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'May gray' keeps larger crowds away from San Diego beaches

People sit on the sand at Mission Beach around noon on Monday, May 29, 2023.
Charlotte Radulovich
People sit on the sand at Mission Beach at around noon on Monday, May 29, 2023.

Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer. It is traditionally a time when San Diego's beaches are packed. But this year there was some extra room on the sand in Mission Beach — in part because of cloudy skies.

Lifeguards said Memorial Day weekend was typically one of their busiest of the year. It rivals Labor Day weekend, with crowds numbering 20,000 to 30,000 packing Mission Beach. At midday on Monday, San Diego Lifeguard Lieutenant Jacob Magness estimated that there were between 3,000 and 4,000 beachgoers. He said that by day's end the area might end up seeing about 9,000 total visitors. 

“What we’ve seen is a lot of May gray, a lot of June gloom, even some drizzle,” San Diego Lifeguard Lieutenant Jacob Magness said. “So I think it’s keeping crowds away from the beach area and they’re finding something else to do.”


San Diego lifeguards are at full staffing, and, even though aren't as many people at the beach, lifeguards are still making about the same number of rescues as in 2022. That is in part because of strong riptides. Magness said crowds were smaller from Ocean Beach up to the La Jolla area.

The busy season runs from Memorial Day through Labor Day weekend. He said at Mission Beach the water temperature was around 63 degrees, but with cloud cover it can feel colder.

“Looking out on the beach, I’m just surprised. It’s almost noon and there’s so much real estate to come and enjoy the beach,” Magness said.

The lack of sun did not stop some tourists and locals from having a beach day.

“I wasn’t expecting this — but a term I've heard since coming out here is, ‘May gray,’ So apparently that’s new to me,” said Robert Watkins who was visiting from Phoenix.


Watkins and others still had plans to spend a couple hours relaxing on the sand. Temperatures outside were also in the mid-60s.

“It looks nice,” said Tim Riva, who lives in Kansas City. “Obviously if the sun was out it would probably be a little bit better, but the water looks good.”

With the cooler weather, some tourists had their eyes on one particular type of clothing.

“The hottest-selling item right now is all of our sweatshirts and hoodies,” said Skyler McManus, manager of Hamel’s Surf Shop in Mission Beach. “People come down and they’re coming in from Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and they think it’s sunny California and they get here and this gloomy weather and they freeze — they’re like: 'What the heck?'”

McManus said business had been very good this Memorial Day weekend.

“The economy is attempting to make a snap back, I think. People are wanting to get out and do stuff,” he said. “If it was sunnier, we’d have a crazy amount of people coming down here. But it’s still busier than the year before and the year before that. It all just depends on the weather”

Lifeguards said one thing to keep in mind this summer was that beach bonfires that are not in city-approved fire pits are no longer allowed — unless they are propane-fueled. The San Diego City Council made that decision earlier this year.