The California Virtual Tours and Experiences to Enjoy from Your Couch

The California Virtual Tours and Experiences to Enjoy from Your Couch

By Alejandra Saragoza
April 14, 2020

As communities across the world and in California mitigate health risks during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are shifting our content strategy and will not encourage any travel or social activities during this time. We will, however, continue to shine a light on and celebrate the many beautiful aspects of our State with the intention of being a source of inspiration and joy during this difficult period. We will also be providing tips and resources specifically related to the COVID-19 pandemic safety measures in the coming weeks. Thank you for reading, and stay safe!

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact our daily lives, many of us are hunkering down at home and spending a lot more time on our couches than we normally would. While we can pass the time in self-quarantine by doing virtual online workouts, learning a skill, cooking a new dish, or binge-watching California-made movies and TV shows to keep our minds occupied, it’s tough to stop thinking about all the adventures we could be having instead of practicing social distancing and sheltering in place indefinitely.

Indeed, wanderlust is hard to fight these days; the longer we stay indoors, the more we want to go out and travel. But luckily, we can still do it—virtually. Even though we’re staying inside our homes, modern technology makes it possible for us to experience the culture, history, and natural wonders of the Golden State from our computer screens.  

Whether you want to wander through a world-famous art museum, see mysterious attractions, or travel to a national park, these entertaining live streams and online experiences can help you escape into another world for a little bit—without you having to ditch your PJs and leave the comfort of your cozy throw blanket. And who knows? These virtual experiences may just inspire you to plan your next IRL California adventure.

Visit California Zoos, Aquariums, and Farms

Get an up-close look at tigers, lions, grizzly bears, pandas, and other animals during virtual tours of California zoos.

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For all you cool cats and kittens, make a virtual visit to California’s acclaimed zoos for glimpses of lions, tigers, and bears—oh, my! The Oakland Zoo and the San Diego Zoo have live cams dedicated to grizzly bears, pandas, penguins, elephants, and baboons, among other animals.

Both zoos are also offering unique virtual experiences for a subscription fee. The Oakland Zoo recently launched Behind-the-Scenes Live, which takes you inside the zoo five times a week, giving you the opportunity to see animals up-close, meet the animal keepers and veterinarians who care for them, and ask questions in real time. Meanwhile, the San Diego Zoo is providing several different Upgraded Experiences, allowing you to enjoy guided tours and see your favorite animals in action.

For a dose of cuteness, take a virtual walk-through of California farms and wave hello to pigs, lambs, and other adorable animals.

For another instant mood boost, check out the cute and furry farm animals at Charlie’s Acres. This nonprofit animal sanctuary in Sonoma is giving educational, family-friendly tours to show how intelligent the animals are, share their stories of resilience, and display their distinct personalities. Tune in every Tuesday and Thursday from 2 to 2:30 p.m. to view the animals from your home. (If you fall in love with a furry face, you can sponsor an animal and visit him or him in person once the shelter-in-place mandate is lifted.)

Children may also experience a sense of wonder and connection to the natural world through the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. They can see sea otters frolic in the waters, watch for birds, meditate with some medusas, play educational games, make natural history posters, and take online courses to learn about everything from tidepools to kelp forests.

Another one to bookmark for the little ones: The Aquarium of the Pacific is offering a variety of online programming, including virtual classroom sessions and livestreams of exhibits where you can spot penguins, sharks, and jellyfish. Listen to whalesong at the online Whales: Voices in the Sea exhibit, watch lectures on a plethora of topics, and keep those brain cells from turning into mush with the Online Learning Center.

Spend the Day at the Beach

Tune in to a livestream of California beach cameras to experience an online beach getaway.

As the weather warms up, sheltering in place gets even harder, and many of us would give anything for a beach vacation right now. Luckily, Live Beaches delivers an at-home beach experience. Whether you’re dreaming of (virtually) lounging on the shores of Santa Barbara, hitting the San Francisco surf, strolling along the Santa Monica Pier, or taking in the stunning Malibu views, you can find some solace in the impressive collection of California beach cams

While it’s not quite the same as feeling sand between your toes and sunshine on your face—save that for once we’ve officially flattened the curve—pour yourself a beverage and don your bathing suit for an online beach getaway that’s as close as you can get to the real thing (at least for now).

Escape to a National Park

See the stunning deserts, lush redwood forests, and looming mountains that comprise California's national parks—all from your computer.

From towering redwoods and granite monoliths to striking desertscapes and snow-capped mountain ranges, the state’s national parks are home to some of the world’s greatest natural wonders. While you may not make it to your favorite national parks in person anytime soon, you can still go on an adventure—albeit virtually—by taking digital tours with Google Earth.

Thanks to advanced mapping technology and 360-degree cameras, you can explore the highest peaks, descend into the deepest valleys, and watch the stars from afar—all from the convenience of your phone, tablet, or computer. Sure, it may not be the same as lacing up your hiking boots and inhaling the crisp, clean air of the wilderness, but it’ll help scratch the wanderlust itch for now.

To take a digital hike, so to speak, go to Google Earth to see a list of the parks with tours available. Simply click on the one you want to see, and you’ll be whisked away to view a series of interactive photos featuring breathtaking trails and vistas. From Joshua Tree National Park to Yosemite National Park, here are the California national parks to explore from the comfort of your couch:


Tour a California Museum

Make a virtual visit to The Getty and other top California museums to view spectacular exhibits and unique architecture.

Tired of streaming hours of cringey but strangely addicting reality TV shows? (Love Is Blind, we’re looking at you.) Get cultured and expand your mind by exploring some of the state’s renowned museums and arts institutions. Many are opening their virtual doors during this time by offering educational videos, supplementary photos and information about exhibits, curated tours, and other online resources for people to enjoy during this time. Here are a few of the best virtual California museum tours and exhibits. 

  • Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County: Check out the impressive array of kid-friendly activities, school curriculum, and online videos, including one about the discovery of the tiniest dinosaur discovered to date—an oddly menacing, hummingbird-like creature whose skull was found perfectly perserved in a orb of 99-million-year-old amber from Myanmar.
  • The Getty: Keep your artistic spirits up by perusing the “starter kit” of The Getty’s online art, books, and videos. The resources include an online exhibit on the celebrated Michelangelo and the Bauhaus school, a downloadable art book about Paul Cezanne’s watercolors, and printable versions of the L.A. institution’s famed art pieces that you can color in yourself.
  • California Science Center: Every weekday at 10 a.m., this top Los Angeles museum posts new “stuck-at-home” science projects that use materials that are probably already in many homes (such as paper towels, vinegar, baking soda, and plastic bags). Activities and instructions are available in English and Spanish.
  • Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles: Aside from offering numerous YouTube videos and different daily digital activities—including a book club that meets online—MOCA features a treasure trove of other virtual experiences: gallery walk-throughs with curators, recordings of artist interviews, behind-the-scenes looks at how the artists make their work. It all culminates in a feeling of actually being at the museum.
  • SFMOMA: Craving some food for thought? The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is serving a collection of videos that provide a closer peek into several exhibitions—including JR: The Chronicles of San Francisco, Marlon Mullen: The Language of Color, and Nicole Miller: To the Stars—and a detailed glimpse into how artists create their works.
  • Legion of Honor: For classic art aficionados, Google Arts and Culture gives an all-access pass to San Francisco’s Legion of Honor collection with 157 separate pieces digitized for remote appreciation—the oldest dating back to the 13th century and the most recent dating to 1917—and one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of Auguste Rodin works.
  • California State Capitol Museum: Learn about our state capital and its fascinating history by roaming the halls of the Capitol building. Admire the neoclassical and Renaissance Revival architectural styles; view original artworks, furnishings, restored governmental rooms, and historic artifacts; and step outside to explore the lush, 40-acre Capitol Park.  
  • Winchester Mystery House: San Jose’s iconic attraction—and one of California’s scariest haunted houses—is offering narrated virtual tours for the first time in its storied history. Built by a millionaire widow over the span of 36 years, the sprawling mansion boasts more than 200 rooms; 10,000 windows; trap doors; spy holes; and other architectural oddities, so ample entertainment awaits.


Enjoy Live Entertainment

Watch live performances of prominent California musicians such as Michael Franti when the need to sing or dance strikes.

Speaking of entertainment: Many prominent Californians are taking to social media to share their talents and lift spirits during this challenging time. Comedian Ellen DeGeneres is hosting her show from her living room, Big Bottom Market co-owner and cookbook author Michael Volpatt is offering virtual cooking classes every day at 3 p.m., and illustrator Wendy MacNaughton is leading weekday drawing classes on Instagram Live.

Several California musicians are also giving people near and far a reason to sing and dance, so check out these performers the next time you need to shake it off.

  • Diplo: Tune in to Twitch daily at 7 p.m. for a live 90-minute “quarantine mix” DJ set from Diplo’s living room.
  • Levi’s 5:01 Live: Starting at 5:01 p.m. every day, the iconic San Francisco–based denim brand showcases top-tier talent—including Doja Cat, Sylvan Esso, and Questlove—on Instagram Live.
  • Levitt en Vivo: The organizers of summertime concerts at Los Angeles’ Levitt Pavilion have created an online concert series, with musicians like Cutty Flam and The Expanders performing every Wednesday afternoon.
  • Michael Franti: East Bay musician Michael Franti and his family recently launched a Stay at Home World Tour with daily Facebook video performances.
     

Share your favorite virtual experiences with your friends and family so you can enjoy them together and stay connected, wherever you might be sheltering in place.

Which live streams and virtual tours do you plan on trying? Let us know in the comments.


Alejandra Saragoza

Alejandra Saragoza

Alejandra is the managing editor of California.com. She's a California native based in the Bay Area and enjoys writing about all things food and travel related. Her work can also be seen in Diablo, T…

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