By: Joe Castel
Mask up, Cupid. This year your greatest challenge will be to inspire divine amore for lockdown lovers and lonely hearts alike. Valentine’s Day celebrations will be sadly limited with restaurants and bars shut down throughout the state. And those looking for love will be really out of luck unless they choose to seek it in the risky hookup apps.
If you haven’t already made a reservation at a resort in Palm Springs, or even in Weho, it’s unlikely you’ll get one at this time, as many hotels throughout California are either shut down or operating at a fraction of their normal capacity. A hotel clerk at one of the more popular Palm Springs resorts claimed their property was closed due to county restrictions, but added that other gay resorts were operating under the radar. Regardless of the stealth operations, most resorts were already booked for the lovers’ holiday by early January.
Some Valentiners will escape to places like Vegas or even Mexico if they want to experience any kind of openly gay environments outside of LA’s lockdown. I personally don’t recommend the populated gay destinations, due to the seriousness of the pandemic. However, there are a few options still available that provide a fairly “safe” romantic milieu, if you’re responsibly masking up, and don’t mind sharing public spaces with the straighter population.
Gay friendly hotels may be your best bet if you want something by the ocean or in Palm Springs. One of the best boutique hotels open for business and best-kept secrets is in Pismo Beach. Three hours from Los Angeles, this lovely property sits on the edge of a cliff secluded between the quaint downtown areas of Shell Beach and Pismo Beach. Each room faces the ocean so close to the cliff’s edge that you can see ocean waves from your bed. It’s almost like having an infinity pool just beyond your balcony or patio door. Waking up in the morning to soft morning sunlight shimmering on the ocean outside your balcony is an amazing feeling that has to be experienced.
On the hotel property, there are chairs, tables, and even large reclining swings nestled on the edge of the cliff that’s surrounded by rock formations and tropical landscaping. Below is the hotel’s private beach, although during the winter months, the tide can be fairly high into early afternoon. The weather up north has been unusually temperate, so the afternoons are warm accompanied by mild sea breezes.
The rooms are beautifully decorated, bright, airy, spacious, and pristine. The staff wipes down every major appliance and highly traffic touch areas – even the remote comes in a sanitized plastic wrapping. But I still bring my own Clorox sheets and wipe every door handle and light switch down and don’t forget the Lysol, if you can find it.
Inn at the Cove serves a complimentary and decent continental breakfast, but guests must take meals to their rooms or to the beach.
If there are any rooms available for Valentine’s Day weekend, they will be pricey, around the $400 range. However, during the week, the rooms can go as low as $150 a night, so it may be worth it to do a weekday visit.
Unlike here in LA County, many Pismo Beach residents don’t wear masks while outside, so you may want to be aware of that. Although it’s not overly crowded, I recommend taking a mask when walking along the cliff, which leads to Dinosaur Park and to some incredible rock formations below. There are plenty of places to sit and soak in the winter’s rays.
Pismo Beach is a bit of a drive, but the ride along the coast is relaxing as rush hour traffic is not that bad during this pandemic. If you’re looking for something outdoors, and peaceful, and relatively safe from COVID contamination, then this is the spot to be on Valentines Day or anytime you can find to escape the monotony of being in lockdown. For more information on Inn at the Cove visit https://www.innatthecove.com
If Pismo Beach is too far and too expensive, but you still want to visit the ocean for a romantic interlude, then Paradise Cove in Malibu is your best bet. This popular restaurant is not open to indoor dinning, however, visitors can do take out. According to the host, patrons can purchase meals and sit on the small beach, just located yards off their property. Be sure to bring a blanket. The menu is immensely diverse, but seafood is their specialty, and I highly recommend the calamari. Prices are reasonable for Malibu. It may be a little crowded so go early! I believe they still validate for parking.
Don’t want to pay $75 for roses that will die in a few days? Then I suggest walking with your Valentine through the Huntington Gardens and get 120 acres of roses and other blooming flowers for $65 a couple. Located in San Marino, adjacent to Pasadena, it’s larger than Disneyland with a total of 207 acres with museums, restaurants, and a new edition of the Chinese Garden that’s adorned with exquisite traditional architecture, a large Koi pond, bridges, and terraces.
Unfortunately, the Huntington’s world renowned Library and its art museums are currently closed due to the pandemic. Even the cafes are shuttered and there is no eating on the premises, so no picnicking on the grounds (which is usually allowed) and don’t even try to sneak in a meal because they check all bags. They also check for Doggies in bags, sorry, Paris Hilton, as pets are also not allowed unless they are service dogs.
However, it’s the breathtaking themed landscapes like the Jungle, Desert, Australian, Rose and Japanese Gardens that are the main attractions. You won’t feel like you’re in LA any longer.
All tickets must be booked online in advanced, and all guests are required to wear a mask. Most people adhere to the rules, but you will see people defying the city’s ordinance and unfortunately, there is not enough security throughout these massive gardens to enforce this safety protocol.
Hopefully, the Huntington will bring on more staff to oversee that everyone is in compliant because the gardens can become very congested, especially on the weekends, and the pathways are unusually narrow. For more info visit: https://www.huntington.org