Got to admit it – it’s tough for this Californian to give up his car for the weekend, but that’s exactly what we did on a recent train getaway to Santa Barbara that proved we could do our small part to help reduce traffic and vehicle emissions and still have a great time.
In fact, just put aside the benefits to the environment and look at the benefits to our own family: We saved on gas, vehicle wear and tear and on the frustration that always comes with a never-know-what-you’re-gonna-get drive through the L.A. freeway system. We got to try a new adventure, introduce our 8-year-old to rail travel and we packed a lot of sightseeing into a short two-day period.
Santa Barbara is especially well suited to car-less travel because years ago city fathers decided they needed to do something to reduce the congestion they were seeing with many more visitors and the smog that would trap itself over the city. The Santa Barbara Car Free Project today offers travelers discounts on Amtrak as well as at participating hotels. They sweeten the pot by throwing in a multitude of discounts on local attractions and transportation. Our family of three decided to give it a try, traveling to Santa Barbara from our home in north San Diego County.
Boarding the 7 a.m. northbound Pacific Surfliner in Oceanside was a snap. Accustomed to long waits nowadays for air travel, we showed up nearly an hour before our train to check our one large piece of luggage. But A/ we really didn’t need to check the luggage – there is a rack you can put your luggage on in the business class rail car – and B/ you can step right on the train, even purchasing your tickets onboard.
Business class is slightly more expensive but offers reserved seating and amenities such as a continental breakfast, a newspaper and a comfortable work area with a power outlet for our laptop. We went up the stairs to the second level, found our seating and sat back to enjoy the scenery. In just a couple of minutes we were on our way, the gorgeous California coastline passing before our very eyes.
We were reminded of a recent country chart-topper called Sunday Morning that talks about the many walks of life in the USA and how people spend their Sunday mornings. It was, in fact, Sunday morning and we were observing our fellow Californians out for their morning jog or enjoying a newspaper and coffee on their beachfront deck, or preparing an outdoor breakfast in one of several beachfront state parks along the Surfliner’s path. The train sped along, often at 70 miles per hour or more, taking us on an adventurous route through many parts of the Southern California coastal region that we had not seen in our many drives along Interstate 5.
Another way to describe the feeling is to relate it to those “Over” shows – you know, the PBS television programs …