Ditch the car, catch the train: 7 day trips you can take by Amtrak from L.A.’s Union Station

Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner pictured on a track
(Michael Armstrong / Amtrak Pacific Surfliner )
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Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Saturday, May 4. Here’s what you need to know to start your weekend:

Ditch the car, catch the train

The stress of traveling out of L.A. takes many forms: high-priced gas pumps, bumper-to-bumper traffic and a constantly crowded LAX. One way to minimize that stress is taking an Amtrak train for a day trip.

Snag a seat on the left side if you’re heading north to get the best view of lush valleys and agricultural land, plus breathtaking vistas of the Pacific Ocean and beaches.


Similarly heading south, sitting on the ocean side will also get you some great views once you pass San Juan Capistrano. You might even recognize the Mediterranean-style station in Santa Ana from the TV series “True Detective” and the movie “Rain Man.”

Times contributor Marsha Takeda-Morrison compiled seven day trips that start at Union Station and take three hours or less each way. Each includes plenty of activities within walking distance of the destination stations.

Unlike with air travel, you can bring your own food and an upgrade to a business class seat won’t cost you an arm and a leg.

Here are a few destinations Marsha features:


A couple walks beneath the Ventura Pier
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

This station is only a 10-minute walk from downtown Ventura. Known for its sprawling beaches that have long been popular for surfing, windsurfing, fishing and biking, Ventura also offers a charming and highly walkable downtown.


To truly take in the scenery of Ventura and its surrounding areas, Marsha recommends bringing your bike (see rules for transporting a bicycle on the train here) to ride the popular Ventura to Ojai bike route.


A person rides a bicycle across a palm tree-lined street
(Christopher Reynolds)

Called “one of California’s last great beach towns” by Times writer Christopher Reynolds, Carpinteria has an eclectic collection of restaurants and shops, and touts a hefty reputation among surfers.

Rincon State Beach is one of the most popular surf spots in California and holds the annual Rincon Classic Surf Competition.

The train station is located on the town’s main street, Linden Avenue, which makes for an easy walk to the beach or to grab food. Dog lovers are in for a treat as Island Brewing Company, a dog-friendly microbrewery, is directly across the street from the station. In case you’re wondering: yes, you can bring your pet on an Amtrak train with a reservation and a fee.


San Juan Capistrano

Mission San Juan Capistrano with a U.S. flag and California poppies.
(Courtesy of Mission San Juan Capistrano)

Known for the Mission San Juan Capistrano, this beautiful small town is also home to the Los Rios Historic District, considered the oldest neighborhood in California. The area is across the tracks from the train station.

But if you happen to be traveling to San Juan Capistrano on the second Saturday of July, you may be treated to another one of the town’s historical assets: mooning of the Amtrak. Throughout the day, hundreds flock to the fence lining the tracks and moon the passing trains. The annual tradition apparently started in 1979 when a patron at a nearby saloon offered to buy a drink for anyone willing to run outside and moon the next train … Cheers, San Juan Capistrano!

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For your weekend

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Going out

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A series of photos from this week's news quiz
(Times staff and wire photos)

Have a great weekend, from the Essential California team

Kevinisha Walker, multiplatform editor
Christian Orozco, assistant editor
Defne Karabatur, fellow
Ryan Fonseca, reporter
Andrew Campa, Sunday reporter
Stephanie Chavez, deputy metro editor
Karim Doumar, head of newsletters

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