Explore California, The Ultimate Playground: Memorial Day, Summer 2024
Explore California, The Ultimate Playground: Memorial Day, Summer 2024

Explore California, The Ultimate Playground: Memorial Day, Summer 2024

CALIFORNIA — If you’re planning to explore California for the three-day Memorial Day weekend, knowing when to avoid the busiest times on major routes can make the difference between a stress-free holiday or one the kids will never let you forget.

Some 43.8 million Americans are expected to travel at least 50 miles from home to celebrate Memorial Day in 2024. That’s a 4 percent increase from last year, AAA said in its annual Memorial Day travel forecast. Travel this year could approach the record set in 2005 when 44 million people took Memorial Day trips.

Many California residents plan to set out and enjoy all that their state has to offer over the three-day weekend. Memorial Day, the unofficial start to summer, has always been a big road trip holiday. About 38.4 million people plan to take off in their cars, the highest number for the holiday since AAA began tracking Memorial Day travel in 2000.

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Ahead of Memorial Day in California, regular gasoline was selling for an average statewide price of $5.33 a gallon. Pump prices always creep higher as the summer driving season gets underway, and wars in Ukraine and the Middle East could roil the oil market, AAA cautioned. Be prepared. Heading to some of California’s most favored destinations might require a tank or two of gas to get there.

“The Golden State is massive,” according to Visit California. The third largest state in the nation, it comprises more square miles than many countries. “To see a good chunk of California in one trip, you need to strategize. Setting from Southern California to Northern California can take 15 hours by car, the same distance from New York City to Jacksonville, Florida.” For some quick weekend trips across the state, flying may be your best option.

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Airports are expected to be busier than last year, too, with about 3.51 million people flying to their Memorial Day destinations, 4.8 percent more than last year and 9 percent more than pre-pandemic 2019. AAA said crowds could rival the post-9/11 recovery in 2005, when 3.64 million people flew.

“We haven’t seen Memorial Day weekend travel numbers like these in almost 20 years.” Paula Twidale, a senior vice president at AAA Travel, said in a news release. “We’re projecting an additional 1 million travelers this holiday weekend compared to 2019, which not only means we’re exceeding pre-pandemic levels but also signals a very busy summer travel season ahead.”

Where are the best destinations in the Golden State?

According to Wallet Hub, the Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Anaheim areas are among the most visited in California over the summer months, but Californians can see much more outside of the metro areas.

View from Humphries By The Bay in San Diego. (Photo credit: Ashley Ludwig)

Travel Times To Avoid

AAA’s transportation data partner, INRIX, says drivers who are leaving on Thursday and Friday should get on the road early to avoid peak commute time. Travelers returning from their getaways on Sunday and Monday should avoid the peak travel afternoon hours.

“Travel times are expected to be 90 percent longer than normal,” Bob Pishue, a transportation analyst at INRIX, said in a news release. He advised road trippers to remain up to date on traffic apps, 511 services and local news stations to avoid sitting in traffic any longer than necessary.

These are the best and worst times to travel by car (all times local):

Thursday, May 23

Friday, May 24

Saturday, May 25

Sunday, May 26

Monday, May 27

Peak Congestion Times:

Here are the peak congestion times for busy metropolitan routes, the estimated travel time and the increase in traffic due to the holiday:

Other Means Of Travel Rebound

While most people are either driving or flying to their Memorial Day destinations, about 1.9 million people will take trains, buses and cruises, an increase of 5.6 percent from last year, AAA said.

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“This category took the biggest hit during the pandemic with fewer people taking public transportation or not cruising at all,” Twidale said. “Now — five years later — we’re back to 2019 numbers. Travel demand has been soaring, and long holiday weekends create the perfect windows for getaways.”


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