'You feel freedom again:' Visitors return to Sonoma Co. in large numbers for Memorial Day weekend

SONOMA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- Many of us took a big step this Memorial Day weekend, hitting the road and getting away, some for the first time since the pandemic began.

In the North Bay, Sonoma County Wine Country is seeing some of its biggest crowds in a very long while, providing a huge boost for small businesses.

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It's the weekend to make a splash on the Russian River. Water levels are low due to the the drought, but there's enough to cool off near Memorial Beach.

"No masks out here, we're taking it easy, it's nice," said Matt Parks from Santa Rosa.

Lifeguard Jim Boyce, was keeping an eye out.

"We just want people to be safe, don't drink and swim, keep an eye on your kids," said Boyce.'

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The Cantoria family was firing up the grill for their annual Memorial Day weekend barbecue, which got canceled last year due to the pandemic. They say it's good to be back.

"You feel that freedom again to finally go out and not be scared," said Mae Cantoria.

In downtown Healdsburg, there was music in the town square with a crowd of folks to listen -- And lots of wine tasting happening.

Todd Ervin and his friends are visiting from Atlanta.

"We figured we're double vaccinated, time to get out and support local businesses," said Ervin.

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That support is encouraging to Healdsburg mayor Evelyn Mitchell.

"I was thinking about how many people there are here today, more than I've seen in months, tourists we're happy to welcome back," said Mitchell.

After a tough year, local businesses love to see customers returning, but some are short staffed. Ozzie Jimenez needs more help at his ice cream and pie shop, Noble Folk.

"There's one thing about the pandemic, many people left our community, so many of us are looking to hire," said Jimenez.

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