Californians itching to get out and hit the road for a weekend getaway are looking at a challenging summer ahead.
Vacation season is dawning on the Golden State just as Gov. Gavin Newsom begins to loosen California’s shelter-in-place rules, dangling the prospect of day trips and overnight excursions in front of residents who have spent the past 10 to 12 weeks confined indoors. But with counties reopening on different timelines, solidifying travel plans and hotel reservations is an uncertain, if not impossible, task.
“Right now, no one knows what’s going to happen, so you can’t plan for anything,” said Tom Hale, founder of the Berkeley adventure tour company Backroads.
Hale’s company, which would typically be in high season right now, is delaying trips — international and domestic — until at least July. When they do come back, he anticipates hosting smaller groups, negotiating social distance mores, requiring masks at times and being careful about food provisions. Any precautions beyond that will depend on the comfort levels of his guests and staffers, local rules, the evolution of the coronavirus pandemic and many other variables.
“By the time we end up running trips, which is probably a good six weeks from now, the trajectory of COVID anxiety and the sensibility around this could have changed,” Hale said. “Six weeks is a whole lot of time for things to be different.”
When leisure travel resumes in California, the ethics and etiquette of visiting our favorite destinations will almost certainly be rewritten. Many in the industry anticipate a “new normal” of vacationing that will demand heightened patience and awareness both from visitors and locals.
Pulling off a fun, successful trip will require each of us to adjust. Here are three things to consider before you set out.
Tourism is touchy right now: Many communities at the heart of the state’s premier destinations have a love-hate relationship with tourists. Ask any local in Big Sur, Lake Tahoe, Mendocino — pick a popular weekend destination. Though their towns are economically dependent on tourism, many locals loathe the crowded parks, beaches and roadways that come with warm weather.
Those tensions predate the coronavirus pandemic, of course, but the threat of an outsider carrying the virus into a remote town — many of which have managed to avoid a spike in COVID-19 cases — adds a new wrinkle to the dynamic.
In March, for example, several days after the Bay Area enacted shelter-in-place (but before the statewide mandate), a snow storm blew into the Sierra, prompting thousands of skiers here and in Sacramento to pack their cars and head for Tahoe. Hosting ski-tourists in droves is part of the normal ebb and flow of mountain-town life, but many locals viewed the behavior as careless and insensitive given that it came during a viral outbreak that hadn’t yet affected their region.
“There’s always been tension between locals and tourists, but I think the tension is pretty high right now,” pro skier Cody Townsend told The Chronicle at the time.
As the state and each of California’s 58 counties wade into the confusing process to reopen, expect some flare-ups between locals and visitors navigating the new reality. Some tourism-dependent business owners can’t wait to begin receiving visitors again. But there’s palpable anxiety at popular weekend destinations as reopening moves forward.
Reopening will be uneven: Under the state’s phased reopening plan, counties will be allowed to ease back into normalcy after meeting certain health requirements. That means the process will unfold unevenly around the state.
San Francisco, for example, just announced measures for a staggered reopening through at least August. Some counties outside the Bay Area, however, have jump-started the process. There is ongoing debate about the best path forward.
Parks, beaches, lakes and outdoor areas across Northern California are reopening on different timelines and with varying degrees of accessibility, depending on a dizzying array of variables. For the most up-to-date information on outdoor spaces in the Bay Area, check The Chronicle’s interactive tracker-map, revised daily. For broader information on openings in Northern California, follow Chronicle outdoors writer Tom Stienstra on Twitter at @StienstraTom.
Many of the state’s most popular destinations could reopen last or levy the most stringent rules and restrictions as a means of controlling crowds, encouraging distancing and keeping people safe.
Expect new rules, everywhere: Coronavirus has upended the status quo in the places we love to visit.
Yosemite National Park, for example, may set a quota on park visitors and require online reservations for day access when it once again opens its gates. Santa Cruz has banned sunbathing on its beaches. South Lake Tahoe is fining some visitors. Wineries in Napa and Sonoma are struggling to conform to new rules for tasting rooms.
Many of those restrictions will relax once enough counties enter Phase 3 and leisure travel resumes. But there will surely be new rules and guidelines surrounding the visitor experience at hotels, small businesses, guide companies and outdoor areas. Masks, social distancing and hand sanitizer may be just the tip of the iceberg.
No one knows what the new normal will be, so check SFChronicle.com’s county-by-county tracker for the latest news and information on the places you want to visit. And as counties do begin reopening, make sure to tread lightly when you visit.
“It’ll never be the same — like air travel after 9/11,” said Colleen Dalton, director of tourism and economic programs for Visit Truckee. “The new normal with travel will be, you don’t breeze in and out and have this unconscious experience. It’ll take a little more time, and you’ll have to have a little more patience. We’ll all be in this together.”