Campers celebrate the Fourth of July close to home

A bubble machine entertains children at Dockweiler State Beach in Playa del Rey, where all 118 campsites were filled with recreational vehicles and families celebrating the Fourth of July. More photos >>>
(Benjamin Reed / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Azusa residents Sue and Jim Young had planned to spend the Fourth of July weekend in Silverton, Colo. But, on Friday, their fifth-wheel travel trailer was parked at Dockweiler State Beach in Playa del Rey.

“We canceled it because of gas prices,” said Sue Young, 57, who was settled in a USC folding chair in the sand in front of the parking lot. “We thought about Santa Barbara, but this was closer.”

Still, it took about $110 to fill up the GMC Sierra pickup truck they use to pull their trailer, said Jim Young, who was back by the trailer, decorated with paper lanterns and flags.

“Camping’s cheap,” he said. “It’s the gas that gets you.”

Many of the other families crowded into the recreational vehicle parking lot at Dockweiler, just south of Los Angeles International Airport, had the same idea.

All 118 campsites were filled, said Xochilt Alexander, a recreation service leader for the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors, which operates the facility.

Although the campsites were also fully booked at this time last year, families tended to book their spots for longer periods this year, Alexander said.

She attributed the change to the high gas prices. “Once they’re parked, they’re parked,” she said. “They don’t have to drive anymore.”

Gardena resident James Rogers, 69, said he and his family have curtailed traveling in their 33-foot motor home for the last two years, ever since gas topped $3 a gallon.

Usually at this time of year, he said, the family would be tooling around Lopez Lake in San Luis Obispo County or Santee, near San Diego.

“We haven’t gone anywhere lately because of gas,” said Rogers, who was flipping chicken breasts over a charcoal grill.

“It’s not economical to drive this thing,” he said, pointing to his 1989 Cross Country motor home. “The 80-gallon tank will cost at least $300. What I do, I buy $50 worth of gas and drive it out here and drive it home.”

Rogers convinced his friends Mimnette and Kenny Story to spend their Fourth of July weekend in the adjacent campsite. The Storys came in a gleaming, slate-gray behemoth of a motor home with wood paneling and rich upholstery inside.

Kenny Story, 45, of Cerritos thought it probably would cost $400 to fill the gas tank on the rental RV. But he was hoping that driving from the rental facility in Santa Fe Springs to the beach and back would only run about $100.

“Flying is just expensive, since it costs you to check bags,” said Mimnette Story, 46. “The closer it is the better.”

Plus, she said, renting an RV gave them an opportunity to gather up other family members and bring them to the beach too.

Back at the AstroTurf-lined picnic area that the Youngs had set up next to their trailer, Jim Kimble -- Sue Young’s brother-in-law -- was marveling at the number of cyclists on the beach and wondering if that had to do with gas prices.

Their friend Jimmy Sanford, who had parked his 29-foot travel trailer nearby, mentioned that he was looking into getting a motorcycle for his 26-mile daily commute from Azusa to Buena Park.

“I have a truck . . . and it’s $120 to fill it up,” said Sanford, 42. “A year ago it was $60.”

The total expenses for this vacation were adding up too, he said while sipping a cocktail.

He said shopping at Albertson’s last Saturday for the week the family was spending at Dockweiler cost $218 -- and the cart was less than 20% full with steaks, ribs and refreshments.

Sanford, an Army veteran who served in Operation Desert Storm, said he worried that Americans weren’t doing up the Fourth of July as they once did. The celebrations “used to be bigger and families would all come home,” he said.

“My aunt said she wanted to celebrate with us, but she said gas was too much,” added his wife, Joann, 39. “She lives in Covina, which is not that far, but you know, it’s more than she can afford.”

The stories shaping California

Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.

You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.