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Travel spending in California reached an all-time high in 2023

Travel spending in California reached an all-time high of $150.4 billion last year, according to new data from the governor's office.

“People are really getting out there,” said Kirk Sowell, owner of Frankie & Lola's Front Street Café.

Spending is rising across the state, up 3.8 percent from 2019 and 5.6 percent from 2022, according to Visit California.

Sowell's cafe is located on Front Street in Morro Bay. He says he's noticed more people taking shorter routes.

“People are realizing that instead of taking big trips abroad, they get more for their money by taking small day trips and visiting smaller places,” Sowell said.

Visit SLO CAL reports that tourism contributed $110 million to San Luis Obispo County's local tax revenue last year.

Sowell says he's preparing for the holiday rush and the weeks afterward.

“The weekend before the Fourth of July and the weekends after, it's this big rush where people finally realize it's summer and we should get out and do something, and they pack everything up and come out. In the summer weeks before, it's more of a straggler,” Sowell said.

He adds that many people come to Morro Bay to escape the heat when temperatures are high elsewhere.

“It's usually 65 to 70 degrees here, even when it's sweltering everywhere else, so people come here and hang out,” Sowell said.

Since tourists are expected in the summer, Sowell will send orders to his suppliers more frequently.

“Since the rain stopped and summer started, it's been really busy here. Even on weekdays when there's normally not much sales, people come,” Sowell said.

In San Luis Obispo County, tourism employs over 22,000 people and is considered the county's second largest economic driver.

Mary van Zee has owned Treasures Antique Mall in Morro Bay for over 13 years and says it's the people in the community who keep her business running.

“Even during the unusual off-peak times, we have a lot to do because the locals are very supportive,” she said.

Sowell says he's ready for whatever the rest of the summer brings.

“There's still a lot going on, but this is the big push. This is insane,” Sowell said.

It seems that not only are more people visiting the state, but more are moving here as well. Governor Gavin Newsom recently announced that the state's population is increasing for the first time since the pandemic began.