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Coastal Starlight San Francisco to San Diego

Atlanta, Georgia
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Coastal Starlight San Francisco to San Diego

I am planning a 10 day trip in June from San Francisco to San Diego, traveling on the Coastal Starlight/Pacific Surfliner. It will be myself, my husband and our 2 daughters ages 12 & 15. I was trying to decide between stopping for a couple of nights in Santa Barbara; or staying near San Luis Obispo and renting a car to explore the area (Avila Beach, Pismo, Hearst Castle, etc.). However, in doing my research I discovered that our dates (June 11 - 13; Monday - Wednesday) abut The Classic at Pismo Beach weekend (June 15 - 17; Friday - Sunday). Our dates are somewhat flexible but we have to wait for the girls to get out of school on May 23rd. I was trying to schedule the trip for early June since I know schools in some other states don't let out for the summer till the end of June, therefore thought the crowds might be smaller; If I move the dates back a week they would abut Memorial Day weekend.

My questions are:

Should we avoid the SLO area all together?

Will good accommodations be hard to come by?

Will everything be ridiculously crowded, even more so than one would expect in the summer?

Would you recommend Santa Barbara over SLO anyway?

I haven't made any reservations or checked availability since I am still in the planning stages, however I am guessing our reservations on the Coastal Starlight will need to be made first but am not sure how far out they need to be booked.

santa cruz
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1. Re: Coastal Starlight San Francisco to San Diego

If you can schedule your trip as early as possible in June you will encounter less crowds and better lodging rates. Memorial weekend will be very busy as well.

As for stopping for a few days it depends on what you want to do.

If Hearst Castle is a must do then stopping near SLO is a good idea. There are plenty of towns nearby to make your base. Cambria is nice and close to Hearst Castle and the elephant seal rookery. It's far enough away from Pismo that I don't the car show should make Cambria anymore crowded if you want to stick to that weekend.

Santa Barbara has a Mediterranean feel to it and tends to get better weather than other areas on the coast. The ocean temps are little warmer too.

If you are planning now you shouldn't have a hard time finding lodging. I'm sure rates will be higher in SLO during the car show. I can say whenever there is car show in Carmel it gets crazy busy so I'd imagine this Classic car show in Pismo is pretty popular too.

Also you may want to check the graduation dates of Cal Poly and UCSB. We tried to stay in Santa Barbara during graduation weekend it was hard to find lodging.

Atlanta, Georgia
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2. Re: Coastal Starlight San Francisco to San Diego

Thank you! I hadn't thought about graduation!!!

Cal Poly's is Saturday & Sunday, June 9 & 10 and UCSB's is the following weekend Thursday & Friday, June 16 & 17.

Neither one bodes us well. Looks like I should look into changing our dates or destination. It's hard to pick travel dates when you're a slave to the school calendar. The summers seem to get shorter and shorter. In Atlanta school starts back again around August 7th.

santa cruz
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3. Re: Coastal Starlight San Francisco to San Diego

I understand the school calendar problem. I work at a school so we have to travel during peak times and it does make planning a bit tougher and more expensive. I have found that early June, like the first week, is usually ok though.

If you really want to check out Hearst Castle Cambria is a good stop and Cal Poly shouldn't be a problem there. Your daughters will love the elephant seals and you could drive up to Sand Dollar beach and get a look at The Big Sur coast.

Really anytime from Memorial Day to Labor Day is busy along the California coast so it will be hard to plan around crowds anyway. No matter what it seems like to have a great trip planned.

Grover Beach...
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for Pismo Beach, Cambria, Big Sur
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4. Re: Coastal Starlight San Francisco to San Diego

In addition to Cambria, we have Morro Bay, Cayucos and Paso Robles. It doesn't matter where you stay along the coast between Memorial Day & Labor Day. It will be a busy time for tourism.

As for Pismo, the car show is worst on Saturday. That would be a good day for visiting Avila Beach. Should be less crowded compared to Pismo. Avila Lighthouse Suites or Pismo Lighthouse Suites would be good choices if you prefer to stay in that area. I especially like Pismo Lighthouse suites, as the rooms are HUGE and have 2 bathrooms! This is a nice view hotel on a bluff overlooking the ocean.

Atlanta, Georgia
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5. Re: Coastal Starlight San Francisco to San Diego

How far is Cambria from SLO? It looks like the only feasible train option departing from SLO is at 6:45a. That would mean finding a hotel close to the train station where it might be possible to catch the 6:45a train; and 1 night in Cambria and 1 in SLO. It looks like our stop may have to be Santa Barbara though I was leaning towards SLO since it seems to have more natural beauty and be less touristy.

Can someone sell me on the advantages of going to Santa Barbara? : )

Temecula, CA
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6. Re: Coastal Starlight San Francisco to San Diego

Ramblin Rose - yes, avoid SLO June 8-11 - we are already booking for our son's graduation.

If you are renting a car, another alternative is Morro Bay which is a short drive from SLO, but far enough away so you can avoid the chaos in SLO. We stayed there on occasion when visiting our son and SLO is filled up. Morro Bay is a very nice little coastal town.

santa cruz
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7. Re: Coastal Starlight San Francisco to San Diego

Cambria is about 45 minutes, maybe less, from SLO. It is hard planning trips around train schedules. If the train leaves SLO at 6:45 you'll need make sure the car rental place is open or that they have a drop box.

Santa Barbara is really beautiful too. I love the way the mountains tumble to the ocean. It's more "glitzy" than the SLO area which can be fun too. The beaches in Santa Barbara are wide and very nice. There is plenty to do there as well. The Santa Barbara Mission is one of California's best for visiting. Stern's Wharf is fun for kids. You can rent bicycles and ride along the beach. Plus tons of great restaurants. If SB works better schedule wise you'll still have a fabulous time.

Grover Beach...
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8. Re: Coastal Starlight San Francisco to San Diego

Try to schedule your trip the week of June 4, if possible. It's the week after Memorial Day and the week before things pick up with local events in Pismo/SLO/SB.

Atlanta, Georgia
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9. Re: Coastal Starlight San Francisco to San Diego

Kibblesmom, that would help with SLO but the trade-off would be that we'd be in San Francisco for the tail end of Memorial Day week(end). I think I would like to include SLO in our itinerary and will look into staying in Cambria or Moro Bay for 2 nights and then SLO for one night so we can catch the 6:45a train. I will have to find a hotel in SLO and ask about getting to the train station in the morning as I'm sure the topic has come up before.

So much to ponder. Thanks for your help.

Temecula, CA
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10. Re: Coastal Starlight San Francisco to San Diego

The Quality Inn of SLO is very nice for families, large rooms with fold out sleeper sofas for the kids. Breakfast in the a.m. is very good as well.

You can return your rental car the night before and have a taxi meet you at the hotel for the train station. Shouldn't be more than $10 for the taxi. My son takes it from Foothill Blvd which is further east than Monterey Street where most of the hotels are located and he only pays $10 with tip.

The hotels off of Los Osos Parkway are too far away to catch the train that early in the a.m.

If you are heading down into the LA/Anaheim region, there are several trains that leave SLO throughout the day. One leaves around 10-11 and a couple leave between 1-3. Call Amtrak directly as some of the departure times are not listed on the website for some reason.