Ron Clazie is ready to park his Prius, pack up his gas-guzzling Jeep and drive to snow country, while John Rowe is looking forward to grabbing his skis and making the long drive from Marina to Idaho.

And for the first time in months, neither man is fretting about the price of gas.

A gallon cost an average $3.54 in California on Wednesday, down from the record high of $4.67 set Oct. 9.

Pump prices have dropped for 27 consecutive days and are expected to continue their decline over the next three months, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Over the course of the coming year, the agency predicts, average prices will be as much as 20 cents a gallon lower than they were in 2012.

"I believe crude oil prices are going to be on the defensive this year, in light of booming domestic production, as well as Canadian crude that is still stuck in the U.S. and Canada" because of delays in a proposed pipeline linking the countries, said analyst Patrick DeHaan, echoing comments of other energy experts. "Cheaper oil equals refineries selling gasoline at a lower price."

Good news for motorists? You betcha, many say.

"I love to hear about gas prices coming down," Rowe said. "My wife won't complain as much when we go on our annual ski trip to Sun Valley."

The price break means the 52-year-old videographer won't worry as much when he fills his 2006 Subaru Legacy GT Wagon with premium.

For Clazie, a retired chemical engineer from Menlo Park, lower prices mean he can fire up his 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee -- "which I don't drive very much because of the low mileage and the high gas prices," he said, noting it gets 16 miles per gallon. "However, that's the car I take to the snow, so I'll be a little more willing to go if gas prices stay low."

Crude oil sold for $89.51 per barrel in New York on Wednesday, but many think it will go for much less, and soon.

"My call is to have prices drop below $70 a barrel after the first of the year," said Bob van der Walk, an analyst from Montana. "OPEC will have less of an influence on crude oil prices as domestic production increases in the next year."

Another significant reason prices should continue to decline is falling demand in the U.S., where drivers used the least amount of gas last year in more than a decade.

The slow economy and an increase in fuel-efficient cars helped cut gas use, which is expected to be about 8.73 million barrels per day this year, the lowest level since 2001.

Nationally, regular gas is selling for $3.23 a gallon, according to AAA. The California average is usually 20 to 30 cents higher than the U.S. figure.

What rankles some Bay Area drivers is the volatility of the California market due to the state's special blend of gas. When prices here skyrocketed last summer because of refinery and pipeline problems while prices nationally remained stable, many were steamed.

"When the prices spike, it does make me angry," said Ken Back, of Dublin, who says he knows "a lot of hardworking painters that have to drive trucks and vans which get lousy mileage. Those spikes kill them."

But prices now are on a steady downward spiral, and that's cheering people up.

Marcia Mannon paid just $3.13 a gallon in Modesto this week.

"Wow," the East Bay resident said. "I could not believe the sign when I drove by."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Gary Richards at 408-920-5335.