High gasoline prices won't prevent more Americans from taking to the road this long Fourth of July weekend.
The most Americans in seven years will travel by car, experts predict, even though they'll be paying the most for gasoline since 2008.
AAA estimates more than 4.6 million Californians will journey at least 50 miles or more from home over the three-day break, a 1.5 percent increase from last year. Nationally, AAA says more than 41 million people are expected to travel 50 miles or more.
"Consumer confidence and steady economic improvement continue to be major factors for the overall increase in travel this year," said Pablo O'Brien with AAA. "With the Fourth of July weekend being the busiest summer travel holiday, we can expect increased airport congestion, highway backups and higher travel expenditures."
Those might be good reasons to stay closer to home, be it for a backyard barbecue in steamy Walnut Creek or to grab the sunscreen and plop the kids in the minivan for a cool day at a Santa Cruz beach.
And, oh, yes, you can catch fireworks displays from the Embarcadero in San Francisco to downtown San Jose, where they are back after a5-year hiatus. As many as 50,000 are expected to the view the wondrous exploding sky from the meadow next to the Children's Discovery Museum just east of Highway 87.
"We're going there Friday night for sure," said Mary Ramos, 23, of San Jose. "My parents took me there for years and I was so disappointed when they canceled it for money reasons."
Times are better now, and that seems to be the rosy attitude of many Bay Area residents. They say our healthy economy, blue-sky weather and World Cup excitement have them in a fine mood and ready to kick back with family and neighbors.
There will be some traffic headaches -- Highway 17, Interstate 580 and Highway 101 into Marin -- but the biggest perhaps will be in San Francisco where northbound I-280 will be closed from the Highway 101-Interstate 280 interchange to downtown San Francisco from 9 p.m. Wednesday to 5 a.m. Monday.
Backups at the Benicia Bridge toll booth could be long as the number of toll takers has been reduced at night at one of the key getaway arteries out of the Bay Area. And roadwork on Highway 152 east of Gilroy near Lovers Lane can bring traffic to a crawl.
Then there will be the crowds at the San Francisco and San Jose fireworks shows, where many will attempt to head home at the same time.
"We expect about 7,000 to 8,000 to take transit" to San Jose's show, said Valley Transportation Authority spokeswoman Colleen Valles.
"One thing we encourage people to do is to buy their fares ahead of time -- either a day pass at a ticket vending machine before the event for $6, or make sure their Clipper Cards are loaded. When people leave the event, we'll be checking fares prior to boarding, so it's important that they have their fares ahead of time."
BART recommends that riders buy a round-trip ticket to bypass lines at ticket machines or get a Clipper Card (www.clippercard.com) and avoid ticket machines altogether.
July Fourth is a parking holiday at BART, meaning parking permit and fee requirements will not be enforced at its stations on Friday.
But if you're going away for the weekend by car, better be on the freeway early Wednesday. Avoid trying to return after mid-afternoon on Sunday to avoid a sea of red brake lights.
And don't party too hard. The California Highway Patrol and city police always pay extra attention to drunken drivers on holidays like this with numerous checkpoints and all available cops on the road.
If you do have one beer too many, think ahead.
"Arrange a safe ride home," said the CHP's Castro Valley Area Commander Lt. Christopher Sherry, who says his agency will be taking a zero-tolerance stance on impaired driving. "Our goal is to deter unsafe driving behavior."
Contact Gary Richards at 408-920-5335.