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Sunny skies expected for Memorial Day weekend

May 28, 2010 |  8:09 am

Perfect beach weather is on the way to Southern California this Memorial Day weekend as the summer travel season officially kicks off.

Highs are expected to reach into the 80s in the Los Angeles basin Saturday with sunny skies expected to linger until midweek. The National Weather Service says temperatures may reach the lower 90s in valley areas.

Highways and airports are expected to be bustling with travelers buoyed by steady-holding gas prices, low car-rental costs and reasonable hotel rates, officials in the travel industry said.

The Automobile Club of Southern California projected that about 2.5 million Southland residents would take holiday getaways this weekend, representing a 7.8% increase over last year.

About 2.1 million, or 84% of Southern California travelers, were expected to travel by car to their destinations — an increase of 8.3% over last year, according to the auto club.

“This is good news,” said Marie Montgomery, an auto club spokeswoman. ”We’re not out of the woods yet, but in terms of travel we’re coming back to the level of pre-recession. This represents a partial climb-back in terms of the plunge we saw over the last couple of years.”

Air travel by Southern Californians was expected to increase by 4.9% to 227,000 fliers, while 5.6% more people were expected to take a cruise or travel by bus or train, according to auto club projections.

Montgomery said road travelers were encouraged by gas prices, which have held steady over the last year and avoided the huge jump that pushed gas prices to more than $4 a gallon in 2008.

Travelers were also being helped by a drop in rental car rates, which in Los Angeles County had fallen, on average, from $60 a day last year to $27 a day, Montgomery said.

Hotel rates in Los Angeles County were also more favorable than last year, Montgomery said. The cost of accommodations in an AAA-rated, three-diamond hotel had dropped by 6% since 2009, with two-diamond hotel rates falling 7%.

San Diego, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, San Francisco and the Central Coast are the top five Memorial Day destinations for Southern California travelers, according to a poll of the auto club’s American Automobile Assn. travel agents.

Myraline Morris Whitaker, principal of Central Coast of California Hospitality, a management company, said the Central Coast area was “anticipating very strong occupancy this weekend.”

For example, all the rooms at the SeaCrest Beach Resort, a Pismo Beach hotel managed by Whitaker’s company, had been booked for Friday and Saturday, with at least 80% occupancy expected for Sunday.

“The season typically begins in June, so this is a very good start for us," she said.

Hollywood Hills resident Beatrice Beauvais said she planned to drive with her husband and two children to the SeaCrest Beach Resort for the holiday weekend.

“We did it last year,” she said. “It’s great. There are wineries out there, my husband can golf and the kids can swim.”

Beauvais said that before the economic downturn, the family would typically fly on their holiday vacation.

“But now, we would rather pay for the gas than for four plane tickets,” she said. “That’s extremely expensive.”

With so many motorists expected on Southern California freeways, the California Highway Patrol said its officers would be out in force.

“The CHP will have every available officer who does not have pre-scheduled vacation,” said Officer Vince Ramirez, a spokesman for the agency.

Ramirez said particular attention would be paid to ensuring drivers and passengers use seat belts. During last year’s Memorial Day Weekend, 45 people were killed on California roadways, according to CHP statistics. One of the main reasons was people not wearing their seat belts, Ramirez said.

“We also ask people to drink responsibly and designate a driver if they plan to consume alcohol,” said Ramirez. “We insist that people plan ahead, check their vehicles’ mechanics and allow extra time. A lot of people will be out there.”

-- My-Thuan Tran and Ann M. Simmons