest way to act during the pandemic is to stay inside and keep socializing to the virtual sphere, but community is a part of college that’s difficult to make all virtual. “It’s been hard trying to strike a balance between telling people not to socialize at all, which is sort of just a battle you’re destined to lose,” said Jack Palen, the president of Associated Students at LMU. “It’s easier to suggest the best ways to socialize and get the community into a position where showing up to a social gathering with a face mask is a norm, and trying to make it like gauche to not follow social distancing guidelines.” If college students want to keep the social aspect of college, they’re going to have to have to make some compromises to stay safe.
So, for the second-best option when it comes to socializing, take advantage of the urban green spaces on and off your campus by having a socially distant picnic with friends. “What I’ve been trying to tell my peers, if you do get together, why not just do it outside, and why not wear a mask,” Palen said. “But again, it just doesn’t fit into everyone’s idea of normal socializing. It’s tough to normalize that.” Hanging out at green spaces is already a part of the “norm” of campus culture for schools across the country.
Now, COVID-19 adds masks and a little more space to spread out to the typical outdoor hangout. “I personally think it would be super fun for students to have like a picnic outside kind of spread out. And that’s kind of the culture anyway at USC in normal circumstances,” Malzahn said. “You’ll always be walking or biking by and you’ll see students on picnic blankets, playing guitar, hanging out, studying, whatever it may be.” Hanging out with friends at a socially distant picnic can help restore your feeling of normalcy, even just a little bit, amidst all the changes COVID-19 precautions will bring.
3. Visit the botanical gardens
With museums no longer an option, the various botanical gardens in Los Angeles make for an equally beautiful replacement. For more roses than you’ve ever seen in your life, go to the Exposition Park Rose Garden. Called one of the city’s “best-kept secrets,” the garden features over 200,000 bushes with over 200 varieties of roses across its 7 acres. For more variation, the Descanso Gardens, accredited as a museum of living collections for its renowned botanical collections, spans over 150 acres with camellias, toyon berries, ginkgo trees, and more in bloom during the fall semester.
4. Go to a drive-in movie
You can largely thank the pandemic for the revival of drive-in movie theatres which emerged as one of the safest activities one can do, besides staying home. Unlike other activities where people can easily overstep into your six-foot bubble or where crowds can suddenly form, drive-in’s let you take a break from worrying about coming into contact with other people or things, so long as you stay put inside your car. While the city of LA isn’t home to any drive-in theatres, make a night of it by going further out into LA County to the Paramount Drive-In Theatre in Paramount or the Vineland Drive-In in La Puente.
5. Go hiking
When your only walk during quarantine was the few blocks around your home, even in the hot California sun, hiking starts to sound like the most exciting activity on Earth, and for good reason. The chance to overlook the city or coast from up high will help you regain your sense of the world after being crammed inside for so long and provide a needed escape from crowds of people. “A lot of people have been doing hikes, which is great,” Malzahn said. “The biggest thing right now is getting some fresh air and getting space because we’ve all been cooped up for so long.” With the amazing views the mountain peaks of LA offers, you’ll never want to do your local route again.
6. Take a scenic drive
As COVID cases continue to surge in LA, it becomes riskier to go outside, especially in places where it’s hard to maintain the proper social distance. “ I’m kind of against advocating for going out and doing things, especially right now since we’re at the peak, I mean, we’ve never not been at the peak since it started in March, [and] it’s only been getting worse by the day,” Zazzara said. “I think people are getting a little more ‘lax since things started even though it hasn’t gotten better. There are ways to be safe about it and still live your life and enjoy it.” If you want to stay on the safer side, or are a high-risk individual, staying inside your car and taking a scenic drive will let you get out of the house and explore without worrying about getting COVID.
For the classic Hollywood drive, cruise down Mulholland Drive to see all the tourist hotspots from afar, like the Hollywood Sign and Beverly Hills. For a breathtaking view of the coast that isn’t PCH, head down Palos Verdes Peninsula for the Palos Verdes Scenic drive. The beautiful view of the coast is so renowned that Donald Trump (back when he was just a billionaire) built a golf club there, with a $500,000 annual membership price tag.
7. Chill out on a hammock
Evidence has shown that COVID transmission rates are highest when indoors and during face to face contact, so sometimes the best thing for your health is to go outdoors and be alone for a bit. Get out of your probably poorly ventilated dorm and into the fresh air for a nap or even a quick study sesh by trying out the college favorite activity of Hammocking.
Hammocking came into popularity across college campuses around five years ago, but if you haven’t gotten in on the trend yet, the pandemic is the perfect time to try it out. “I guess, if you’re going to do anything, make sure you’re outside and make sure you’re away from people,” Zazzara said. By keeping you tucked away in the trees and isolated from others, hammocking offers just that. If you want a different view than the usual greenery, head to Venice Beach to hammock between palm trees or try to get a spot on the shoreline rocks of El Matador State Beach.
8. Shop at an Open-Air Mall
Take in the sun and the hot weather before fall arrives and spend a day meandering around an open-air mall or market. For those who like a good deal and searching for hidden gems, The Santee Alley, a flea market in LA’s fashion district, may become the place for you. With over 150 retailers, you can spend an entire day searching and haggling for your next favorite purchase. The market’s usually packed with vendors and people, so make sure to wear a mask and avoid the weekends to avoid the crowds.
If brand names are your style when it comes to shopping, check out Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica instead. This open-air mall is the perfect way to window shop and catch a few street performances at the same time, keeping you entertained for the afternoon.
9. Host a small outdoor concert viewing
If you miss the social aspect of a concert, but would rather stay away from the crowds of corona indifferent people– like the attendees of a recent drive in concert who left their vehicles to rush the stage, sacrificing their health for the Chainsmokers, of all bands – find the happy medium. Instead of standing in a crowd or listening to live-streamed music events all by yourself, turn a live-streamed event into a mini-concert in your backyard.
When hosting small get-togethers, however, make sure you know the risk levels and exposure of those invited. “You just need to make sure that you know who you’re around, sort of what they’re doing and what precautions they’re taking,” said Ben Zazzara, a rising senior and Chief Communications Officer for the Associated Students of LMU. To do this, have open talks with your friends about their potential exposures and the risk level each person is willing to take.
Remember, you won’t know how much exposure each one of your friends has had. “I know a lot of people who just sort of assuming that people wouldn’t willingly or knowingly expose them to the virus,” Palen said. “But a lot of times that assurance just isn’t there. And you can’t be 100% positive about it.” This isn’t a virus the host is always aware of, making it easy for one of your friends to unintentionally spread COVID-19 to you. Being close enough friends to openly talk about each other’s potential exposure makes you aware of the extent of that risk, which helps limit the spread of COVID and keeps you and others safe.
Also, remember to keep your masks on regardless of your levels of exposure and risk, especially if you’re hosting a mini-concert and can’t hold back from singing along, which can double the transmission distance.
10. Join virtual clubs and organizations
The pandemic may have canceled plenty of events and activities, but it didn’t cancel the organizations or clubs that function both in the city and on your campus. “It’s tougher garnering that community mindset when all your programming is virtual, we are trying to figure out how to bridge that gap with all the tools we have,” Palen said. Even though they will feel and function differently, virtual programs are better than nothing and can still have a large impact on getting adjusted to your new normal.
Many local and school-based organizations and clubs still conduct meetings through the pandemic and offer a good way to stay connected to people, even if you can’t meet in person. “Everyone’s kind of in the same boat right now where we’re all kind of separate, but still, at least for me, kind of craving that human interaction in any way that I can,” Malzahn said. City-based Facebook groups like Hiking Los Angeles, LA Friday Night Skate or VegansofLA, easily let you connect with people nearby with shared interests; whatever your interest, there’s surely a group for it. Reach out to clubs and organizations to make new friends and help you feel a little less alone during this time of social distancing,
Above all else: If it’s not safe, stay home
While LA offers plenty of ways to safely have fun, the only way to fully protect against COVID is to stay home and go out as little as possible. “All these places will be there in a year, two, three years,” UCLA student ambassador Kevin Kobrane said. “You don’t need to rush into doing something right now when there’s a potential consequence.” While waiting a few more months to ride a rollercoaster or see a sports game isn’t the biggest sacrifice, it’s harder to brush off the loss of socializing with friends.
If cases continue to increase, it’s still not worth putting your health at risk, especially at a time when staying connected has never been easier. “I know it’s really easy to want to see people and to go out and go to bars and be around your friends but we’ve never really lived in an easier time to be friends with people and not see them in person,” Zazzara said. “The fact that we have the ability to play video games with each other and Skype and watch movies together online, it’s easier than ever to stay home and be safe.” So, no matter how many times your friends say you’re “missing out” by not joining them at the bar, remember that the only chance you’re missing out on by prioritizing safety is the chance of spreading COVID-19.