Posted: 07/02/2013 05:30:08 PM PDT
SANTA CRUZ -- After setting travel records during the Fourth of July holiday last year, the number of Californians vacationing this week is expected to dip slightly.
"Last year, we had the calendar effect," said Cynthia Harris, spokeswoman for AAA of Northern California.
In 2012, Independence Day fell on a Wednesday, which spread out holiday travel and allowed many people to vacation the entire week, creating the busiest Fourth of July for travel the state has seen in a decade.
AAA expects a 0.7 percent decrease this year, though the 4.7 million Californians expected to travel falls within the typical range of 4.2 million to 4.8 million.
The economy isn't stopping people from taking road trips and booking luxury hotels, a testament to consumer optimism while markets remain uncertain, according to AAA. A family of four will spend an average of $894 during the holiday this year, Harris said.
"Travel is most indicative of how people are feeling about their discretionary budget," she said.
Santa Cruz's Dream Inn raised its rates in step with the expected tourism boost. The basic daily room rate is $419 on Thursday through the weekend, about $100 more than this time in 2012, and the hotel is booked for those nights.
"We raise the rates and see if people keep booking," said Christopher Johnston, supervisor of the Dream Inn. "This year, people are very willing."
The Hilton Santa Cruz/Scotts Valley is charging $189 for a basic room this week, 5 percent to 10 percent more than last year for the Fourth of July weekend, and the hotel is almost full.
Jim Maggio, general manager of Seascape Resort, said rates haven't risen from last year, but occupancy has. With a basic room rate of $350, Seascape is nearly booked through the weekend.
More casual options for the Fourth of July holiday are sold out, too.
Campgrounds at Seacliff, New Brighton, Manresa and Sunset state beaches and Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park are booked Wednesday through Saturday nights, with only a handful of spaces remaining Sunday.
The Santa Cruz/Monterey Bay KOA and the Santa Cruz RV Resort are booked through Sunday night.
"Santa Cruz is one of our most popular places to go," said Dennis Weber, State Parks spokesman. "It's easier to find a campground the further north you go and the further inland you go."
With a statewide average gas price of $3.99 a gallon, according to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report, only Hawaii and Alaska have more expensive gas than California.
"Even if gas prices go up 5 cents or 3 cents before a holiday, that is not preventing a family from taking a road trip," Harris said of the 3.7 million people who are expected to drive more than 50 miles this weekend.
The average road trip will cover 584 miles, with popular destinations including Lake Tahoe, San Diego, Las Vegas, Zion National Park in Utah and national parks in California.
Harris said drivers should expect heavy freeway congestion from 3-7 p.m. Wednesday, when many people will be leaving work early for the holiday. Whether driving or flying, she recommends avoiding midday travel.
"The earlier you leave or the later you leave, you'll see fewer delays," Harris said.
For those visiting or remaining in Santa Cruz County for the Fourth of July, the sale and use of fireworks are only allowed in Watsonville and the county's only legal fireworks show will be in Scotts Valley, beginning at 9:15 p.m. Thursday in Skypark.
According to the Sheriff's Office, there are also numerous prohibitions on county beaches, including fireworks, alcohol, glass containers, wood pallets, unleashed pets, vehicles and pieces of wood with nails.