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Things to do during a Pandemic in Chicago and Los Angeles

Updated: Apr 26, 2021

Originally posted in our Collab Blog Post #Staycation: Responsible and Safe Travels during a Pandemic; this contribution from Cait Kontalis still is inspiring finding things to do during a Pandemic with safe travels and nearby destinations to visit.

Guest Blogger: Cait Kontalis, USA

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Sitting at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, one of the world busiest airports, just 40 minutes before boarding, and the rows of empty chairs are an unusual sight. They seem to serve as grave markers of souls once continent-hopping.

I love to sit in airports. Time standstills here. Everyone is a stranger, but today you share the same mission of air travel.'

The “benefits” of flying during COVID-19 is that hardly anyone is. Security takes minutes if not seconds. Lines for lunch couldn’t be shorter. The chance to have no one sitting next to you on the flight is high.

Yet something is missing. The excitement of our interconnected world has slowed. As restrictions have eased in Chicago, a fake sense of normalcy has popped up in our day-to-day lives. Patio seating, bars are open, people gathering at the park.

The airport doesn’t lie like that though. The adrenaline and nervous sweats of making your flight are but a memory, and fighting for a seat at your crowded gate is a thing of the past. Sitting at the airport now feels like sitting in a hospital. Beeps and buzzes you don’t recognize are no longer background noise but your source of entertainment. Conversations are muted, and everyone takes precautions to make sure six seats away is enough.

You can’t escape COVID-19 in an airport because our world is trapped in an airport.

Photo Credit: Nate Benz

5 Free Things to Do in Chicago

We can all search for “free things to do in Chicago” and get the Lincoln Park Zoo, Garfield Park Conservatory, etc. Here I highlight some smaller gems, beloved by locals on a typical day!

Chess Pavilion

The Chess Pavilion is a hidden gem in Old Town. Located near North Avenue beach, this concrete pavilion overlooks Lake Michigan and a jaw-dropping view of the skyline. Come bring a chessboard, and sit with a leg on each side of these great cement blocks, with a black and whiteboard in-between. You’ll likely encounter some chess pros who will invite themselves to the bleachers of your game.

Oz Park

Oz Park brings the magic of The Wizard of Oz to Chicago. Complete with a Yellowbrick road, statues of the characters, and an “Emerald Garden”, this delightful park is a great place to pack a lunch, enjoy a Chicago summer, and reminisce on some childhood memories.

Hollywood Beach

Located in Chicago’s Northside Edgewater neighborhood, this beach stands out for its cleanliness. Away from the tourists, you feel like you’ve left the city for a bit and you’re on the coast. Filled with great views and beach shacks for snacks, Hollywood Beach is a great weekend “getaway” from the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle. Also known as Osterman Beach

Walk The 606 Trail

This 2.7-mile elevated trail once was the Bloomingdale train lane and has since been converted to a haven for runners, walkers, bicyclists, and art admirers alike. Stroll this east-west trail on Chicago’s northwest side while enjoying art installations, local views of the city, and truly getting to “be with the locals”.

Take A Brewery Tour

Chicago is home to some of the best brews around. Many breweries offer free tours that come with a tasting at the end. My personal favorite is Lagunitas. Walk through their trippy Charlie and The Chocolate Factory-esque entrance, and see beers swinging past you on conveyor belts. It’s truly a grown-up candy factory.

Malibu Beach

L.A. Area Short Day Trip: Malibu

Those dreamy beaches and Malibu vibes we all hear about in songs couldn’t be more true.

We drove just north of Point Dume and found the empty beach pictured above. Can you believe this photo was taken in January? We had the most amazing day away from the crowds, swimming in the Pacific, enjoying hummus and some good beer.

While the smooth, golden beaches of Santa Monica and Huntington are wonderful — the drive to find a beach off the beaten path was 100% worth it. This day still stands as one of my favorite beach days ever.

Drive time from L.A. City Center to Malibu: approx. 1 hour

L.A. Area Short Day Trip: The Getty Center

We saw Diane Keaton here!

That sentence alone should be enough to check out this place. If it's good enough for Diane — then it's good enough for you! And if you don’t know who Diane Keaton is…go educate yourself immediately with Annie Hall.

This incredible garden and art center floats above Los Angeles, with stunning sunset views. Even if you “aren’t an art person”, you can’t help but let your jaw drop for an open-mouthed “wow” while strolling around the grounds.

Since it's larger and slightly less touristy than the Observatory, I’d recommend making a half-day trip out of the Getty Center.

You may even have a celebrity sighting!

Drive time from L.A. City Center to The Getty Center: approx 25 min

Joshua Tree National Park

A brief day trip from Los Angeles, Joshua Tree is a boulderer's paradise.

Gigantic boulders surround Joshua Tree-filled paths and seem to be a grown-up's playground. Climb from rock to rock, or stroll on accessible boardwalks.

Whatever you choose, the raw Californian nature is a must-see when in L.A. or Palm Springs.

Joshua Tree National Park is a great day trip for all sorts of people. If you’re someone who likes to simply drive around, the views are awesome. If you like to get out and go on a leisurely stroll, there are plenty of boardwalk trails available. If you’re like me and my pals, you can easily “off-road” to some back-country trails and climb all over some boulders! Joshua Tree in many ways is like a giant playground for grown-ups. Lots to play with, lots to look at, and many places to avoid the crowds!

If you are able, try camping here, There are some nice campsites — and the stars and moon views are out of this world.

You’ll be reminded of just how small you are when you stand in Joshua Tree.

Drive time from L.A. City Center to Joshua Tree National Park: approx 2.5 hours

Jenny Lake at Grand Teton National Park

And while we already talk about the Western U.S. National Parks, here's an additional 4 you definitely should visit, and perfect destinations for your #staycation!

Grand Teton, WY

Often overlooked by its Yellowstone cousin to the north, Grand Tetons should not be missed. Although smaller than Yellowstone, its lands are packed with wildlife and rugged western mountains. Grab your backpack (and plenty of water) and head up to Cascade Canyon, past Inspiration Point, and you will likely see moose, bear, deer, and other wildlife.

Arches, UT

Natures Utah Utopia, Arches, is like walking in daydreams of the Wild West. Incredible colors and rock formations stretch miles in every direction. Utah’s SouthWestern sun is strong, so be sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen before venturing too far from your vehicle.

Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most visited National Parks in the U.S., and for good reason. Its gigantic mountains make anyone feel as if you’ve left earth. Lush forests and deep blue lakes are home to bears, wolves, elk, moose, and more. Step inside this Bob Ross-Esque park; Rocky Mountain is truly a nature lover's dream.

Grand Canyon, AZ

Truly unlike anywhere else in the world, humans have been inhabiting the area since the Ice Age. Condors fly overhead, reminding you how dangerous Mother Nature is when you challenge her. The Grand Canyon allows you to choose your own adventure. Enjoy the views from up top, and take a stroll around the rim. Maybe even walk out on the glass walkway. Or, if you’re an experienced hiker, diligently prepare for an overnight journey down into the canyon, to see the Colorado River up close and personal.

Guest Blogger Cait Kontalis from the self-named Travel Blog is a Greek-American Travel Blogger based in Chicago, Illinois. The most important thing in her life is to travel. Her motto is: "I firmly believe that the more people travel, the better global citizens we will become"! We agree 110% with that! Visit Cait Kontalis and follow her on Instagram!


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