SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- Crowds are already beginning to form along San Diego beaches on Thursday, days before Memorial Day weekend. It is the first holiday weekend since many COVID-19 restrictions were loosened. But law enforcement is reminding beachgoers that there are still safety guidelines in effect.
Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of the summer. It may also be the first weekend people feel comfortable enough to do what they used to do.
"We expect the beaches to be full," Captain Scott Wahl of the San Diego Police Department Northern Division said.
Last year, the beaches were essentially off-limits. Parking lots were taped off, masks and 6-foot social distance were required, and you were not even allowed to place your beach towel down on the sand.
"Last year, we were closing our parking lots, and we had a lot of rules and restrictions out here on the beach. This year it's a different story," Captain Wahl said.
Now, with many of the restrictions lifted, AAA estimates that 37 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home, up 60% from last year. But just because the COVID-19 rules are no longer, lifeguards remind us of the pre-COVID regulations that are still in effect. Up-staffed police officers, lifeguards, and park rangers will be checking for those.
"No alcohol on the beach, boardwalk, and park areas. Also, no glass, and we do permit fires in designated fire squares along the beach," Lt. Ric Stell of the San Diego Lifeguards said.
Some problems they have seen lately include folks starting bonfires in the sand or those burning wood pallets with nails or paint. Both are not only illegal, but they can cause serious injuries. As for rental equipment, law enforcement said to stick with the brick and mortar stores with insurance, not the app rentals.
"We do see a strong connection of accidents that happen in the water for those who are not renting from reputable companies that are giving proper training, giving you the proper equipment, and they also maintain the vessel properly," Captain Wahl said.
Now, with more people vaccinated and infection numbers slowing down, things are opening back up. For store owners who somehow survived the covid shutdown, this weekend can't come soon enough.
"it's been a while since we did good in the holiday season," Erez Atava, owner of the Bikini Shoppe, said. "We had ups and downs, ups and downs, but the Corona was the worst ever, but thank God we bounced [back]."
Atava says they are still missing a chunk of their usual customers.
"The Europeans, they are still not here. Normally we get a lot of Europeans here too, but right now, it's domestic traffic from Arizona, Vegas, Nevada," Atava said.
Still, seeing these crowds form back up is such encouraging news for Atava. He said he knows what rock bottom feels like. It's only going up from here.
"People are feeling better about themselves. They are more confident, so we're looking forward to the weekend."