a VirtualTourist member from Nelson
Planning my route: I have a course in LA (Sheraton Gateway) and a desire to visit a friend in San Luis Obispo with the possiblity of spending a few days in San Francisco. I would like to fly to San Francisco and spend a day at the botanical park and wander around the waterfront and also an area where I can see local art. Are these places close together or easy to move to and from? I love walking. Then bus (train?) to San Luis Obispo for 3-4 days to visit a friend; I have no problem with a bus route that hits some smaller places before it gets to SLO. I know there's an airport in SLO but if it works out okay for prices, I'd prefer a way that lets me see the landscape or is it all just freeways and asphalt? In L.A, I want to see The Getty Center in LA , take a 1 day trip along the coastal area (bus as I don't drive) or at least see it (not into being on beaches but seeing beautiful landscape yes), and check out a great place for economic art supplies. Then take the 3 day course and fly back to Vancouver from Los Angeles. Any help with places to stay near the Getty, art store in LA, and Botanical Garden, waterway, and art areas in San Francisco or general advice would be much appreciated. I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed so trying to tighten up choices and not spread myself so thin. Thank you all. Elaine
You can do either the bus or the train. And it is absolutely NOT all freeways and asphalt. It is farmland and beautiful countryside. The bus will leave from SF ferry building. If you want to take the train you'll have to get over to Oakland via a ferry or BART or something. Check out Amtrak to help plan your trip - they handle both bus and train from that website. I'm not sure what you mean by a day trip along the coast. If you take the bus or train from SFO to SLO to LAX that's exactly what you'll be getting so there's really no need to spend another day esp when it'll most likely be backtracking over areas you just came through. There are two Getty's - the Getty Centerr is up in the hills overlooking LA so there really isn't a hotel RIGHT by it and the Getty Villa, which is in Malibu. There might be a hotel near there and Malibu is also a nice place to enjoy the coastline and shops. SF's botanic gardens are nice but LA has some too! Definitely something worth checking into while you're in LA. See Descanso Gardens or LA Arboretum as well as the gardens of the Getty and the Huntington Library. I think your biggest problem facing you during the LA portion of your trip is not having a car. You should maybe Google LA art stores to get some ideas and then find one closest to the Getty and decide on your hotel that way. The LA Metro system is a heck of a lot better than it used to be but is still fairly lacking, esp when compared to what a lot of other cities offer. So, if you find a hotel that is reasonably close to the Getty and there is an art store nearby you might be able to take a taxi up to the Getty. There may be a tour bus that could take you there but I'm not 100% sure on that.
My vote would the Amtrak since you can get up walk around, get a drink and something to eat. Amtrak uses a combo of trains and buses so you can pretty much get any where they have a station pretty easy. Their buses are just a few steps from where the train stops so no worry getting from one to the other. Downside is neither uses a route along the coast so driving Hwy 1 is the best choice if you want to see some of the greatest views in the US.
Actually, if you take Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner, which is the train that goes from San Luis Obispo to LA, you will go right along the coastline. It's a gorgeous route. The train from SFO to SLO is an inland train though.
To clarify what is being said here: 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 a 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, and the Coast Starlight has a really nice lounge car in it with windows that are very good for seeing the scenery.
See my tip at [original VT link] and see photo #3 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.
Well I guess technically you are correct. However, it's only about 70 miles that is along the ocean between Surf CA and Ventura. The remainder of the trip from SF to LA would be inland. Still a lot nicer than the bus.
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.
I do apologize for not answering back to thank you right away. I am sooooooo happy to hear that the trip doesn't need to be all asphalt. :-) Yes, I had read that there were two Getty; I want the one overlooking the coast and with the museum so that's all figured out. I appreciate your honesty re the metro as well.
Hello [VT member da2b], For some bizarre reason (unbeknownst to me) after the comment from DueSer (I received notice of that wonderful answer in my email box), I haven't been getting any notice that you people were all helping me. I do feel badly about not getting back to you all right away. It is really neat to suddenly see a whack of wonderful information. :-) thank you [VT member da2b] the recommendation to visit the Huntington Gardens. Great to hear that you have a piece of land near SLO. It makes this whole trip feel real connecting with people who actually live in these areas that for me are a first time experience. thank you!
Didn't know about the Amtrak. Always nice to know what the possibilities are in case time becomes a real issue. thank you, James
Glabah, You know how it feels to be in a country where you don't speak the language and suddenly someone comes up behind you, offers to help by asking you in your language is you need help? They have obviously travelled a lot, become an aware traveller and developed compassion and an understanding of what how confusing it can be to travel in a new place. Thank you for taking my hand and leading me through this. :-)
Glabah, the price information is 'priceless'. Thank you!
I've put what I have written into a VT tip, so that in the event someone asks a question like this in the future and I am not able to reply it would be easy enough to point someone to the information.
[original VT link]
Unfortunately, I don't have any photos to put into this tip. We have some kicking around somewhere at my work place, but those were not taken from an Amtrak car. Instead, they were taken from someone else's car that was tacked to the back end of the Coast Starlight and they aren't really my photos anyway.
I live in San Luis Obispo county and often take the train to L.A. to visit my daughter. Just a few comments on that. First if you are old enough (65+, I think) be sure to get your Senior Discount when you buy your ticket, it is 15% off the fare. The other tip is that the Coast Starlight is often quite late due to the fact that the train right-of-way is single track in California. That means that freight trains have priority and Amtrak has to move to a siding to let them pass.The time we took the Coast Daylight from SLO to Seattle we arrived 8 hours late. The Pacific Surfliner from SLO to LA usually runs on time. Be sure to book the early morning train or the one that leaves SLO around 1:20 pm so your whole trip will be on the train rather than starting on an Amtrak bus and then getting on a train in Santa Barbara. If you take a trains that starts in SLO you won't miss the lovely part of the coast between SLO and Santa Barbara. Also your Amtrak tickets on the Surfliner are good for a year so you can change your plans and not lose the use of your ticket. You can use it on any surfliner and any day of the year. That is NOT true for the Coast Starlight, that train is by reservation only so I think you have to use the ticket on the day indicated on the ticket.
Thank you for the information update. Very useful!!
Certainly, there are times the Coast Starlight is fairly late. However, over the past year or so there has been a bit of work on the tracks between Eugene and Klamath Falls, and the northbound trains are arriving here in Portland within an hour or so of when they are supposed to. I can't say how well the southbound stuff is arriving down there as I don't live down there. However, I work about 700 feet from the tracks, and due to construction work right next to the line I can usually hear them go through.
In my experience, if you fail to use your Amtrak ticket, what happens is the value of the ticket is put on an electronic voucher and a notification is e-mailed to you - if you have made your reservation with an e-mail address attached to it. You have to print this and present it at a staffed station to turn it into a valid ticket or use it towards a new ticket. However, you can't guarantee that, say, a ticket you purchased for $29 will still be $29 when you decide to use the electronic voucher. I can't say that this always happens, but it is what happened to me on the one occasion that I managed to miss the train for which I had a reserved ticket (I actually mis-entered the date on the web site, so I reserved the wrong day, and the first notification I had that I had done this was Amtrak's e-mail telling me I had missed my train).
That's very good to know, thank you. We rarely travel on a reserved train because there are so many unreserved trains from SLO to Southern California.
I should note the exceptions: there are the occasional grade crossing accidents or tresspasser on the tracks type incidents where they do still get delayed for hours due to accident investigations. There's always still a chance of something like that happening.