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Preparing to Play on U.S. Workers' Big Weekend

Orange County

September 01, 2001|HUGO MARTIN and JENNIFER OLDHAM | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

More than 2 million residents of Orange County and surrounding areas are expected to hit the road this Labor Day weekend, experts say, fully justifying the region's reputation as home to sun-loving road warriors.

Of an estimated 2.5-million Southern California travelers this weekend, more than 90% are driving to such sunny destinations as the Grand Canyon, San Francisco and Monterey, according to a survey by the Automobile Club of Southern California.

Despite a sluggish economy, the number of travelers is expected to be about the same as last year. But based on the most popular destinations, Auto Club officials say it appears Southern Californians will drive farther this weekend.

Last year's most popular Labor Day vacation spots were all in California, with San Diego leading the list. This year, the Grand Canyon tops the list, with Anaheim, home to Disneyland, coming in second.

The last gasp of summer began traditionally in Orange County with clogged highways, bustling beaches and thick crowds at Disneyland.

Lt. Kyle Lindo, a Huntington Beach lifeguard supervisor, said beach attendance could reach 80,000 to 100,000 this weekend. A regular summer day crowd is about 45,000.

"For a lot of people, this is their last opportunity," he said. "The surf is going to be good, and we expect this to be the busiest beach weekend of the year."

California Highway Patrol spokeswoman Katrina Lundgren said highways started to get congested early Friday, a trend that will last through the weekend.

"This really is the last hurrah for summer, and the incoming and outgoing traffic will be bad," Lundgren said.

To reduce freeway tie-ups this weekend, the California Department of Transportation has canceled all major freeway construction until Tuesday.

But not everyone plans to drive this weekend.

According to John Wayne Airport spokeswoman Yolanda Perez, Orange County's airport expects 10% more travelers than on a normal weekend.

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Times staff writers Matt Surman and Matthew Ebnet contributed to this story.

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