San Francisco to LA by train - worth it?
Replies: 10 - Last Post: Jan 9, 2011 8:21 PM Last Post By: tinicka
Jan 2, 2011 9:37 PM
San Francisco to LA by train - worth it?I'm planning on traveling south in March. The idea is arriving in San Francisco at 03/04, stay 3 nights, go to Los Angeles and stay there 3/4 nights. Hop on a Greyhound to get to Las Vegas, stay a night, find a way to get to the Grand Canyon, spend 2/3 days there, head back to Las Vegas and fly from there over to Hawaii.
It all comes down to a very limited time span and a lot to see.
One of the things where I'm not sure about yet, is the way to get from SF to LA. Amtrak provides the coastline service - and that sounds wonderful. It's not really about the money - I can fly as well, isn't that expensive and would save me a lot of time. Thing is, I don't care about being in a train for hours, as long as the view is worth it. It's a 12 hour ride and I'm very aware of the fact that I can spend those 12 hours in LA if I fly instead of go by train, so if the view is not worth it, I'll book a flight. But a scenic train ride is definitely something on my wishlist. So the big question is: Is it worth it?
Any other advise on my traveling schedule are welcome as well! :)
Jan 3, 2011 5:12 AM
Jan 3, 2011 7:51 AM
2As is commonly pointed out on this branch, the train generally follows Hwy. 101, not Hwy. 1, so you're in coastal valleys, not on the coast, until you get to around San Luis Obispo. And at that time of year it may be getting dark (note the schedule change on the Amtrak Web site; until the end of March, this train runs a couple of horus later than it normally does). It'll be after 5 by the time you get to San Luis Obiaspo, and after 8 by the time you get to Santa Barbara (scheduled arrival at Union Station is 11 p.m.). The ride is pleasant, but not spectacularly scenic. As noted above, you really need to drive to see the best of the coast. We enjoyed the train, as much for the relaxation as for the scenery. Worth it? Very subjective. Now, the train from the Bay Area to Reno IS scenic. I am considering taking the trainf rom Portland to L.A. in March, but I'd be splurging for a roomette, and I've done the coast by car.
Also pointed out here on a regular basis is the fact that you can often fly from L.A. to Vegas for around the price of the bus, and the bus ride is very, very boring. If you have limited time, do you want to spend a day on a bus going through boring desert scenery? I love the desert, but not the stretch along I-15. If you'll already bee in L.A. and touring around, you might look at air fares from Burbank and Orange County, as well as LAX.
Jan 3, 2011 10:01 AM
3With that said by BubbaK on #2 you can always preview with the street view feature of Google Maps. Place the yellow person icon on the map and it shows you the scenery along the road in many places throughout the USA (amongst several other countries) and you decide if the scenery is worth it or not.
Edited by: anyone101
Jan 3, 2011 10:43 AM
4There is another issue. There is only one train a ay between SF and LA--that is, there is only one departure where you make the whole trip by train. It leaves Emeryville at 9 AM & gets into LA at 11 PM. (Emeryville is across the bay fro SF. AMTRAK takes you there by bus from SF.) This train is notoriously late, although it has gotten somewhat better in the last year. The delays almost always are caused by problems north of SF, primarily because freight trains get in the way.
There are a number of other departures that are a combination of bus and train. The bus goes down highway 101. You get back on a train at San Luis Obispo or Santa Barbara, depending on your departure time.
Jan 3, 2011 11:17 AM
5There are some great coast views between LA and Santa Barbara, and a few other unique coastal views north of Santa Barbara (ones that I don't think you can see via road), but by and large there are fewer nice ocean views than many would expect. Once you hit San Luis Obisbo, the train goes inland for good. So, half your trip takes you through farmland and (decent, but somewhat boring) inland country.
Overall, I thought it was a nice trip and I would reccomend it to californian's who have already seen a lot of the state -- as it gives a fresh, new prespective to people who have already done 1,101,5,395 to get from South to North or vice versa.
But, for someone who has not seen a lot of the state and is looking to maximize their trip, i would reccomend taking a car up highway 101 and 1. But, on the otherhand, is the 12 hour trip better than an extra 12 hours in LA -- it might very well be. You will see a lot of the state, and it sure as hell beats going up interstate 5.
Jan 3, 2011 9:22 PM
6Thanks for all the help! Traveling down the coast by car is pretty expensive, since it's a one way trip for me. And I'm traveling on my own, driving all the way down for 8 to 10 hours is a long trip (especially since I'm from the Netherlands, where all is within a 2,5 hour drive at max ;)
Plan for now is flying and use my extra time to rent a car and drive around later on.
BubbaK, I know about the LA -LV flights, but that trip isn't that long, it's a bus drive and I would love to experience it. So haven't decided about that yet :) Thanks for advise anyway!
Anyone 101: I know about that option. Thing is that I'm from the Netherlands and I know a lot of places overthere that look better (or at least different) in real compared by the camera shots of Google. Knowing that doesn't make Google my most reliable adviser :)
Jan 3, 2011 11:21 PM
Jan 4, 2011 1:11 AM
8The train itself is very spacious and comfortable, with double-deck 'Superliner' cars including a 'sightseer' lounge car and a dining car serving affordable full meals. Seats have as much leg room as business class on a plane.
The journey is both scenic and interesting. I must admit, I thought the Eagle's song 'Hotel California' was about, well, a hotel, until I saw what it was really about and heard the commentary on this train! There's stretched of coastline, arid hills and the Cresta Grade (steep climb/descent) with its horseshoe curves.
Amtrak punctuality has improved all round since I first visited the states in 1989. Our 'Coast Stalight' this summer arrived at LA's maginificent Union Station (1939, a landmark in its own right) ten minutes early.
That was the second time I have used the 'Stalight', and yes, I'd do it again next time if I needed to get from SF to LA. The civilised way!
But a ticket at www.amtrak.com, some really cheap deals there.
We were offered (and took) an upgrade to a roomette in the sleeper for $99 at the station, but this did get us all meals included for 2 adults and 2 infants, so was worth it for that alonne - plus we got access to the special Parlour Car lounge with armchairs, free tea, coffee and WiFi.
Jan 5, 2011 9:51 AM
9#7: I agree. I could find some interesting desert scenery by adding on time and distance for side trips (e.,g., Red Rock Canyon State Park on Hwy 14, and the nearby mining down of Randsburg, or even Joshua Tree NP), but the route the bus takes, down Interstate 15, is yawn-inspiring. I've honestly gotten better views when flying that route (we did it last November). And then you end up in downtown L.A, and not the best part of it, either.
OP, if you are determined to take the bus (either through Greyhound or Amtrak): most busses from Vegas to LA take I-15 and I-10, but a small number go from Barstow to Mojave to Palmdale and then to Hollywood. I'd rate this as, possibly, marginally more interesting than the usual route via San Bernardino, El Monte, etc., but still boring. Looked into renting a car for this one leg of your trip?
Jan 9, 2011 8:21 PM
10Sorry, just don't have a real explanation for taking a bus to Las Vegas rather than flying. I'm not really into renting a car for driving on my ow, though I will to get to the Grand Canyon National Park. Will book my trip tonight and let it depend on the costs for a ticket :) Thanks for all the help and advises!
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