How Did Californians Spend Their Second Summer of the Pandemic?

This summer in California was not what we signed up for.

Instead of a “summer of freedom” from the coronavirus, we got a surge in the Delta variant. “Hot vax summer” turned into a literal, way-too-hot summer.

Between the drought, huge wildfires and 17 million gallons of sewage spilled off the Los Angeles coast, Californians were forced to wonder, “Is this the end of summer as we know it?

But fear not. With summer officially ending this week, I asked you to share the best thing that happened to you over these past few months. And, I’m happy to report, the California summer is still kicking.

You wrote about international adventures, outdoor movies and concerts, adopting pets, bingeing shows, reunions with friends, attending Zoom comedy classes and a whole host of activities that made this summer worth enjoying. The season of celebration and relaxation lives on.

Here’s some of what you shared, lightly edited for clarity:

“Road trip! And the best kind — picking up two longtime friends on the way.

We ate, we drank, we reveled in our friendship of over 50 years! It was a summer solace.”

Melanie Lunsford, San Diego

“My favorite summer memory has been learning cooking and sharing meals with my 87-year-old grandma, without a mask and indoors. I’m so grateful to the scientists who made the vaccine possible so we could enjoy each other’s company safely.”

Amanda Ha, San Francisco

“My Vermont son and wife brought their two children to a cabin at Lake Tahoe to spend a week with my Oakland son, his wife and their child — the first time the three grandchildren got to be with each other.

That love-fest feels like the happiest moment of my life so far.”

— Peter Fisher, Berkeley

“Wine nights with close girlfriends in the backyard after the kids are asleep have sustained me through this summer.

We worry about our kids, about school, about the pandemic and the impacts of wildfires. But mostly we laugh and we celebrate making it through another week, leaving recharged enough to tackle the next.”

— Tracey Weinstein, Sacramento

“What got me through this summer — and every month since lockdown — was dancing alone in my living room for my Cuban ‘nightclub parties.’

I dress up, put on my dance shoes, perfume, lipstick, and dim the lights. Then I channel Havana and sway.”

Natasha Ravnik, Oakland

“Feeling safe enough to attend an art workshop in teacher’s covered patio area. Everyone was required to show proof of vaccination on arrival. Had fun doing something happy, meeting new people.”

Corinne Schnur, Topanga

“Take me out to the ballgame! Monday evening, Giants vs. Mets:

It was an absolutely gorgeous evening in San Francisco (read: no fog), enough people in the stands to feel like part of a crowd of excited fans, but not so many that it activated our Covid fears. My New Yorker husband in his Mets jersey, me and my Giants hat — we were covered no matter who won. Happily for me (and San Francisco) the Giants won in a very, very exciting game!”

— Shelly Hanan, Napa

“This summer I decided to make sure I went swimming every single day.

Swimming in the cold, clear water helped clear my brain and remind me to be grateful for everything I have.”

Debbie Beane, South Lake Tahoe

“Watching my friends’ hair turn gray (and mine WHITE) in August I decided to turn my hair into an adult coloring book. Using temporary color spray, I gave myself a coloring of the week and matched my fingernails and toes to go with it.”

— Carol Bonomo, Lake San Marcos

“These last 18 months I’ve been doing all I can to ‘find the good’ in books, home improvement projects, nostalgia, holiday smells …

On Sept. 8, I ‘graduated’ from my breast cancer radiation treatments — where they put up a banner, played ‘Pomp and Circumstance,’ rang noise makers, had me ring a bell to mark the moment and gave me a certificate.

Getting to remove stickers that I had worn since July = ‘finding the good.’”

Missy Castro, Livermore

“Our backyard garden produced an amazing crop of golden cherry and yellow pear tomatoes this August. To celebrate, we used five pounds of these gorgeous fruits to make what turned out to be a most exceptional gazpacho; peak sweetness and uncharacteristic hue put it over the top. It was like eating summertime by the spoonful.”

— Paul Kimball, Campbell

In Tennessee, even if a local school district requires universal masking, students don’t have to comply. Gov. Bill Lee has allowed parents to send their children to school maskless, no questions asked.

That tension recently exploded in a suburb of Nashville, where one parent, a self-described “California refugee,” held up copies of the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Federalist Papers and the Bible in front of the school board and said: “These guarantee my freedom, and yours, and my children’s to breathe oxygen.”

Read the full article from my colleague Erica L. Green.

In her latest newsletter, The Times’s California restaurant critic Tejal Rao offers recipes to help transition your cooking from summer to fall.

Today’s travel tip comes from Thomas Cushing, a reader who lives in Napa. Thomas recommends Doris Lake in Mono County:

“‘Hidden’ at the end of 20 miles of a bad, one-lane logging road, this hot springs-fed lake is a temperate Sierra beauty. Near Mono Hot Springs, with a bit of a hike up to it — to put you in the mood for a good soak.”

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

Fall television returns to normal this year after last year’s pandemic wipeout. Here are 31 shows to watch.

The Michelin Guide awarded 45 California restaurants this week bib gourmands — a designation a step down from Michelin’s famous star ratings, but which guarantees a delicious meal nonetheless.

The restaurants are a sampling of the full Michelin California restaurant guide that will be released next week, Eater San Francisco reports.

For now, browse the 45 new bib gourmands on Michelin’s site.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back on Monday. Enjoy your weekend. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Popular office messaging service (5 letters).

Steven Moity and Miles McKinley contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at

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