California in July - Train and Camping

Discussion in 'Amtrak Rail Discussion' started by RobertB, Apr 30, 2013.

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  1. Jun 14, 2013 #51

    tomfuller

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  2. Jun 14, 2013 #52

    oregon pioneer

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    I've stayed at the Peach Tree Inn in SLO. Being it's a college town, motels are reasonable and clean.
     
  3. Jun 14, 2013 #53

    RobertB

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    While looking for those camping and motel options, I started poking around the schedule to Grover Beach, between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. There's one tent site available at Grover Beach SB. But the Amtrak site still showed a bus from SBA to GVB.

    Then I looked at the actual Pacific Surfliner schedule, and became confused. It shows a direct train all the way from SAN to SLO. Couldn't figure that out until I noticed the little boxed number by all the San Clemente Pier timepoints before 4pm: "Only on Saturdays and Sundays". The hot surfing spot only has Amtrak service on weekends!

    So I plugged in departures from the next station up, San Juan Capistrano (SNC) - a quick Metrolink ride away. Turns out we don't have to take that overnight bus at all. We've got plenty of options, maybe an all-train route (Coast Starlight from LAX) or a bus ride during the day. I'll be looking at those options... assuming we can extend our camping reservation at San Clemente. Or maybe we *do* want to go to Grover Beach for the night.
     
  4. Jun 14, 2013 #54

    rusty spike

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    That's because the SB San Diego Freeway from inland Orange County to at least the San Diego County line is one long parking lot on the weekend mornings when everyon living inland wants to go to the beaches in the "OC" and San Diego. And parking in or near the San Clemente pier is a real challenge. Weekdays in the summer are crowded but nothing like weekends. Enjoy your trip
     
  5. Jun 14, 2013 #55

    roadman3313

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    I have taken the overnight bus plenty of times and generally have been able to sleep. All depends on how you are at sleeping on moving vehicles!

    There are plenty of options from Southern California to Northern California via Santa Barbara/San Luis Obispo or Bakersfield throught out the day and the overnight trip you mentioned.

    The train ride between Ventura (just south of Santa Barbara/Carpentaria) and Guadalupe-Santa Maria (just south of Grover Beach/San Luis Obispo) is one of the most scenic in the country as you right up on cliffs above the ocean. It is a great opportunity along your trip through the outdoors of California to enjoy that "indoor" scenic view on the train. Some people report seeing various marine life along with the occassional whale.

    There is a bus that connects from the first Pacific Surfliner to SLO that goes to the Bay Area or the Coast Starlight runs as a through-train.
     
  6. Jun 17, 2013 #56

    RobertB

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    I've verified with my wife that we will be capable of waking up, packing up, and hiking a mile to the bus that takes us to San Juan Capistrano... at 6am. That's how early we have to start hiking in order to catch the 7:34am Pacific Surfliner towards Los Angeles, and on to San Jose. We decided not to go to Oakland for this leg, because the hotel is near the airport, and going up to Oakland means an hour or more of backtracking.

    I'm trying to decide now on the route to take.

    The shortest time: Pacific Surfliner departs SNC 7:34am, arrives Santa Barbara 11:45am. Then bus to SJC, arrives 6:15pm. That gets us to the hotel before 8:30pm, plenty of time to unwind.

    The scenic route: Pacific Surfliner arrives LAX 8:50am. Then Coast Starlight, departs LAX 10:10am, arrives SJC 8:11pm. We would get to the hotel after 11pm, making for a pretty long day.

    Scenic route alternative to transfer in Santa Barbara instead of LAX: Arrive SBA 11:45am, depart 12:40pm. (Have to schedule that manually, the system wants to transfer at LAX.)

    That stretch between Santa Barbara and Guadalupe looks fascinating - especially since it goes through Vandenberg AFB, where I probably can't go by car! I just don't know whether it's going to be worth the difference in arriving in a strange town for public transit in the late afternoon vs. late night. We might decide later - SBA has a ticket office, so if we're enchanted by the ride from Ventura, maybe we can change our tickets from the bus to the train at the station. (Though they might tell us the Coast Starlight is full, right?)
     
  7. Jun 20, 2013 #57

    RobertB

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    Still trying to decide whether to go for the scenery (and midnight hotel arrival) vs. the shorter train-plus-bus to San Jose. Meanwhile, though, came across the Tehachapi Loop Detour thread - apparently there's a perfectly good inland route between LAX and OKJ, with an awesome crossover spiral, but UP won't let Amtrak use it. :(
     
  8. Jun 26, 2013 #58

    RobertB

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    We decided to wake up early rather than trudge in late. :) I'm hoping that if something goes wrong - if we miss that 6:27am local bus - that we can somehow get on the next train? San Juan Capistrano SNC says it has a Ticket Office, so hopefully that means a person we can talk to and get tickets printed. (Or if the Quik Trak will work for me since I'll be in California?)

    The agent again had trouble with changing the reservation - she had to put me on hold for a few minutes while she got the system to behave. Are rail passes such an unusual thing?
     
  9. Jun 26, 2013 #59

    AlanB

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    They aren't that common. If I had to guess, I'd say that an agent working 20 years at Amtrak is probably lucky to encounter at most 2 or 3 people trying to use such a pass. Perhaps in the future Amtrak will be able to better market them and more will be used, but again I don't think that it's a huge revenue source for Amtrak.
     
  10. Jun 26, 2013 #60

    BCL

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    I remember living in the same house with a foreign student (sent by a government agency) coming here to take what were mostly one-week technical classes. Her employer actually paid for a whole calendar year "all you can eat" plan. She was required to attend a certain amount of classes by her employer, but she did occasionally have a bunch of off time. I remember she took a whole month off and bought an unlimited 3-week Amtrak pass and traveled around the country in coach.
     
  11. Jul 5, 2013 #61

    RobertB

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    9 days, 14 hours, 3 minutes (but who's counting? (2 minutes 30 seconds now)) until we head out, and I'm still coming up with brilliant :) ideas to change things around.

    I'm still worried about the last day. We're set to leave the Yosemite area (as late as we can), catch the 8:47pm San Joaquin to Bakersfield, then the Thruway bus for a midnight ride to San Diego. The problem is, we get to San Diego at 5:15am and are left to wander around like sleep-deprived zombies until our flight leaves -- over 12 hours later.

    So I'm thinking about spending a night somewhere in between. I looked at Merced, but there's no way to get from MCD to SAN in time for the flight. But Bakersfield would work, and there's a Motel 6 a short city bus ride from the Amtrak terminal. Apparently the Bakersfield Motel 6 isn't quite as fancy as the one, say in Santa Barbara - the rate for 2 is under $50.

    That would change the Wednesday-Thursday leg to something like this:

    Thruway (actually YARTS) out of Yosemite at 4:25pm, arrive MCD 6:47

    San Joaquin depart MCD 7:06, arrive BFD 10:07

    City bus to Motel 6 (10:17 and two more chances after. 2 mile walk if we're after 10:47.)

    Next day, catch the Thruway bus at 8:35am, get to LAX at 10:45am, then Pacific Surfliner 11:10am - SAN 1:55pm. Just the right amount of time to grab a bite downtown and then head for the airport.

    Not entirely sure whether we'll go for the change. We might just stick to the original plan, catch the Coronado Ferry, two blocks from the Amtrak station, and broil in the sun one last time before heading home. The price is hard to beat: it's free before 9am. In fact, the first ferry leaves at 5:15am - oops, that's when the train arrives! Well, we can wait until 6:30. I think I just talked myself out of that midnight tour of Bakersfield.
     
  12. Jul 6, 2013 #62

    tomfuller

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    Please don't stay the night in Bakersfield. Take the bus to San Bernardino arriving before midnight.

    Stay 5-6 hours in San Bernardino in a hotel and then be at the Amtrak station by 5:30AM to catch the Southwest Chief into LAX. Take a Pacific Surfliner to San Diego.

    San Bernardino is a little better than Bakersfield IMO
     
  13. Jul 8, 2013 #63

    RobertB

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    You would deny me the chance to walk the Streets of Bakersfield? How can I judge Dwight Yoakum and Buck Owens now? ;)

    Sorry, couldn't resist. :)

    That looks like a good alternative, but my wife and I decided we'll be fine if we just find a spot on the beach and chill out there before we leave Southern California. The temperature here in Dallas is set to go up by a couple degrees each day, so I think it'll be hotter than Death Valley by the time we get back home. Better to have one last day of sunny 75-degree temps before we go back into the oven.
     
  14. Aug 2, 2013 #64

    RobertB

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    Just wanted to wrap up the thread, and say a huge word of thanks to everyone who gave us hints and tips to make our trip great! I'm not going to write up a whole travelogue, but here are some high points.

    * No trouble with any of the trains or thruway buses. Everything controlled by Amtrak was right where it was supposed to be, when it was supposed to be there.

    * Stashing our two big bags at San Diego Amtrak for a few hours was well worth the $4 a piece. It let us spend a few hours walking around town at the start and end of the trip.

    * The Pacific Surfliner is really, really popular. I can't imagine it would be difficult to justify HSR in the LAX-SAN corridor, at least based on ridership.

    * The surfers at Trestles are just as gnarly and awesome as you could imagine. And they (mostly) wear wetsuits for a reason. Had a great day laying out on the beach, but for swimming, I'll have to stick to the chocolate waters of the Texas Gulf Coast.

    * Why would anyone want a car in San Francisco? We could have walked for days.

    * The National Park staff at the Golden Gate Bridge don't know squat about the public transit system. They said we'd have to hike to Sausalito to catch a bus back across. Fortunately, Google knew where the last bus stop really was.

    * Wearing a windbreaker in July is really strange. But walking the Golden Gate Bridge, you'd sure be in trouble without it. Beautiful, and cold!

    * Since our Amtrak tickets were paid through to Yosemite, the YARTS driver gave us a pass into the park for the next day when we got off at the Yosemite Bug resort.

    * The Yosemite Bug, by the way, was absolutely wonderful. We could have spent a week in the hot tub and sauna. Great food in the cafe, and we especially liked the pre-packed trail lunches for $7. But y'all were wrong about the hill: it's a couple hundred yards *down* hill first. *Then* it's a couple hundred yards up hill to the resort. So yes, it's uphill both ways. Still totally worth it.

    * Yosemite National Park itself was amazing, even if was pretty darned crowded. Spent the one day there, hiking to 300-foot Vernal Falls and then to 700-foot Nevada Falls. My wife sat on the rocks with her legs dangling above the canyon floor... I got as far as putting my feet over the edge, then retreated to where I could curl up in a fetal position. ;) I'm not afraid of heights, but that distance straight down was awe-inspiring, and strangely unnerving!

    * We were hoping to see Giant Sequoias, but none of the three groves are easily accessible without a car.

    * YARTS runs the Amtrak Thruway service, and clearly prioritizes those runs for on-time service. The non-Amtrak runs don't seem to be as reliable. The bus to Yosemite was about 30 minutes late, and our bus out of Yosemite (the last run) was almost an hour late. We (and a few others) were about ready to ask the Park Ranger to check whether it had been cancelled.

    * Stopped at Mariposa on the way back from the Bug and had awesome hamburgers at the Happy Burger Diner. Highly recommended.

    * The overnight Thruway bus from Bakersfield to LAX (and on to San Diego) was packed (as was the Thruway bus from Santa Barbara to San Jose). Who do we have to kill at Union Pacific to put a train on that stretch?

    Again, thanks for helping us have a wonderful trip!
     
  15. Aug 2, 2013 #65

    roadman3313

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    Glad to hear it went smoothly and you enjoyed your trip all around! :)
     
  16. Aug 2, 2013 #66

    BCL

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    I'd just point out there is no NPS staff per se at the Golden Gate Bridge. There is at Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Most people in the area don't know about.

    As for needing a car visiting San Francisco, there's a great big world outside of San Francisco. There's the wine country, Marin County, Monterey, the Pacific Coast, etc. I might leave the car at the hotel in San Francisco though unless going to certain places where a car is better, such as the Cliff House or Golden Gate Park.

    If you wanted to see **a** giant sequoia, there's actually one on the grounds of the Ahwahnee Hotel. It's not that big, but it was planted there during the hotel construction and is maybe 100 ft tall now. They don't tend to reproduce naturally at lower elevations, but planted seedlings can do pretty well.
     
  17. Aug 2, 2013 #67

    Bob Dylan

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    :cool: Great trip and as a Native Texan, who has lived in Northern Cali, know what you mean about the Cold Water! ;)
     
  18. Aug 3, 2013 #68

    oregon pioneer

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    Thanks for the great tips. I'm in favor of doing the things you can do *car-less* first! You may not have any time left for the things you need a car to do... So, I am glad you stuck to your principles on this!
     

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