CALIFORNIA’S CENTRAL COAST
I often get asked “What is the best way to explore the California Coast between Orange County and San Francisco?”. This is never an easy answer because the truth is…there are MANY ways to do this and each style is a different fit for a different circumstance. So, rather than trying to cover everything, I will share my own experiences from traveling through this area this summer. Most people think that since we own Le Rêve we only travel in luxury. This is true, but I always say “luxury is a state of mind!”. To me, luxury is being able to spend time with my family during defining moments in their lives and the places to stay or means of travel must fit budget, style and needs.
My sister and I had the privilege of joining my niece for her orientation weekend at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo (aka “SLO” if you want to sound like a local). I think this was a lot more fun for my sister and I than my niece…ha! It was during this trip that I realized “I’m not in college anymore!”.
Pismo Beach: This is a great town to stop in and enjoy beach and activities such as cycling, ATVs, Dune Buggies, surfing and more.
Sandcastle Inn – This quaint little inn is literally “on the beach” in Pismo Beach and close walking distance to many restaurants and casual gift shops. The rooms are comfortable and clean enough, but the best reason to stay here is the fresh ocean breeze and ability to step out to the expansive beach for a run in the morning or stroll along the boardwalk at Sunset. Wine tasting is popular in this quaint college town just minutes from Pismo Beach, Morro Bay and Paso Robles. The price is right for a family embarking on college tuition at nearby Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo San Luis Obispo.
Restaurants suggestions in Pismo Beach:
Giuseppe’s – For almost 20 years, Giuseppe's has been known throughout the central coast -- and beyond -- for great wine and Italian food (they have a sister restaurant in San Luis Obispo). We sat at the bar and enjoyed the cozy atmosphere as we dined on bread, made daily by hand, and specialties indicative to the Pugliese region in Italy. It definitely hit the spot!
Mon Ami – The cappuccino was superb and the crepes are the finest thing outside of France! I have to admit, I’m a Starbucks snob, but would skip it any time for Mon Ami!
San Luis Obispo: For more than 200 years, beginning with the founding of the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa in 1772, San Luis Obispo has been a center of activity and life for residents and visitors to California's Central Coast. While the population has grown, the small town charm of San Luis Obispo remains today. Whether your exploring the shops along Higuera street or visiting the Mission, Downtown San Luis Obispo offers many beautiful and exciting experiences at every corner. After perusing the shops, we discovered The Pithy Little Wine Company where they serve their own selection of “just plain good” wines paired with chocolates. The servers were friendly and very knowledgeable about the area. Wine tasting and designing your itinerary for the day/week make for a great combination!
A West Coast Starlight Amtrak Adventure:
My next trip was last minute. I met my parents in LA (they came from Santa Fe) to take the Amtrak all the way up the coast to Eugene, OR to attend my Aunt Ruth’s funeral. Aunt Ruth was once the Mayor of Eugene and their family is at the core of the community. She was responsible for the Bike Trail built in and around Eugene and inspired the behind the beautiful Hays Tree Garden. I was truly impressed with Eugene! Taking the train with my parents was the perfect way to take some time to reflect on the passing of such an amazing woman. Again, this to me was a “luxury”…stopping to be with my family during this time.
Amtrak: The Coast Starlight services West Coast cities on its route from Southern California to Seattle. The romance notion of traveling by train did not disappoint me. In the hustle and bustle of today’s world, the imminent slow pace of traveling by train is refreshing. The important thing is to approach a train trip along the with an open mind. You will meet all kinds of people from all walks of life. We sat for meals with everyone from a cruise director to an airbrush artist who told us stories about Native Indian traditions to a Rock Star who doesn’t like to fly – our server happened to be a fan! Visiting with the other people is half the fun! Take time to reflect and look out the window to see the scenes. I traveled around Europe and across Africa by train as a teenager and some of my best memories are sharing stories with my friends in the privacy of our “cabin” as we watched the world pass by out the window and day turn into night. On this trip we got to see the Harvest Moon over the Cascades…what a site! It’s like stepping back into time when life was simpler and not so rushed. There is even time to have a full conversation! The environment lends itself time to reflect on topics you may never get a chance to cover over dinner in your “usual” setting.
DAY EXCURSIONS: In summary, after some exploring on my own, I think the best way to explore the California treasures is through one-three day excursions from train stations…fellow passenger on my Amtrak excursion helped me come up with this as we were visiting in the Parlor car. Thanks Carl!
Carl and his wife and friends helped me with this itinerary design…it’s not straight forward and simple in the central coast and most people just rush up the coast to San Francisco missing the gems of this beautiful area.
Starting from San Juan Capistrano, stops could include:
Santa Barbara – One day to enjoy the beach and shopping and another day excursion to Solvang. Also, take time to see the Santa Barbara Mission (especially if you have a 4th grade California child…they study the Missions in 4th grade).
San Luis Obispo – Day excursion up the coast to Morro Bay and Hearst Castel stops in Cambria and Paso Robles for some fabulous wine tasting. Stay the night in Cambria or Paso Robles.
Paso Robles – hop back on the train here.
Oakland - One to three days are needed to cover this area, depending on your interests.
· Day trip to San Francisco: Rent Bikes at Fisherman’s Wharf and ride over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito and Tibberon, Lunch at Fisherman’s wharf, then a visit to Alcatraz; ride on a Trolly through China Town and more!
· Day trip to Napa Valley – stop at the Muir Woods (allow time for a hike or horseback riding). There are endless option for Napa Valley, Sonoma and this area. One of my favorites is Meadowood Resort. This is a splurge, but well worth it and it is family friendly plus allows for Dad to play some golf and Mom to enjoy the spa while the kids can be busy with other activities.
· Day trip to Pebble Beach, Big Sur or Monterey
· Head back to Oakland to hop on the train.
Sacramento – If you have elementary school aged children, this is a must stop…old town Sacramento, a visit to the Capital, panning for gold in the American River and a visit to the Gold mines are all worthwhile and educational. You may want to book on to a group tour with a docent to get all the history.
If you are traveling with kids or wanting to add in some adventures some other activities to consider are: Rent ATVs, bicycles, horseback riding, sailing, whale watching.
Helpful Hints for Amtrak Travel: Sleeper cars are the way to go for an overnight and if two people are traveling together it makes financial sense as well because only one pays for the sleeper, while the other pays the coach fare. All meals (3 per day) are included for both people in the sleeper car so that definitely helps make up the cost difference. If you need to watch your budget and travel coach, request a “lower level” seat. These must be reserved in advance, but do not cost anymore. The lower level seats are more private and quiet. Try to get a seat that has a view of the West side of the tracks. There are plug-ins for the phone and computer and wireless service is “free”, however, the wireless doesn’t work so again….prepare yourself to accept that and enjoy the view, read a book or write a letter rather than return e-mails. As I’m looking around, I don’t see many kids, but I know my boys can’t wait to take a train ride and there is an arcade room and a nightly movie in case the pace gets a little too slow for them. Better yet, have them come up with a story as they travel through each town. If your kids are in scouts…this is a great activity to help them with their “traveler” badge!
Don’t expect gourmet dining. The food is good…better than airline food for sure, but there is not a lot of selection and it can get old if you are on a long trip. I jumped off in Sacramento when we had a 30-minute layover and found a Starbucks (I told you I’m a Starbucks snob) and a New York Times.
The Coast Starlight can accommodate wheelchairs and bicycles.
Trains originating from California are notoriously unreliable, commonly several hours late so if you are on a tight schedule the train may not be your best option. This said, we were right on time coming and going, but I like to be realistic.
In case anyone from Amtrak is reading this, I do have a couple of notes for Amtrak from the “Parlor Car crowd” to pass along – add bars on the ceiling for grabbing on to and clean the windows (I’m sure this is no easy task)!
OREGON: There is so much to see and do in Oregon, but for now I’ll just say…it’s worth the trip! Since my Amtrak experience took me to Oregon, I just wanted to mention a couple of quick notes.
Netarts, OR – Carl and friends rented a beautiful home with a group of their high school buddies in this picturesque coastal town, near Tillamook (which they said is also worth the visit!).
Eugene, OR – Eugene is a great city to visit, and to live, for the Arts and Outdoors! It is located in the Willamette Valley, known for their wines. I will be exploring this region more on my next trip!
Lost time can’t be found! Le Rêve is a phone call away from helping you create the memories you dream of. Take a breath from hurried travel and allow yourself to enjoy the ride!