San Diego is No. 2 Fourth of July destination for Southern California travelers, so expect crowds

With the downtown San Diego skyline in the background, fireworks explode over San Diego Bay during the Port of San Diego 2016 Big Bay Boom fireworks show.
(Hayne Palmour IV / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Record numbers of Californians are expected to get away over the upcoming July 4 holiday weekend, marking the third straight year that a new travel record will be set, reports the Automobile Club of Southern California.

In all, more than 5.7 million Californians and 3.5 million Southern California residents will be traveling during the five-day holiday period, which represents a 3.9 percent increase compared with the same period last year. The Auto Club has identified San Diego as the second most popular destination for Southern California travelers, just behind Las Vegas. San Francisco is No. 3.

Over the last six years, the number of people leaving home during the Independence Day holiday has increased due to increased consumer confidence, fueled by lower unemployment and increased discretionary income, says the Auto Club. It defines a holiday trip as one that takes travelers 50 miles or more away from home between July 3 (Wednesday) and July 7 (Sunday).

The Auto Club is also seeing a general uptick in the inclination to travel beyond the holiday weekend.

“We are seeing a continued increase in demand for destinations such as Hawaii and Europe over this holiday and throughout the summer,” said Filomena Andre, the Auto Club’s vice president for travel products and services. “Travelers are benefiting from new river cruise ships that have launched in recent years throughout Europe and from increased airline competition that has lowered airfares to Hawaii.”

The majority of Californians will travel by car — 4.5 million — while 762,000 will be flying to their destinations. Southern California gas prices are currently at about the same level as this time a year ago, although prices could creep higher once the 5.6-cents-a-gallon gas tax takes effect on July 1. The average pump price for San Diego County is now about $3.78 a gallon.

Nationwide, the number of holiday travelers is projected to climb 4.1 percent to 48.9 million, the Auto Club reports. Anaheim is expected to be the fifth most popular destination for travelers across the country, according to AAA Travel, with Orlando, Honolulu, Seattle and Las Vegas also included in the top five.