More Southern California beaches and trails reopened as coronavirus restrictions eased

Luke Money, Alex Wigglesworth, Kevin Baxter, Louis Sahagun, Lilly Nguyen, Matt Szabo
Spencer Kelly of Huntington Beach dresses up as the Grim Reaper to urge people away from the Huntington Pier on Friday.  (Raul Roa / Times Community News)

With another hot weekend on tap, more Southern California beaches and other outdoor spaces are open this Saturday and Sunday than in previous weeks.

But officials stressed social distancing rules still apply.

Many beaches in Orange, Ventura and San Diego counties are now open. Gov. Gavin Newsom closed Orange County beaches last week but most were reopened this week.

Many Orange County beaches are open for active recreation — think running, walking, biking, swimming and surfing — rather than sitting around and soaking up the sun. Beachgoers also must maintain physical distancing and avoid gatherings with people they do not live with.

Here is when city-run beaches are open:

  • Dana Point — Dana Cove is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, as is Doheny State Beach.
  • Huntington Beach — Every day from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  • Laguna Beach — Weekdays from 6 to 10 a.m.
  • Newport Beach — Daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  • San Clemente — Seven days a week with no announced hours
  • Seal Beach — Monday through Thursday during daylight hours

State-operated beaches in Orange County began reopening Wednesday, as well, “with measures in place to protect public health,” officials said.

Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, who oversees south Orange County cities such as Aliso Viejo, Dana Point, Laguna Beach, Lake Forest, Mission Viejo, Rancho Santa Margarita, San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano, said in a statement that she was pleased with the “alternative to a complete shutdown.”

Parking lots at beaches and public amenities remain closed.

“This phased approach allows us to reopen our beaches in a prudent, responsible manner that prioritizes public health and safety, while recognizing the importance of outdoor recreation,” Bartlett said. “We want Orange County residents to get back to fully enjoying their beaches as safely and quickly as possible.”

Despite the easing of restrictions, protesters gathered in Huntington Beach on Saturday to demonstrate against the stay-at-home orders that remain in effect. Video footage posted to social media showed many waving American flags and holding signs calling on officials to fully reopen the economy.

Police estimated the crowd numbered about 1,500 people. No issues were reported, and no arrests were made, said Angela Bennett, public information officer for the Huntington Beach Police Department.

The town, which has been a hotbed of dissent amid the stay-at-home restrictions, is moving forward with a lawsuit against the state over Newsom's temporary closure of county beaches last week.

Orange County reported 146 new coronavirus cases and three related deaths Saturday, bringing its total to 3,380 cases and 74 deaths. A total of 218 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized, with 87 in intensive care.

L.A. County beaches are still closed. But officials say they may reopen beaches as early as Wednesday morning with a range of restrictions, including closed parking lots, piers and boardwalks. Those limits are to be gradually lifted in phases, and details are still to be determined by county public health officials.

Los Angeles County officials reopened trails and golf courses with restrictions Saturday morning. Face coverings are required in parking lots, trailheads and other crowded areas. Hikers are required to wear face coverings on trails only if they're unable to keep six feet apart from others. At some locations, vest-wearing park monitors will keep an eye out for compliance. City trails also reopened this weekend, with the exception of Runyon Canyon, which remains closed.

The reopening of Griffith Park’s trails Saturday could not come soon enough for Hector Cervantes, a 35-year-old machinist and avid hiker, who said, “after three months at home in lockdown, I was starting to feel like a slave in a prison run by dangerous germs.”

“To finally be outdoors again,” he added, trudging down a shady stretch of Vermont Avenue crowded with fellow hikers, “is like being set free.” Roads into Griffith Park remained closed to traffic.

Nearby, Porsche O’Neil, 63, an executive at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, was enjoying a seven-mile hike that featured natural sights and sounds including two deer browsing grass in a glade of oak trees where acorn woodpeckers flitted among their gnarled branches.

“Those deer were happy, beautiful and eating without a care in the world,” she said. “And hikers were respectful. Everyone oohed and aahed from a respectful distance. Nobody rushed toward them with cameras. It’s been that kind of a wonderful day.”

Ben Peeler, 61, a professional steel guitar player with a keen eye for detail, noticed that “the trails, picnic areas and roads are more overgrown with vegetation than I’ve ever seen them.”

Waist-high chaparral and grass in certain areas transformed popular dirt trails and fire roads into almost unrecognizable narrow strips of dirt, which explains why Berhain Berlain, 34, of Los Angeles, and his partner, Dora Esteban, 22, “got lost in the brush for a few hours.”

“The trails were also harder to climb than the last time I was here,” he added sheepishly. “That might be because I haven’t been out of the house much lately.”

For wildlife, the throngs of visitors, many of them with dogs on leashes, suddenly flooding the park’s canyons and slopes Saturday marked an abrupt end to a historic respite from the usual tumult and clatter of humanity across the urban ecosystem that is home to skunks, coyotes, deer, bobcats and a lone mountain lion known as P-22.

Many of the hikers in ball caps, running shoes and face masks returned home with memories of seeing mountain quail, deer and snakes moving through the brush edging the park’s paved lanes, rugged trails and fire breaks. As the stay-at-home restrictions are lifted in phases, however, the serenity will be replaced by a crush of cars, tour buses and helicopters hovering over the Hollywood sign.

“The coronavirus lockdown has reminded us,” Peeler said, “that we’re tramping through the living room of plants and animals that were here first, before it was surrounded by one of largest cities on the planet.”

Across the county in Santa Clarita, cars entering the newly opened parking lot at Ed Davis Park in Towsley Canyon had to pass between a pair of neon-yellow signs reminding visitors to practice social distancing, wear face coverings at the trailhead and not to gather in groups.

Monica Elcott, who frequently hikes the trails with her husband Moody and three young children, didn’t think that would be a problem.

“Judging by the looks of the parking lot, I think we’ll be able to maintain our distance,” she said.

Nearly three dozen cars were lined up in the dirt lot near the park’s trailhead but Elcott said on many weekends there are twice as many. The sparse late-morning crowd, she said, was probably due to the heat and the slow spread of news about the trail’s reopening.

The family had tried to hike last weekend, only to find the gates to the parking lot locked and the trail closed.

“We try to get out with the kids. We like to see nature and it keeps us sane,” she said. “We don’t like to be in the house. We’ve been quarantining ourselves. We’re kind of like ‘we need some air.’”

Christian Williams, a teenager from Santa Clarita, felt the same way.

“It’s really nice to get outdoors,” he said after a hike with his father. “Everyone out there is having a good time.

“The only thing to worry about are the snakes.”

Ed Davis Park is part of the Santa Clarita Woodlands Park, located on the north side of the Santa Susana Mountains. Santa Clarita, in north L.A. County, has 80 miles of hiking trails, including the challenging 5.4-mile loop that climbs more than 1,000 feet through Towsley Canyon.

Amanda Ochoa, 60, was not deterred. A frequent hiker, she said she couldn’t wait for the park to reopen — but she had no intention of risking her health in the trails were too crowded.

“I told my daughter I’ll go and see. If there is not that many people, I will stay,” she said as she pulled on a cloth face mask and adjusted her walking stick. “This is not that many.”

Nearby, two weary hikers, one wearing a face mask and the other with a bandanna pulled down around his neck, stumbled off the trail with a pair of dogs who seemed especially excited the park had reopened. For their human handlers, who declined to give their names, it felt pretty much like a normal weekend again.

“It’s just like a regular day except everyone is wearing a face mask,” one said.

With 31,230 confirmed coronavirus cases and 1,515 deaths, L.A. County has been particularly hard-hit compared with the rest of the California. The county accounts for nearly half of the state's cases and more than half of its deaths.

As the options for outdoor activity multiply, temperatures are expected to be cooler than last weekend but remain several degrees above normal in many areas, the National Weather Service said.

Air quality in the Santa Clarita and East San Gabriel valleys is forecast to be unhealthy for sensitive people Saturday, prompting a warning from the county health officer for people with heart disease, asthma or other respiratory diseases to minimize outdoor activities.

The gradual reopening of recreational areas comes as the state moves slowly into an economic recovery plan. Some businesses were permitted to reopen for curbside pickup services Friday, the first step in easing stay-at-home restrictions.

Officials in Riverside County moved Friday night to rescind some local health orders that were stricter than the statewide stay-at-home restrictions.

The county Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to direct the rollback of rules requiring people to wear face coverings and maintain six feet of social distancing in public. The measures will continue to be strongly recommended whenever practical and within reason, the county said in a news release.

The board also voted to rescind limitations on short-term rentals and golf courses, as well as the locally ordered closure of higher education and vocational schools. A local order closing primary schools remains in place.

The county’s public health and emergency services director planned to sign the amended and rescinded orders Saturday.

Riverside County had reported 4,817 cases of the coronavirus and 204 deaths, as of Friday.

Still, many continue to preach caution amid the loosening rules, warning that local healthcare systems could easily be overwhelmed by a spike in cases if people don't continue to take proper precautions and stay home as much as possible.