Paradise Found: Views From The California Zephyr

Achievement: #3. Take a Train Somewhere We’ve Never Gone Before

So, as everyone knows, we love to travel by train. The first vacation Michael and I ever took together was via train (and later the Fung Wah bus) to Boston. Last year, our big vacation involved a train trip across the country to California on the California Zephyr, and our second vacation was another train trip to New York City. When we were in Chicago for a wedding in April, and again for Dave Matthews Band at Wrigley Field in September, we arrived on the train.

But as small as the current Amtrak map is these days, there are still some trains we’ve never taken and some stations we’ve never seen. Our Next Big Dream is to take the Coast Starlight, which runs from Seattle down to Los Angeles. When we lived in LA, we would regularly hop the southbound Pacific Surfliner to San Diego, and once we took its north-running train to Santa Barbara.

But this year, we wanted to go somewhere new on the train, even if we couldn’t do our long Coast Starlight trip yet. Conveniently, we had racked up enough Amtrak Rewards points on our trips last year to pay for a one-way business class ticket to anywhere. So when we were planning our West Coast trip and knew we would be starting in Los Angeles and needing to get north, we booked a ticket on the limited-edition Pacific Surfliner that goes all the way north to SLO County.

The rest of this blog will be incredibly picture-heavy, so get ready 🙂

Train to SLO
We even started the train at a new destination. The main depot in Los Angeles is Union Station, which is near downtown. However, northbound trains pass through Burbank, and since we were staying just a few blocks away, we decided to get on there.

Train to SLO
The train station is right near the Burbank Airport, and therefore named after it. It was a little nerve-wracking to do this for the first time, because there are no listed timetables, no staff to answer questions, and oddly enough, very hard-to-find postings about which way your train is going. We managed to pull it off though, which left us wondering why we didn’t use the Burbank station more often when we lived just a few minutes away!

Train to SLO
My favorite part of the early-morning Pacific Surfliner? Free juice!! In business class, you get unlimited free coffee, juice, and breakfast pastries to enjoy on your trip (plus roomier seats). My only complaint is that the Surfliner that goes north to SLO doesn’t run as often as the one that stops in Santa Barbara, so there is less seating in business class. The seats that are on the ocean-side of the car are all single seaters, so we had to hop across the aisle to take pictures once we got far enough north.

Train to SLO
Once you get past all the businesses and homes of Burbank, you start passing these crazy rock-mountain things. We love counting the ‘signs you’re leaving Los Angeles,’ and these are one of them!

Train to SLO
Once you get closer to Oxnard and Ventura, the farm land starts popping up. Not sure what’s being grown here, but we really loved the view and all the green. Another sign you’re getting out of LA!

Train to SLO
The first view of the beach!!! This was probably somewhere around Oxnard, which is when the Surfliner starts to pick up along the coast.

Train to SLO
Here we are on the train, both of us writing away. That’s another reason we love business class – you get outlets and roomier seats so you have room to write the whole way!

Train to SLO
For us, no Amtrak trip is complete without these cafe staples: train hot dogs and Doritos. There’s something about these hot dogs that just makes them delicious, better even than movie theater hot dogs!

Train to SLO
And this is the ocean once you get really close to Mussel Shoals and Santa Barbara. For me, the sight of Mussel Shoals (which is really just a little island along the PCH with a hotel and a restaurant and probably a pretty view) was always the ultimate sign that it was official: we were out of LA. When we’d start to see the oil rigs in the distance here, I knew it was only a few minutes until my beacon appeared!

Train to SLO
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s official: you’re in wine country!! When you think of Central Coast (our favorite part of California), this is what comes to mind: rolling green hills, beautiful skies, and miles and miles of farmland, perfect for vineyards!!

Train to SLO
Another great shot of the Central Coast hills. This area of California stretches from Santa Barbara County all the way north to Santa Cruz, and it features the most beautiful scenery and best wine in the country. If ever we got a ‘summer’ home, Central Coast would be the place!

Train to SLO
The train trip is about 5.5 hours long, so around lunchtime, they bring you snack bags and free drinks, and we always take advantage of the free train wine! Amtrak always provides California wines (although this one is from farther north, closer to Sonoma and Napa), and all of the snacks were from bakeries in SLO!

Train to SLO
Another one of the beautiful stretches of landscape as seen from the window of the train!

Train to SLO
And of course, there are plenty of cows and horses along the trip! This farmland even had some llamas (or alpacas – I don’t know how to tell the difference ;).

Train to SLO
There are also a ton of oil wells, which freak me out. I think, when I was little, I used to think that ghosts rode the oil wells like see-saws, and ever since then, they’ve been weird to me. We passed a big batch of them just before we arrived in SLO.

Train to SLO
And there it is – the first vineyard! We knew we were finally there, in wine country, when we saw this!

Train to SLO
At last, we arrived at our final destination, San Luis Obispo. We had the most beautiful weather on our first day.

So now, we can cross SLO off our train travel list. Next Amtrak stop: the Coast Starlight!

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