By Larry Taylor/Garden Grove Journal
One of the major attractions in California is its beautiful coast line. It can be driven by car up the Coast via Hwy. 101, later Hwy. 1. A far more relaxed and scenic way, though, is by train on Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner with its tracks paralleling the coast much of the way from San Diego to San Louis Obispo, 267 miles away.
Amtrak features modern bi-level cars, providing large panoramic windows, comfortable, custom-designed interiors and a spacious Café car serving a variety of fresh sandwiches, snacks and beverages.
My wife and I had never taken the Surfliner until last month during a stay in La Jolla. While there, we had a commitment to go to Los Angeles overnight. Not looking forward to driving the frequently traffic-choked highway, we opted for the near two-hour train ride to Union Station in L.A.
We decided to spend the night at Checkers, the boutique hotel on Grand Avenue. After the night’s stay, we would take the train back. Another benefit of this trip was the prospect of seeing the new Grand Park. Close-by, it had opened to much hoopla July 28. The park, a block wide leads down from the Music Center four blocks to the City Hall. This provides a much-needed greenbelt in the heart of the city’s Bunker Hill area, now a forest of large buildings.
We had earlier left the Solana Beach station on the outskirts of San Diego at noon. We figured it was better boarding here. It was less-crowded than the downtown station and had ample free parking.
Soon we were settled in comfortable window seats. We had books but didn’t expect to read much with the striking views from our window, on this clear, warm, sunny day. We saw many people, gear in hand, getting on and off at the beach towns. The train is a great way to go to the ocean. The sand is a short walk away, and there are no parking hassles.
Over half the ride, went through the beach towns, the tracks often less than a hundred yards from the beach. The water was warm, the waves were great and a multitude of surfers, sun bathers and bogey-boarders were out that day. After Oceanside, the stretch of beach in CampPendleton Marine Corps base was fairly deserted, except for the occasional line of tanks and trucks for training.
Coming up next was San Onofre and the nuclear power plant also the site of the famed surfing spot, Trestles, with some of the best waves in the world. We had a couple minutes to enjoy the boarders’ spectacular rides. From San Juan Capistrano, the train wended its way inland for Orange County stops – Santa Ana, Anaheim (adjacent to Angel’s Stadium) and Fullerton.
The last stretch took us through an industrial section before coming to the Los Angeles River, last lap to Union Station. It was mid-summer but there was a surprising amount of water trickling down the cement river bed. As well, grass and reeds supported quite a bit of bird life.
Finally, our destination – the beautiful art deco Union Station which opened in 1939. Built on a grand scale, it became known as “Last of the Great Railway Stations” built in the United States. In 1980, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, the station is a tourist site itself.
After the hotel check-in, we walked up to the new park. Two weeks before we arrived, officials opened the 12-acre Grand Park with a celebration that culminated 12 years of city planning. The park provides a welcome green belt. unifying four distinct blocks, leading to the City Hall. The last two blocks plan to open late this year.
Replete with fountains that cascade several levels, relaxing promenades and multi-dimensional performance spaces, the park has ample benches for people to sit back and take in the greenery – 140 different species of plants that create an intertwined landscape of native species, including many drought-resistant types.
New pedestrian-friendly steps and ADA-accessible ramps create a series of broad terraces leading down into the park from Grand Avenue about 30 feet above. A Starbuck’s Coffee House and movable café tables and chairs is found there. The outdoor furniture in hot magenta add bright splashes of color, act as a consistent “bloom” to complement the foliage.
Next day, we hopped on the train for the ride back. Rested and relaxed when we got off, we determined we would take the train again. For Orange Countians, this is a particularly convenient way to go up and down the coast.