Ventura and Orange County beaches fill up as people seek relief from the heat and weeks of staying home

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Ventura and Orange county beaches in Southern California that were open Saturday drew big crowds hoping to cool off and enjoy the views.

Officials reported few incidents and said people were doing their best to social distance.

In Ventura, the opening of city and state beaches brought out hundreds, an unseasonably large crowd, said Ventura Police Cmdr. Tom Higgins.

Most people, drawn by comfortable temperatures that hovered in the mid 70s under pale-blue skies, stuck to the bike and running paths just above the sand. But hundreds also made their way down to the water’s edge.

“After being cooped up, we understand people want to enjoy the outside,” Higgins said.

But with restrictions. The beaches in Ventura County are only partially opened and poster-size signs offer constant reminders of what is and isn’t permitted.

Parking lots, playgrounds, restrooms and restaurants all remain closed, as does the Ventura pier, which separates city and state beaches that are operating under slightly different rules.

“We’re coordinating so they’re consistent,” Higgins said.

The rules forbid beachgoers from sitting or lying on the sand, but that wasn’t being strictly enforced Saturday.

At midday, Ventura police Sgt. Mike Anselmo walked along the sand politely asking people with children to take their umbrellas down but allowing them to sunbathe.

“Technically you’re not supposed to sit down. But they’re with kids. I’m not going to ask some 50-year-old parents to run around with kids all day,” Anselmo said. The lack of shade, he added, would encourage them to move on.

The goal, Higgins said, was to apply common sense and seek cooperation rather than issue citations.

“We’re in a mode of educating right now,” he said.

Even dogs were given a long leash, allowed to wander freely as a solitary lifeguard in a red bathing suit stood outside her tower scanning the turquoise water with binoculars.

Although few people — including the lifeguard and police — wore masks, most observed social-distancing rules, reminded to stay six feet apart by a flashing road sign outside Santa Buenaventura State Beach.

At the north end of the beach, several dozen surfers fought to get atop the 3- to 4-foot swells.

By midafternoon, with the beach largely emptied, Robin Hoag and Paige Leichtnam finally made their way over from their nearby home.

They have been hiking county trails and riding their bikes to work since their favorite beach was closed last month, but they waited for the visitors from L.A. County, where beaches are still closed, to leave before coming back Saturday to play paddle ball.

“It’s pretty laid-back now,” Hoag said. “People will go wherever it’s open.”

Heather Rangel, media information officer for the Newport Beach Police Department, said there had been no arrests or citations related to the stay-at-home orders, despite an uptick in beachgoers.

“The beaches are crowded and look like a summer day in Newport Beach,” she said in an email.

Huntington Beach also elected to open its coastline, though the pier, beach parking lot and some metered parking remain closed.

Angie Bennett, spokeswoman for the Huntington Beach Police Department, said that beaches appeared somewhat busy, but there were no significant incidents, and no one was cited for violating social-distancing guidelines.

“What the patrol officers are seeing is that people are staying within their own groups and appropriate distances apart,” she said. “It’s been a nice, warm day, and it sounds like people are complying and doing what we are asking of them.”


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