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coast towns via train ~ when to drive or other splurge?

Poconos, PA
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coast towns via train ~ when to drive or other splurge?

Can someone advise on where to stop and why, using Amtrak in segments going from LA to San Fran (mid July)?

We are interested in enjoying views en route then relaxing on beach, seeing a mission and some art/culture stuff, people watching, and whatever unique activities and amusements we stumble upon.

I am traveling with 15yr old who wanted to "do Hollywood" before we do a cross country bus tour out of San Francisco.

So we are working our way north 4-5 nts after spending 2-3 nts LA.

We are on a budget - hostels are OK.

However I am willing to splurge for a one day car rental and accomodation like The Treebone yurts to get a closer look @ Big Sur area.

OR

A moderate Pismo beach accomodation and a Hummer excursion on the sand dunes.

Sticking with Amtrak route (Coast Starlight?):

Was considering LA to Santa Barbara = 2 nts

Can't decide on San Luis Obispo or Grover Beach 1 or 2 nts? Would have to use public bus for Morro Bay and/or Pismo?

Big Sur area will be harder to get to - Amtrak station in Salinas only?

Maybe rent car for the segment from Pismo beach northward? If I drive only one day would this be best segment?

Should we overnight again somewhere south of Monterey or drive into SF?

Thanks in advance.

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Hollywood
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1. Re: coast towns via train ~ when to drive or other splurge?

I think driving from Santa Barbara would be great. It is a lovely scenic route. You do NOT want a car in SanFrancisco so you could drop it at the airport and take the BART commuter train into the city if you like at that point.

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Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara
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Poconos, PA
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2. Re: coast towns via train ~ when to drive or other splurge?

thanks riffsmom for quick reply

I agree - no car in San Fran, even if we say 2 nites cable car & BARTS will work.

I'm not adverse to driving - much cheaper for a 3 day rental in fact. I just think I would NOT enjoy it to get from one destination to another along a scenic route.

I would be stopping every 5 min for photos and probably drive off the cliff looking at the views!

If we survive it would take me about 12 hours!! lol

Do you know if Amtrak is just as scenic a ride as a car, from Santa Barbara to San Luis Opisbo?

If it is, what would be a good R/T LOOP to drive?

Would love to have more time to explore but trying to do what we can with time & money restraints.

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Santa Barbara
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3. Re: coast towns via train ~ when to drive or other splurge?

I am not a "stop and snap pix"junky myself so I don't know if you are right about not taking the drive. IF in fact a 3 day rental is less expensive I'd seriously consider the drive. The trip from Santa Barbara to SLO is scenic ,through a low mt/hill pass not along the ocean for the whole way. I have not done the train on this section so am not sure of where the train goes. We have only driven.

Then you take rte 1 along the ocean from SLO up to MOnterey. IF you make a plan as to exactly where you will stop then you may be OK. We love the seaside motels in Cambria and it is a nice town with a path along the seaside bluffs. I don't know if you plan on stopping at the Aquarium in Monterey but we loved it! I though the jelly fish exhibit was truly amazing.

IF you decide to stay in SLO and just use the car for one day you can drive either to Cambria and then inland to Paso Robles and back to SLO on 101 OR you can take rte 1 all the way to Monterye an dthen go back on 101 .The drive on 101 from MOnterey south is very pretty with rolling farmland etc.

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Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara
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Monterey
Monterey
Monterey County, CA
Cambria
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San Luis Obispo County, CA
Paso Robles
Paso Robles
San Luis Obispo County, CA
Poconos, PA
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4. Re: coast towns via train ~ when to drive or other splurge?

"IF in fact a 3 day rental is less expensive I'd seriously consider the drive."

I should clarify - with taxes & a full tank etc I can get a car for 3 days for about $200 VS just about $100 for a one way rental ONE day.

The train is about $120 for the 2 of us LA-SF.

It seems to be about $30-40 a segment (LA-Santa Barbara, SB to San Luis Obispo, SLO-Oakland or SF) whether bus or train so it leaves us some options of when & where to use a car.

"The trip from Santa Barbara to SLO is scenic ,through a low mt/hill pass not along the ocean for the whole way. I have not done the train on this section so am not sure of where the train goes."

Thank you - this is what we are trying to decide - which areas we can view wine country/farm type area and which are best for coastline.

"I don't know if you plan on stopping at the Aquarium in Monterey but we loved it! I thought the jelly fish exhibit was truly amazing."

Yes- we did the aquarium in 2004 and was awesome!

That same trip we went to Ano Nuevo park as we only had a short time from Yosemite to our cruise.

"IF you decide to stay in SLO and just use the car for one day you can drive either to Cambria and then inland to Paso Robles and back to SLO on 101"

This sounds very nice - I will research these areas for a daytrip some more.

Has anyone used the public transportation out of SLO?

reliable/easy?

The RTA (?) goes to Pismo, Morro Bay and paso Robles if I'm interpreting schedules correctly.

If RTA is good here I may drive the big sur-monterey segment that seems sparse of public transportation.

Thanks again for you help

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Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara
California
San Luis Obispo
San Luis Obispo
San Luis Obispo County, CA
Oakland
Oakland
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Monterey
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Monterey County, CA
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5. Re: coast towns via train ~ when to drive or other splurge?

I took the Coast Starlight many years ago thru here and highly recommend riding from LA to SLO. The train route goes thru Vandenburg air base which has some of the most beautiful coastline and you are right on top of the ocean once you leave SB I believe. This is the only way you will get to see this land since it is military base.

Big Sur is beautiful but very tough to do without a car. I believe Salinas Amtrak has a good shuttle system to Monterey. Check out Amtrak's website for more info.

My personal recommendation would be to do this trip on the train and do a driving trip another time. Especially since weather in this part of CA but especially along the coast and SF can be either nice or cold and foggy in mid-July. If it is foggy you wouldn't be able to see much of Big Sur. :((

Definitely agree that using public transit in SF is a good idea.

If you do want to split up the trip then I would drive from SLO north on 1 to Monterey. Even with pullouts that is a doable one day drive.

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Sur Restaurant & Grill
Sur Restaurant & Grill
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Poconos, PA
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6. Re: coast towns via train ~ when to drive or other splurge?

Much thanks for 1st hand experience regarding location/view of Coastal Starlight.

I will look into that shuttle Salinas-Monterey

Did you stop (stay over) any towns on your trip or did you go direct LA-SLO?

Did you overnite in SLO?

Anything to share regarding accomodations activities via train travel on coast?

Many complain of Amtrak tardiness on this specific route so I paln to be prepared with packed lunch and phone ahead to accom that we may be late etc

Any other tips for the Starlight?

Thanks again

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Salinas
Salinas
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Monterey
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7. Re: coast towns via train ~ when to drive or other splurge?

MOMofONEteen «I'm not adverse to driving - much cheaper for a 3 day rental in fact. I just think I would NOT enjoy it to get from one destination to another along a scenic route.

«I would be stopping every 5 min for photos and probably drive off the cliff looking at the views!»

Just like the rest of us. If you don't drive from San Luís Obispo to Monterey, at the very least, you will regret it for the rest of your life!!! For further information, Please visit the DRIVING DIRECTIONS page geocities.com/touringsfo/…DriveDir.html where some of your questions are answered. It's augmented by reports linked to the TouringSFO site at http://geocities.com/touringsfo/ entitled "A Trip to Las Vegas…" and "A Trip to Anaheim…"

«it would take me about 12 hours!!»

Yes. That's what i recommend allowing.

«Do you know if Amtrak is just as scenic a ride as a car, from Santa Barbara to San Luis Opisbo?»

Yes and Yes.

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Monterey
Monterey
Monterey County, CA
Anaheim
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Orange County, CA
Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara
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Grover Beach...
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8. Re: coast towns via train ~ when to drive or other splurge?

"However I am willing to splurge for a one day car rental and accommodation like The Treebones yurts to get a closer look @ Big Sur area."

You might as well rent a car in San Luis Obispo and drive up to Big Sur. Treebones is several miles SOUTH of the town of Big Sur and you'll still have to deal with the twists and turns of Hwy 1. It will actually be safer to drive this road northbound from SLO than southbound from Monterey. Southbound means you'll be on the same side as the ocean. You won't find buses taking tourists into Big Sur, let alone all the way down to Treebones.

I agree with Swingcha that you'll regret not driving the Hwy 1 route through Big Sur. There are plenty of turn-outs for snapping photos and taking in the views. Yes, it will take a lot of time, but it is worth every minute.

The Grover Beach Amtrak station isn't much to brag about and there are no nearby hotels that are easily accessible. There is an Enterprise rent-a-car in Grover Beach (you know... "We'll pick you up"?). You could contact them at (805) 489-6161 to see about renting a car for your stay in the Pismo area and up to SF.

Of course, the car rental option would depend on what time your train would arrive in Grover Beach. Is it an afternoon or after dark arrival?

We have a Motel 6 and Quality Inn that offer affordable lodging options in the Pismo Beach area.

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Treebones Resort
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9. Re: coast towns via train ~ when to drive or other splurge?

Thank you Swingcha

Yes, I confess that I really DID want to do the drive thru Big Sur all along, crazy, risky or otherwise! :-)

I guess I just needed confirmation that, if I had to pick one segment, Big Sur --> Monterey would be the "do not miss" area.

I probably read 80% of the info you recommended prior to posting, including the trip reports - VERY useful stuff. Still, nice to get multiple opinions to round out the details before choosing, no?

Thank you KibblesMom ~

Looks like July 15th we'll be headed north from LA so midweek Tues-Thurs excursion should work in our favor for traveling. (still playing with flight options from east Coast)

"The Grand Plan" at moment is overnighting in Santa Barbara and taking that segment of the Coastal Starlight into San luis Obispo which arrives (IF on time) around 3:30 pm.

I hope to secure a car rental in SLO and via route 1 drive the 70 miles to overnight in Treebones.

That would give us a minimum 5 hour trek remaining to San Fran the next day

It looks like I can only afford the 2 nts on the coast. I consider myself fortunate to be able to see the ideal portions by rail and car at least with that little time.

We will make the best of our leisure beach & touring time I'm sure. :-)

I'm sure I'll have other questions soon.

I appreciate the time all of you take to help - I hope others on the forum feel the same.

Thanks again

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Big Sur
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10. Re: coast towns via train ~ when to drive or other splurge?

Looks like it's all falling into place for you. I hope you have a wonderful trip by rail and auto!