Ride the Rails
With its mix of mountain meadows, rugged bluffs, and pristine beaches, California has one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. The best way to see the Golden State’s striking seaside landscapes is on board Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner. If you only have a long weekend, you’ll still be able to pack in quite a bit of sightseeing while seemingly traveling at a slow, stress-free pace. From LAX’s Union Station, chug less than three hours, passed the Channel Islands and picturesque farmland, to Santa Barbara, where a burgeoning craft brewery scene, new hotels and restaurants, and an emerging cultural district make it worthy of an overnight. In the hip Funk Zone area, drop your bags at The Wayfarer ($49/shared room, $149/private), a posh new hostel-style property with a heated pool, complimentary breakfast and WiFi. Grab a bite at La Super Rica Taqueria, Julia Child’s favorite taco spot, visit the spectacular 65-acre Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, rent a bike at Wheel Fun Rental, and pedal along the beachfront paths before grabbing a Hoppy Poppy IPA at Figueroa Brewing. Check out the Santa Barbara Car Free site for useful tips — like the cheap and efficient electric shuttle — on getting around town.
The next stretch of rail between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo is considered to be one of the longest ocean view train rides in the country. Two hours flickers by in 100 miles of sparkling shoreline, vineyards and the Santa Ynez Mountains. Introduce yourself to the town on one of Granada Hotel & Bistro’s free Linus bikes, making stops at Jules D boutique for one-of-a-kind items, Creekside Brewery for a Double Dark Stout, and newly opened Foremost Wine Company for the burrata bar and grilled octopus. Download the free 90-minute historic downtown walking tour podcast or take a 3.5-mile hike to the summit of Bishop Peak for sweeping views across San Luis Obispo. Car Free SLO is a great resource for train travelers navigating the area. Before boarding Amtrak’s Coast Starlight for the final leg of the journey to S.F. — and before leaving central California — you must experience at least one tri-tip sandwich. The best spot for slow-roasted BBQ is Firestone Grill, conveniently located next door to Granada Hotel.
The Cost: Multicity ticket prices vary depending on the route. To get from L.A. to San Francisco with these two stops costs $117 total for coach class. Consider upgrading to business class ($208) for amenities like extra space, tables, and free snacks and beverages. It is free to bring your bike on board, but make a reservation in advance to guarantee bike rack space.
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