Photo courtesy of fredcamino
Amtrak's Coast Starlight route traverses dramatic scenery of the West Coast from Los Angeles to Seattle. The route itself affords views to passengers of varied scenery such as snowcapped volcanic peaks of the Cascade Range, lush, fertile valleys, urban vistas of great West Coast cities, and stunning Pacific Coastline. Amtrak offers a California Rail Pass for travel aboard any of Amtak's trains within California. The pass allows for up to seven days of travel in California over a twenty-one day period for $159 (adults) and $80 (children age 2 to 15). With this in mind, here we're giving you an overview of five great stopover points along the California stretch of Amtrak's Coast Starlight route.
Many first-time visitors to Los Angeles already have in mind what they would like to see: the famous sites of Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and Santa Monica. Although those are great sites worth seeing due to their influence on popular culture, the greater Los Angeles area offers many more excellent sites worth checking out.
Everyone should experience the view of the Los Angeles Basin from Griffith Observatory, which sits on the upper slopes of Mt. Hollywood in the Santa Monica Mountains. From this vantage point, visitors can see downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Century City, the famous "Hollywood" sign and the surrounding Santa Monica Mountains, and the Pacific Coast.
One of Los Angeles' great museums is the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center. The museum, a phenomenal work of architecture, which includes a wide variety of Getty's art collection on display (which he acquired from around the world), also offers visitors commanding views of the Los Angeles Basin, Century City, Santa Monica, the Pacific Coast, and the surrounding Santa Monica Mountains.
If the smog level is low, the views from both the Griffith Observatory and the Getty Center are stellar both day and night. The Santa Monica Mountains themselves offer a wide-variety of hiking opportunities.
Santa Barbara, home to the University of California at Santa Barbara, is situated on the narrow land between the Pacific Coast and the steep Santa Ynez Mountains, north of Los Angeles. Santa Barbara is sometimes referred to as the "American Riviera" due to its dramatic setting and Mediterranean climate.
The city and surrounding area offer much to visitors - beach and waterfront activities, resorts, a vibrant and highly walkable central city adjacent to the university with many cultural events, as well as wine country and hiking activities in the surrounding hills and mountains.
Mission Santa Barbara - "Queen of the Alta California Missions" - is the historical focal point from which to explore the Spanish colonial history of the area.
For a unique experience, look into a ferry ride to the Channel Islands, just offshore to the south of Santa Barbara. The islands, due to their isolation from the mainland, remain relatively undeveloped and contain a variety of plant, animal, and archaeological resources found nowhere else on Earth.
Hiking, camping, diving, and whale-watching are all popular activities on and around the islands. Official concessionaires of Channel Islands National Park offer ferry service between Santa Barbara and the Channel Islands.
Salinas (for Monterey and Big Sur)
Salinas is a good stopping point for access to the city of Monterey and the beautiful and dramatic stretch of Pacific Coast near Big Sur.
The coastal town of Monterey has long been a popular destination for travelers. The easily walkable center city of Monterey has much for visitors to explore - many great shops and restaurants, as well as Fisherman's Wharf and Cannery Row. The world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium is also a popular destination, containing many displays on the area's abundant marine life (including sea otters, sea lions, bat rays, harbor seals, migrating whales, dolphins, and pelicans).
The greater Monterey Peninsula also contains the communities of Carmel-be-the-Sea and Pacific Grove, as well as many resorts and golf destinations, including the famed Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill golf courses.
Further south along from Monterey California Highway 1, travelers will encounter the dramatic Pacific coastal scenery of Big Sur. Due to such spectacular vistas, and because this stretch of California Highway 1 is considered to be one of the most scenic drives in the United States, Big Sur was ranked second among all U.S. destinations in TripAdvisor's 2008 Traveler's Choice Destination Awards. In addition to enjoying scenic views of the coast, mountains, and coastal wildlife, Big Sur also offers many hiking and outdoor activities.
San Francisco and the Bay Area
Travelers could spend weeks in the San Francisco-Bay Area and still only scratch the surface of all that there is to see and do in this amazing metropolitan area.
Exploring San Francisco's many neighborhoods and cultural districts is an adventure in and of itself. The highlights of the San Francisco-Bay Area include: Downtown San Francisco, Chinatown, Union Square, Nob Hill, Cable Cars, Lombard Street (the "Crookedest Street"), Alamo Square and the "Painted Ladies" row of Victorian homes, Coit Tower, Fisherman's Wharf, Pier 39, and Ghirardelli Square, Alcatraz Island, the Presidio, Cliff House, Golden Gate Park, the Golden Gate Bridge, hiking and views in the Marin Headlands, the bayside town of Sausalito, towering Redwood trees in Muir Woods, Mt. Tamalpais (the highest point in the Bay Area), Berkeley, among many others.
A variety of culinary delights and remarkable shopping are found in around the many neighborhoods of San Francisco. In addition to many great museums, neighborhoods, and other sites, San Francisco also contains several National Park Service sites: San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, the Presidio of San Francisco, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Alcatraz Island, Muir Woods National Monument, Point Reyes National Seashore, and Rosie the Riveter/WWII Homefront National Historical Park.
Chico and Redding
Chico, in the northern Sacramento Valley and home to the California State University at Chico, includes a nicely walkable center city area with numerous shops and restaurants and Bidwell Park, one of the largest municipal parks in the country. Redding, further north of Chico and the largest population center in California north of Sacramento, includes a number of interesting sights, the foremost of which is none other than the Sundial Bridge at Turtle Bay designed by the world-renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.
The cantilever-style bridge crosses the Sacramento River and links the north and south sides of the Turtle Bay Exploration Park. Redding is a popular basepoint from which to begin exploration of many spectacular sights in the Cascade and Coast Ranges northern California, including Lassen Volcanic National Park to the east, Mt. Shasta to the north, Whiskeytown and Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Areas to the west and northwest, and Redwood National and State Parks along the Pacific Coast to the west.