A crowd watches fireworks explode over the lagoon at Newport Dunes Waterfront… (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles…)
Californians are expected to travel in near-record numbers over the Fourth of July holiday, with most vacationers planning road trips to take advantage of plummeting gasoline prices, according to a forecast by the Automobile Club of Southern California.
The annual forecast released Tuesday predicts 4.88 million Californians will travel at least 50 miles over next week's Fourth of July holiday period from July 3 through July 8. That's a 5.2% increase over last year.
That projected number of travelers comes just short of the record of 4.89 million Californians who left town for the holiday in 2003.
Nationally, holiday travel is expected to grow to 42.47 million, up 4.9% from last year's total of 40.29 million vacationers.
In Southern California, the forecast is for 3 million people to travel for the holiday, a 5.2% increase and just short of the record 3.04 million vacationers in 2003.
But California may ultimately break the holiday travel record because the study was based on a survey taken from May 16 to May 20. Since then, the average price of a gallon of gasoline in the Los Angeles area has dropped 48 cents to an average of $3.83, according to the Auto Club.
"Prices are going down like a rock, and that's great news for travelers," said Marie Montgomery, a spokeswoman for the Auto Club.
Among Southern Californians who plan to travel, 78% will drive to their holiday destination, a 4% increase from last year, according to the Auto Club. In addition, 359,000 travelers are expected to fly to their destination, a 9.8% increase from 2011.
"With the Fourth of July holiday falling in the middle of the week this year, we are finding that more travelers are taking longer trips than they would on a typical three-day holiday weekend period, which is partly why air travel is up this year," said Filomena Andre, the Auto Club's vice president for travel products and services.
The last time July 4 fell on a Wednesday was in 2007, when 4.88 million Californians and 3.03 million Southern Californians traveled for the holiday.
The top destinations among Southern Californians next week will be San Diego, Las Vegas, San Francisco, the Grand Canyon and the Central Coast, according to the auto club.