Those who escaped the sizzling temperatures inland found their path to paradise a little less congested than usual on Labor Day, marked by many as the symbolic end of summer.
"I'm not sure what's going on -- maybe it's the gas prices," said Shannon Tubbs, who drove to Huntington Beach from San Dimas with her husband and three children. "There was no traffic at all."
At the beach, people were enjoying a little more peace and quiet than they expected.
Beth McClymonds, who has owned a snack bar on Huntington City Beach for 30 years, said she couldn't recall a less crowded parking lot on Labor Day.
"By noon, the lots are usually full," she said. "Look at them now; they're almost empty. And it's a beautiful day. I can't believe it."
But few people were interested in analyzing why the beaches and freeways weren't packed. They were happy to build sandcastles with their children, toss the football around with friends or just curl up in their beach chair with a book.
Jeannette Rangel of Covina alternated between devouring the latest James Patterson novel and staring at the waves while trying not to think about the suffering caused by Hurricane Katrina some 1,900 miles away.
"It's nice to get away and relax at the beach, but it's pretty unnerving to think about all those poor people in Louisiana and what they are going through," she said. "You feel kind of useless, sitting at the beach while all those people are suffering."
Surfing conditions for the holiday were nothing spectacular: 3- to 4-foot waves. But, after a summer of red tides and tiny waves, the ocean looked pretty inviting to Dick Fitzwell and two friends who drove down from Los Angeles.
It's too bad, Fitzwell said, "that it's taken this long to get nice. All summer the surf's been virtually nonexistent. I'm sort of happy to see this summer go."
Newport Beach Lifeguard Capt. Eric Bauer said the flat conditions didn't make life any easier for his lifeguards. "When the surf is so flat and quiet, it becomes more difficult for lifeguards to concentrate because it's so tedious," he said. "It's like watching people swim in a pool. There are no telltale signs of distress."
Bauer said the summer's generally calm surf translated into about 2,000 rescues in Newport Beach, about 3,000 fewer than average.
But while the rescues were down, the jellyfish were seemingly everywhere. "We probably used thousands of jellyfish sting treatments this summer," Bauer said. "It was brutal out there."
The jellyfish were out in Huntington Beach too.
As the Tubbs family enjoyed their fried-chicken lunch, a jellyfish-sting victim nursed her wounds nearby.
After lunch, the Tubbs children started in on Ding Dongs and M&Ms.
"They can eat all the sugar they want today," their mother said.
"It's their last hurrah before school starts."