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Los Angeles to San Diego on the San Diegan.

Los Angeles to San Diego on the San Diegan

Stepping off the San Diegan, you feel the romance of train travel. Ocean breezes and bright spring sun greet you at the beach town stations. Ready to roll on after a brief stop, the conductor shouts "All aboard!"--and ends the lingering good-bys on the platform. Signal lights flash and bells ring as the train pulls slowly past the old depot, through the crossing, and on down the coast. For more than 50 years, this train has rumbled between landmark stations in Los Angeles and San Diego, with stops at (or connections to) some top area attractions: beaches, major league sports, historic areas, and Disneyland. It also offers insights into Southern California today, as it travels from old city centers, through suburban developments, out into rural areas, and back again. It's so pleasant a ride that it may make you wonder whether such service could succeed between the Bay Area and Sacramento or Monterey.

Sixteen trains: what do you get?

Amtrak trains make eight daily trips in each direction over the 128-mile route, known back in the 1880s as the Santa Fe's Surf Line. Amtrak took over the route in 1971, but you'll still see plenty of the familiar blue-and-white Santa Fe logos along the way: look for the large neon sign at Fullerton, as well as chandeliers, a dome, and interior tilework at San Diego's 1915 mission-revival terminal. When Casey Stengel said. "Nostalgia ain't what it used to be," he wasn't standing in L.A.'s Union Station. Now over 50, this Spanish and streamline moderne classic evokes a world of rakish fedoras and black lace veils. Down the street, the sawdust-covered floors and 10-cent coffee at Philippe's The Original (1001 Alameda Street) capture a grittier side of old L.A., while cinnamon-batter French toast (until 10:30 A.M.) and dip sandwiches capture contemporary taste buds. Weigh yourself (10 cents) as you exit, then stroll Olvera Street's market to walk off the calories. Winding through industrial L.A., the San Diegan sweeps by some ornate bridges, as well as oil-storage tanks. It passes crop land after 30 minutes, then arrives in Fullerton. Make bus connections here for Disneyland or Knott's Berry Farm, or head up Harbor Boulevard for shopping in the redeveloped downtown area. Ten minutes later, the train stops at Anaheim Stadium for Angels baseball or Rams football fans. Next (in 11 minutes) comes Santa Ana, with an impressive new Spanish-style travel center, surrounded by industrial areas. After a stretch of post-modern malls, industrial parks, and Marine air stations, you move through citrus groves and past eucalyptus windbreaks on the 21-minute trip to San Juan Capistrano. Swallows prefer flying, but you can walk to Mission San Juan Capistrano, the verdant Los Rios Historic District, and the distinctive regional library. The train then begins its 45-mile coastal run, and the Southern California myth comes alive: palm trees and volleyball on the beach, surfers and dolphins in the azure waters. Thirteen minutes from San Juan Capistrano, the train stops (twice daily southbound, once northbound) at San Clemente, former haunt of President Nixon. Zipping through Camp Pendelton Marine base (a buffer between sprawling Orange and San Diego counties), you're sure to notice the twin towers of the San Onofre nuclear power plant. Past the base is Oceanside (23 minutes from San Clemente); nearby shopping caters largely to Marines, but a beach and fishing pier are a short walk away. From Oceanside, it's 17 minutes to Del Mar and its waves of bicyclists. A short stroll from the 1910 brick depot brings you to the beautiful beach or to shopping. Try a hamburger at Carlos & Annie's Cafe (1454 Camino del Mar), then stop by Earth Song Bookstore and Ocean Song Gallery down the block. The trip's last 40 minutes get progressively more urban as you near San Diego; you can make bus connections to the city's big attractions or walk to the bayfront, Horton Plaza, or Gaslight District.

Riding the rails

This train gets crowded, especially on weekends. Book ahead with a local agent for custom class (60 seats per car) or regular class (84 seats). Reservations guarantee space--not specific seats--in a comfortable but hardly opulent coach. Some seats face the rear; if you worry about motion sickness, arrive early to claim a spot. (When boarding in L.A., ask a conductor which way you'll face; engines may push instead of pull coaches.) Trips from Los Angeles to San Diego take less than 3 hours; round-trip fare is $30 ($23 one way). Trains run about two hours apart, so if you linger in one town or miss your return connection, you won't have to wait that long to catch the next train. Sandwiches, snacks, and drinks are available on board, as are telephones. For $5 you can check your bicycle; rental cars are available at the San Diego and Los Angeles stations.

PHOTO : Cruising along continent's edge, the San Diegan heads north past beach near Del Mar

PHOTO : Vintage stations recall railroad glory days. Banner at L.A.'s Union Station, above,

PHOTO : heralded 50th anniversary; tilework in San Diego station, below, was restored in 1982

PHOTO : Pulling in past palms and 1894 depot (now a restaurant), San Diegan arrives at San Juan

PHOTO : Capistrano

PHOTO : The British Grocer offers authentic foods and gifts on Fullerton's Harbor Boulevard
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Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunset
Date:Apr 1, 1990
Words:896
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