LA to SF, by train or car?

Old Mar 31st, 2005, 07:58 AM
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LA to SF, by train or car?

We are NYers travelling to SF in mid-April for a weekend business meeting. We have the previous 2 days available (Tue through Thu morning), and would like to enjoy CA a little. Since we've toured both SF and LA on previous trips, we were thinking about viewing the Coast...

We can fly into LA, and either drive up Rt. 1 with a one-way rental car, or on the Amtrak Coast Starlight. Any advice on which is better? (Since we take so few vacations, we'd like this trip to be as enjoyable, relaxing, and luxurious as possible. As it's only 2 days, $$ is not an issue.)

Any suggestions on where to stop-over enroute, for meals and overnight? (Santa Barbara, Carmel, Half Moon Bay etc.) If we take the train, are there taxis for getting around locally in the small towns?
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Old Mar 31st, 2005, 08:31 AM
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There seems to be only 1 Amtrak train from LA to Oakland, which takes over 11 hours... The seating options are "Reserved Coach Seat", "Lower Level Coach Seat", "Superliner Roomette", and "Bedroom".

In previous posts, people seems to either love or hate these train trips. Any advice on which is best for scenic enjoyment and relaxation?
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Old Mar 31st, 2005, 08:35 AM
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If your goal, as you said, is to see the coast, go by car. The Coast Starlight follows the coast for only a portion of the trip. The majority of time is spent traveling up inland valleys.

I prefer the train for its relaxation and because I'm a train buff but you will only see a relatively small portion of the southcentral coast.
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Old Mar 31st, 2005, 09:38 AM
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Thanks. What type of views does "traveling up the inland valleys" offer? Is it scenic, or can it get boring for 11 hours?
I've never done the train tour before, but thought it would be fun to try! Is the Coast Starlight a nice train inside?
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Old Mar 31st, 2005, 09:41 AM
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I would definitely drive. My daughter used to take the train from Santa Barbara (school) to San Jose (home) and it was regularly very late. It's a LONG train ride. In a car you can stop and gaze at views, grab a meal, walk along a path for a bit. Much nicer!

In my opinion, the central valley views are a little boring.
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Old Mar 31st, 2005, 10:39 AM
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The drive between LA and SF along the coast is especially scenic and should be beautiful in April, although I'm not sure of the normal weather conditions around that time for the coast highway. The only really difficult part of the drive that I remember was a winding stretch north of San Simeon to south of Big Sur. Otherwise it wasn't bad at all, other than wanting to gaze at the vistas. A stop in Santa Barbara or Cambria on the first day and Carmel on the second would be a nice way to break the drive up.
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Old Mar 31st, 2005, 10:50 AM
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The views along the "inland valleys" are only noteworthy if you wish to get some sleep in. Yeah, that boring. Absolutely nothing of any interest to see. For miles. And miles. And hours. And hours. *yawn*

Rent the car and take a leisurely drive along the coast. That part of California is one of the most gorgeous in the state. Weather may or may not be an issue that time of year, but even if overcast, you will still have a better time of it than that long, boring ride on the train!

My vote would definitely be the car. And I think you would get a whole lot more out of it as well. And some wonderful memories!
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Old Mar 31st, 2005, 10:54 AM
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Another vote to take a trip by car. I would drive to Cambria or Monterey, stay the night and then continue on the next day. The Big Sur coast is spectacular and you should have nice weather in April.
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Old Mar 31st, 2005, 11:02 AM
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That is a stretch that screams "ROAD TRIP"... definitely go by car along the coast.
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Old Mar 31st, 2005, 11:13 AM
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I took a roadtrip with my cousins a few years ago and it was amazing. The windows open and no one saying a word, just seeing the ocean to the left and the mountains to the right. We stopped at Hearst Castle and another town by the beach with a pier, but I can't remember the name.

So, I would definitely recommend getting a car. That has been one of my favorite traveling memories ever.
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Old Mar 31st, 2005, 11:17 AM
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I did it by train - of course the views were beautiful part of the way - approx. from Santa Barbara to close to San Jose. The train was 2 hours late leaving LA. We had to back up a little to let a freight train pass. Short stops to let passengers on and off only.

I would not do it again!

In your own car you can stop any time to take a picture, to enjoy the view, to go with your own speed.
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Old Mar 31st, 2005, 11:17 AM
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An alternative may be a tour bus, I think Parlor car tours have 2 day tours along the coast.
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Old Mar 31st, 2005, 09:43 PM
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THANKS so much everyone! It'a almost unanimous, so we'll be renting a car for the trip!

Any recommendations on a hotel/resort for Tue/Wed nights? Are there any NEWER luxury properties in the Central Coast or Big Sur region?
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Old Mar 31st, 2005, 10:06 PM
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Luxury in Big Sur, that would be the Post Ranch Inn.
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Old Mar 31st, 2005, 10:38 PM
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Post Ranch Inn does look lovely and oh so romantic, but the rates per its website are seem outrageous - pricier than the Four Seasons in SF or NY! Do you know if it's really worth the price?

We'd just like to find a nice hotel, under $300/night, preferably a newer and more modern style. Any suggestions?
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Old Apr 1st, 2005, 12:55 AM
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Try browsing this months copy of Sunset Magazine. It has some stuff about the Central Coast and hotel listings and ads galore.

I think it would be pushing it to drive from LA to Big Sur in one day and be able to stop and see anything. You should stay overnight a little further south. You could drive to Santa Barbara (about 2 hours depending on traffic), spend a couple hours visiting the mission and downtown area or the pier/promenade.

Then drive up the coast to San Simeon. You can see the elephant seals at Piedras Blancas, and the castle up on the hill. This drive will take about 2-2 1/2 hours.

You could stay there, or keep driving up to Ragged Point and stay there.

The next day you could drive the stretch between Ragged Point and Carmel, one of the most beautiful coastal roads anywhere. Stop at Julia Pfeiffer state park and see the redwoods and the waterfall.

Then you can go on through Carmel/Monterey, maybe visit the old mission (my favorite one) and drive on up to SF. Or, spend the night in Carmel, and drive to SF in the morning.

The wildflowers are in full bloom right now all along the coast, not sure if they still will be in 2 weeks, but lupine and poppies usually last a little while.

Some of the hills around here look like they've been painted by Van Gogh himself. Must be all the rain we've had.

Whatever you decide, I hope you have a wonderful visit. I live here because it's so beautiful.
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Old Apr 1st, 2005, 08:11 AM
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I haven't read the other posts, but by all means rent a car and drive up Highway 1--this is one of the most spectacular drives in the world. Spend a night in Cambria.
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Old Apr 1st, 2005, 08:18 AM
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Great suggestion to include visiting a mission or two on your drive. Such an interesting piece of Californian history.
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