Can Americans return to fun in the sand and in the water while keeping themselves safe from the coronavirus? That's a question being put to the test this Memorial Day weekend as many Americans flock to newly reopened beaches, like Los Angeles' famed Venice Beach.
Except for still-closed stores that usually sell souvenirs to tourists and signs reminding people to wear masks, Venice Beach looked much like its normally eclectic self this weekend.
Skateboarders, cyclists and pedestrians passed each other on the boardwalk as the scent of marijuana smoke wafted through the air. There were even some street performers here and there, like juggler Michael Dorfman.
Dorfman is concerned about the pandemic, but not enough to stay away from Venice Beach, where he enjoys performing for locals and tourists.
"Everyone who comes to Venice Beach needs to see a juggler, so I want to be that juggler," said Dorfman. "So when someone asks them, 'Did you see a Venice Beach juggler?' they can say 'Yeah, I did,' and I can be that guy."
Dorfman thinks the reopening of Los Angeles-area beaches is helping people deal with pent-up coronavirus cabin fever.
"I think there's a lot of tension now, in Los Angeles especially," said Dorfman. "And I think getting outside will ease some of that tension."
Along with local hiking trails, L.A. closed its beaches in March to enforce social distancing. Authorities began reopening the beaches two weeks ago, although many beach parking lots remain closed to help limit crowds.
Although sun-bathing and picnicking at Venice and other Southern California beaches are prohibited, people are allowed to surf, jog or walk along the shore, but most people weren't wearing masks that the City of Los Angeles requires for outdoor activities.
Despite some lingering concerns about coronavirus contagion, Corina Avalos and her family were so eager to stroll on the sand, they left their home in Bakersfield, roughly 120 miles away, at four in the morning to get to Venice Beach.
But Avalos said she was ready to leave early if crowds got too large and social distancing was ignored.
"If we start seeing a lot of people we are going to head out," said Avalos. She said she packed plenty of face masks and sanitizer for the trip as an extra precaution.
One person who said he wasn't worried about packed beaches was surfer and Venice local Eric Britton. His thoughts were on surfing conditions, not the coronavirus.
"More likely I'll be in the water, so I'll feel even better if a swell comes and the waves are good," said Britton.
With that, Britton grabbed his surfboard and headed for the water, leaving pandemic worries behind on the shore.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're going to head now to Los Angeles, where public beaches have reopened. And this Memorial Day weekend is a test for whether people can hit the sand while also practicing social distancing. Saul Gonzalez of member station KQED has this report from Los Angeles's Venice Beach.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SAUL GONZALEZ, BYLINE: Except for still-closed stores that sell tourist tchotchkes and big electronic sign boards on the boardwalk reminding people to wear masks, Venice Beach looks a lot like it's normally funky self this Memorial Day weekend with skateboarders, surfers and even a street performer here and there, like juggler Michael Dorfman (ph). He says he's concerned about the pandemic, but not enough to stay away from Venice Beach, his happy place.
MICHAEL DORFMAN: You know, I don't juggle down here for money. I just do it for fun. But I think that everybody that comes to Venice Beach needs to see a juggler, you know? So I want to be that juggler. So when somebody asks them, hey, did you see a juggler at Venice Beach, I can say - they can be, like, yeah, I did. And I could be that guy.
GONZALEZ: Dorfman thinks the reopening of LA area beaches like Venice is helping people deal with coronavirus cabin fever.
DORFMAN: You know, I think there's a lot of tension right now in Los Angeles, you know, especially. So I think people getting outside - maybe that'll ease some of that tension.
GONZALEZ: Although sunbathing and picnicking at Venice and other Southern California beaches are prohibited, people are allowed to surf, jog or walk along the shore. But most weren't wearing masks the city of LA requires for outdoor activities. Corina Avalos (ph) and her family were so eager to stroll on the sand, they left their home in Bakersfield 120 miles away well before sunrise.
CORINA AVALOS: Four in the morning.
GONZALEZ: Four in the morning.
GONZALEZ: Just for the beach trip.
AVALOS: Just for the beach - so we could get here while there's not a lot of people and be back home by 2, 3 in the afternoon.
GONZALEZ: And Avalos said she was ready to go home earlier if things started looking risky.
AVALOS: Well, if we start seeing a lot of people, we're just going to head out. I carry my hand sanitizer. I have my face mask. And just we see a lot of people, we're leaving just so we can avoid contact with other people.
GONZALEZ: One person who said he wasn't concerned about packed beaches was surfer and Venice local Eric Britton.
ERIC BRITTON: I'm sure it's going to be crowded on the beach. I'm OK with it, you know? I kind of keep my distance anyways. And more than likely, I'll be in the water. So I'll feel even better if a swell comes, and the waves are good.
GONZALEZ: And with that, Britton grabbed a surfboard and headed for the water, leaving thoughts of the coronavirus behind on shore.
For NPR News, I'm Saul Gonzalez, Venice Beach, Calif. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.