A Very California February: SF to Disneyland

Discussion in 'Travelogues / Trip Reports' started by desertflyer, Feb 13, 2020 at 5:42 PM.

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  1. Feb 13, 2020 at 5:42 PM #1

    desertflyer

    desertflyer

    desertflyer

    Service Attendant

    Joined:
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    Location:
    San Francisco
    A couple of weekends ago, my partner Vanessa and me decided to head down to Disneyland to check out the new Star Wars land. Instead of going the same old way (flying), I thought it might be fun to do something a little different. Our trip OKJ-SLO-CPN-LAX-ANA was booked!

    Amtrak happened to have a 2-for-1 deal when we were booking, but oddly enough if I included a transbay bus in the itinerary the booking engine wouldn't apply to discount. This is a common problem now that Amtrak is doing so many buy one, get one deals, so I've tried a few ways around it. For this trip I went ahead and booked OKJ-SLO on the Coast Starlight and then we did an hourly car through AAA's Gig. We picked up the car a couple of blocks from our apartment in San Francisco and then street parked it across the street from Amtrak's Jack London Station for about $13. Since this was a Saturday I wasn't able to use my preferred transit connections (ferry, BART, Caltrain connections don't line up with train 11 on the weekend), so this was a fine compromise.

    Right on time at 8:30am, train 11 ran down the street in Jack London Square, horn blaring. On the nose today was P42 157 complete with "Heartland Flyer Big Game Train" decals.


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    The chill, yet efficient, conductor scanned our ticket and directed us toward our coach car. The coach attendant gave us a seat tag before boarding and told us to pick any available seat upstairs. Once upstairs, I was pleased to see that the coach was very clean. No crumbs, all of the empty seats looking like the train had just pulled into Seattle, I'm always happy when a coach attendant keeps things clean. Only about 30-40% of the seats were occupied and it was very quiet in the car. Coach can be such a mixed bag depending on the day, and this was pretty much the best case scenario. It made me happy that I didn't pay more for business or a roomette for the 6 hour ride to San Luis Obispo.

    Since we were already scanned in by the conductor and had our seats picked by, we decided to make it down to the diner for breakfast. On the way I noticed that interestingly enough it looked like there were more people in the business class car than our coach, maybe 50% full. Once in the diner the friendly dining car staff immediately greeted us and told us we could have a table to ourselves. Perfect since I am not always a morning person!
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    I can't say enough good things about the crew in the dining car. They were friendly and professional, no lectures on the PA. Good eye contact. Efficient. I had to pinch myself. It wasn't like the diner was empty either, there were people seated at 3 other tables at the same time as us. We both ordered scrambled eggs with potatoes and chicken sausage. The eggs were cooked perfectly, sausage a little dry but all-in-all tasty.

    We had finished our breakfast by 9am and it was hard not to notice that we were still sitting at Jack London, 10 minutes past our scheduled departure. Unfortunately the conductor made no announcements about the delay. Back in our coach we settled in and Vanessa started doing a little last minute work on her laptop.
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    At 9:15, after no movement or announcements, I found the coach attendant on the platform. He said there was a mechanical problem with one of the engines and that mechanical expected us to be moving shortly. Uhoh. Since the Starlight doesn't stop in Carpinteria CPN where we were staying for the night, I had only booked the Starlight to SLO where we would have 65 minutes to catch the last southbound Surfliner. If this delay went on too long we would have to follow our contingency plan, cancelling our Surfliner ticket and booking 11 all the way to Santa Barbara, where we'd take the public bus (MTD) or Lyft (booooo) to Carpinteria. I was really hopeful to avoid that.

    At 9:25 the horn blared and we were on our way, 35 minutes behind. Rolling down to San Jose, it was a really foggy morning in the south bay. Quite the contrast to the beautiful morning we had in SF and Oakland, and a good example of our microclimates in the bay.
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    As we pulled into San Jose, it was still silent in our coach. Since it looked like we'd probably make our connection, and the fact that cell service can be spotty south of San Jose, I decided that I'd try to upgrade to business on our planned Surfliner SLO-CPN using upgrade coupons (including one coupon graciously gifted to me by a fellow AUer). I went to the Sightseer Lounge to make the call. It wasn't more than a 5 minute call and the phone agent had me upgraded and my phone received the confirmation email. Things were going well today!

    As we continued south, there were a couple of unexplained stops south of San Jose. Weather was sunny and pleasant. There seemed to be some track work along Elkhorn Slough, so we went by much slower than usual. This was fine by us since we could do some good wildlife spotting. We saw a couple otters and a few harbor seals! No pictures of that, unfortunately. However I did grab a picture somewhere between Salinas and King City - nice and green this time of year.
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    As we continued south, we weren't making up any time, staying pretty much exactly 30 minutes late at all stations up to Paso Robles. Then, as we descended into SLO, Amtrak's magic method of padding saved the day. We arrived maybe 5 minutes late into the station. This gave us almost exactly an hour to walk a few blocks to downtown and back before our Surfliner departed. In downtown SLO there is Libertine Brewing, a really interesting brewery that does wild (open top) fermentation. This, combined with a lot of sour beers, made for a great stop. The beer was masterful and it's one of my new favorite breweries in California. A nice, big open space was perfect on this 78 degree San Luis Obispo day.

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    The walk took us 12 minutes each way, so we didn't have much time to enjoy the beer before heading back to the station. It's a bit of a uphill for the last block of the walk. We arrived with 10 minutes to departure, and our train waiting, more than enough time. This is obviously one of the major perks of train travel, especially at these small, local stations!

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    On the Surfliner, our business class attendant was very friendly. He let us know we could either sit in the Surfliner business car or the neighboring Superliner business car. We opted for the Superliner. Right on time we departed south and shortly thereafter the attendant brought our snack box and complimentary drink to our seats.

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    Last edited: Feb 14, 2020 at 2:07 AM
  2. Feb 13, 2020 at 5:43 PM #2

    desertflyer

    desertflyer

    desertflyer

    Service Attendant

    Joined:
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    Location:
    San Francisco
    When we made it to the coast, I was a bit surprised to see it fogged in considering how warm it was just a bit inland. Lucky for us, we take the coast route often and know the scenery well, so this was nice for a change.

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    As we made it closer to Lompoc, the fog was pushed further out to sea and we were treated to a beautiful sunset over the ocean. It was completely dark by the time our train rounded the Point of Conception.

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    The ride flew by quickly and before we knew it, our train was rolling into Carpinteria.

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    Only us off at CPN, we walked the 1 mile to our motel through downtown. The town was very busy (for Carpinteria) this Saturday night. After checking into our hotel we headed to Rincon Brewing for a delicious dinner of fresh salads and small taste of beer - very nice IPAs there. We then walked more around downtown until we ended up at Island Brewing, right adjacent to the tracks near the station. What a cool spot, especially if you sit next to the tracks as a Surfliner rolls by. The place was slammed busy because a surfer had drowned and this was the afterparty for their celebration of life. With live music and dancing, it was quite the party. At this point it was getting late so we headed back to our hotel for some much needed sleep.

    The next morning we were treated to a bright, southern California morning of temperate weather. Bags in hand we walked downtown, past the Wardholme Torrey Pine - supposedly the largest torrey pine in the world. There is a cool coffee shop next to the pine. We decided to eat a little closer to the station at Worker Bee Cafe. Breakfast at Worker Bee is so much fun. The people who run it are really great, breakfast is absolutely delicious, and you'll see people on beach cruisers roll by. Totally the vibe we were going for this morning.

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    After our breakfast, we had a good hour to kill so we headed out to the beach, which is about a 5 minute walk away from the station. This was a fairly busy day on the beach here, with a kids surfing competition and weekend visitors, but it's still not busy at all compared to places like Santa Barbara. If you do visit the beach here, I suggest wearing flip flops since the nearby tar pits sometimes turn your feet black when walking on the sand.

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    Back at the station platform, our Surfliner arrived 3 minutes early and we were the only passengers boarding. Most of the people onboard appeared to be hungover college kids sleeping, so it was a nice, quiet ride again - a theme this trip! The conductor never scanned our ticket, so before we arrived in LA I asked if he wanted to check them. He said, "Oh, I had 2 scheduled to board in CPN and your were the only two there, so I checked you in. I just assumed!" We had a bit of a laugh talking about it.
     
  3. Feb 13, 2020 at 5:45 PM #3

    desertflyer

    desertflyer

    desertflyer

    Service Attendant

    Joined:
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    Can we take a moment to appreciate the beauty that is LA Union Station?

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    So you might be wondering why we'd get off a perfectly good Surfliner at LA Union Station when our final destination was Anaheim. The Sunday we were traveling had some track work happening south of Irvine, so only a few Surliners were traveling south of LA. Lucky for us, Metrolink was running a normal Orange County service, so we had a hour connection at Union Station.

    Since we were right on time into LA, we headed to Imperial Western Brewing, the new-ish craft brewery at Union Station. Even though it was Super Bowl Sunday (go 9ers), we found a spot at a standing table. Although the purpose of this trip was to get to Disneyland, it had turned into an impromptu brewery tour with this being our 4th one on the trip so far! Imperial Western beer is decent, prices reasonable, and it's a really nice room to spend some time in.

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    We had just enough time for our pint and then we decided to head over to the platform for our Metrolink departure. I used the Metrolink app to buy our tickets, pretty convenient although I do wish they would start accepting TAP payment for easier transfers from Metro. I have too many transit apps on my phone as it is!

    This was my first ride with a F125 and that was the only excitement for the 45 minute ride from Union Station to Anaheim. Our tickets were never checked and the train was probably 75% full. I think it's ridiculous how little Metrolink service there is on weekends.

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    Arriving at Anaheim ARTIC, we actually walked straight from the platform into the Angel's stadium parking lot. ARTIC is a really nice station if you haven't visited, but since we had, we opted for the shortcut. Unfortunately, Angels stadium is, in Orange County fashion, surrounded by a sea of asphalt.

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    Since it was just about to be the 4th quarter of the Super Bowl, we decided to continue our brewery tour, so we walked about 10 minutes into a nearby business/industry park to try out Noble Ale Works. The place was empty sans some obnoxious (and homophobic) Chiefs fans. The beer was just okay but the food truck out front served up some great tacos.

    The game took a turn for the worse so we decided to walk to our hotel near Disneyland, about 2 miles along a freeway-size road. There is a bus you can take but we liked getting some exercise. You also don't truly respect the width of I-5 until you walk perpendicularly across it. Bleh.

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    After checking in at our hotel, we were still a little hungry so we walked to the nearby Anaheim Gardenwalk. I remember this place being a little more lively. Maybe it was just because of the game? There was almost no one around and half the space looked vacant. House of Blues moved over here from Downtown Disney in what I think is an attempt to get more people to visit. We grabbed some small bites at California Pizza Kitchen and called it a night since we had Disney the next morning.
     
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2020 at 5:57 PM
  4. Feb 13, 2020 at 5:45 PM #4

    desertflyer

    desertflyer

    desertflyer

    Service Attendant

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    Up early at 6am, we grabbed breakfast and immediately headed to the park. If you haven't read about the new Star Wars ride that opened in January, it is very popular so there is a virtual queue. You have to be IN THE PARK and have the Disneyland app ready to go the very second it opens in order to get a pass to ride the new ride. There's pretty much no other way to get a pass, no regular standby line, and passes are all allocated within 30 seconds of the park opening. It creates this weird aspect to the park opening where everyone is anxious, staring at their phones, followed by cheers and cries. Weird way to start a day at Disneyland but I came prepared and got us into the first 10 groups of the day. Within an hour we were on the new ride and it's like nothing I've ever experienced before. Really amazing, and this is coming from a casual Star Wars fan. I can only imagine how awesome it is for those that are obsessed with the movies.

    Star Wars land in general was amazing. Oga's Cantina was popping. Drinks were expensive, but still a good time. The attention to detail was wild with all kinds of little effects going off and music bumping. We got to ride everything we wanted to in both parks with the exception of Guardians of the Galaxy and then had dinner at Downtown Disney to cap off a great day.

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    Too many Disney pics?

    The next morning we were up early for our flight SNA-SFO. There were no buses that could get us to the airport in time for our 7am flight, so we took a Lyft. It is terrifying to get a driver who doesn't have great control of their car, all while flying down the massive I-5, 56, and 405 interchange. John Wayne was of course slammed busy with the 7am rush, since the noise abatement requirements don't allow departures before then. Tons of car traffic before the terminals, longer than normal line at security (with everyone having TSA Precheck, so no one in the regular line funny enough), and then our plane was #8 for departure. Blessed by the Santa Ana winds, we took off the opposite direction of normal and had the roughest flight I've been on in a while. I'm a private pilot so it doesn't bother me much, but I thought Vanessa was going to hurl.

    Landing at SFO on time, we took BART back into the City and we started our workday at 10am. What a whirlwind of a weekend! Thanks for reading. :D
     
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2020 at 5:59 PM
  5. Feb 13, 2020 at 7:02 PM #5

    TC_NYC

    T

    TC_NYC

    Train Attendant

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    Sounds like a great trip. I took the Surfliner/Coast Starlight last summer ANA-LAX-PDX as a part of my honeymoon and was very pleased with the Dining car service. The ANA-LAX as on a Monday morning though and was packed, nearly no seats available for my wife and I. Thought I would avoid the crowds from the Metrolink.

    The Anaheim station is truly amazing, so glad to have used it.
     
  6. Feb 13, 2020 at 10:28 PM #6

    trainman74

    trainman74

    trainman74

    Conductor

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    Ha, I've been to every brewery you mentioned. (Including a couple years ago, when some friends and I took the Surfliner to Carpinteria for my birthday.)
     
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  7. Feb 13, 2020 at 10:30 PM #7

    OBS

    O

    OBS

    Conductor

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    Wow, what fun! Thanks for reporting.
     
  8. Feb 14, 2020 at 4:40 AM #8

    desertflyer

    desertflyer

    desertflyer

    Service Attendant

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    Nothing like beer you can take the train to! I think that makes it instantly a little bit better. ;)
     
  9. Feb 14, 2020 at 7:12 AM #9

    anumberone

    anumberone

    anumberone

    OBS Chief AU Supporter

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    Enjoyed your well planned trip. Great execution!
     
  10. Feb 14, 2020 at 1:26 PM #10

    Tom Booth

    Tom Booth

    Tom Booth

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    Great report. Loved everything about it. It was particularly poignant to me because I met my wife in San Francisco on Mission St in 1976 and lived there until '83. Now retired, we train (CL or LSL-CZ) out there for a couple of months every year. You've whetted my appetite to travel to Union Station and spend a few days in LA. The bar in Union Station is fabulous and I'm told has great crab cakes. Now I absolutely want to take the CS down. Thanks so much for the wonderful report.
     
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2020 at 2:18 PM
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