By Train, California

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  • AMTRAK'S PAcific Surliner to San Diego
    AMTRAK'S PAcific Surliner to San Diego
    by AusPinay
  • inside the train
    inside the train
    by AusPinay
  • AMTRAK'S PAcific Surliner to San Diego
    AMTRAK'S PAcific Surliner to San Diego
    by AusPinay
  • glabah's Profile Photo

    San Francisco to Los Angeles by Train, Part II

    by glabah Updated Feb 24, 2013

    This is part II of the previous question about getting between San Francisco and Los Angeles by train (in order to deal with the 10,000 character limit in VirtualTourist tips), but now let us suppose that you want to add a layover to the trip in one of the intermediate cities:

    Let's suppose that you want to go from San Francisco to Los Angles using either bus or train, to do the trip by land. Unfortunately, except for some of the local transit agencies, there is no public transport along the coast north of San Luis Obispo. So, by either method, you have to go inland to San Luis Obispo. Let's use that city as our proposed intermediate station stop for your several day layover, to visit relatives, do local activities, etc. This is only an example of how to do this using the Amtrak web site.

    The Coast Starlight takes the same line as the Pacific Surfliner, but operates the entire Oakland to SLO section, staring in Seattle and goes through all the way to Los Angeles. This is the only train that operates all the way through from Oakland to Los Angeles, and it takes the coast route south of SLO. The Pacific Surfliner operates over the same line, but only Los Angeles to SLO.

    While there is an Amtrak connecting bus that connects SLO Surfliner trains to San Francisco, it is a 5 hour bus trip, and the train would be a bit more comfortable for this length of trip. That's an awful long time to not be able to get up and move around easily and no bus is really designed for on-board mobility, and the Coast Starlight has a really nice lounge car in it with windows that are very good for seeing the scenery - and of course the lounge car has a snack bar with drinks and snacks available that you won't get on the bus either. See my tip at Amtrak Long Distance Trains in Washington & Oregon and see photos #3 and #4 of this tip for a look at the windows in the lounge car used on the Coast Starlight. The Pacific Surfliner does not get this type of car.

    With the various bus connections offered Amtrak has about 20 different stations in the San Francisco area. What you want to select for your origin is going to be up to you depending on where you want to start from and when you want to leave, since some of those stations don't have service very often.

    However, let us suppose you want to depart from the San Francisco ferry building rather than take BART over to Oakland (BART is cheaper). To get tickets to do this, you would go to the Amtrak web site, then in the upper left corner you see the "Tickets" From and To to enter your ticket purchase.

    What you want, however is a different option completely. Select the first line item in this part of the web page that says Multi-City. This allows you to get tickets with the several day intermediate stop you want in SLO. The station code to enter for the San Francisco ferry building is SFC, the financial district is SFF, the Fisherman's Wharf area is SFW, and other codes apply for whatever bus stop you want to use in San Francisco. If you decide to start in Oakland instead and take BART over there, use station code OKJ.

    The To location you want on the first item is SLO for San Luis Obispo.

    In the next one, enter SLO for the starting point (yes, you can have a different starting point for the next segment if you need to) and LAX for the ending point if you want Los Angeles Union Station (there are several other possible stations in the Los Angeles area you could select to get off, if they happen to be more convenient for you).

    Your first several options show up as bus route only, but with a red circle by them. This is because it is now illegal in California for Amtrak to sell tickets for a bus trip without also selling a train trip. So, if you want the bus only option from San Francisco to Los Angeles, you have to select a segment with a train in it in the second section (SLO to LAX) first. However, I really think that the best option if you want to do this by train is the option that is just a bus to Oakland, and then by train on the Coast Starlight. It takes a bit longer than the straight bus trip, but it will certainly be more comfortable. (the option that lists the 7:45 am bus leaving San Francisco Ferry Building with a connection in Oakland).

    Because of the view windows in the lounge car, I really suggest also selecting the Coast Starlight south from SLO as well. That will be the way to really see the California coast. The windows in the Surfliner cars are OK, but there is no lounge like that car on those trains.

    One other thing worth pointing out: Amtrak tickets increase as the train starts to sell out. So, once your travel deates are known it is best to purchase the tickets. Buying at the last minute almost always means you will be paying the most expensive price.

    For aditional information, please see my other tips:

    How to Work with Amtrak - A General Purpose USA transportation tip

    Long Distance Trains in Oregon and Washington - as the Coast Starlight is a train from Los Angeles to Seattle, the equipment used is the same as mentioned in this tip. The regional San Joaquin and Pacific Surfliner trains have special regional cars with a somewhat more dense seating arrangement, no dining or vista lounge cars but a limited snack bar in one car.

    Los Angeles to San Francisco by Train which is the first part of this tip.

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  • glabah's Profile Photo

    Los Angeles to San Francisco, by Train or Highway

    by glabah Updated Feb 24, 2013

    It seems that several people every year write in to the VirtualTourist forum dedicated to California and ask about getting between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

    The results are always varied, as there are a number of different opinions about the best way.

    If you are after the fastest method, obviously you need to fly. If you are not finding good prices on airline tickets, then consider that there are several airports in the San Francisco Bay Area and several in the Los Angeles area. For example, your best price may be from Burbank to Oakland or even to San Jose - which is quite far from San Francisco but is at least in the same general area and has some public transit connections between the two.

    By driving, there are many scenic areas right along the coast. If you have the time, I would say take highway 1 all the way down the coast. This is the slowest route, but it is the most scenic. When you hear the California paradise songs of such popular bands as the Beach Boys, this is the type of scenery they sing about: the clear coastline and wonderful ocean views with beaches - though quite a lot of it has been developed into unattractive sprawl and tourist traps, there is also quite a lot of it still that is fairly unspoiled. It is a vast area to try to describe in a single tip, but you can spend days just doing this route.

    By train, Amtrak has a once a day train that leaves Los Angeles and arrives in Oakland. From there, they offer connecting buses to various places in San Francisco proper. This offers a guaranteed connection in Oakland to a service going to San Francisco (that is, if the train is late the bus will still be waiting there). However, the current schedule means for a very late arrival in San Francisco. The train only runs through the best scenery from about Oxnard to a little south of San Luis Obispo, and from there it takes a more inland route. The Coast Starlight leaves Los Angeles at about 10:20, is scheculed to arrive in Oakland at 9:30, and the connecting bus doesn't start making its several downtown San Francisco until almost 10 at night.

    It is also possible to take BART metro trains from Oakland to San Francisco or a variety of other places in the San Francisco Bay Area region, as they cover a wide area.

    An alternative is to take a Pacific Surflner train (also operated by Amtrak) from Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo, and from there take a bus north to San Francisco. This route uses the best scenery by train, but it also means being in a bus for some 5 hours or more as San Luis Obispo is as far north as the train goes. The bus also does not take the scenic route along Highway 1, but the less scenic route along highway 101 - basically the same route as the Coast Starlight.

    It may be tempting to suggest a transfer to the CalTrains train from Amtrak at San Jose. The Caltrain train that goes north to San Francisco leaves at the same time the Amtrak train from Los Angeles to Oakland arrives there. However, as they are operated by two different agencies, there is no guarantee of a connection here, and there is absolutely 0 time for a transfer if everything is operating on time. There are some that object to the idea of taking CalTrain as an alternative because it is a slower, local train. However, because of the bus transfer in Oakland doing this is still theoretically faster than the Coast Starlight to Oakland and then the bus transfer to San Francisco, due to CalTrain having a better route. If you miss this nearly impossible to make connection in San Jose, however, you have a very long wait for the next CalTrain train (at least according to the current timetable). Therefore, I would not risk trying to do the trip this way.

    Another possible routing by public transportation, but which avoids any of the coastal scenery, is to take one of the Amtrak buses from Los Angeles (they depart from Torrance and the El Segundo area) north to Bakersfield. There, it is possible to transfer to one of Amtrak's San Juaquin trains going north to Oakland, and then transfer to another bus to get into San Francisco. This offers a little better flexibility as the connections work more times per day. You can leave Torrance at 5:30 in the morning, or 8:30 in the morning or 11:00 in the morning, or 1:15 in the afternoon. You get to Bakersfield at 9:00a, 1:00p, 3:30p and 6:00p respectively with those buses, and depart on trains at 10:00a, 1:20p, 3:45p, and 6:20p. You transfer to a bus at Oakland or Emeryville, and wind up getting to San Francisco on a bus at 4:45p, 7:45p, 10:15p, and 12:30a. However, again, this avoids the good scenery along the coastline.

    For More information, Please See:

    My San Francisco to Oakland by Train Tip (Part II of this Tip - how to do this trip by train with an intermediate stop)

    How to Work with Amtrak - A general purpose tip on how to use Amtrak, equipment used, etc.

    Long Distance Trains in Oregon and Washington - the same equipment is used on the long distance trains (Coast Starlight, California Zephyr, Sunset Limited, etc.) in California as Oregon and Washington. However, the regional California trains such as the San Joaquin and Pacific Surfliner trains use special regional cars with a somewhat different seating arrangement, no dining or vista lounge cars but a limited snack bar in one car.

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    • Trains

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  • Gillybob's Profile Photo

    Down the coast with Amtrak!

    by Gillybob Updated Jun 26, 2012

    There's many places you will want to visit in California and if, like me, you don't drive, then the Amtrak is going to be a good option for you. I have used the service to travel from Los Angeles to San Juan Capistrano and from San Juan Capistrano to San Diego.

    The trip from San Juan Capistrano to San Diego is especially pleasant as, quite often, you are closer to the sea than the cars travelling down the coastal highway.

    Amtrak trains are comfortable, with plenty of leg room, and have great high, wide windows through which to view the passing countryside.

    Fares are very reasonable, especially for long distances, but are best purchased as far in advance as planning will allow.

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    • Budget Travel
    • Trains

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  • brittaniethekid's Profile Photo

    Inner-city Metro and AMTRAK

    by brittaniethekid Written May 18, 2011

    Definitely take advantage of the cheap train that goes through San Diego. And if you want to see more of California, there is an AMTRAK station within the city. Use these around Comic Con and you'll see more than one famous face!

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    • Budget Travel
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  • AusPinay's Profile Photo

    PACIFIC LINER TO SAN DIEGO, A SCENIC RIDE

    by AusPinay Updated Mar 4, 2009
    AMTRAK'S PAcific Surliner to San Diego
    1 more image

    From LAX, we took a cab to get our train ride to San Diego where my cousin picked up to stay in his home for three nights.

    We paid US$70 dollars for the short ride to Union Station as we had several luggages. My main tip is to make sure you can handle your luggages as there will be no trolleys around unlike in an airport. My poor hubby was left with most of our luggage as I was rushing to make it to the scheduled trip as the train I wanted to get has luggage compartment. Sadly, we didn't make it after all and had to come back at night at San Diego to collect them.

    It was still a blessing as we got to see San Diego at night too!

    The carriages are clean inside and snacks were also sold there. Inside is spacious and there is a uniformed attendant checking tickets as well. We felt safe inside this train which passed through some of Southern California's lovely beaches.We were happy to take the train instead of the bus as my cousin suggested as I googled that the bus ride would pass through the expressways so there wouldn't be a lot of views to see!

    Related to:
    • Trains
    • Adventure Travel
    • Family Travel

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  • AusPinay's Profile Photo

    PACIFIC LINER TO SAN DIEGO, A SCENIC RIDE

    by AusPinay Written Mar 4, 2009
    AMTRAK'S PAcific Surliner to San Diego
    1 more image

    From LAX, we took a cab to get our train ride to SAn Diego where my cousin will pcik us up to stay in his home for a three nights.

    We paid UD$70 dollars for the short ride to Union Station as we had several luggages. My main tip is to make sure you can handle your luggages as there will be no trollys around unlike in an airport. My poor hubby was left with most of our luggage as I was rushing to make it to the scheduled trip as the train I wanted to get has luggage compartment. Sadly, we didn't make it after all and had to come back at night at San Diego to collect them.

    It was still a blessing as we got to see San Diego at night too!

    The carriages are clean inside and snacks were also sold there. Inside is spacious and there is a uniformed attendant checking tickets as well. We felt safe inside this train which passed through some of Southern California's lovely beaches.We were happy to take the train instead of the bus as my cousin suggested as I googled that the bus ride would pass through the expressways so there wouldn't be a lot of views to see!

    Related to:
    • Family Travel
    • Adventure Travel
    • Trains

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  • marinarena's Profile Photo

    Get the quick 411 on train stops

    by marinarena Written Feb 7, 2006

    2.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Here are the major stops of Amtrak in Southern California:

    San Luis Obispo, CA nice seaside area
    Grover Beach, CA
    Guadalupe, CA
    Lompoc - Surf, CA
    Goleta, CA
    Santa Barbara, CA gorgeous overall area
    Carpinteria, CA
    Ventura, CA lovely, lesser known beach area
    Oxnard, CA
    Camarillo, CA
    Moorpark, CA
    Simi Valley, CA
    Chatsworth, CA
    Van Nuys, CA
    Burbank Airport , CA
    Glendale, CA
    Los Angeles, CA well, so much to say about L.A., start your trip at Union Station
    Fullerton, CA great all-American town with growing nightlife downtown
    Anaheim, CA we won't mention the D-word!
    Santa Ana, CA largely hispanic town with a colorful art scene and the Bowers Museum
    Irvine, CA a "Business Town USA", mega suburb w/entertainment nearby

    San Juan Capistrano, CA very unique town with an old fashion flair with great restuarants and views, not just from the water

    San Clemente Pier, CA fun site, read my page about it

    Oceanside, CA
    Solana Beach, CA great waves! lesser know tresaure to seek out!
    San Diego, CA magnificent, but pricey city!

    Related to:
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    • Family Travel
    • Trains

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  • Geoff_Wright's Profile Photo

    Let the train take the strain

    by Geoff_Wright Updated Jun 29, 2003

    3.5 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Amtrak  at Sacramento

    I suppose travel by train whilst on holiday isn't everyone's cup of tea, but i found it to be an enjoyable experience. Had it not been for my VT friend Phil, I would have used Amtrak to travel from LA to Portland, Oregon. As it was, I used this service from Portland to Sacramento, on the return leg of my journey back towards LA. The journey can be prebooked via the internet, but I would suggest you book your seat in advance of travel, although there did appear to be space on the train to Sacramento. I have heard stories of long delays to passenger services due to freight trains having priority on some routes. In my case, the train stopped at Eugene, OR, where we had to embark onto buses for the 5 hour journey to Klamath Falls, and a further rail connection onwards to Sacramento. All the services were according to schedule.

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  • briana_80's Profile Photo

    A U-Haul truck is definitely...

    by briana_80 Written Aug 26, 2002

    A U-Haul truck is definitely NOT the best way to get to California! If you fly in, it's better to fly into San Diego or one of the smaller airports and drive to LA if you need to. LAX can get pretty crazy. Lindburgh or John Wayne are much less busy.
    There are tons of modes of transportation in California--trolley, bus, car, coaster. If you want to go to an event (particularly in a downtown area) the trolley is your best bet. If you want to do a little casual sightseeing or take the scenic route, renting a car is great. Just get your directions from one www.mapquest.com or one of the other travel websites.

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  • Natrix's Profile Photo

    Depends where you're coming...

    by Natrix Written Aug 24, 2002

    1 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Depends where you're coming from!
    Unfortunately there isn't a lot of public transportation in California (or maybe the States in general) and it's not so good, cause the distances are long and everybody has cars, but for example there's the 'Cal'-train going to different cities in the Bay Region. In San Fanscisco you can get around by bus or tram or cable-car (!). Otherwise, you're better off if you rent a car!

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