SANTA MONICA, Calif. (KABC) -- With family and friends eager to make up for lost time due to the pandemic, Southern California beaches were packed over the holiday weekend, and a similar scene was forming by midday on Memorial Day.
The trend of packed beaches in Los Angeles and Orange counties continued Monday, along with an increased police presence in many coastal areas to help with crowd control and enforce COVID-related rules.
Memorial Day weekend typically signals the start of summer, drawing large crowds to coastal areas -- but with eased restrictions after over a year, many are looking to break free from coronavirus confinement.
"Now that everyone's getting vaccinated, we can actually get to the new normal, so to speak," said Sherman Oaks resident Kyle Lane. "Friends and family can give hugs and handshakes and get a little bit closer to one another."
Despite the marine layer, which continued into the late morning Monday, Santa Monica saw many people filling into parking lots near the pier and some staking their spot on the beach -- a stark contrast to this time last year when beaches in Los Angeles County were only open to active recreation.
With COVID-19 cases down and vaccines widely available, people were expected to make the most of the three-day weekend.
William Durst arrived around 8 a.m., unloading his truck filled with food and drinks, a foldable canopy and an American flag -- which he said he would erect at a beach volleyball court.
"The plan is to enjoy it and remember this great country that we live in," he said.
Some people got to Santa Monica early to beat the crowds and get a work out in while the weather was cooler.
"We said let's come out here before the beach gets really, really crowded," said downtown resident Penny Toler. "Even though it's cloudy, I think it's still gonna be a lot of people out here, 'cause it's really, really nice right now."
Sunday morning was also cloudy, but once the marine layer burned off in the afternoon, three Santa Monica parking lots were closed after reaching capacity.
"That's my spot for today, free parking. It's gonna be gone in like 10 minutes 'cause there's a lot of cars coming in after me," Toler said.
Beachgoers can expect to see increased patrols with additional officers ensuring people are enjoying the holiday safely.
A beach team from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department -- which typically helps with summer enforcement -- started weekend patrols on May 1 to manage a surge in crowds as COVID restrictions lifted.
Deputies are on the watch for beachgoers with alcohol, which is illegal on county beaches, hoping to reduce drunk driving on Pacific Coast Highway and winding canyon roads in Malibu.
Navigating PCH and its limited traffic crossings, jam-packed street parking and packs of cyclists can be dangerous even for sober drivers, officials warned, noting that accidents are common and sometimes fatal. More pedestrians dashing across traffic lanes and cyclists taking to the skinny road shoulders will heighten risks this weekend.
When traffic eases on the busy, scenic thoroughfare, motorists are advised to watch speed limits. The California Highway Patrol will continue its Street Racing Task Force and will also have two CHP units assisting with traffic control on PCH.
The city has requested additional sheriff's deputies and volunteers for patrols over the holiday weekend. Officials are also coordinating with the county's Department of Beaches and Harbors, California State Parks, Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority and the CHP in preparation for holiday and summer crowds.
Beaches and Harbors increased staffing starting in mid-May to assist with parking, maintenance and trash, and the MRCA plans to double patrols in its parks from Memorial Day to Labor Day. State Parks will have seven-day coverage and will also be monitoring and addressing litter.
Residents can request assistance from CHP with street racing by calling 323-259-3200 and may report drunk drivers by calling 9-1-1. Emergency and traffic alerts are available at www.MalibuCity.org/News.
City News Service contributed to this report.