September 26 – 30
Camping at Jalama Beach State Park earlier in the month whetted our appetite for a trip we’d long thought about taking, that is to ride the train to or from Oakland to see Jessica and Kris. After examining our options, we decided that going to the Bay Area would be the better option as it would give us the most daylight exposure to the coast given the route as It cuts inland at San Luis Obispo and so the last half of the journey is devoid of views of the ocean.
As for the cost, I booked us two one-way prepaid fares at the AMTRAK web site for $50 apiece (at the time of this post the fare is now $67); refundable tickets would have been double (they now run $129 per person). We’d gauge the overall cost effectiveness at the end of the weekend when we combine the train’s cost with that of our Flix Bus ride home.
Cousin Lindy’s husband Greg came up the night before our journey to stay at the house while attending a conference. As he likes beer (did I mention he is my favorite cousin’s husband?), we took him to the Firestone Walker Brewery in nearby Marina del Rey for dinner. As we’d experienced in our visit earlier in the summer, this is a welcome choice as the beers and food are uniformly excellent. Joanna and I split the delicious 805 Tri-Tip Sandwich (Tri-tip with rosemary aioli, caramelized onion, gruyere, arugula, citrus dressing served with Nitro Merlin BBQ sauce), tender beef complimented by the cheese and onions which meld to make each bite a pleasure.
The next morning we hitched a ride with Greg up to the Expo Bundy station of the Expo Line, where we purchased our fares on a TAP card and took the elevator upstairs (we had rolling suitcases) to the platform. The price to ride is quite cheap, $1.75 for Joanna and only $.75 for me as a senior.
The train arrived and we boarded; having been on many transit systems during our travels we’ve sampled all conditions of rail cars and given that this line is relatively new, we were impressed with how clean and well-kept the exterior and interior were. We took off and the car got progressively more crowded as we approached downtown.
About 30 minutes into the 45 minutes total time of the journey, our line terminated at the 7th Street Station and we transferred to the Purple Line (we could have also taken the Red Line) and rode the final leg into Union Station. Built in 1939, it is the largest railroad passenger terminal in the Western United States and opened in May 1939 as the Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal, replacing the La Grande and Central Stations.
At the time of is construction, it served to consolidate rail services from the Union Pacific, Santa Fe, and Southern Pacific Railroads into one terminal station. The structure combines Art Deco, Mission Revival, and Streamline Moderne style and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Today, the station is a major transportation hub for Southern California, serving almost 110,000 passengers a day. It is Amtrak’s fifth-busiest station, and the tenth busiest in the entire country.
Four of Amtrak’s long-distance trains originate and terminate here: the Coast Starlight to Seattle, the Southwest Chief and Texas Eagle to Chicago, and the Sunset Limited to New Orleans. The state-supported Amtrak California Pacific Surfliner regional trains run frequently to San Diego and also to Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. The station is the hub of the Metrolink commuter trains, and several Metro Rail subway and light rail lines serve it as well, with more in construction or planning.
We grabbed a coffee and quite good apple Danish from a kiosk and made our way to track 11 to wait for the Coast Starlight, which arrived a few minutes late. Each car had a conductor present to check our tickets and assign you seats; we got upstairs on the east side of the coach, unfortunate as all of the views would be on the west side.
The seats were wide and comfortable with generous leg room and a pull-down tray. The overhead bin easily accommodated our carry-on sized bags and we settled in for the ride, one motivated by our recent stay at the Jalama Beach campground a few weeks before, as we watched the train work its way along the tracks above the campground.
The beauty of train travel is the ability to get up and walk around, which I did to check out the café car where one could purchase snacks, microwaveable selections and drinks, including beer and wine. I purchased a half-bottle of Kendell Jackson Vintners Select Chardonnay for $16, about what you might pay for it in a restaurant.
We proceeded through the San Fernando Valley and hit the coast at Oxnard and for the next few hours the ocean outside the windows would be our constant companion. As our coach wasn’t completely full, we were able to move across the aisle for an unobstructed view. We turned inland at San Luis Obispo and having made a reservation earlier, made our way to the dining car at 6pm for dinner. We shared our table with another couple who, traveling to Portland from Carlsbad, were experiencing one of the sleeping compartments with their meals included in the fare.
We split the Land & Sea combo ($39.00), a Black Angus flat iron steak with Bérnaise sauce, paired with a crab, shrimp and scallop cake accompanied by green beans and choice of potato or rice. We went with the baked potato. The food was quite good although the service was a bit uneven and the overall experience was diluted by being served on plastic ware, unlike the beautiful place settings we’d witnessed at the California State Railroad Museum last spring (https://3jmann.com/2019/07/01/west-coast-spring-2019-part-four/).
We returned to our seats for the remainder of the journey and passed the time reading, which was somewhat difficult as the quality of the ride was bumpy, rendering use of the tray as a prop to hold a book or your device (laptop, iPad, Kindle) of no value as the significant vibration made it hard to focus on the material being viewed.
We pulled into Jack London Square about 90-minutes late due to a couple of delays on the way up, making for a very long day with a total travel time of thirteen hours. So, the trip was a bit more relaxing than driving to Oakland but with a duration of twelve hours it took nearly double the time it would have to drive. Given the lengthy travel time and a cost that we could potentially duplicate by flying cheaply, it is unlikely we’d take the train again. But perhaps a longer trip, one where we use a sleeper compartment might be just the ticket. But for now we were in Oakland and ready to begin our weekend with Jessica, Kris, Kim and Marty.
Firestone Walker: https://www.firestonebeer.com/visit/venice.php
Union Station: https://www.unionstationla.com/
Streamline Moderne: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streamline_Moderne