For Northern San Joaquin Valley drivers, high gas prices are draining the fun out of their travel plans.
With regular gas nearing $4 a gallon, many find they can't easily cut back on travel for work or other nondiscretionary reasons. So, they're cutting back or eliminating trips for recreation and vacation.
Aaron Enriquez of Modesto said he's reduced his trips to San Jose, where his parents live.
"That's a good 75 miles. I'll see my dad for his birthday, in October," said Enriquez, 43. "Christmas, Thanksgiving, maybe. But for Fourth of July, I'll stay home and barbecue. Can't afford to do anything else."
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Other residents said they're thinking about summer, when many experts say they believe gas prices will top $4 nationally and go even higher in California.
As a result, Rebecca Trotter of Modesto said her family dropped plans to drive to Oregon. Hazrat Ali of Riverbank said a vacation to Canada looks unlikely.
"It's too much, man," said Ali, 47. "Once a month, we go to see family in Hayward, but that's getting to be too much, too."
For the past 21 years, Wayne Donahue of Modesto has spent many weekends at Don Pedro Reservoir — boating and-or riding a jet ski.
"I was at Don Pedro this weekend," he said. "It was empty. A nice 90-degree day and a Saturday, and only 15 boats?"
Donahue said he cannot afford to fill the tank on his jet ski at the marina, where gas prices are $5 a gallon. Instead, he filled up in Modesto, where he said he paid $3.89 a gallon.
And this summer? He'll be more picky about when he goes to the reservoir, he said.
Many folks take to carpooling
More sports fans in Modesto are carpooling to Bay Area venues or even forgoing major league games to watch local teams, said James Cagle, a cook at Sidelines Pub & Grill on McHenry Avenue.
"What I've heard a lot of people doing is going to see the Modesto Nuts or the Stockton Thunder versus going to the big games, even if ticket prices are low," Cagle said.
And when they do go, "instead of going themselves, three to four people will go together, and a lot of people take BART from Pleasanton."
Staci Slaughter, senior vice president of communications for the San Francisco Giants, said team brass talked Tuesday about ways to ease the cost of going to the ballpark.
She said it'd be too difficult and that too many variables exist to gauge if gas prices are having an impact on the number of fans coming from the Central Valley this season. Still, the Giants are talking about bringing back last year's popular promotion that tied ticket purchases to Chevron gas cards, along with other deals to help fans.
"We know the economy is on everyone's mind," Slaughter said. "On the other end, baseball is a great escape from all of that."
And for those not taking big trips this summer, she said, "don't forget about the Giants."
Many parents said they can't change their discretionary driving much because their children are too involved in activities, particularly with youth sports teams, to stay close to home every weekend.
Denise Smith, 38, said that means her family of four will make only modest camping trips this summer and probably leave the boat parked. "It's kind of a shame," she added.
Adults with children aren't the only consumers cutting back on their trips.
Tim Schuler, 18, and Geoff Smith, 20, both of Escalon, said they're less able to take a road trip to such places as Los Angeles or Santa Cruz.
"We've pretty much done everything around here," Smith said of his options closer to home. "You try to go with friends and split the costs more."
But officials at some popular travel destinations said they're not too concerned that the high cost of gas will bite into their appeal.
Monterey Bay Aquarium communications director Ken Peterson said what could change, though, is where his visitors come from.
"We might end up getting a lot more Californians coming to the Central Coast, whether it be from the Central Valley or San Francisco, because they don't want to rent an RV and go to the (national) parks, and they don't want to pay the higher airfare," Peterson said.
Last year, about 52,000 people from the Modesto and Stockton metropolitan areas visited the aquarium, or about 5 percent of attendance, Peterson said.
Darla Cook, vice president of public relations for Forever resorts, which operates two marinas at Don Pedro Reservoir, said that though houseboat reservations for this summer have declined, the drop isn't dramatic.
Cook pointed out that despite the recent warm weather, Don Pedro's boating season doesn't get under way in earnest until Memorial Day weekend.
Price cuts to lure consumers
But at other destinations, officials have adjusted prices to lure those who might otherwise consider themselves too financially strapped to go.
Infineon Raceway in Sonoma is offering a season package that includes four tickets, snack coupons and a $10 gas card. At $190, it cuts more than $100 off the price, said spokeswoman Diana Brennan.
"We recognize that there are a lot of people who are going to make difficult decisions on how to spend their money this year," she said.
"People still love NASCAR and they still love racing, and we want to encourage them to be able to come out to the track and enjoy racing if they want to."
Jose Plascencia, a Turlock-based marketing spokesman for AAA, said that while association members aren't canceling recreational trips, they are limiting the distance they drive and the size of the vehicle.
"They're opting for shorter trips, like visiting the Sierra rather than heading down to the LA basin," he said.
And some drivers said that while they're aware of higher prices, they've also decided leisure is too important to cut back.
Retiree David Cornman of Arnold said he and his wife make weekly trips to Modesto. In the last month, he's also driven to Napa, and she's driven to a quilting event in Twain Harte.
"We budget, and we already blew through our gas budget," said Cornman, 58. "We're going to make it up somewhere else."
If the choice is between sitting at home to save money or pursue what he wants to do, Cornman said, he still wants to drive.
Bee assistant city editor Brian Clark contributed to this report.
Bee staff writer Ben van der Meer can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2331. Bee staff writer Inga Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2324. Bee staff write Mike Mooney can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2384.