As San Diego began its first weekend out of the red and into the less-restrictive orange tier, locals and tourists alike flocked to the beach to enjoy the looser rules.
“It’s the next big step to coming back to normal,” said Bernardo Namé, owner of Biggie’s Burgers in Pacific Beach.
The county announced Wednesday that among other changes, restaurants could operate indoors at 50% capacity, or 200 people, whichever is fewer, with the usual COVID-19 precautions in place.
Namé was forced to cut his employees’ hours and lay off staff over the past year.
“It was really heartbreaking, honestly, it was really tough, but it’s what we had to do to survive,” he said.
He told NBC 7 he was very excited when he heard the promising news on Wednesday.
“We can allow more customers to have the same experience they’re used to… I can keep my employees with the same amount of hours they have, hire more employees… we’ve started to hire a lot more employees just last week so we’re very excited to be able to give them that opportunity,” he said.
When nightfall, the crowds shifted toward nightlife-centric areas, like the Gaslamp and Mission Hills.
At the Whiskey House downtown, neighborhood regulars were excited to get back to their local watering hole.
" Being open and having more capacity is really, really, really important and it's been really good for our-- this is our neighborhood bar, so we really like it," bar regular Sandy Keener said.
Whiskey House manager Alicia Jannace was expecting a big draw.
"We're anticipate a lot of happy people ready to get back out and see if they're able to stay up until 2 a.m.," Jannace said.
Whiskey House recently brought back some of its employees, and hired some new ones.
But not everyone is desperate for change – for some, sales have been consistent.
“We’ve been back and forth [with restrictions] so much that I think I’m a little desensitized,” said Joe Sisk, general manager of Cheba Hut in Pacific Beach. “We’ve been doing to-go only since the start of COVID, so for us we’re not feeling too much of an impact.”
College student Daniel Pardini is taking advantage of the looser rules to make up for lost time with friends. He told NBC 7 he’s happy things are heading in a new direction, but hopes people are responsible enough to keep it that way.
“We want to stay as safe as we can. I’m definitely looking forward to going out, as long as everyone is safe… We’re not going to be in big groups,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing everyone out of their space, smiles, energy – everyone has been down, so let’s get them back going.”
Another change in the orange tier allows bars that don’t serve food to reopen and serve people outdoors,
Namé told NBC 7 he hopes these new rules will mean more people out and more business for everyone. He also said what he is looking forward to next is the dropping of curfews so restaurants and bars can stay open longer, especially as we enter the summer months.
“My main goal is for everyone just to get this over with and come back to reality,” he said. “Don’t take anything for granted… the pandemic was something so unexpected that we never knew was going to come towards us, but it’s a challenge and there are always going to be challenges.”
The San Diego Police Department told NBC 7 there will be an increased police presence around the city this first weekend in the orange tier.