Back to the Beach for Summer 2011, Beach Primer

Summer's just around the bend in California and that means it's almost time to pack up your snowboards and skis in favor surfboards and beach towels. Californians know the beach scene fairly well and they also have learned some secrets, such as places to park in neighborhoods to avoid $10 -20 beach parking fees; optimum times to avoid crowds or find them (top attendance beach days are 4th of July and Labor Day Weekend); and best times to assure sunshine usually in late July through October.

If you're thinking of visiting a California beach this summer, you already know that water temperatures are a factor in determining where to go. While the north coast California is a great drive trip to see the tallest redwood trees in the world, the ocean temperatures seldom climb above 55 degrees on the warmest summer days from Bodega Bay to Crescent City.

If you're looking for more comfortable waters, San Diego to Los Angeles is your best bet to see ocean temps hit the low 70s around July - August. Beaches such as San Diego, Laguna Beach and Santa Monica are favorites. A study found that over 50% of visitors to the beach don't get wet in the ocean but instead, stay on the sand where it is comfortably dry. But air temperatures on Southern California beaches also are much warmer than the northern counterparts. That's why SoCal claims its fame as the beach destination, and Northern California focuses on the joys of drive trips and coastal hikes.

As for the water, it's sad to say but there have been water quality issues at some of the favorite beaches that warrant checking out before you go. Beaches called "Mother's" don't guarantee the best water for kids. Check out Beach Report Card where you wont' find up-to-the-minutes reports, but you can see patterns and troubled coastal spots with histories of water quality issues. In general, the coastal waters get favorable rankings so there's no need to be alarmed. Just do a little homework.

California beach hotels will raise their summer rates starting now. But if the economy is soft and travelers aren't coming, the hotels have been known to lower their prices once they monitor the situation and discover this is happening. In general weekdays provide cheaper rates than weekends, and non-holidays also provide better prices. While some are willing to use Priceline's bidding process, it doesn't guarantee you'll get the room you want. The best approach is to find the lowest online price, then dig down to the booking fees that are tacked on. These fees can add another $5-15 to your price so it's important to study the numbers and read the fine print. Don't forget about parking fees, too! After you find your lowest price for the room you want, call the hotel direct and ask for their lowest price. Don't be surprised if it is higher, or lower. Small, independently owned hotels have greater flexibility in lowering prices, while the large chain hotels have phone banks located around the globe. The customer service reps have scripst they go by and don't usually veer from them. If the call-in price is cheaper than the online booking price, go for it. The difference can by $30-50 in some instances.

Everybody should visit the beach once a year, minimum. The ocean air, sound of the waves, and colorful scene really soothes the soul.

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