Home / Travel News / Miami. Las Vegas. Hawaii. Californians are itching to travel there this summer, but what about COVID?

Miami. Las Vegas. Hawaii. Californians are itching to travel there this summer, but what about COVID?


For most people in the Bay Area, leisurely vacations came to a full stop during the pandemic.

But as more people find themselves and traveling companions fully vaccinated and many places in the U.S. loosen COVID-19 restrictions, the travel industry is seeing signs of a rebound, with a survey showing half of Americans feeling optimistic about traveling in the next 12 months.

Some Californians are placing bets with their summer bookings that travel will be safer in the months ahead. Data shows that three destinations in particular are drawing their attention: Las Vegas, Miami and Honolulu.

According to recent Google Search Trends, those three cities are where people in California and the Bay Area are searching most often for flights and travel. TripAdvisor data reflects the same trend: According to the travel website, the top destinations Californians are searching for this summer outside the state overwhelmingly included both Las Vegas and Miami.

And San Francisco-based fliers in particular tend to focus on Hawaii, said Annabelle Cottee, a senior communications manager at United Airlines. She added that demand has approached and in some cases exceeded the levels seen on the same dates in 2019.

But is travel going to be safe?

The CDC still discourages nonessential travel for everyone. The agency’s first guidelines for fully vaccinated people, released Monday, did not OK travel for that group.

CDC chief Dr. Rochelle Walensky recently told “Good Morning America” that previous COVID-19 surges have typically followed increases in travel. Also, she said, health officials are still learning how long vaccines offer protection — and want to safeguard the large proportion of the population that still has not been inoculated.

Meanwhile, states and localities have their own rules for travel and quarantines. California has recommended that residents should stay local — no more than 120 miles from their home. The state also has discouraged visitors from other states or countries from coming into the state, and asked them to self-quarantine for 10 days.

But despite the warnings about current travel risks, many people in the Bay Area are eyeing places for their summer vacations and hoping that the guidelines might change as vaccination levels increase.

Though more-infectious coronavirus variants are still an important part of the equation, the Bay Area has seen its case numbers plummet, and most of its counties have left the most restrictive tier of the state’s reopening system. Travelers no longer must undergo a mandatory quarantine period when entering San Francisco or Santa Clara counties from outside the Bay Area.

“A whole year without doing much …” said Peter Chin-Hong, a UCSF infectious disease expert. “You can’t blame people for wanting to travel.”

Part of the reason why is pandemic fatigue, experts say — it feels in so many ways that the worst of the crisis is over. Thousands of people have not seen their families in months, and if most of the family has been vaccinated, they may feel cross-country visits will soon be appropriate. Others may view leisure travel as a way to escape after an exceptionally difficult and isolating year.

Chin-Hong likes to take a harm-reduction approach: He knows some people are going to travel, and he encourages them to be as safe as possible. Chin-Hong says if people are itching for a vacation, focusing on local opportunities — within the state — is much better than flying, where more mixing of people could be a pathway to dangerous variants.

“I think the next two months are really going to be critical with helping us figure out what’s going on, both with the vaccine supply and with summer travel,” he said.

Case rates and positive test rates have plummeted in the Bay Area, and hospitalizations are down dramatically. As of Thursday, 1 in 4 San Franciscans had received a vaccine, and the county’s positive test rate was 0.93% with a case rate of 5 per 100,000 people.

What the next months will bring is uncertain, but even now, Miami, Hawaii and Las Vegas present very different risk profiles. Here is a look at the current pandemic health data and restrictions in those areas.

Travelers stand in line for pre-clearance travel to Hawaii at United Airlines at San Francisco International Airport.

Yalonda M. James / The Chronicle


Even during the pandemic, Hawaii has been a popular destination for Californians. Of the 171,976 visitors who traveled to Hawaii in January by air service, most were from the Western U.S., according to data from the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

That interest only seems to be increasing: Data from Expedia shows a stronger shift among Bay Area travelers for beach vacations this summer.

The state has continued to have the lowest death rate from COVID-19 and one of the lowest infection rates of all 50 states. That has made it a desirable place to travel for Bay Area residents who are concerned about the coronavirus — but not enough to stay home.

Case rate: 4 per 100,000 people

Positive test rate: 1.1%

State vaccination rate: 19.8% with at least one dose, 12.4% fully vaccinated

Current COVID restrictions:

• Masks and social distancing: There is a statewide mask and social distancing mandate.

• Restaurants and bars: Establishments can operate at full capacity as long as people maintain masking requirements and social distancing.

• Beaches and pools: Almost all the beaches are open as well as pools, with some restrictions around masking and social distancing.

• Attractions: Museums, zoos and other attractions are open at 50% capacity.

• Hotels: Hotels are open but may have their own specific restrictions.

• Travel restrictions: Hawaii has maintained strict travel protocols, with a pre-travel coronavirus testing program or a mandatory 10-day quarantine for all who travel to the islands from the U.S.


Recent data has debunked stories of Bay Area residents relocating in droves to Miami. But it seems many are at least taking or planning vacations to the Magic City. Many students from around the country are expected to visit for spring break. State officials have already seen hordes of people flocking to South Beach, especially from states that are still under stringent COVID-19 measures or have colder weather.

Case rate: 45 per 100,000 people

Positive test rate: 10%

State vaccination rate: 17.3% with at least one dose, 9.6% fully vaccinated

Current COVID restrictions:

• Masks and social distancing: A mask mandate is still in place with limited exceptions.

• Restaurants and bars: Restaurants are open for 100% capacity — both indoors and outdoors — but people are asked to stay 6 feet apart, and can only gather with up to 10 people from their same households.

• Beaches and pools: As per CDC guidelines, no groups of more than 10 are allowed, and beachgoers must wear face coverings unless in the water, with a few other limited exceptions. Pools are also open with social distancing and mask requirements.

• Attractions: Amusement parks and zoos are open at 50% capacity, and museums are open with limited capacity.

• Hotels: Hotels are open but may have their own specific restrictions.

• Travel restrictions: Visitors to Miami are asked to comply with a curfew (from midnight to 6 a.m.) and there are technically restrictions around beaches. It’s unclear whether many of them are being followed.

A plane takes off from McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas last month.

A plane takes off from McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas last month.

John Locher / Associated Press

Las Vegas

Reopening is already further along in Las Vegas, which has become a hotspot for California and out-of-state travelers. Las Vegas tourism was hit hard throughout the pandemic, but with the vaccine rollout and a speedier reopening, experts have said they expect a significant recovery, even by the spring.

Case rate: 13 per 100,000 people

Positive test rate: 7%

State vaccination rate: 17.5% with at least one dose, 9.6% fully vaccinated

Current COVID restrictions:

• Masks and social distancing: Face coverings are mandatory. An emergency order March 6 adjusted the minimum distance between performers and audience members from 25 feet to 6 feet if performers are wearing masks and 12 feet if performers are unmasked.

• Restaurants and bars: Capacity limits at bars and restaurants have moved from 25% to 35% and will likely move to 50% soon.

• Beaches and pools: Pool limits will rise to 50% soon, with masks required at all times unless in the water, or actively eating, drinking or smoking.

• Attractions: Museums, libraries, zoos and libraries and casinos can operate at 50% capacity. Brothels, adult entertainment establishments, karaoke and nightclubs will remain closed until at least May 1, according to city information.

• Hotels: Hotels are open but may have their own restrictions.

• Travel restrictions: There are no travel restrictions in place.

Annie Vainshtein is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @annievain

This div height required for enabling the sticky sidebar