Warm air and cool water lured more than 200,000 to Orange County's beaches Saturday, and that's not counting those who drove to the shore but found no place to park, lifeguards said.
The lots were filled at Huntington Beach's city strand by 10 a.m., and parking spaces at the two nearby state beaches were packed a little more than an hour later, officials said.
In Newport Beach, some workers who arrived after 10 a.m. couldn't find a place to park, a marine department employee said.
Down south, at the San Clemente, Doheny and San Onofre state beaches, parking lot attendants started turning cars away at about noon.
While San Clemente was hosting its annual fiesta Saturday, and Laguna's summer art festivals were responsible for some of the crowd, the main attraction was the weather, lifeguards said.
"A lot come from Riverside, where it's 95 and they want to cool off," said Terry Murphy, lifeguard supervisor at Huntington Beach State Beach, where, he added, the temperature was a "real comfortable" 77 degrees.
"It's just a real nice day and it's pretty hot inland," said Marco Marcantoni, lifeguard supervisor in Seal Beach, where 16,000 jammed the sand and a larger crowd is expected today. While the ocean at Seal Beach was a fairly cool 65, the air temperature was a pleasant 10 degrees warmer, he said.
By contrast, the mercury in Santa Ana registered 85 degrees.
Just a few miles from the beaches, the Orange County Fair in Costa Mesa was on its way to drawing a record crowd Saturday, the next-to-last day of the fair and traditionally the busiest.
"It's always been the biggest day," said fair spokeswoman Christeen Burneth. "The first weekend's big, but I assume the last-minute people say to themselves, 'It closes this weekend, we have to go now.' "
By 3 p.m. Saturday, 21,347 people had passed through the front gate, about 2,500 more than had poured in by the same time on the final Saturday last year, she said. A heavy crowd was expected later Saturday night to watch the rodeo and listen to the jazzy sounds of the Atlanta Rhythm Section. To date, 316,969 people had attended the fair, "way up" over last year, Burnet said.
"I was just out on the grounds and it's definitely full," she said.
The California Highway Patrol reported that the migration to the beaches and the fair had turned the southbound Costa Mesa Freeway into a virtual parking lot about noon. Traffic on the southbound Santa Ana Freeway was also congested, a dispatcher said.
A strip of Sunset Beach was the site Saturday for the Fifth Annual Old Man's Long Board Surf Classic, a competition for aging but still-enthusiastic surfers who must use their old-fashioned long boards. If some of the boards looked especially odd, it was because they were made of a substance that predates fiberglass--wood.
Laguna Beach, where the air temperature reached 82 degrees, lured an about average crowd of 20,000 to 30,000, lifeguard Adam Crawford said. Many people stayed in town to visit the Festival of the Arts, Pageant of the Masters and the other art fairs, he said. "The traffic's heavy, but not everyone is at the beach," he said.
The state beaches at San Clemente, Doheny and San Onofre were "at capacity" Saturday, with an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 sunbathers, lifeguard Scott Stuart said. Parking lot attendants began turning away cars about noon, he said. The die-hard beach fans who wanted to wait were directed into a "turnaround area," where they sat in their cars for an hour or so until a space in the lot opened, he added.
"Some of the people who get here early leave early," Stuart said. "There's usually not too many irate people."
Despite the relatively chilly water temperatures, many people went in for a splash--and a fair number needed the lifeguards' help in getting out. Although surf was, at most, 3 feet along the coast, strong rip currents caused the swimmers a few difficulties, lifeguards said. There were no major rescues reported.