Ever curious and hungry for adventure, Elaine Masters is a passionate traveler and digital storyteller. As founder of Tripwellgal.com she thrives on variety, from following fishing trends to cocktail culture and uncovering unsung destinations. Elaine hunts for stories, pictures, and video across the planet from her San Diego base. A scuba diving and seafood fanatic, she agrees with Helen Keller that, "Life's an adventure or nothing."
You can reduce your carbon footprint and save money by hopping on trains and trolleys when you're in San Diego.
There are several systems, including: Amtrak, which is perfect for getting in and out of the county; Metrolink, which offers an inexpensive way to LA and back from Oceanside on weekends; the Sprinter and Coaster trains, which offer commuter options with several routes going east and to downtown. You can even get to the border for margaritas in Tijuana and back on the trolley!
It's good to know the limitations and opportunities on each line as some overlap and schedules aren't etched in stone. The following tips should help simplify your planning.
Imagine cruising along the coastline in a comfortable seat without a care in the world. You're not hunched over the steering wheel. There are electric plugs near your seat in case your phone battery tanks from taking too many pictures of the irresistible landscape. And the snack bar offers libations when thirst nips at you.
Those are the highlights of a train ride to San Diego via Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner. You miss the traffic, can scoff at rush hour anxiety, and have your choice of several stops in the county between Camp Pendleton and the historical Santa Fe Station. Booking a business class seat guarantees your comfort.
Check the Pacific Surfliner website for stops, seasonal discounts, and reservations.
Metrolink trains are another way to reach San Diego from Los Angeles and other Southland Counties. The rail line features new bilevel cars with cushy seats, bicycle storage, tables, and restrooms. They're also running on biofuels, making them a green choice.
Nearly a third of Metrolink riders are commuters transferring from Los Angeles. It's about a 2-hour ride, and there are four departures on Saturday and Sunday between San Diego and Union Station. Leave San Diego for LA as early as 8:15 am and return in time for dinner, arriving in Oceanside at 6:55 pm on Saturday or Sunday for an unbeatable $10 each way.
While San Diego's airport keeps upgrading and is about a ten-minute drive from the Santa Fe Amtrak Station, you can also get to LAX Airport using Metrolink from Oceanside. Just ride to LA's Union Station and then take the FlyAway bus to the airport. The trip may take three hours, but they'll be a relatively comfortable and affordable three hours compared to a car or airport shuttle.
3. County-wide service
Getting around San Diego county via rail is fairly simple and affordable too by using the San Diego Metro Transit System (MTS). Perhaps you're planning to stay in Mission Valley but wanted to check out the beaches in Encinitas. Hop on at the MTS Trolley/Light Rail Station for a $11 Round Trip (or less when you get a Compass Card for a multi-day stay). The station in Encinitas is just a block from historic Highway 101 shops and cafes, and about three blocks from beautiful Moonlight Beach. The Trolley is a great choice when you've got an event at the Convention Center, want to catch a game at Petco Park, or need to meet friends for happy hour in Little Italy or the Gaslamp District. Finding parking in these areas can be tricky and expensive, so why not hop the train?
Here's a quick rundown of the MTS/Trolley lines: The Green line runs from the east end of the Convention Center downtown, up past the Santa Fe Train Station to Old Town. From there it turns East passing through Mission Valley and out to Santee.
The Blue Line runs from America Plaza (across the street from the Santa Fe Train Station) in downtown, then goes a bit east past City College, the new Library and East Village before turning south on its way to the border.
The Orange line also runs near the library and Petco Park, relieving some of the crowding on game days, then turns east and north to La Mesa and up to El Cajon. The Map makes it simple to plan your trip and you'll find them at every station. Tickets and Compass Cards are available at machines in each station.
As far as traffic is concerned, the county is divided into north and south, with Sorrento Valley in the middle. The division occurs where two freeways meet and the driving traffic gridlocks most afternoons. Taking the Sprinter or Coaster makes it much easier to get around. Going east, Sprinter trains and connecting buses stop at fifteen stations between Oceanside to Escondido. Trolley lines in the southern county are easy to navigate when you pay attention to their color-coded system. The three Trolley lines wind around downtown and finger out to the north, south, and east from there. The main sites are in this area from Balboa Park, the ballpark, convention center, and the waterfront.
5. Trains and Trolleys make great travel buddies
When you're in vacation mode, it's a pleasure to leave the driving to someone else. Sit back and enjoy the ride! Hop on the trolley and Coaster lines when you can, and supplement them with one of the shared ride services like Uber or Lyft. It's simple and budget-stretching compared to renting a car, searching for (and paying for) parking. If you're athletic, a host of dock-less bikes are available across town. That could spare your waistline and erase a bit of the guilt from indulging in San Diego's great food and libations.