Santa Cruz County warns of possible holiday weekend crowds as tourists flock to beaches

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KGO) -- An eerie silence consumes the once lively Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. The carousel isn't spinning and rides aren't running, but the closure is doing little to keep people away.

ABC7 News connected with those along the boardwalk, on Friday.

"We're coming from Irvine, California in Orange County," Vivian Martin said.

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Sam Bouadjel explained, "We came from Los Gatos."

"Milpitas," Jesse San Juan answered.

A man who wanted to be identified only as Brian said, "Rochester, Minnesota."

Memorial Day weekend in Santa Cruz County typically brings crowds of tourists. However, with COVID-19, the message from the county this Memorial Day weekend is to keep away.

"We typically see families coming from all over the place to come enjoy the beaches, BBQ, party with friends and family. But unfortunately, now is not the time for that," Santa Cruz County Sheriff's spokesperson, Ashley Keehn said. "Our beaches are still closed for a majority of the afternoon, when people would be doing those things. When they're not closed, that's still not okay. It's only open for physical activities."

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Keehn continued, "If you are on the beach, lounging, partying with friends, and doing things that aren't allowed right now, you could face a citation."

As it stands, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., local beaches remain closed.

Bouadjel and his family arrived at 3 p.m. on Friday.

"From 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., we were not supposed to be on the beach. So, there was a - I guess security driving around, telling us to stay out of the water."

Once 5 p.m. struck, Bouadjel and his family found the enjoyment they hoped for.

After 5 p.m., people are allowed to exercise. Keehn explained people may access the beach to surf, paddle board, swim ad engage in other forms of exercise.

Those who spoke with ABC7 News explained the need to "stretch their legs" led them all this way.

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Ami Lee San Jose from Milpitas said, "We just wanted to get out of the house. We've been stuck in for what, two to three months? We've been following the shelter in place, but today we're like, we need to get out."

Martin from Irvine explained she mainly traveled to visit her daughter, who is a student at UC Santa Cruz.

"I know it seems kind of hypocritical, but the kids live close by. So, we just decided to walk out," Martin said. "I probably wouldn't have been so comfortable, had it been flooded with people."

Walking fits within county guidelines, but sunbathing, gathering in groups and lounging on the beach do not.

According to the sheriff's office, visitors are mostly coming in from the Bay Area, Central Valley and Sacramento.

"On the way over, you're kind of measuring up traffic and seeing how many people are coming in," Jesse San Juan said. "If it's worth even to try and get out of your car and all that."

ABC7 News met Santa Cruz residents who have worries.

"Santa Cruz has been pretty contained overall, and has avoided a lot of cases," Rudy Maldonado said. "But when a lot of people come from out of town, from different areas, it kind of makes me a little concerned."

Others, not so much.

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"I was a little nervous coming into California. We're from Minnesota. So, we've heard some horror stories of people getting fined for not wearing a masks," Brian told ABC7 News. "But it's been really encouraging to see people on the beaches, breaking quarantine rules. It's awesome."

Brian explained he and his friend Nathan weren't in town for the holiday weekend. Instead, the two were making a stop on their road trip to pick up his girlfriend.

However, there is concern as the county reports residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 increased 20-percent last weekend.

Officials fear a busy Memorial Day weekend could mean more cases.

"We're really trying to get the word out before people spend that time, that gas money, driving over here," Keehn told ABC7 News. "To let them know that our beaches are not open for leisurely activities right now."

She explained additional deputies will be out along the coast, beginning Friday through Monday.

Deputies are focusing first on parking lots, as packed parking lot signal crowds.

"None of our deputies want to give people citations for going to the beach," she explained. "They don't want to be doing that. But unfortunately, right now, that is a possibility."

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